Tales of the Abyss - Reader Review  

The Prophecy
by Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland

50-75+ Hours


Rating definitions 

   Ever since the Malkuth Empire kidnapped him as a child, Luke fon Fabre, son of a Duke and nephew of the King of Kimlasca-Lanvaldear, has remained confined to his manor, having little memory of his past or knowledge of the outside world. However, his life changes drastically when a girl named Tear infiltrates the manor and suddenly thrusts him into the outside world. Tales of the Abyss follows Luke and Tear's quest to prevent a war from breaking out between Malkuth and Kimlasca, and make sense of a long prophecy known as the Score. Released in Japan as a tenth-anniversary Tales game and afterward localized in North America, Abyss is a solid addition to the series.

   Many enemies stand in Luke and company's way during their adventure both on the overworld and in dungeons, though luckily, players can see them wandering around and approach them to engage in combat. Players can, of course, attempt to avoid them (and doing so isn't terribly difficult), and summoning Mieu, Abyss's Annoying Mascot©, within dungeons can sometimes stun enemies to make avoiding them easier. Even if you do get into an encounter, combat is quite enjoyable.

Looks good from a distance, but... The castle in the sky

   Abyss features a real-time battle system much akin to Symphonia, where your characters and the enemy exchange blows with one another on a three-dimensional field. The active character must target an enemy, though players can switch targeting, with the action of battle pausing while they do so, and the active character fighting on a single line with the targeted foe; the A.I., which is fairly decent, controls the other allies unless other players join. Characters can chain normal and special attacks into powerful combos, and players can assign ally skills to the right analog stick for easier access, or go into the battle menus (where the action of battle pauses as well) to use such skills, have a character use an item, escape, and the like.

   Each character, as their levels and stats increase, gains various AD (additional) Skills, granting innate effects or additional abilities in combat like a backward leap or increased combo damage. Perhaps the most useful AD Skill, however, is Free Run (gained at Level 5), which allows the player, when holding down the L2 button, to freely move the active character around the field in any direction. Helping characters to gain more AD Skills when leveling are Capacity Cores, which each character can equip for additional gains in certain stats upon leveling. Depending upon how many additional points a certain stat has, characters will gradually learn more AD Skills, and surprisingly, it's possible to finish the game without even having learned half of them all.

   As player and enemy magicians cast spells, moreover (which requires a bit of charge time, and both sides, with enough force, can cancel one another's spell-casting), circular Fields of Fonons will appear on the battlefield where they cast their spells, bearing the spell's element. If characters use certain skills within these Fields, the skill will temporarily evolve to a more powerful form. Exploiting Fields of Fonons can be fairly tricky, yet is hardly necessary to complete the game.

   As each character attacks, furthermore, their Over Limit gauges fill, and allow their respective characters to go into Over Limit mode when full, in which case the gauge gradually depletes and the character's defense temporarily increases. The real beauty of Over Limit mode, however, is the ability of each character, after using a Combo Arte, to follow it up with a powerful Mystic Arte, which fully depletes the Over Limit gauge.

Mystic Arte Bad hair day

   A final feature of combat is Fon Slot Chambers, which players find occasionally during the game and can equip to their characters' skills for bonuses such as additional damage, reduced TP use, and so forth. After battle, your party gains experience, money, and, depending on their performance, Grade Points, which players can spend for additional features in a New Game+ or use to buy chips at the Casino (which is actually pretty fun and addictive, and has some decent prizes).

   Overall, combat is one of the highlights of Abyss, with few, if any, annoyances to speak of, and adjustable difficulty between Normal and Hard modes, with the latter mode granting the player multiplied Grade Points from battle. Regular battles rarely, if ever, drag on forever, and some bosses, even on Normal mode, can pose decent challenges. That encounters aren't random and that visible monsters are fairly easy to avoid, moreover, especially prevents the combat system from becoming dull or worn-out, and it's clear, in the end, that the designers did their homework.

   Abyss's interface is clean for the most part, with tidy menus, easy shopping, a quest log moving players in the right direction, and so forth. Loading times can be fairly irksome during transitions between screens, players can't skip cutscenes or scroll through dialogue during skits, and there are some minor errors in the dialogue, but otherwise, Abyss is pretty user-friendly.

   Abyss retains plenty of features from its predecessors to make it feel like a logical part of the series, such as the real-time combat system reminiscent of Symphonia's, although features enough unique tweaks, and a mostly cliché-less story, to make it feel fresh.

   Typically, playing Tales games for their stories has been akin to reading Playboy for the articles, although Abyss surprisingly breaks this mold. The characters and the plot are very well-developed, with a lot of great twists and, despite the lengthy playtime, decent pacing. The quest log in the menus also keeps track of the story, and skits add plenty of additional dialogue, sometimes giving further depth to the plot. Overall, the storyline is perhaps the best of the franchise, and even more so, better than many RPG stories outside the series.

They're comin' right for us! Weird land-ship thingies

   Motoi Sakuraba, with a little help from Shinji Tamura and Motoo Fujiwara, provides Abyss's soundtrack, which is never out of place and features many solid tracks, such as the first battle theme, "The Arrow Was Shot." Moreover, the localization team, for once, didn't cut out the opening theme song, "Karma," though they did replace the vocals with an electric guitar instrumental (which I actually prefer to the vocals). The quality of the voice acting, however, is fairly inconsistent, sometimes being decent and other times bordering on janitorial staff quality; surprisingly, though, the battle voices didn't irritate me all that much. Overall, Abyss is a decent-sounding game.

   Rather than having graphics akin to the cel-shading of Symphonia or the chibi style of Legendia, Abyss instead features visuals that are neither fully realistic nor fully cartoony. The character models are nicely-designed, expressive, and decently-proportioned, despite some sloppy texturing at times, although the scenery, unfortunately, suffers more greatly from rushed texturing, looking fine from a distance yet many times looking hideous close-up. The world map doesn't fare any better, with a low framerate resulting in miserably-choppy overworld exploration. There are some FMVs and anime cutscenes, though in the end, there really isn't much excuse as to why one of the last Tales games of the current generation isn't one of the best-looking.

   Abyss, finally, is a fairly lengthy adventure, ranging somewhere from fifty to seventy-five hours, with a New Game+ allowing for further playthroughs. Overall, Abyss is a pretty solid celebration of the Tales franchise's tenth anniversary, featuring a solid combat system and, for once, a superb plot. It does have some minor shortcomings, such as the load times and lackluster visuals, although players that can look past these flaws will surely be in for a treat.

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