Today, it seems classically-styled Japanese role playing games (JRPG) are considered obsolete, thanks in large part to the overwhelming popularity of western RPGs. Well, Tales of Graces f is able to fight back and claim that JRPGs are not dead yet. In classic Tales fashion, it has very strong Japanese elements incorporated into the game. Forsaking modern day CGI, the game still uses anime cut scenes, an attribute that is standard for most JRPGs. This may make the game sound dated, but it actually gives the game a very classic feel and will bring you back to the days when JRPGs reigned supreme on PS1 and PS2.
Normally, a game will start on the main plot and then, through either dialog or flashbacks, you will learn the past of a character. Not in Tales of Graces f. This game starts in the childhood arc before advancing seven years to the main arc. This causes the beginning of the game to be somewhat slow; since the characters are only kids, they aren’t that strong, which makes the battles a little dry. The other problem is how cliché the kids are: a strong-headed, act-before-thinking leader, his shy little brother, a reprimanding childhood love interest, the distant, untrusting Prince who learns about friendship, and a girl with amnesia. However, there are definite plus sides to doing this. The first positive is that the combat can be overbearing in this game, and the childhood arc breaks the combat down for you to learn it slowly, giving you a good grasp on it. Secondly, this sets the baseboard for the entire story, as characters will repeatedly reference their childhood.
Simply put, the story is remarkable. It revolves around Asbel Lhant, the eldest son of the Lord of Lhant. After forcing his shy little brother to go adventuring with him, they discover a young girl with amnesia. Asbel decides he’s going to care for her and returns home to discover the Prince of the country is staying in his manor. This part of the game is all about the bond that the characters make. It’s rather cliché, but it’s the foundation for the rest of the amazing story. After some serious events, Asbel decides to forsake his title as Lord and become a Knight. Skip seven years into the future and the real game’s potential awakens. No longer is this game simply kids adventuring in the woods. War is breaking out between countries, and the world is put into dire jeopardy as Asbel is reunited with his friends, now much different than they were. Of course, it’s up to him and his friends to fix everything, but the beauty is in the relationship between the characters who grew out of their childhood stereotypes. Asbel’s longing for the old friends he once knew, his attempt to keep them together, and his undying loyalty to go literally to the ends of the world for them is wonderfully endearing. The theme of friendship has been beaten to death, but Tales of Graces f is able to pull in such a way that, even if done before, it still works. You’ll feel deeply for the characters as the game progresses, and the addicting story will keep your attention to the very end.
The magic doesn’t end there; the battle system is a beauty as well. The monsters are visible, and you touch them to enter an arena-style battle mode. You control yourself, but your three companions are AI-controlled. Don’t worry; you get to choose everything about them, from artes they use to strategy during battle. You have two styles of moves: A-artes or B-artes. To use either, you need to spend command points (or CP). However, it only takes a couple seconds to refill your CP, so combat remains fast-paced, keeping it from feeling turn-based. This does put an emphasis on defending as it refills, but defending also gives bonuses based on how long you defend, such as a higher critical hit chance. You’ll soon find yourself amassing high combos before defending and dodging to gain CP, only to unleash hell again, which all makes for extremely fluid combat.
The different artes add a uniquely deep battle experience. Pressing X and moving the joystick in one direction will choose which physical A-arte you use. A direction and the Circle button chooses B-artes, which are usually more magical and powerful, but cost more CP. You will need to mix the two artes together to chain high combos and focus on an enemy’s weakness. Some are weak to A-artes, some to B-artes, and some artes will hit multiple enemies, while some focus only on one. The frequent use of different artes coupled with the fast-paced combat makes for an incredibly deep and rewarding battle system, ultimately keeping the game from growing stale.
Besides gaining experience to level up, you also need to equip titles. Titles can teach a character anything from a new arte to raising their HP. There are hundreds of titles, each with five ranks to reach using skill points. This makes the game even more complex and in-depth. You will level a character based on the role they play for you. A healer should focus on titles that make them better at casting healing artes, while a fighter should learn new artes or increase their stats. Ultimately, it’s up to you, and there are hundreds of titles to sort through to match your playing style.
There are very few flaws in this practically perfect game. The game has a classic feel, but that can easily be viewed as dated, and the fixed camera angle doesn’t help. Many will be turned off by the graphics alone. Even though they are colorful and vibrant, they hold a childish, cartoon-like feel that seems out of place with the serious story line. The game is somewhat linear, always forcing you down one skinny path. The music is good; nothing amazing or memorable, but it gets the job done. The characters are stereotypical to JRPGs, and the friendship notion comes across just a little too strong. Basically, this game will only be well-liked by JRPG fans; that’s how it is modeled. If you’re looking for some new innovation in RPGs, it’s not here, but if you’re looking for a solid game to remind you of the classic RPGs back in the day, this will do just fine.
Final Verdict: Side quests and extras add even more time onto the already fifty-hour long campaign. All the wonderful parts of the game overcome the few flaws, making it a must buy for true RPG fans.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Playstation 3 version of Tales of Graces f by Namco Tales Studio distributed by Namco Bandai Games.