A little over a year ago Namco announced they would be releasing Tales of Graces f in North America, after almost three years of completely ignoring the series. As a fan of the series, it was a pretty great day for me. Now that it’s out, I figure I might as well review it.
The Tales franchise has never really had amazing or original stories, tending to stick to the same tropes and cliches, and Tales of Graces f is no exception. This game follows Asbel Lhant, heir to lord of the independent territory of Lhant, as he and an amnesiac girl he found in a meadow go on a quest that tests the bonds of friendship and all that good stuff and save the world when it inevitably ends up in peril. I won’t spoil the identity of the villain, but I will say he has the familiar motivation of, “People are bad and all of humanity should die for it,” and he’s defeated by the powers of love and friendship and kindness and whatnot. You may remember this same type of villain from Tales of Symphonia, Tales of the Abyss, Tales of Vesperia, and more things that I could possibly name.
Accompanying the lacklustre story is a boatload of groan-worthy dialogue about friendship and etc. You can only listen to people talk about how important friendship is so many times, which Tales of Graces f surpasses by the halfway point. This is made worse by the poor characterization that surrounds these friendships. The game tries to build the friendship between Asbel and Richard by setting the early part of the game during their childhood. But it doesn’t build this friendship very well. The two hang out as kids twice, and while Asbel does save Richard’s life, it’s hard to believe they’d still be such close friends when they don’t see each other for seven years.
What Graces lacks in story and writing it makes up for in gameplay. The game uses the standard Linear Motion Battle System of the franchise, where characters move around a battlefield on a striaght line to attack enemies. But like all the previous games, Graces puts its own spin on the system and uses the Style Shift LMBS, giving every character two different styles of fighting. Sort of. It says you can switch styles, but it really just means characters have two different kinds of attacks, Assault-Artes and Burst-Artes. Assault-Artes replace ordinary attacks from previous games, and Burst-Artes are just like Artes from any previous game. For most of the characters Burst-Artes are just spells, making them no different than any spell caster from previous games.
While B-Artes function like the Artes in any previous Tales game (a list of artes which can be assigned to the circle button + a direction), A-Artes work a little differently than the old standard attacks. A-Artes are divided into 4 levels, and each level has different attacks that are used by holding a certain direction while attacking. A 1st level A-Arte can lead into any 2nd level A-Arte, and so on. This allows you to mix and match any combination of the different levels to do a variety of combos. A-Artes can also loop around, so when you do a 4th level A-Arte, you can do another 1st level and so on, continuing until you run out of Chain Capacity.
Chain Capacity is what this game uses instead of the standard TP of previous games, originally appearing in the Tales of Destiny PS2 remake that never reached North American shores. All characters have a CC range based on their equipped weapon, which determines how much CC they start the fight with and how high it can get from doing damage to enemies. Since CC is used for both A-Artes and B-Artes, it replenishes on its own when you stop attacking or perform certain actions such as timing your dodges well, instead of being replenished with an item. This makes combos a little easier, since as long as you have CC you can attack non-stop, and makes long drawn out fights less of a hassle since you don’t have to worry about healers constantly running out of TP.
Another change this game makes to the standard Tales formula is the removal of an overworld map to travel between towns and dungeons. Instead, the game has fields, long stretches of road that connect areas and are filled with monsters and the occasional NPC. This change has its positives and negatives. One major positive is the near complete removal of pointless filler dungeons. Since there’s no world map, there’s no need to put some random monster filled forest between two towns to pad out the game. Any time you do end up in a random cave or dungeon, there’s a plot excuse for being there. Unfortunately, the lack of a world map means getting between towns involves repeatedly traversing these completely straight roads or paying a transport to take you from town to town. The world also feels smaller in general, since different towns need to reachable by foot, and there’s next to no exploration to be done.
Tales of Graces f also finds a new way to use the character titles that have been present in the series since Tales of Eternia. In previous games the titles offered stat bonuses, either upon being equipped or when the character levelled up. This time around the titles still offer stat bonuses when equipped, but their main function is teaching new skills to characters. Every title has five ranks and can be levelled up with Skill Points that are earned in every fight. Every rank of a title teaches a new skill, which can be simple stat boosts, new artes, resistance to status ailments, and a number of other things. Essentially they function as another levelling system, and the more important one since titles are the only way to learn new artes.
The main addition to Tales of Graces f compared to the Wii version of the game (which wasn’t released here) is the extra story mode, called Lineages and Legacies. It takes place six months after the end of the main story and follows the characters after they have returned to their normal duties and are dealing with the aftermath of the crisis, when suddenly another threat arises and they set off again to deal with it. Unfortunately, the story in Lineages and Legacies really isn’t any better than the main game. The villain wants to destroy mankind because they’re bad, and the heroes hug her into submission. This is made up for by the skits, short optional conversations between characters, which are focused more on humour than they are during the main game, and really are the best part of Lineages and Legacies.
Aside from Lineages and Legacies, there’s not very much extra content in the game. There are side-quests, but many of them are incredibly short and offer no substantial rewards. These tend to tie in to the Inn Requests, which require you to bring certain items to the Inn in each city for rewards. The most substantial side-quest in the game is the bonus dungeon, known as the Zhonecage. The Zhonecage is a 10 floor randomly generated dungeon that is only available in the post-game. It’s an entirely silly event involving an old butler’s collection of dirty pictures and the heroes getting high on eleth (in-game term, I’m not explaining it).
There’s not really much to say about the game graphically or musically. It’s a port of a Wii game, so it obviously doesn’t have the kind of graphics you’d expect from a PS3 game. The game also uses mo-cap for some of the cutscenes, featuring those weird exaggerated movements from anything mo-capped in Japan, which makes it a little difficult to take some scenes seriously. This game has Motoi Sakuraba’s most forgettable soundtrack. I seriously don’t remember what the normal battle music sounds like, and I’ve heard that at least 2500 times. The series could really benefit from a change in composer at this point.
While Tales of Graces f isn’t the best or most creative game of the series, its new spin on the standard Tales battle system still makes it a fun game to play. The story may be cliche and un-original, but it still has a few entertaining or funny moments. While it would have been nice to have a larger amount of extra things to do post-game, the few things that are there can be quite long, taking the total playtime of the game beyond 70 hours. It’s not a great game, but the fun and fast-paced battle system makes it worth at least checking out.
Pros: Fun battle system, some funny moments in the extra content, decent playtime
Cons: Unoriginal story, cliche villain, not much variety in extra content