Tales of Graces F|
I've come to realize that amidst all of my recent dragon slayings and shooters that I've been missing out on one of my true loves in gaming, the Japanese RPG. There is something about clichés and adventures that I've always loved growing up. In fact I haven't really played one since the release of Tales of Vesperia some time ago. It wasn't until the latest release in the Tales franchise, Tales of Graces f, on the PS3 that I found myself back into the fold like meeting up with an old friend after years of separation.
The Tales franchise is one of the longest running series still out there and after an absence here in the North American market they have returned with an upgraded and extended version of the Japanese exclusive Wii title, Tales of Graces. I was already psyched that Tales of the Abyss was coming to the 3DS, but when Graces arrived at my desk, I was thrilled. Tales of Graces f goes back to its roots with a more cheerful light hearted tale that is all about the bonds of friendship.
You immediately fall into the classic JRPG formula as you meet young Asbel Lhant, the future successor to the town of Lhant in the kingdom of Windsor. The strong headed boy and his younger brother Hubert venture to a local special spot where flowers grow all year round. There they come across a mysterious girl with amnesia who Asbel aptly names Sophie after one of the flowers that grows on Lhant Hill. It's only a short while later that sparks a moment that a friendship pact is made between Asbel, Sophie and a young child named Richard. it is at this fateful moment that Asbel decides to join the knights academy in the capital city. Several years pass and Asbel is forced to return to take up personal matters.
I found the battle system found in Tales of Graces f to be very similar to Vesperia. The biggest difference this time around is the ability to change up your fighting style right in the middle of battle. Known as the SS-LiMBS (or Shift Style - Linear Motion Battle), you are allowed to move directly towards or away from the targeted enemy. You can evade attacks and even sneaks in hits by sidestepping with a few taps on the left analog stick. The trick with any Tales adventure is to utilize the Artes and attacks that you learn effectively and quickly as well. Artes are Graces' special abilities that vary per character. Some are magic based while others are physical in nature.
The overall feel of the combat in Tales of Graces f is fast-paced, but it isn't your run of the mill "mash buttons until you defeat everything in your path" adventure like some of the various titles in the Tales library. Here you need to sometimes take a step back and defend yourself, but it’s not just to avoid damage. By defending you raise your Chain Capacity (CC) so you can perform special abilities. The double edged sword with this is that if you block too long enemies can break your guard.
Tales of Graces f also contains a few new features that I discovered fairly quickly and have to say I really like. The first is that Graces does not use a world map like some of the earlier titles. Most locations are tied to each other by seamless paths that have minor loads. The other feature that I really like is the Dualize option. This is Graces' version of synthesizing items and it’s never been easier. Thanks to the Turtlez found throughout the game you can Dualize at any store or Turtlez members. It's really handy when you’re away from towns and happen upon one if you need to make some quick apple gels.
I have to say that the only thing not fast paced about Tales of Graces is the story, at least not at first. It does pick up and it gets a lot better as you meet new allies and enemies. The story especially in the most important areas are entirely voiced which I loved. I also like that most of the skits, some of which are classically JRPG funny. Usually they are silent but all of them are spoken which is rather nice. While I'm on the subject of voice actors, Tales of Graces f has a pretty good bunch of actors supplying the emotion found within. The overall score for Tales of Graces f is good though is rather casual this time around, with battles being the notable exception. The theme song "White Wishes" is perhaps one of my favorite Tales themes to date.
The graphics in any Tales game are important but this one enhanced version has been upgraded to 720p HD graphics offering crisp clear visuals. The color palette for Tales of Graces f is light-hearted like a lot of the series though the enemies are anything but. I really love the detail on the clothing and weapons that you see throughout the journey and if you choose there are more outfits you can get on the PSN for a cost. As to be expected Tales of Graces f doesn't disappoint in its animated cut scenes that are of anime television caliber. Namco is a company that has rarely disappointed me with its visuals and Tales of Graces f is no exception.
Another tradition from the folks at Namco is to give the player a lot of content to experience. The story alone features over 40 hours of gameplay and more content is unlocked as you make your way through it. As you complete and explore the many locations that Tales of Graces f has to offer you will unlock special quests that you will find in the Trials of Graces mode. These are battles against enemies that you don't encounter in the normal experience. If that wasn't enough there is another 10+ hours of gameplay that brings another character to the forefront in the Lineage & Legacies epilogue that follows the main story. That's where the "f", short for future, comes from in the title. There is even DLC that can give your main characters a new look and a stat bonus as well. There are even some that give you some useful items.
Tales of Graces f was a trip that I've been waiting to play since before Vesperia. The colorful imagery and youth driven story about friendship are all well told and crafted. This is an adventure North America almost didn't receive and it would a shame for anyone who likes or even loves the Tales series to miss it. Find and pick-up Tales of Graces f for the PS3 today, you won't be disappointed.