As the Nintendo 3DS inches towards its first birthday, it’s becoming evident that the system has some unmistakable gaps in its software library. Beyond the lack of a solitary first-person shooter, adventure aficionados have had to subsist on a pair of role-playing titles: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked and a bug-plagued port of Harvest Moon: Tale of Two Towns. For purists, neither of these titles captured the oft- cherished conventions of the traditional JRPG- with the formal offering a more tactical approach to combat, while the later avoids battles altogether. With Namco-Bandai’s recent remake of beloved PS2 title, Tales of the Abyss, 3DS owners finally have access to the type of prototypical party-based expedition capable of captivating devotees of the genre.
Expectedly, many of the usual conventions are comfortably in place; players unite a team of unlikely, divergent heroes to save a world from imminent peril. Yet, what elevates Tales of the Abyss above similar efforts is the title’s capable articulation of the character arc. When gamers are first introduced to the game’s protagonist, Luke Fon Fabre, he’s a spoiled aristocrat, sheltered from the world after a kidnapping which took place seven years earlier. Initially, the character’s dialog is irritatingly impetuous and self-centered. However, following a number of crucial realizations and incidents, players behold Fon Fabre’s poignant redemption- resulting in one of the genre’s more satisfying personal progressions. For players who overlooked the PS2 iteration of the game, Tales of the Abyss’ plotline has a few foreseeable wrinkles, but most the title’s twists are expressed cautiously.
Following the action-oriented, real-time combat which has become commonplace in the Tales series, battles are another one of the title’s most satisfying elements. Gamers take control of a single party member, leaving the game’s A.I. responsible for the remaining trio of heroes. While preliminary encounters can be concluded with a bit of button-mashing, Tales of the Abyss steadily adds nuance to combat, upholding a player’s interest. Initially, each character’s normal attacks are augmented by up to eight different Fonic Artes- special abilities which draw from a limited pool of Technical Points (or TP). Later, party members can combine these sturdier strikes. With one character crafting an elemental strike, another can step into the casting field, producing an exponentially more powerful assault.
Additionally, a right tap on the directional pad is able to boost characters into Overlimit- a condition which not only offers a temporary offensive and defensive stat boost, but also allows access to a powerful field of fire blast known as a Mystic Arte. Despite the vast array of options at the player’s disposal, combat rarely becomes overwhelming thanks to the savvy CPU team. Able to perceptively aid endangered players, follow orders, and offer a helping hand against formidable foes, your party members are consistently cooperative, supporting the title’s theme of solidarity. Should you wish to make any micro-adjustments in the midst of battle, Tales of the Abyss is happy to accommodate any weapon or armor adjustments.
Venturing across the title’s overworld is made stimulating though forked paths which routinely hide trinkets and offer the sporadic puzzle element. Players who scour the game’s assortment of cities, settlements, dungeons and paths for treasures are able to push Tales of the Abyss above the sixty hour threshold, making the cartridge a comparative bargain for fans of the genre. Likewise, the game gives control over its challenge level, allowing gamers to adjust the difficulty setting at any time.
Despite several virtuous features, Tales of the Abyss also a number of quizzical components bound to disappoint players. Periodically, gamers are prompt to press the selection button to watch a ‘skit’- an auxiliary conversation between characters. Whereas the original Japanese version of Tales voiced these interludes, the localized 3DS iteration is noticeably mute and unlike the text of the main game, follows its own fixed pace. As such, these sequences feel woefully underwhelming, obliging players to skip these supplemental story pieces, which could have added to the title’s feel. While the game’s art style, character design, and animation are commendable the transition to a stereoscopic screen wasn’t without consequence. While Tales of the Abyss accurately recreates the visuals of its PS2 predecessor when the 3D is turned off, engaging the depth slider can upset the perspective of characters and backgrounds. One noticeable example: dialog balloon are rendered in the extreme forefront, creating an odd gap between a character and their conversation. Save for Mieu’s shrill catch-phrases, the game’s voice acting is a solid effort, but given the amount of speech in the game, sounds a bit too compressed.
For Nintendo 3DS owners pining for a ‘proper’ JRPG, Tales of the Abyss is your savior- delivering a gratifying adventure elevated by a remarkably engaging combat system. While the integration of simulated depth won’t be compelling enough to attract players who have already persevered through Luke Fon Fabre’s adventures on the PlayStation 2, those who haven’t experienced Abyss are encouraged to dive in head first.