Review: Tales of the Abyss
Posted 07 Dec 2011 at 20:16 by Derek Wheatley
|"You get the formula of a generic RPG, but with some of the most fleshed out and diverse characters you will ever see in a game."|
Tales of The Abyss was originally released on the Playstation 2 in Japan back in 2005, America in 2006 and never received a European release. So even as an old game, to us PAL gamers it's a new one. In true spiteful style we have got this 3DS remake a few months before it will be released in NTSC format.
The story follows a clichéd RPG archetype, the character you play as is the Chosen One who is destined to bring peace to the world and stop the two kingdoms of Kimlasca and Malkuth warring with each other. The main character is called Luke; a son of a Duke who was kidnapped 7 years ago and due to the trauma that took place has no memory of his life before that moment, since that event Luke has been confined to his manor for his safety. Dressed in attire which seems deliberately designed to show his six-pack he starts off on a quest to restore peace and his memory. In Abyss the world is made up of Fonons, the main six representing Darkness, Earth, Wind, Water, Fire and Light. However a lesser used Seventh Fonon is available which involves Sound, and it is this Seventh Fonon which can help predict the future, known in the game as the Score. It is over the Seventh Fonon that wars have been raged and relationships between kingdoms have been less than friendly.
Accompanying Luke is your standard RPG gang such as the healer, the magic user and a fellow swordsman who charges into battle with you. Although some of the characters are not your standard troop. Guy, your fellow swordsman has a chronic fear of women, cowering whenever a female comes close to him and Anise who has small cuddly toy riding on her back, however as soon as battle arises the roles are reversed as the once small cuddly toy grows to gargantuan size to fight as Anise rides its back.
What you get as a result is the formula of a generic RPG, but with some of the most fleshed out and diverse characters you will ever see in a game. This is primarily achieved in the form of skits, which appear often and are shown as anime pictures and conversations between various members of your party. They can offer hints as to the hidden motives of each character and any personal secrets they may be hiding. Disappointingly though they are not voice acted like the majority of the cut scenes in the game and can ruin the atmosphere at times. And for once the voice acting isn't horribly exaggerated and whiny, even though some of the characters can be. A downside with the skits is that there are simply too many of them, once a cutscene is over you can't walk two paces without a skit being prompted. They are totally optional and can be skipped but do so at your peril for you may miss some crucial information on a characters past history and hints on what to do next. Skipping them would also mean you would miss out on the effort that has gone into making this the most developed cast an RPG has featured before.
RPGs have normally followed a strict protocol of how they work in relation to battling: Walk around and face random encounter battles against scary monsters. Over time the formula has altered slightly, the random battles aren't so random anymore and you can see the monsters on the field and can avoid them if necessary. The Tales series takes this freedom to the next level with "free-run" battles which allows you to move in any direction, jump back to evade an attack and even run behind an enemy or act as a decoy whilst a team-mate can attack whilst its guard is down. This can lead to the possibility of winning a battle without taking a single hit. However as the game progresses the enemies become much stronger and attack in larger packs which heavily decrease the chances of an injury-free victory.
To start off with battles are merely a case of hitting A and the enemy will fall, but soon after Luke and the gang will start learning Artes and various Fonon (basically another word for elemental magic) attacks and battles become more of a tactical affair. Using these Fonon attacks against various enemies who are weak to a certain elemental Fonon can help turn the tide of a battle. An interesting feature which has been added to battle is that of Field of Fonons (FOF), when a character (or even an enemy) casts a Fonon attack, a circle appears temporarily on the battle field representing that element. If you're lucky enough to be battling an enemy nearby and perform the right Arte whilst in the FOF, your attack will be upgraded into a much powerful one.
The 3DS handles the graphical side of the game very nicely, but for a console game which has been condensed onto a handheld some parts show that being confined to a smaller screen can be disappointing. The character detail on some is so fine the visuals simply cannot display them crisp enough. Additionally the speech bubbles are so jagged it can ruin the overall smoothness of the rest of the visuals. Turn the 3D slider on full and you can appreciate the sense of perspective that has been created by the richly detailed towns and cities, it's purely cosmetic though and isn't designed to affect the gameplay like Super Mario 3D Land uses the 3D capability. The same can also be said of the touch screen. Outside of battles it will do one of two things, it will either ask you to touch the screen to view the menu (which can be done easier by pressing X) and remind you that pressing Y will allow you to use Mieu, the user of the Sorcerer's Ring to fire short projectiles, along with one of the most annoying voices ever uttered. The second use is that whilst on the overworld it will show you a full map of the land. Useful yes, but when you still have a compass and a HUD on the top screen you can't help but recognise that there was potential to use it as a place to have all the map properties and possibly utilise a touch screen marker system to make travelling between two points easier. In battles the touch screen can assign 4 shortcuts to various attack Artes, however when you can use the circle pad and buttons just as easily without overreaching to tap the screen in the heat of battle it becomes more of a moot point.
Accompanying this is more fine musical work by composer Motoi Sakuraba, who has worked on the previous games in the Tales series and has created a beautiful harmony for each location, some so natural and fitting you'll forget that it's actually a soundtrack from a game and instead part of the environment itself. Some have even been given a 3D effect. This reviewer thought something was knocking on his window before he realised it was the music playing tricks on him.
Clocking in at more than 40 hours worth of game time, Abyss is certainly by no means going to take a short time to complete and with Grade collected throughout the first play it can be used to modify the way you play it a second time. Abyss is a perfect example of how the traditional RPG can be changed and still maintain its original charm. The free-run battle system feels more natural and the interface feels so comfortable in your hands. It offers a far more richer and immersive experience than simply flicking through a menu like you would in turn based combat and with the obvious effort that has been put in to breathe life into what on first appearances would seem to be your generic RPG characters. Abyss is a recommendation for RPG fans who fancy a change and any newcomers to the genre who can ease themselves in who are also fans of the action-adventure genre, as Abyss flawlessly integrates the two.
N-Europe Final Verdict
The expanded cast and the tactical battles more than make up for the few visual mishaps. Tales of The Abyss is a joy to play.
Predominately smooth visuals
Highly developed characters
Occasional jagged textures
Poor touch screen usage
No Wonder Chef