One thing that the PlayStation 3 lacks, among some other debatable topics, is a vast collection of Japanese role-playing games. The major ones are Final Fantasy XIII and Hyperdimensional (something or other, I can’t remember right now) and the single Star Ocean outing. But because of reasons out of our control, Tales of Graces f, being a port, is the first Tales title to land on the PS3 system, whether it be that a translated version of other games weren’t made or exclusive rights were bought by Microsoft. Anyway, as painful as it was, we finally have one, but the only way to alleviate the waiting time is for Graces f to be the JRPG that gamers want.
The story starts off with the main characters as children, who are going through their first exposure to real-life corruption. Asbel, the son of the town mayor, meets the prince of the land named Richard, and the two of them happen across a mysterious girl Sophie who doesn’t remember anything. The first two hours of Graces are filled with slow-paced character development as these three characters formulate a friendship. It then jumps seven years into the future after Asbel started his training with the Royal Guard, and the story carries on in subtle mysteries that never really intricate until much later in the game; I promise you, though, the story has some subtle, dark undertones that are really worth the experience, even if it takes a bit longer than what we’re used to experiencing nowadays.
Little character interactions are littered throughout the game as the cast come across small points of interest; they can be avoided, if you wish, but they’re usually filled with light humor or foreshadowing. Really, though, the true focal point in this game is the combat system. A strong combination of turn-based limitations and action-influenced flow make this something that could be revamped and reused in many games to come. Characters utilize units called Chain Capacity, which can be refilled by countering or evading in combat, or by charging it by holding square. Familiar players of the Tales series will recognize the ability to pin chain abilities to different buttons, but this game has come a long way since Symphonia. Instead of being able to mash the X button and use mana on skills, players have to use CC for all aspects of combat, including basic attacks, sword attacks, and chain abilities. To really gain an advantage on opponents, knowing weaknesses and exploiting them makes chaining combos much easier and more effective. In fact, exploiting all of them increases damage dealt in an incredibly substantial way. All you have to do is press R1 to see each monster’s weakness, and then use abilities charged with those elements.
Graces f even gives players reasons to farm experience with the Title system. Each playable character can earn over a hundred titles, and each title grants players stat boosts and abilities. Each title has five different earnable bonuses, and the entire title after all bonuses have been earned can be mastered for an even bigger boost. Titles unlock from experiences in the story, performing actions in combat frequently, and even strange little side-quests like planting flowers at home. Apart from that last one, the titles don’t take long to master, ranging from about fifteen to twenty-five battles, depending on level, so farming experience and acclimating to the combat system becomes addictive.
It’s been a while since I’ve played a strictly Japanese-influenced game, so it took me a while to get into this quirky, but nostalgic, experience into the old style of gaming. With that in mind, it has a lot of limitations, like comical graphic style, slow plot delivery, and a non-diversified experience. The detail in this game is more about maintaining an undertone of mystery without hinting in the wrong direction or giving too much away. Voice acting fits the bill very well, where characters like Richard fall into their voice perfectly as more and more character development occurs. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like this game can become as popular as I hope it could become. This game has a lot of promise, but it doesn’t have the sort of delivery that appeals to new-age gamers; on the other hand, this game will fit right up the ally of anyone who loves, even craves, the old style of gaming or anything Japanese-influenced.
This game pulled on me nostalgically, but my modern mentality pushed right back. When the story piqued, it piqued, but it didn’t last for much longer than a half an hour before the story spread itself across some elongated, labyrinth-like area that didn’t have any hint of proper direction. Maps in certain areas can be convoluted, and, as I experienced a few times, these areas tended to slow down the plot pace even more. I appreciated the lack of hand-holding in this game more than I liked it. Point being: I like any game willing to make players make their own decisions instead of telling them where to go, but I didn’t like the fact that areas pinned to major plot points would almost hinder the experience.
The old style of role-playing games shines through in this Tales outing, but it doesn’t give modern gamers a reason to pick it up, which is unfortunate. With a little work, and some extra effort, the Tales franchise could become the one that really brings Western gamers into the Japanese style, but it needs some giddyup. Faster pace is the name of the game nowadays. Because the industry has such a diversity of games, smaller IPs like Tales need to create a unique experience that can’t be found anywhere else. The combat and title systems can take the candy from any baby, but the rest of the game fights back like a nagging mother. This game requires more, but it has what it could take to become something substantial—with a little more work, that is.