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Tales of Graces F – Review

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8705TOGF PS3 Sleeve PEGI Information on Tales Of Graces F and Its Release in Australia / New Zealand / European RegionsTitle: Tales of Graces F
Developed By: Namco Tales Studio
Published By: Namco Bandai
Console: Playstation 3, and enhanced port of the Japan-Exclusive Wii version
Genre: RPG
Classification: The ESRB has classified this game as Teen for Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language and Mild Suggestive Themes
Review Conditions: North American Playstation 3 Version
Special Thanks: A copy of this game was purchased out of my own pocket.

Set amidst the conflict of three kingdoms competing for planetary dominance, the story follows Asbel Lhant and his friends on their adventure to protect the bonds between them, unaware that in time, their quest will shake the world itself. These characters, most of which were friends during their childhood will find that seven years have changed them… after each having drifted apart after the death or a girl who has just appeared again infront of them


Tales of Graces F - Review 1

Spanning over numerous releases and a few years shy of its 20th Anniversary, the Tales Series by Namco Bandai Games / Namco Tales Studio has stood the test of time through maintaining a similar sort of RPG system, but enhancing the design quality and gameplay tweaks with each release. Tales of Graces F is an enhanced port of the original Wii title Tales of Graces which has not been released outside of Japan and for the few of you who may have played this version, it contains additional content including a bonus epilogue which further wraps up the storyline, enhanced visuals, costumes and other goodies. For the record, the English localized version has only been released in North America, with a European release slated for Summer 2012 and an ANZ release in Q3 2012. But enough with the formalities…. enjoy my review of Tales of Graces f for the Playstation 3!

Storyline

The story begins a bit different than others in the series, by eliminating a fair chunk of the games backstory plot later on in the game by having you control main character Asbel and his friends Sophie, Hubert, Cheria and Richard in a multi-hour storyline. This gives you the opportunity to not only be slowly introduced to the gameplay mechanics in a more progressive and plot-oriented environment – but it serves as a unique and creative basis point for the core plot elements and gives you a basis for the characters mostly less than cheerful personalities seven years down the track.

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Seven years in the past Asbel and Hubert are both brothers who live in the town of Lhant. Both of them frequently adventure off into the nearby hill which despite the risk of monster attacks has a beautiful flower garden at its peak. On this particular day they arrive to find a mysterious girl by the name of Sophie lying down in the flowerbed and has no idea of who sheis. While the plot is slightly rushed in this component of the game, the two take her back to their home town and insist that Sophie stay with them – due to both her wishes and desire to regain memories she lost through an assumed bout of amnesia. Asbel’s childhood friend Cheria join their adventures as they break orders and meet up with Richard – the Prince of the Kingdom of Windol.

As events progress, the bond between the five develop but is suddenly broken apart after a battle leaves Sophie dead and everyone else in bad condition, convincing Asbel to leave home and train to become a knight. Seven years later and losing contact with everyone else – a number of events reunite them…. but the girl who liked him is now silent, his brother disregards him, one of his best friends has a bounty on his head and most of all… the girl he thought was dead is standing in the flower fields. The storyline also introduces two other playable party members as it progresses, however the plot primarily revolves around these five characters and is pretty solid for a game in the Tales series with wars amongst kingdoms and mystical powers at work to aid and hinder the characters progress.

In comparison to the other Tales games I have played (Not including Tales of Xillia – which as with most of my Japanese reviews I will not factor storyline into anything until the English release), I think it has the most solid plot which was definitely aided by the childhood arc. With a small cast of party members in the game – factoring that they do come and go through storyline events they have been able to give the characters ample development and presence through side-stories even if the focus is on the “Childhood Friends”. As well, it was well  paced, had a more interesting main villain than other installments and especially with the addition of Pascal, quirky and enjoyable humor.

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Design

Factoring in its Nintendo Wii origins and the sizable length of this game, and forgetting the beauty of Tales of Xillia which is not yet even officially announced for the English market yet – I must say the game looks pretty damn good, with considerable differences from Tales of Vesperia. How much you will enjoy this in comparison to Vesperia however will depend on your personal preference between more cel-shaded visuals (Vesperia) versus more 3D anime style visuals (Graces). Personally I found myself being apprehensive of the visuals at first but progressively warmed to what they brought to the world building.What I would consider the most noticable improvement pertained to their first step in changing the world map. Rather than looking at the characters overhead as they wander a semi-barren world with the occasional town, forest or dungeon sticking out of it – they have kept the fields the same as any other dungeon or town by allowing you to walk around separated fields to get from town to town.

Character models were also sufficiently designed, with all main characters having their own unique designs that separates them well from each other. Character animations out of battle are what you would expect from the different personalities in this series – so while Asbel in adulthood acts stoic and Sophie quite often maintains a shy but childish demeanor about her, they were able to go all out with characters such as Pascal with some more out there emotions and animations. In battle, each character uses a different weapon and while it is sometimes hard to pay attention to animation detail within battle, I thought it was a solid performance. I would be interested in having another playthrough of Tales of Vesperia to see how they compare visually.

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Music and Voice Acting

I have enjoyed listening to music from previous Tales games, and in most cases they have had a well rounded soundtrack offering those suited for battles, world and dialogue scenes, but also some that are really out there and managed to capture your attention due to the effort put into them. Unfortunately, while the soundtrack offered an average variety of tracks – I felt they could have added a greater diversity of them and more tracks that can help you get into the mood – as at some points the music backing was rather bland. Fortunately to make up for this, the game provides a rather enjoyable English dubbed opening sequence with strong anime-styled animation to match.

The games English dub voice cast was also strong in my opinion, with the main cast having a considerable amount of experience in both anime and game dubs over the last few years at least. Cassandra Morris as Sophie was perhaps the most interesting of the voice cast as her role was considerably different when contrasted with her usual upbeat or more vocal roles in anime and games (Eg. Gust from Hyperdimension Neptunia, Kyubey in Madoka Magica and Ritsu in K-ON!). Special mentions of the voice cast also go to Bryce Papenbrook as Asbel Lhant, Kate Higgens as Pascal and Steve Staley as Hubert.

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Gameplay and Replayability

The core gameplay is similar to many of the modern Tales games with its own twists.  While you can freely roam the field with limitations, the gameplay automatically defaults with you aimed and running in a straight line towards your target. Attacking can be done through the X and O buttons, while specific movements of the analog sticks allows you to use different artes or skills in conjunction with the attack button. Balancing normal attacks with artes, alongside choosing the right battle AI and members for your party are all instrumental in assuring your victory – as the game does peak in difficulty relatively early on, even at the lower difficulty settings.

The most noticeable improvement in battles is the Chain Capacity (CC) gauge which is in replacement of the TP Bar (Magic Bar). Usually in Tales games you would have to either use certain expensive items to heal your TP gauge in a bind or otherwise dish out normal attacks in order to slowly raise it. Instead, how many attacks you can do in a row is attributed to this chain gauge – with higher quality skills and spells resulting in a greater deplenishment of it. This gauge is generally replenished by standing still for a moment and not doing anything (As a normal attack can still decrease its count), but at the same time results in other battle features such as free movement using up CC as well.

This might sound a bit simplistic, and for the first few hours it is – however this description covers the core basics of the system, and later on in the game provides the complexity and difficulty that I was hoping from this game and should be easy enough to pick up for those new to the gane, but offers just enough new content to appeal to one familiar with series.

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Titles have appeared in a number of previous Tales games, often providing different features depending on the game. In Graces, each character has over 100 different titles which you can equip one by one to provide your character with additional stat boosts, artes or resistances. These offer a surprisingly detailed level of strategy as the variety is vast. For example, if you are finding yourself in an area with enemies prone to inflicting Paralysis – you can unlock (Coincidentally through being paralyzed) a title which as you level up allows you to gain resistances to such negative stat. BUT, as only one title can be acquired at a time – this could be time better spent unlocking new artes to quickly dispose of the enemies or stat increases to deal more damage through normal attacks.

As with other games in the series, there is a crafting system included within it – however perhaps the best implemented one yet. Through dualizing your items you can create new items at almost any of the vendor characters throughout the world and create everything from usable items such as potions or food, to random items that you can sell for extra money. Furthermore this is a system that allows you to upgrade your weapons and armor with special gems and items. The second and perhaps more interesting is the Eleth Mixer, a more unique system that I only bothered diving into later on in my playthrough. Through a replenishable comodity called Eleth alongside an item you have previously acquired, you will be able to do a number of things from cooking to reproducing items in bulk…. and can be done even if you do not actually have the item on-hand most times.

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There are other little improvements here and there which might appeal to the casual and more serious gamer alike. Some of these little features include the ability to get together with three friends and take part in the battles together with each taking control of a respective character and the Trials of Graces mode from the main menu which will pit you against challenging enemies with the ability to claim some good rewards for the enemies respective level. One thing the game should be able to offer you provided you are able to spend the time on it is gameplay time – with easily 60 to 70 hours worth of content to complete, and even more if you are willing to tackle some really challenging trophies.

Overall, I enjoyed this game. While I have enjoyed a number of Tales games previously, I appreciated a number of unique inclusions within this release including the removal of the TP system for the Chain Capacity gauge, the childhood arc which provides an opportunity for us to be introduced to the characters backstories before beginning the game (Less potential for flashback sob stories) and what I would consider a sizable amount of content for the games price in my books.

Final Score
Storyline/Character Development: A-
Design: A-
Music/Voice Acting: B
Gameplay: B+
Replayability: A-
Personal Opinion: B+
Overall Score: B+

Sam
Sam
Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fifteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.
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