After a significantly longer period of time than I originally planned, I have finally finished Tales of the Abyss for the 3DS. As promised to Z, Evan, and others here on TAY, I’ve decided to do a quick write up of some thoughts on the game while they’re fresh. This isn’t really a full on TAY Review, just more-so a running thought exercise about the game. It’s fairly spoiler-free, just FYI.
- Combat is as fluid and kickass as ever. If there’s one thing Tales games absolutely have nailed down solid, it’s their battle mechanics and game-play. Despite it’s roughly 35 hour campaign, I never had the thought of “ugh, another battle”. Abyss’ system gives the player just enough agency to be able to control the flow of battle, without feeling overburdened by the need to micro-manage every few seconds. I can trust that Jade is going to blast the snot out of something, or that when I put Tear in “Support” mode, she’s actually going to use status upgrade spells and heals. As a result, not once throughout Abyss did I feel cheated out of a victory, even in the case of some bosses doing massive amounts of damage in short time windows.
- The main cast of characters are very memorable. This was a big positive for me, as having played through a few other Tales games now, it’s not uncommon to have some characters who are just entirely one-dimensional, or flat out boring. I can see why some people dislike Luke as a protagonist, and I’ll touch on that in a bit, but overall ....
- Jade exists. Honestly, he alone is enough to carry the entire cast. His banter is always witty, he has an interesting back-story and viewpoint on different events throughout the story. He doesn’t pull punches and is deeply cynical and snide, yet you could tell he acts in such a way because he deeply cares about influencing the outcomes of major events. When Jade opens up to characters, and you as a player, it matters. You care to see him evolve as a person and combat his past.
- The Grand Fonic Hymn is such a good lullaby I want to play it for my kids one day.
- The story is extremely predictable, mostly. I’d be lying if I said some plot twists had me a little surprised, but easily 75% of the game’s major plot points were immediately identifiable via foreshadowing. I’m not even talking about “high level knowledge of story-telling devices” either, just straight-forward obvious tells of what is to come. I wouldn’t say this killed the game for me, but it made what would otherwise be pretty cool moments have significantly less impact. (Heck, even the game’s intro does this.)
- It’s arguable that the characters actually “grow” as people. I’m putting this in the Indifferent section because there are vastly different ways to look at this overall, and it definitely varies based on who you’re analyzing. Overall though: Natalia, Anise, Guy, all six God Generals, Van, and some others don’t really fundamentally change.
Sure, they have their own plot arcs and we see some minor shifts in their perspectives on various issues, but at the end of the game.. they haven’t really changed from their original introductions to the player. Luke is a bit harder of a sell on this, but hear me out. Yes, he has a huge character shift from the first plot arc of the game to the third.
However, I’d also like to have you consider the following: Luke doesn’t really come to terms with who he is as a person until the very end of the game. I understand that’s a major plot point, if not what the entire game is encompassed around, but my god do they drag it out to agonizing levels. I never want to hear about how Luke questions his value as a human being, while at the same time being afraid to die, ever again.
- Mieu, Asch, and the Dark Wings existence. This may ruffle some feathers from fans of the game, but I do not think Mieu, nor Asch, nor the Dark Wings needed to exist. Take them all out of the game and I think you actually would improve the overall story-line. Mieu is literally a game-mechanic personified who offers nothing to the plot other than “I speak the obvious in a cute way”. I was all-aboard on the “why is this thing still following me” train of thought that Luke was having. I get it, we sort of ruined its life, and he’s also the game’s mascot, but is this the best we can do? At least make him serve a more important role in the plot at some point.
Now in regards to Asch, I’m of the opinion that if he was found to be dead, the story would be more interesting. The sad reality is that Natalia and Tear both fail horrendously at the Bechdel Test. Their entire plots consist solely of talking about Luke, Asch, Van, or Natalia’s dad. If Asch wasn’t around to be a constant painful reminder for Natalia, I feel like we could have seen her grow in a more interesting way in the second and third arcs, versus essentially just being “the female childhood friend” that she ends up as.
In regards to the Dark Wings, I still don’t really get why they were a recurring part of Asch’s plot, nor why they cared about him. The first thing that pops into my mind is “they were on the cutting room floor”, because we’re missing some seriously needed motive and backstory.
- The Grade System. WHY ON EARTH IS THIS A POST-GAME MECHANIC FOR NEW SAVES? Who thought that taking a major way of rewarding the player for having good judgement in battles throughout the entire course of your play-through, and scrapping it from the game entirely until the very end would be a good idea? Why is this used as a means of extending replay-ability? I understand you can also purchase some items from the Casino in the game with grade, but the sheer number required versus the actual amount you get in the game naturally was laughable at best, and utterly daunting at worst.
There are so many other ways I could have seen this being used. Hell, take all of the bonuses that the end-game Grade Shop has for New Saves, and make them into temporary items you can use throughout your play-through. Want to spend 100 Grade for an item that gives you x10 EXP for 10 fights? Done. Just something to reward the player for playing well, without forcing them to grind for it. Grinding for Grade sounds about as fun as playing Tales of Graces f.
- Puzzles and Backtracking. Wanna know why this game took so long for me to finish? Unnecessarily drawn out puzzle phases in dungeons, and backtracking. Major points for giving the player the option to indulge in a major puzzle at the very end of the game for some bonus loot, rather than making it a requirement. The minute I figured that out, I just walked past the entire thing, because reading up on a wiki of what I would have had to do made it clear, it was a time-waster of epic proportions.
Dear god man, this game would be eight hours shorter if they just removed some of the goddamn’d backtracking. I don’t even feel the need to go into detail to justify this, it’s just not fun to do, and it doesn’t respect your time as a player.
- The Ending. It’s a giant deus ex machina with absolutely no closure for anyone other than Luke. I don’t know what else I was expecting to be honest, but it is what it is.
Well, that’s pretty much it. Hopefully it doesn’t come off as too harsh, but as someone who is becoming more exposed to various entries in the Tales series, I don’t particularly see a need to pull punches on things these days. Hope you all enjoyed reading my ramblings, and if you’ve got an opinion on the game or one of my points, lemme know!