Tales of Graces f

Namco’s Tales series is fairly popular in Japan although it doesn’t enjoy as much success outside the Land of the Rising Sun as say, the Final Fantasy franchise. Thus, North America has missed out on plenty of Tales titles, namely all that saw their release on the Nintendo DS, and even the Nintendo Wii Mothership title Tales of Graces. Namco would remake the game for the PlayStation 3 as Tales of Graces f, and for once, their North American branch announced their intent to localize the game, which provides an experience on par with other Tales installments.

As with most contemporary chapters of the series, enemies are visible wandering the game’s fields and dungeons, with Holy and Dark Bottles respectively increasing and decreasing encounters. Battles themselves use a variation of the Chain Capacity system from the PlayStation 2 remake of Tales of Destiny, which dictate how many actions outside basic movement and defense characters can perform, albeit with a three-dimensional field similar to Tales of Symphonia. While characters have linear movement, they can freely roam the battlefield at the cost of CC points when the player holds the L2 button, something the instruction book oddly doesn’t explain.

CC points recharge whenever characters remain still or perform certain actions in battle, with each character having two types of attack, A Artes and B Artes, with enemies having weaknesses to either as well as specific elements such as burn and paralysis, and the player able to check these weaknesses, not to mention pause the action of battle, by holding the R1 button when targeting enemies. As the player’s characters and the enemies exchange blows, their Eleth gauges, respectively colored blue and red, fill up, with fights entering Eleth Burst mode, during which the enemies cannot knock back the player’s characters and CC points are limitless; enemies receive similar benefits during their Eleth Burst.

One feature of battle exclusive to the epilogue accessible upon completing the main game is Accel Mode, with each character having a gauge that fills while they attack. If a character’s Accel gauge is at least half full, the player can activate their Accel Mode with the R2 button, during which they gain a distinct advantage in battle. Another feature present pretty much all the way throughout the game is the Eleth Mixer, which has a certain amount of points, and to which the player can set various recipes created at special facilities or passive skills. Certain recipes and skills set to the Eleth Mixer activate after the player meets certain conditions in combat, and consume (or in some cases restore) Eleth Points, with the player’s maximum Eleth Points increasing afterward in most cases, and refillable at inns.

The player wins a battle after defeating all enemies, although if all the player’s active characters die, it’s Game Over, although the player has the chance to restart the lost battle; winning fights nets the player experience, money, skill points, and occasional items. Titles return from other Tales games, and this time, they actually play a significant role in character development, with characters obtaining a ton of them throughout the course of the game after fulfilling certain conditions in combat, such as using specific skills enough times. Each Title has five passive skills, Artes, and/or stat increases that characters gradually learn after acquiring enough Skill Points from battle, a boon since traditional experience levels tend to rise slowly.

Like in most other Tales titles, the gameplay serves the game well, with the ability to adjust between three difficulty levels mercifully alleviating most of the frustration found in games that unfortunately have one fixed degree of challenge, although most players will probably want to use allies that can cast healing Artes, given that enemies tend to deal a lot of damage even when characters have the best equipment at the time (and on the easiest difficulty setting, no less), and the lack of items that heal all characters aside from recipes triggered after certain conditions in fights. In spite of the unbalanced difficulty at times, the gameplay helps the game more than hurts.

f interfaces decently with the player in most instances, what with an easy menu system and the handy ability to check where to go next, although a few dungeons are nothing short of annoying, made especially worse by the unfortunate lack of automaps, a feature that was present even in some 16-bit RPGs. The game also retains the archaic tradition of save points, with no quicksave feature of which to speak, and ultimately, while interaction is okay, it could have definitely been much better.

f’s story is generally run-of-the-mill, with a particular emphasis on the theme of friendship, and rivalries occasionally developing among characters that are friends at first, not to mention a character that has amnesia. Nonetheless, the story is decently-executed, with the cast being reasonably endearing, and the skits, not to mention an epilogue mode, contributing more to the plot. The translation is decent for the most part, albeit somewhat sloppy at times with plenty of punctuation errors, but otherwise, the story is a reasonable driving factor and reward for the tougher battles.

Motoi Sakuraba, as usual, does a nice job with the soundtrack, with the battle themes in particular being the strongest pieces, although some tracks rely a bit too much on ambience. The voice acting is largely solid as well, except when the main characters are children, and for once, Namco didn’t skimp on their English dubbing, ensuring all skits contained full voices unlike many other previously-localized Tales titles. Also of note is that the localization team replaced the opening anime’s Japanese theme song with, surprise, surprise, and English version of the same song. Ultimately, a great-sounding game.

f uses anime-style visuals neither fully realistic nor cartoony, with colorful environments as well, not to mention the occasional anime cutscene. There are some points during close-ups of the environs where players can notice blurry texturing, but otherwise the game is fairly easy on the eyes.

Finally, while one can complete the main game in a little under forty hours, the epilogue can easily add around ten more. Ultimately, Tales of Graces f is another great Tales game, continuing the series’ tradition of solid gameplay, although it does have its flaws such as a few annoying dungeons and somewhat spotty script. Mercifully for Anglophone fans of the franchise, the game has actually solid decently, giving hope that future iterations might also see English releases.

The Good:
+Solid Tales gameplay.
+Good story
+Nice music and graphics.

The Bad:
-Some annoying dungeons.
-No automaps.
-Translation is sometimes spotty.

The Bottom Line:
Another solid Tales game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: 40-60+ Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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