Tales of the Abyss - Reader Review  

Do you know the Score?
by omegabyte

50 to 60 hours


Rating definitions 

   What would the world be like if everyone knew the future? Tales of the Abyss takes you to the world of Auldrant, where an extremely detailed prophecy known as the Score has shaped life for over 2000 years. And it's never been wrong. You are Luke Fon Fabre, a noble in the kingdom of Kimlasca-Lanvaldear and heir to the throne. Seven years ago you lost your memory, and your overprotective uncle has kept you locked in your luxurious manor ever since, until a series of mishaps lands you in the middle of nowhere with no idea what the outside world is like.

   Like other games in Namco's "Tales" series, Tales of the Abyss is an action-RPG that uses the newest version of LiMBS (Linear Motion Battle System). As you level up, you and your allies learn new skills called Artes that you can use in battle to deliver punishing combo attacks, but this is only the most basic level of the system. The true depth comes from the fact that the system evolves over the course of the game from very simple to incredibly complex. As you gain levels, you will also gain the ability to move in any direction rather than the straight line previous Tales games have restricted you to, the ability to enter Overlimit mode to become more resilient and powerful, and eventually the ability to use powerful Mystic Artes, which are essentially ultimate attacks that deliver an incredible amount of damage. Your artes all cost Technical Points, or TP, which is the Tales equivalent of mana.

Fields of Fonons can help you turn the tide in tough battles. Fields of Fonons can help you turn the tide in tough battles.

   In addition to the basic mechanics of combat, your battle field itself becomes a weapon with the Field of Fonon, or FOF, system. FOFs are marks on the ground that are left behind when a character uses an elemental attack. Using certain skills while inside the field can even trigger an "FOF Change" effect, which can transform the skill into a completely different and entirely more powerful version!

   Character customization has also never been more powerful in a Tales game. Capacity Cores can be equipped to your characters which provide stat bonuses every time you level up. When enough of certain stats have been improved by this system, you'll learn powerful AD Skills (or additional skills) which can do anything from increasing your speed in battle to reducing your damage to increasing your basic combo attack! There are dozens of these skills that can be unlocked, and some of them are extremely powerful. In addition to Capacity Cores, there are also Fon Slot Cores (FSCs) which can be equipped to your various artes to increase their powers. There are four types of FSCs, though during the main game you will only come across three. The effects of the FSCs vary based on the skill, though most skills can have their damage output increase, their ability to knock enemies back increased, and their TP cost decreased.

   All of these different battle and customization abilities might seem overwhelming, but thankfully the game does an excellent job of introducing them to you at steady intervals throughout the game. In fact, you won't have all the different elements of the game available to you until you reach level 30, which will probably take you a good 15 or 20 hours into the game.

Annoying though he may be, you'll never get anywhere without Mieu's Sorcerer's Ring! Annoying though he may be, you'll never get anywhere without Mieu's Sorcerer's Ring!

   Outside of battle, you do what any good RPG hero does - run around dungeons solving puzzles. Tales of the Abyss once again steps away from random battles, putting enemy models directly on the dungeon map that start battles when you touch them, which makes exploration a lot less of a headache. The sorcerer's ring makes its return, but this time it's wrapped around the torso of the ever-adorable Mieu, who uses it to enhance his Mieu powers. Mieu is able to breathe fire initially, which can be used to burn things as well as freeze enemies in their tracks, but eventually gains the ability to destroy obstacles and even fly, which may just be the most ridiculously cute thing ever animated in a video game. For the most part the dungeons are fairly straight forward, though a few of them have some semi-difficult puzzles to solve, but are unlikely to give you many problems.

   The soundtrack, composed by Motoi Sakuraba, is well-done, but as with the majority of his work, not particularly memorable. While there are a few gems in the mix, the majority of the songs are easily forgotten. However, they do an excellent job of setting the mood throughout the game, and are quite varied in their style to reflect the many different locales and events you'll encounter. The voice work is superb, with only a few rare occurrences where anything sounds forced or poorly spoken. Most of those instances of course take place during the mandatory pep rallies that are common in Japanese RPGs, where every character must be given a chance to speak, no matter whether they have anything relevant to say or not. In addition to the fully voiced story elements, there are dozens of one-liners and mini-dialogues that occur at the end of battles, most of which are quite funny, and some downright hilarious. Skits, which have made a return as well, are pretty much the only part of the game that isn't voiced, which can get frustrating due to the text scroll being automated. Occasionally you won't have enough time to read the line before the next once shows up. Most of the skits are superfluous, however, so missing out on a line or two usually isn't a big deal, and there are over 400 skits to see over the course of the game, which should keep you satisfied.

   Story-wise, you're in for a treat. Tales of the Abyss features a complex world filled with complex characters, and the plot contains a lot of philosophical elements that are sure to make you think. The world of Auldrant is divided into two main countries, Kimlasca and Malkuth, which are currently in a state of political tension, and war is brewing. The Score, which is the basis of the religious Order of Lorelei, is the common link among the people of both countries, and the center of daily life across the entire world. An incredibly accurate prophecy covering thousands of years of history, everybody follows the Score because it foretells great prosperity in the comings years. However, not all of the Score foretells good times, and Tales of the Abyss follows Luke and his friends as they try to prevent the war, despite the prophecy. The game focuses on the differences between fate and free will, and whether they can coexist.

   The game isn't without its flaws, however, and most of them are technical. While the artwork is excellent, and the game features some wonderful anime cut scenes, the models aren't as clean as one might like, with a fair bit of noticeable aliasing problems. In addition, the game is plagued with ridiculous loading times, sometimes taking as long as ten seconds to bring up the next screen. The over world map which you'll find yourself traveling over much of the time also suffers from poor frame rates, which can be distracting. That said, it's also probably the most gorgeous over world map ever made for a game, with surprisingly detailed textures and terrain, and a very realistic fog effect. While the technical problems can be frustrating, you do get used to them after a while.

   Tales of the Abyss isn't terribly difficult, though some boss fights may force you to act quickly with items in order to survive. A number of bosses have powerful combo attacks that can drop your health to almost nothing in no time, but thankfully the ability to move in any direction allows you to dodge quite effectively. The game is also above-average in length, likely taking a good 50 to 60 hours for the average player, and there are a myriad of side quests and sub-events that can easily boost your playtime to 80 hours or more. All in all, Tales of the Abyss is an excellent addition to the Tales series, and a great game for any RPG fan to pick up. While it doesn't add anything particularly new, it combines all the best elements of previous installments of the series into one truly addictive RPG experience.

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