Blow the dust off that old copy of Tales of the Abyss. It's time for a throwback review.
With the release date of Tales of Xillia 2 in North America set for some time this year, you all thought I'd review the first one. Well, I haven't played Xillia yet! What I have played, and many times at that, is Tales of the Abyss. This time around, I played the Nintendo 3DS port of Namco Bandai's PS2 title.
Even though the game came out 2 years ago on 3DS (2012) and 7 years ago on PS2 (2006), it's always nice to be able to see recent reviews of games that may be in someone's backlog. Or maybe you found the PS2 copy at a used game store and have never played it before. If you're on the fence about buying/playing Tales of the Abyss, then I hope this review can help you decide.
Quick Plot Synopsis from Namco Bandai: The story follows Luke fon Fabre, sole heir to a family of aristocrats, as he is suddenly thrust into the outside world on an epic adventure. Naïve and spoiled by years of isolation, Luke struggles to learn of friendship, sacrifice, duty and of choice. With the fates of many in his hands, Luke's actions could ultimately save the world or bring about its very destruction.
As with all Tales games, the focus in Abyss is the story and character development. Each character has an in-depth backstory that is slowly pieced together throughout the game. Even the villains, The Six God-Generals, each come with their own baggage, and you learn how they have dealt with it and why they chose to do the things that they have done.
Luke's growth is honestly one of the best developed character stories that I've seen in a game to date. At the beginning of the game, you can't stand him. He's spent his whole life sheltered within palace walls being treated like royalty (he is the Duke's son after all). He's spoiled, unappreciative, and most of the time, downright rude. But as he travels with everyone, and he learns of the events that take place outside of his home, he grows. He realizes that he's not as important as he thinks he is, and that other people have to suffer through so much more on a daily basis. You can't help but love him by the end of the game.
Another staple of the Tales series games is their unique battle system. This time around it has been dubbed the Flex Range Linear Motion Battle System, or FR-LMBS for short. At the time of it's first release, Abyss introduced the ability to Free Run in every direction, something new to the Tales series. Now it's a feature that has shown up in every subsequent game in the series.
I've always been a fan of the battle system, as it has the feel of a classic JRPG (encounters happen on the overworld and you're whisked away to a battle screen), but the movement and action of an Action-Adventure game. You control a single character while your teammates are all controlled by AI (there a "strategies" you can tell the AI to follow). You can also switch between which player you're controlling in battle. It's a solid mechanic that grows with each iteration in the series.
I'm a huge fan of the art style used in Tales of the Abyss. The world, characters, and special effects, are all modeled after classic Japanese art styles (think anime/manga). The console you play on doesn't need to be pushed to the extreme to handle graphics like these, yet they are still able to convey all the emotion and atmosphere that the developers intended.
Lens flare? Was J. J. Abrams on this project?
Another great thing about the world is that it feels so big. Like you're actually traveling to faraway places. I'm not talking about the time in which it takes you to get places, but on the map and actually walking through the overworld, it really feels like an adventure.
For being a direct port to the Nintendo 3DS with no other new features except the 3D visuals and a couple touch screen commands, you'd have expected a more polished new features. While everything else in the game stays the same, one of the only new features added was their haphazard attempt at 3D. I often play my 3DS with the 3D slider all the way up (go big or go home), and this particular game has a very difficult sweet spot to get the 3D effect just right. I had just assumed that it should have been something the hardware handled, but for some reason this game seems difficult for me to get just right.
Maybe I'm making it all up in my mind and I've been tilting my head to the left this entire time. If that's the case, ignore that last paragraph.
My biggest complaint is the "skits". If you're new to Tales games, skits are what you see in photo. It's strictly dialogue. There are no actions or movements, just still images with text underneath. Don't worry, there are tons of cutscenes with actions, and even an animated cutscene here or there.
Now eventually this was fixed in later Tales games, but Abyss still makes the biggest mistake with these skits and I'll give you a demonstration of how. Put your ear up to the computer speaker (if you're listening to music, turn it off).
You hear that?
Exactly. That's the problem. The skits are dead silent. No voice-over work was done for them. It's oddly quiet when almost 90% of the rest of the game has voice work. Seems out of place, and I'm certainly not a fan.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The Tales series is easily my favourite franchise from my favourite genre. Tales of the Abyss currently ranks at the top of my list for the series. The story and characters are great, and the battle system is superb. There are a few minor flaws (one of them can be fixed by just turning the 3D off), but overall this game is excellent.
If you've been on the fence about making this purchase (either on the 3DS or on PS2), then I strongly urge you to empty your wallet, throw the contents at the cashier, and walk away happily with a new game to add to that ever-growing pile of games at home.
Whether you're new to the Tales series, a veteran, or you've even completed the game before and are looking for something to play through again, give Tales of the Abyss a spin. If you're a JRPG fan, then you won't be disappointed.