The 90’s was a great time for JRPGs. During this decade we saw some of the greatest and most memorable series to come out of Japan and into Western homes. Square with Final Fantasy, Enix with Dragon Quest, SEGA with Phantasy Star. Namco (now Namco Bandai or Bandai Namco in Japan) though mainly known for arcade classics such as Pac Man, Dig Dug, Galaga, Ridge Racer and many more also had a series of their known as Tales.
While not as mainstream big like FF or DQ, the Tales series does have a sizeable following of fans and has had its share of innovations such as multiplayer battle combat and unique leveling systems. Namco is continuing this tradition with the latest game in the mothership series, Tales of Graces F. Is bringing over Tales of Graces F a good call on Namco’s part? Or was it a wasted effort on a genre many still shy away from?
A Tale of Growing Pains - What some people might not know is that each Tales game has characteristic genre to them, which sets the story and motivations of main characters. For Tales of Graces F the characteristic genre for it is RPG to Know the Strength to Protect. The main lead Asbel Lhant, is a caring yet defiant person who deeply cares for others. Despite any obstacles or shortcomings he may encounter, he has made it a point that he will protect the ones he cares for no matter what. After having gone through several tramautic experiences in his childhood, he resolves to get stronger. This want of strength doesn’t just apply to Asbel. Other members of the party have their own reasons they want to be stronger, not just in terms of just physical strength, but stronger emotionally as well. Bonds between friends are taken into question and actions that they thought were once right become questionable. We see the growth each character has gone through and are still going through during the crisis in the game. In a sea of JRPGs that has their protagonists and antagonists with believes that are defined clearly, what Tales of Graces F brings to the table is really refreshing.
4-Player Battle Co-op - More JRPGs need to have this. Usually JRPGs are a solo affair, having the player experience the journey alone. I know when I would play JRPGs, my brother would watch saying things like “That looks cool, can I play too?” To which I would respond “Sorry it’s a single player game.” Tales games are known for letting other players control other party members, turning a solo experience into one that friends can take part in. Tales of Graces F continues this tradition with four player battle co-op. By adding human control instead of pre-programmed AI, this can lead to more tactics used on enemies, greater use of strategic movement and it does help to have a human player heal you when you need it rather than having the AI wait till you are at 10% health.
Unique Battle System - ToGf uses a variation of the battle system used in previous games called Style Shift Linear Motion Battle System, or SS-LiMBS. As with the other games, the party can freely move around enemies during battle, flanking them and using other tactics. What makes ToGf different is the Style Shift aspect of the battle system. Style Shift gives each of the party members’ two types of attacks, A-artes and B-artes. A-artes are default attacks that can be increased in power by the title leveling system (more on that in a bit). B-artes are attacks that can be learned through the same title leveling system and are often more powerful attacks. Players must use a combination of both artes and the block/charge/counter action to get the highest combo outputs and high damage. If this is sounding like a fighting game, that’s because the LiMBS system takes elements from fighting games (this is a Namco game after all) and incorporates them to make battles feel more interactive and give players that sense of control that they get when playing a fighting game.
Title Leveling - With most JRPGs that I’ve played, characters’ core attributes get automatically leveled up leaving me to level up objects/ items that help enhance the character or use some char/grid to indirectly level up the character . It’s different with ToGf, its something I haven’t seen before in a JRPG. The game uses a series of titles to supplement the level gain of the party. Each title has five different attributes that can be gained or learned depending on the amount of SP needed and SP earned. Here new artes are learned, buffs/nerfs are applied and other abilities. What’s really cool is that once any of the attributes are learned, they are permanent and stay with the character. This allows players to learn different abilities and gain new attributes through experimentation. I found this to be quite useful in tight situations when the boss would use status attacks, I would switch out my current title for one that gave me a buff against the attack and level grinded. Not only did I get more powerful, but the title gave me the chance to learn new buffs that I needed.
Enhanced Port- Tales of Graces F is an enhanced port of the Japanese Wii version. In that particular version of the game, bugs and glitches ran rampet. Saves were corrupted, quests were made unplayable and there were reports of the game crashing the system itself. Bandai remedied this with a port re-release on the PS3. This re-release addressed all of the bugs and glitches that were in the Wii version and the game saw additions to it. These additions come in the form of an epilogue quest called Lineage & Legacies, which added an additional 10 hours of gameplay to a 40+ hour game. That’s not including new game plus. Throw in downloadable costumes, weapons and possible side quests and replay value isn’t a problem.
Trials of Grace- Trials of Grace is a fun extra diversion that is included in the game. It is the game’s version of a boss rush mode or free battle mode. Each match has a variety of monster formations that players can take on to win extra items and try to get on the leaderboards. Fights range from easy going monsters to high level bosses and sub bosses. It’s a fun diversion from the main game and can help players that are having a hard time leveling up their party.
Decent Dubbing- I like to have an option of dual languages with most of my JRPGs. ToGf doesn’t have that option, but that isn’t a problem. The English dub is quite good actually, save for one character. The reason for that is Namco got some of the best anime VO talent to voice the cast of the game and bring them to life. The cast is a mix of well know names from high profile games to names from highly popular anime shows. They give a really strong performance during in game scenes, animated cut scenes, and skits/banter between members of the party.
A GRIM TALE
No Town/Dungeon Maps - While there are maps that point out the next destination in the over world areas, once a town or dungeon is reached there is no map. I do understand that exploration is a key component in any RPG, but when I start to notice that I’ve passed the same set of crates more than once or that I notice that I’m on the wrong side of the town/dungeon, I like to look at a map to try to regroup and find my way around. That is not the case when entering towns and dungeons in Tales of Grace.
Art Style Hasn’t Changed - This isn’t really problem for me as I really like the art style of the game. But I’d like to make a comment on it. The art style of ToGf and the current gen of Tales games have not changed since the series’ transition to 3D. With a series that has been going on for well over two decades, you’d think the Tales dev team would have experimented with the art style. Final Fantasy games have experimented with different styles, so has Dragon Quest each with varying success. Now I know graphics are just one component in making a game, but with Tales it’s kind of hard to distinguish the games from each other visually. Again, not really a big problem, but it would be nice to have some experimentation with the art style.
JRPGs this year are making strides in gaming with various releases coming out on a multitude of platforms. Tales of Graces F leads this charge, showing that not all JRPGs have to fall under the stereotypes they have amassed over the years, or be a huge name to enjoy success. With a refreshing story of strengthening one’s self, co-op battles, a title leveling system that encourages experimentation and decent dubbing , Tale of Graces F makes for a fun experience. Couple that with DLC content in the form of extra costumes, weapons and that the enhanced port from the Wii version that adds on an additional 10+hours of gameplay after the main story is over, and it quickly becomes one of my favorite JRPGs to come out this year. My one true complaint is the need for dungeon/town maps. As for the art style of the game, while I did enjoy it, I would like to see more experimenting with the next entry into the series, if Namco decides to keep on with the series, that is. Hopefully with the success that ToGf gets, we’ll see Tales of Xillia sooner than later. If you want Xillia, go out and support Tales of Graces F.
*This review was based on the PS3 version of the game with a review copy provided by the publisher.*