Tales of the Abyss - Staff Review  

You're Gonna Carry That Weight
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

Very Easy
50-60 hours


Rating definitions 

   The latest entry in the long-running Tales series, Tales of the Abyss is one of the better games in the series to have managed to make it to North America. The game makes some changes to series tradition, almost all of them for the better. The Tales series is known for its real-time combat systems, which have a tendency to drown out the storylines. Tales of the Abyss finds a better balance between the two than most, its high-energy combat system counterweighted by a plot that relies very heavily on character development over more consistently paced plotting. Still, the gameís biggest flaws are technical issues; load times are overlong and frequent, the world map is jumpy and has a frustratingly slow-moving camera, and the game is possessed of an all-around jerkiness in animation. Overall, the unique cast of characters and an enjoyable combat system makes Tales of the Abyss one of the better entries in the Tales series, although it is certainly not without flaw.

   In this entry, players take up the role of Luke fon Fabre, scion to the Dukedom of fon Fabre and third in line for the throne of the Empire of Kimlasca-Lanvaldear. To put it bluntly, Luke is an obnoxious, pampered, immature brat. Part of this is due to his upbringing; after losing his memory in an abduction at age ten, Luke has been forbidden to leave his manor house. He knows next to nothing of the outside world, and his human contact is limited to family, a handful of servants, and his sword instructor Van. The story begins in earnest when Van is the subject of an assassination attempt, which ends in Luke being ejected from the manor in a mysterious column of light and sound. The story will take Luke into maturity, a rough ride to say the least. The development of the cast forms one of the gameís major draws, and the paths characters take as they grow from naivety towards maturity produce an intriguing, often insightful story. The actual plot itself is a bit contrived at times, pulling new concepts and events out of thin air to solve problems, resorting to genre cliches like amnesia and long-lost family members far too often.

   Taking place in a world governed by a prophecy known as the Score, sound and music play a big part in the storyline, though the tale itself relies far more on themes of growing up and the nature of adulthood. The plot also deals with a broader range of issues, from the nature of ideals to the fear of mortality, collecting them all under the umbrella of maturity. This move helps a bit with the game's lack of focus, but it still tries to be a bit too broad sometimes. However, a lack of focus isnít the main problem. The most major problem with Tales of the Abyssís story is that it flips between dragging and exciting with disturbingly predictable regularity. The game shifts every few hours between being interesting and full of plot twists, and sections largely relegated to "go here, talk to this person, repeat." This becomes particularly bothersome after the player has visited all the towns the game has to offer, as the last dozen or so hours of the game are comprised largely of shuttling between a handful of Auldrantís major cities. When the story is moving at a nice clip, itís an interesting, engaging tale, but the enforced breaks make the story drag.

Real-time battles, now in three dimensions! Real-time battles, now in three dimensions!

   The second major draw of Tales of the Abyss, and arguably the most important and easily recognizable part of any Tales game, is the combat system. While it largely abandons the 2D aspect of the Linear Motion Battle System that the series is famed for, it retains the seriesí signature fast-paced battles and fighting-game feel. Put simply, players are arranged on a 3D battlefield, and can move in a line drawn between themselves and the enemy they currently have targeted. Very early in the game, players obtain an ability which allows them to hold down R2 to move freely, an ability which will see a lot of use throughout the game. Tales of the Abyss introduces a slew of mostly minor additions to the system as the game progresses, leading to combat that can be quite complex at times. These additions have a variety of effects on the player characters and on the combat system itself. Capacity Cores and Fonon Slot Cores, for example, guide the way your character develops, determining what stats receive bonuses and adding additional effects to special moves. Field of Fonons and Overlimit attacks, on the other hand, can supercharge or alter existing moves, or even change a playerís strategy entirely.

   This group of minor systems does add a decent amount of complexity to the game, but for the most part combat simply doesnít last long enough for it to matter. While the major boss fights do sometimes require the use of advanced techniques like FOF Changes and Overlimits, these can be rare at times. With an average length of less than thirty seconds, most fights are over before an Overlimit can be charged or a FOF can be set up. Overall, the combat system is enjoyable on a visceral level, with quick reactions and gut instinct going a lot further than careful planning.

Overlimit attacks are both flashy and dangerous. Overlimit attacks are both flashy and dangerous.

   The overall pace of the game is disrupted rather badly by load times, which are both frequent and lengthy. The world map is the site of particularly long load times, with low framerates making the entire thing choppy, but there is also frequent loading to accommodate new areas in dungeons and towns. The loading outside of the world map isnít a particular problem, but it does break up the flow of the game and make the whole thing drag out just a little bit longer. Aside from these technical issues, the gameís interface is rather good. Control is solid and responsive inside combat as well as out, and the AI is very impressive. Where some earlier Tales games required constant changes to AI settings, Tales of the Abyssís AI is solid enough that a player may not need to touch their settings at all.

   Series composer Motoi Sakuraba is joined on this OST by Shinji Tamura and Motoo Fujiwara. The contributions by these composers tend to meld together reasonably well, though it is quite obvious who is responsible for the combat themes. Overall, the music works well in the confines of the game, fitting the story and setting rather well. As a standalone work, it isnít quite as good as some of Motoi Sakurabaís recent work, while some of the tracks by Mr. Tamura and Mr. Fujiwara come off as a bit bland in comparison. The gameís sound effects and voice work are both quite good, with some very flexible actors voicing very similar cast members in ways that make them recognizably related, but still unique.

   Tales of the Abyss uses an almost cel-shaded appearance, with pleasantly blocky character models and scenery done in light pastels and deep earth tones. The gameís visual style is largely anime based, using cel animated cutscenes and anime conventions such as the infamous sweat drop. Tales of the Abyss also touts its use of "detailed expressions", which do work rather well when they flow together. However, the game has a problem with jerky, puppet-like animation, and flipping between disparate expressions doesnít help much. Taken as a whole, the gameís visuals are reasonably good, if not particularly stunning.

   Coming in at around sixty hours of play time, one thing Tales of the Abyss definitely has going for it is length. In addition, it has a New Game + feature that allows players to spend Grade earned during the course of the game on alterations to gameplay, such as retaining skills learned in the last playthrough, transferring item collection data, or even increasing the number of items one can carry. The Grade Shop also allows for upping the difficulty level, a very welcome feature, as Tales of the Abyss is not a difficult game by any definition.

   In the final analysis, Tales of the Abyss is a solid, if somewhat overlong entry into the venerable Tales series. The alterations it makes to the series tradition are very welcome, and although the game does have a number of flaws, its unique cast of characters and approach to character development make it one of the better titles in the series. Tales of the Abyss has something to offer both fans of the series and newcomers, and for players who can put up with the gameís technical flaws, it offers a solid, lengthy experience.

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