Tales of the Abyss (PS2) – Review

Tales of the Abyss - CoverTales of the Abyss, part of the “Tales” series from Bandai-Namco games, is definitely a return to form after the disappointing Tales of Legendia, and feels more like a gameplay sequel to the more popular Tales of Symphonia. The story is very engaging with pretty good RPG elements in combat and the like, but suffers the same problem that Disk 2 of Xenogears has, in that the last 1/3rd of the game lacks a lot of user interaction and combat, and feels poorly paced overall.

Story: A-

On the planet Auldrane, sound and music are the core of life, and people have become dependent on fonons, fonic arts, and fomricy science for their daily life. Centuries before the present, a great leader read the Score, a prophecy that predicted that war would come to the land and the entire planet would be in peril, but only by staying to the Score would the planet be saved. In the present, we are introduced to young Luke, son of a Duke that lacks memories from all but 7 years ago, and otherwise has been sheltered in his father’s manor. Events quickly turn that around, as Luke is displaced from his home and starts to not only discover the world, but the fact that he is a replica created by forbidden fomricy as part of meeting the path set by the Score, and a mere copy of the real Duke’s son, Ashe. Soon, he and his allies must avoid getting involved with the strained relationships between combative kingdoms, avoid the collapse of the planet’s surface, and figure out who is controlling the strings and leading the world to either salvation or destruction, with Luke as the key to decide the fate the world eventually takes.

The story takes a while to get going, and they throw a lot of details at you early on that make more sense as you progress, such as the political orientation of the world. However, a lot of this is helped by the characters, each a strong representative of the various factions involved in the power struggle for the world. The colorful characters also start to grow through the game, at least to me, with a few particularly well scripted scenes, such as the odd reactions that Guy, Luke’s best friend and guardian, had to any female contact, or the robotic emotion that the fonic arts-using Colonel Jade expresses much to the party’s surprise and embarrassment. There’s also a bit of a love story as the characters grow. Most of the story is told using in-engine scripted events with a handful of anime scenes at times. As with most Tales games, there are also “skits” where cartoons of the characters describe their feelings and other side aspects from the plot, though these are optional and can be disabled (save for a couple), and unfortunately in the North American version, lack any of the voice work.

Gameplay: B+

The core gameplay of Tales of the Abyss vary little from previous Tales games, and additionally feels more in common with Tales of Symphonia. Your party travels the overworld from cities and dungeons, where random, but visible, monster encounters; similarly, in dungeons you explore finding goodies and fighting the monsters that wander the areas. There’s also a handful of puzzles within the dungeons that either help to progress the game or to access better items. While you start the game mostly on foot, you eventually get access to a ship and then to an air vessel to make travel between destinations easier; this is particularly useful as many of the towns and dungeons get revisited a couple of times throughout the game. You also eventually get an auto-pilot for the air vessel that zips you from place to place in the last third of the game, which seems to be better to have earlier in the game since you can’t be attacked while on the air vessel at all. But, given that as I’ll mention later, this auto-pilot feature is absolutely necessary to get through the last 1/3rd of the game without becoming excessively bored.

Tales of the Abyss - CombatBattle works much like other Tales games, based on a real-time linear battle system though the battle is done on a 3D arena. Four of your 6 party members are involved in battle, and save for the character you control, the rest are run by the computer. You can also opt for your character to be run automatically as well or semi-automatically (moving you in the correct direction of your current foe), but the computer does not strike as fast or can catch certain actions as much as the human player. Besides stand melee attacks and the ability to block attacks, characters gain the use of “Artes”, skills and magical abilities that can be used offensively and for healing and support. Artes are learned slowly as your character progresses, with more advanced artes unlocked as you use newly learned ones. New in this Tales game is the use of special Chambers that can be found and set on certain Artes that increase their power or other effects; the effect improves as long as that Chamber is used in the Arte and the Arte is used frequently. Certain Artes leave a “field of fonons” (FOFs) on the battlefield; certain basic Artes can be used while in these FOFs to temporarily release a stronger Arte. Additionally, characters gain the use of battle skills, some which work passively for a number of effects (like possibilities of critical hits or reviving hit points) as well as some that increase your control over battle. In particular, one that you can early one allows you to run outside the linear path while holding down a shoulder button, effectively making the battlefield more like a full real-time system, and useful for dodging certain attacks. Another one also allows the use of an overlimit drive to temporarily power up a character and release a Mystic Arte attack that can do a great deal of damage. As the controlled character, you can quick select 4 of your Artes and an additional 4 Artes of any other character during battle, but you can access other Artes, items, strategy, and the like while in the in-battle menu. After battle, all characters gain the benefits of battle save for downed characters, so all character level at the same rate. However, you’ll find that the various abilities of the characters against certain opponents and elements need to be adapted for the situation, so I found myself using Luke pretty much 100% of the time on manual mode, and the other 5 characters roughly equally in battle.

Along side typical RPG elements, you’ll find the usual staples of Tales games, such as cooking, requiring you to find recipes and ingredients to make revival items on the spot, and character Titles that are gained after key events and can be used to alter the character’s appearance or statistics. There’s also special Cores that each character can have that boost their stats in specific areas. As you complete battles, you’ll gain a cumulative Grade, with more Grade being rewarded for fast battles, minimal damage, and strong finishing blows. When you complete the game, as with other Tales games, you can start a new game using some of that Grade to alter conditions of the new game, including carrying items and Artes over, or by increases the amount of experience or other bonuses from battle.

Save points are frequent but not overly excessive (in addition to the ability to save anywhere in the overworld). I found that sticking to the main plot, I did not need to level grind at all by the time I reached the end of the game; the difficulty progression is good and while a few last bosses are tough, they have easily-determined patterns and abilities, and require only a little bit of preparation and treatment to take down. However, as with any good RPG, there’s a ton of side quests, many not readily apparent from the main game but found if you do a bit more hunting, that can help gain items or other abilities to make completing the game easier. These are usually easier to find on a second run-through when your characters are more powerful and you know where everything is located to find these, particularly as some are only available at certain times during the game.

While the general gameplay is great and definitely an improvement from Tales of Legendia, the game suffers from the same problem that Xenogears did. Specifically, a lot of the last half of the game is based on story and character development with minimal battlefield work (as part of the main plot). You spend a lot of time running from major city to major city to talk with one or two people, only then to move on to yet another city for another conversation. While a few of these feel necessary, the bulk of them get boring easily. It is necessary to allow the player freedom to explore the world as they deem necessary between conversations, but if you’re focus on the main plot, you’ll wish they would just jump from one scene to the next without having you running to your ship, traveling, then running to the next part from the ship. This basically made the last 15-20hrs of gameplay rather long and boring, in terms that both the action part and the story part slowed down for the sake of making the player travel a lot. I think that some modification of what was scripted and what didn’t need to be scripted would have been able to correct this and made for a tighter second half for this game. This is pretty much the biggest issue that I had with the game.

Value/Replayability: A

My total runtime without doing many side quests was about 45 hours; based on reading what some of those quests are, you have at least another 20 hours of gameplay on a single playthrough alone. The “New Game+” mode along with higher difficulty levels makes the title rather replayable despite being an RPG with static events.

Tales of the Abyss - GraphicsGraphics: B

The graphic engine uses a style similar to Tales of Symphonia, with characters looking more like anime characters, though they are not highly detailed and feels like they could have more detail easily. Many of the environments are nicely detailed, but there’s a few times where obvious repetition is used. There’s a few points where large scenes in the overworld slow down a bit, but in battle, there’s no problems with the frame rate. The game uses a fixed character for towns and dungeons and during battle, but allows for full movement when in the overworld.

Audio: B+

The ingame music is very good and well varied, particularly near the end. As much of the world is based on music, the music relating to fonons is very harmonious as well. The voice acting is pretty good as most of the lines feel just right, particularly with the growth of Luke as a character. As noted, all the skits and about 30% of the key plot dialog are not voiced, which seems like a waste and just a bit more effort could have gone to have full voice throughout the game.

Overall: B+

While Tales of the Abyss may not be the best Tales game, it definitely has much more going for it than the weaker Tales of Legendia in story, gameplay, and appearance. Unfortunately, it suffers a major pacing problem that hits at the mid-game point that hurts the game and could have been avoided with some more selective choices of guiding the player along. It’s still a pretty heft game with a lot of good gameplay and replay value, but is likely not going to be the first RPG that you’ll grab if you’re looking for a new title to play.

2 Responses

  1. I think that they should have fixed Tales of the Abyss, and i feel lile that they should have put more boss fight on it , the feeling when fighting a boss is so great.

  2. Wow, wonderful blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
    you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is wonderful, as well
    as the content!

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