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Tales of Graces f Review

Most literature instructors assert that the beauty of haiku or a sonnet can be found in the tension between expression and formula. Articulating complex emotions while conforming to a strict structure can be a daunting task. With reoccurring themes such as amnesia, imminent apocalypses, and friendships fated to stop these disasters, JRPG’s face a similar quandary by attempting to create a novel experience out of customary elements.

The first few hours of Tales of Graces f do little to transcend these recognizable tropes. During the commencement of the game, players are introduced to the two dissimilar sons of the reigning Lord of Lhant. The elder Asbel is the requisite impetuous lad, while younger brother Hubert’s assumes the role of prudent sidekick. After wandering up a nearby hill, the siblings discover a mysterious, purple-haired girl, who has no recollection of her past, fulfilling the trifecta of familiarity. Thankfully, the title soon thwarts convention, jumping ahead seven years in the future. Players find the naïve protagonists unsettled in the wake of tragedy, with their aspirations skewed by the gravity of misfortune. While many eastern RPGs deliver a gratifying character arc, the title’s post-introductory storyline is particularly poignant, nearly plumbing the pathos of Tales of Vesperia.

The game’s narrative is also complemented by optional dialog sequences known as skits, which have been a hallmark of the Tales series. Regretfully, North American gamers have often had to follow these conversations without the benefit of voice-over, diminishing their emotional impact. Thankfully, Namco-Bandai went the extra mile with Graces, adding speech to these habitually smile-inducing scenes. Of course, purists may still take issue with the lack of a Japanese voice track in the game, even though the English dub is quite competent.

Yet, what truly elevates the title over its role-playing brethren is the game’s absorbing combat system. The Tales franchise has consistently offered gratifying real-time battles- however, the amount of nuance implanted into Graces’ encounters permits conflicts to be persistently pleasing. At the game’s onset, characters are capable of initiating Assault Artes- basic, predetermined, swift strikes. Later, the adventuring party are granted access to Burst Artes, which offer customizable attacks that sacrifice speed for devastating power. Although novices may find themselves button-mashing their way through fracases (especially on the easier difficulty settings), Graces’ Chain Capacity system rewards skillful evasion and blocking with longer combat combos.

Players wishing to fully immerse themselves in battle can even switch characters on the fly, unleashing overwhelming sequences of attacks on foes. For most gamers, allowing the AI to direct your fellow party member will suffice, as you can manage their combat roles. Between the ability to lithely sidestep around foes and the requirement to study enemy attack patterns, Graces’ skirmishes can feel more like a fighting game than the genre’s often turgid, turn-based, approach. Smartly, combat with lesser enemies moves at a quick clip, with the game sporadically bestowing bonuses for engagements settled before the ten or twenty second mark.

Each character’s selection of Artes emanates from the game’s compelling title system, which offers a nice reprieve from conventional leveling systems. Assigning a title to a character allows the adventurer to learn up to five new skills. Although the urge to garner as many abilities as possible is palpable, characters receive a stat bonus for equipping a maximized title. Items unearthed during exploration of acquired during battle may be combined through a process called “dualization”, allowing for the creation of quest items, sundries, improved gear, or even a bit of coinage. Additional diversions ranging from side missions, a gladiatorial arena, and a collectable card game vie for a player’s attention, endowing Graces with a gratifying amount of diversity. Remarkably, these supplemental activities are consistently engaging and rewarding, rarely feeling like manipulative methods designed to pad the title’s playtime.

Graces’ visual delivery rarely divulges the game’s ancestry- which grew from the Japanese-only release of a Wii title. Returning artist Mutsumi Inomata’s aesthetic makes the transition to a high-def system unscathed, rendering cleanly drawn characters with sharp lines and fostering a persistently fluid framerate. Beyond the addition of supplemental costumes and titles, the game also includes the Lineage and Legacies epilogue which offers an additional ten hours of arduous adventuring to test the resolve of experienced explorers. Additionally, players can earn additional items by participating in Trials of Graces- a mode which offers twenty-seven battle challenges to conquer.

Tales of Graces f is the rare JRPG which dutifully obeys tradition while rarely allowing convention to constrain the title’s aspirations. Amid persistence discussion of the stagnancy of the genre, developers would be wise to note Graces’ involving combat and distinctive system of character development. For players longing to rekindle the elusive charm of the PS2-era Japanese role-playing game, know that Graces’ moniker is no misnomer.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

30 comments

  1. Here’s the Deagle we all know. Loving JRPGs like a wildman!

  2. You liked this better than Hyperdimension Neptunia? How could you, DEagle?!?

    (Actually I REALLY want to get this)

  3. every once in a while I think you and NOLA are too smart for games when you compare them to haiku or other kinds of crazy stuff. But then I think that game reviews do really need that, if anyone is every going to take them seriously.

  4. The ending of this review is worse than Mass Effect 3!

    Just kidding. I see what you’re saying. Long live the purple-pig tailed girl.

  5. Just curious if you anyone saw the IGN review. Just when I thought reviewers are already dumb comes about 7/8 press release and 1/8 snark.

    http://uk.ps3.ign.com/articles/122/1221142p1.html

    “The visuals show their age, especially in the environments that stand painfully still in almost every frame. You can tell Tales of Graces F hit the Wii first.”

    • I saw that. I can’t help but IGN is in tune with their “I don’t really like reading, but when I do it’s Twilight” base. At least it’s cool they’re not scoring it.

      Back to Graces. Sound good. really good. I like the way you mention it feels like a PS2 JRPG. Sometime about games this gen just don’t get it.

    • I noticed Kotaku and IGN are going with these easy to read, glorified preview type reviews. Even you guys do the “What is the concept” thing once in a while. Why is everyone afraid that people don’t read anymore? I read almost every one of your reviews, word for word.

    • I don’t really get why people read IGN. They’re reviews are often rushed and no better than other sites. Their forums are filled with “MW3>this” garbage. What’s the draw?

  6. I really hope that between Abyss and Graces, American gamer wake up and starting enjoying the JRPG. This one is different.

  7. Very good review. I have a question. Is this coming to 360 or just Playstation?

  8. based on the screens I have ZERO interest in playing this game. So ugly.

    • You just might be on the wrong website then.

      • Haha. This game doesn’t look “Bro” enough for him. Back to CoD and Gears, he goes.

        Just picked up Abyss on Friday. So far I’m really liking it. Probably the best rpg on the 3DS right now, even though there’s not too many of them. I wish they’d bring over Persona 3.

  9. Good review, Deagle. I’m glad there’s some JRPGs that are worthy of a full price purchase these days.

  10. I heard the first three hours are like sleeping pills. No one makes it past without a few Zzzzs.

    • How’s the save system? Can you save anywhere or only at certain places?

    • I’ve played my fair share of RPGs (maybe 20 games) and the opening isn’t as bad as some reviews would indicate. Slow? yes. Cliched? Totally. But not awful. It sets the stage for whats to come.

  11. This is the best Tales game I’ve played since Symphonia. It beats you over the head with the notion of friendship, but other than that a lot of fun. If you play RPGs to enjoy yourself, pick it up.

  12. I got ToG as an impulse buy since Gamestop was out of Resident Evil (I know very different games) I’m about three hours into Tales and so far I like it. It is a little slow, but I went back to battles just to learn the systems. The one bad thing is that the game and booklet don’t really tell you what to do.

  13. Not one id buy, but thanks for the review. Better than IGNs junk.

  14. Just finished reading the review. Great work, Deagle. The only thing you left out is that you can play co-op during battles with other people.

  15. I wonder why more JRPGs don’t have battles that rely on action. They were doing that in the SNES days.

  16. Sorry to disappoint you bro, nut Mass Effect has had action combat in a RPG series for at least 5 years.

    • Star Ocean had that battle system back in the snes days… So did the first “tales of” game, way before Mass Effect was even an idea…

  17. The review was talking about JAPANESE RPGs. Besides, Tales was around last-gen.

  18. I will probably play this after I finish playing Mass Effect 3. Just wantbto show than WRPGs and JRPGs can survive in harmony.

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