4 Year RPG Special Part 2: Tales of Graces F for the PS3 review

A lot of recent video game news has revolved around Namco Bandai actually listening to their fans in the Tales franchise. They are truly showing off that they want to bring over as many of the main titles as possible to the fans here in the states. While it isn’t the most popular RPG series, I feel like recently the fan base has been growing bigger, probably because fans of Square Enix are either loving or hating what they are doing with Final Fantasy 13. While again, they aren’t bad RPG’s, again, a 5 or a 6 are not worst game of all time territory. I can easily recommend those games over others I have played, but I still don’t like them personally. Love it or hate it, the Final Fantasy franchise is changing for the better or worse. Anyways, for this next RPG review in the special, I decided to take a look at, of course, a Tales game. You all probably know what it is by reading the title of this review, but this week’s review will be of Tales of Graces F for the PS3. While I have grown to love the Tales series again, thanks to the amazing Tales of Vesperia for the Xbox360, I have mixed feelings about this game. Don’t get me wrong, it is a strong and very solid action RPG. There are some things that made me “take two” on this most recent Tales game to come out in the states. I guess we should get started, so set your spells and comments to friendship, this is Tales of Graces F.

The game starts out with a couple of our heroes when they were children. Our main child hero for now is Asbel Lhant, voiced by Kate Higgins. He decides to visit a hill area near his small town with his brother Hubert. When the two of them get there, they meet an unusual girl who has no name and doesn’t know who she is, but she is voiced by Cassandra Morris. The two brothers decide to take her back into town and end up meeting another one of Asbel’s friends, Cheria Barnes, voiced by Laura Bailey and YES, it is the same Laura Bailey who voices that slightly obnoxious Final Fantasy 13 character, Vanille. During the first few hours, a couple of things happen, like Asbel, Hubert, and Cheria giving the mysterious girl the name of Sophie, and they all meet a young prince named Richard, voiced by Wendee Lee. Some things happen, like Sophie vanishes (won’t spoil anything here if you all haven’t played the game), Hubert gets adopted by another country, and Asbel gets sick and tired of his father being a grade A jerk to him and enrolls at the knight academy in Richard’s kingdom. Cut to 7 years later to a young adult Asbel Lhant, voiced by Bryce Papenbrook. He is being mentored by a captain of the academy Malik Caesar, voiced by Jamieson Price. After completing a mission with the captain, he returns to the academy to see his old friend Cheria, who is still voiced by Laura Bailey. She tells Asbel of an incident that is happening in his home town and Asbel decides to travel back to try and solve it. In the midst of it all, Sophie returns not having aged a bit, Hubert is older and acts pretty much like a stuck-up angry tightwad, voiced by Steve Staley, Richard is all grown up and voiced by David Vincent and is acting odd, and they meet an eccentric and high-spirited girl named Pascal, voiced by Kate Higgins. Many other political events take over the plot and it’s up to Asbel and his friends to save the world. I will admit, I wanted to save the criticism for the story for last, but I just did not like the story for the first 6 hours of the game. I think it’s because the characters start out as very boring and or they are complete jerks like Asbel’s dad who tries to come off as stern and strict, but is more along the line of getting the award for most abusive father. I am dead serious here, he is the one who lets Hubert get adopted by another country without Hubert having any say in it. He hits and talks down to Asbel whenever he can, and doesn’t say one nice thing about Asbel. The same goes for the mother who does nothing but scold poor Asbel when he was really doing what he thought was right. Even after the 7 year skip, characters are still acting like jerks or are just not that interesting. The opening hours that consist of Asbel and company being kids is easily one of the worst ways to start your RPG. It is right up there with Kingdom Hearts 2 and Dragon Quest 7. The story doesn’t get that much better either since it boils down to a huge number of predictable plot elements, but the characters do become redeemable, but usually you want to make them either likeable and interesting from the beginning or do it within the first two hours of an RPG, NOT 12 HOURS IN. This is easily one of the worst parts of this game and it is a shame, since like I said, the characters and story do get better even if predictable plot elements and pointless secondary characters do ruin it from time to time.
The game is a surprisingly linear action RPG. I think this might have been because of this game originally being on the Wii, but there is not a whole lot of freedom like in Tales of Vesperia. You travel around a world going to towns, traveling on ships, and of course taking care of what problem that country has which usually involves a boss of some sorts human or monster. The combat that is actually a plus in this RPG has been improved. It is called the Style Shift Linear Motion Battle System. Instead of how in the last game you could be on a linear plane when you are targeting an enemy, but can move freely around, this time you are stuck on that one linear plane. Instead of having your normal attacks and then using the D-Pad to pull off special moves, the X button is used for your normal attacks and the O button is used for your special moves. You still push the left analog stick in any of four directions and press either the X or O button, but certain enemies can be killed faster if you use one style of moves over the other. For example, when you target an enemy to see their stats, you will see below that they are weak against a certain kind of move set that your character can use. This leads to a good amount of strategy to taking down enemies faster. There are some things that were carried over from Vesperia, like those super flashy moves that you get when you completely fill up a bar on the left side of the screen. Of course, this all might sound like one big button masher, but there is a number counter and a magic bar where your character’s icon is, and you need to be wary and careful for how filled the counter and bar are. The stronger the moves, the more quickly the counter and the bar will be drained. You also get some nifty dodge mechanics where you sidestep or slide backwards away from the enemy and get out of the range of said enemy. To round out the customization of your characters, the titles come back, and this is where most of the customization comes into play. You get what seems like a million titles for each character that will give your characters different perks that will make them stronger and give them more attacks. It’s a bit much to have so many titles and I would rather them have the old-fashioned leveling system where you gain updated stats on everything each time you level up.  There are side activities like puzzles and of course, trials that you have to pass. You get a good amount of stuff for this RPG, and you will get around 30 or more hours if you want to do everything. You even get a cool epilogue story that you get to tackle after you beat the game.
The graphics are bright and colorful, and the monster designs are pretty fun. The character designs, while of course having a very anime aesthetic, still have a lot of detail. The artist they used this time is Mutsumi Inomata.  She is mostly known for her works in Tales games like Destiny, Eternia, Destiny 2, and is the designer for some of the characters of Tales of Xillia. They look nice. I also like a couple of the voice actor they got, like Malik’s voice actor Jamieson Price and Pascal’s voice actress Kate Higgins. While I am not a huge fan of this game’s music, it has some solid tracks, like the main opening theme is pretty good and some of the battle tracks are fun. Motoi Sakuraba is one of the two composers who worked on this game’s music. He also worked on the other Tales games along with franchises like Shining Force, Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile, Golden Sun, and cult games like Beyond the Beyond. He also has a list of Nintendo games under his belt, like the Mario Tennis and Golf games. I would say this is one of his weaker soundtracks, but he is still a very talented composer.
Sadly, there is a rather huge amount of faults.  I already talked about how I don’t like the story due to its slow first couple of hours and how some of the characters at first aren’t that likable. It’s also painfully predictable, with plot elements easily spotted before you even get to that point in the story. The game also has a few pointless characters in it, but I won’t spoil it for anyone. They just show up and do this one minor thing, and of course you know what’s going to happen to them before the story gets to that point. I have heard that there are side quests that do actually develop the “I think these characters are jerks for the first part of the game”, but why should all these details be relegated to side quests that the player might not even know about? I didn’t know about them until someone told me about them! That is just lousy design in my opinion. While I said the graphics are nice and colorful, they still aren’t THAT GOOD. When I say that, I don’t mean they are the worst graphics ever. I can think of a hundred different games on the PS3 that look like garbage, but due to this being an HD version of a Wii game, they could have done better. Yeah, Tales of Vesperia might have not pushed the 360 to its limits, but it looked so amazing. The detail, the animation, the colors were great. In Graces F however, the animations are clunky, the lip sync with the voice work is awful, shading and other details are weak or not there, and it wouldn’t have hurt Namco to throw a few more bucks into using the PS3’s graphical capabilities. I mean, look at Valkyria Chronicles on the PS3. That game has an anime art style and it looks amazing. The linear nature of this game is also rather boring. I would blame that on the fact that this was originally on a Wii, but if you look at games like Xenoblade Chronicle’s, there should be no excuse for having such a linear path set up for the player to traverse. It falls into the same trap that Final Fantasy 13 did with its linear nature. There is also a tedious amount of backtracking. Even when you get the token flying ship, you can’t even fly around the map freely, and can only go to designated places on the world map. This is extremely frustrating when the last Tales game you played had a huge amount of freedom, and then you play this game that basically forces you to go in a straight line. Even the dungeons which are where you will be spending a lot of time are basically cut-and-paste. They all feel the same and it’s just a different area, but same dungeon layout.
I just kind of hate how this game is for me, one of the weakest games in the Tales series. It isn’t the worst game out of the series, but it isn’t the strongest either. I think it’s middle-of-the-road for the franchise.  Sure, there are cool and fun things about it, but with so many little flaws that build up over time, it brings the game to a halt. However, I would still recommend this game over huge amounts of RPG’s like Risen 2 and other failed RPG’s that have come out in 2012. I think by now the price has dropped and it’s easily worth getting if you are a hardcore Tales fan and an RPG gamer. If you see it for 30-40 dollars I would get it. All I need to do now is prepare myself for Tales of Xillia that has been announced to come over here in 2013.
This game gets a 7 out of 10