Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tales of Grace f Import Review

            Tales of Graces f is a blessing and a curse to go through whether you enjoy WRPGs or JRPGs, and with good reason. It has an excellent battle system, probably one of the best this generation. Unfortunately, the age and the archaic design choices hinder Graces f from accomplishing superstardom among its RPG peers. Still, even with its problems should you give this RPG a chance or just leave it behind?

Pascal, Sophie, Asbel, and Cheria (Left to Right)
            The game’s protagonist is Asbel Lhant bent on protecting everyone that he holds dear. Ironically enough, this very ideal hurts his friends and peers. Asbel is the heir of Lhant, a territory in Windor, but he refuses to accept his destiny and instead wishes to become a knight. It’s a fairly generic story, one that dabbles in the ideals of the protagonist as he is in conflict with the reality of the world. Asbel often fights with his friends and teacher because he doesn’t realize how much trouble the idea of protecting everyone is. Even so, this struggle is constantly developed as Asbel learns what it really means to protect his friends by the game’s end. It’s a nice theme and presents itself well without shoving it in your face too much.

            Other characters such as Cheria, Asbel’s childhood friend, and Malik, Asbel’s teacher, help to nurture Asbel as he is constantly reminded of what costs are necessary in order to achieve his ideals. Graces presents a cast of characters that compliment each other well and it’s hard not to like the cast. Pascal’s goofy antics add some humorous elements and Hubert’s serious mannerisms keep the situations dire. It all mixes well and for the most part there are no real problems.

Flashy... the lights...

If there are any problems it’s the fundamental design of the characters themselves. Many of them are based off a stereotypical anime character or follow a certain character archetype. It’s very unrefreshing and it works to the game’s detriment. Pascal is the typical immature girl despite being 22 years old and constantly talks in a weird manner. Cheria is a very confident character for the most part but when she deals with Asbel tends to tiptoe around him. It’s these odd behaviors that make them heavily identifiable to genre’s long established designs. While these characters have may have worked in the past perfectly, it’s not so much appreciated anymore.

            The story isn’t something to look forward to either. Clocking in at around 40 hours for the main story and an additional arc for another 5, it’s very meaty. Despite being long, the story isn’t engaging for the most part, as it seems to focus more on character interaction rather than plot progression. Sure the story is moving along but it can be told much faster than it is in Graces and as a result, the pacing can feel out of place. Graces’ story is also hardly memorable. By the end of the entire quest you start wondering what it was all about. Everything about Graces’ narrative spells out average or good and nothing more. As a result, it’s sad because Graces has the potential to become so much more. Political struggles, the occupation of being a knight, a more realistic idea of protecting people, and interactions that aren’t stereotypical anime skits are only a few of the plot points that Graces could’ve focused on improving the experience.


            Fortunately for Graces, the combat is where it shines. Graces uses the Style Shift Linear Motion Battle System. Combat works in real time and you control one of four party members on the screen. Each character has two styles allowing you to unleash Alpha and Beta Artes. Asbel attacks with his sword sheathed in the Alpha style but uses it as a weapon in the Beta. This dynamic system allows for you to mix and match various moves together and create a robust combo. It’s extremely fun to pull off various chains of different moves while interweaving the two different styles greatly rewarding the player.

Previously in other Tales games, Artes consumed TP which functioned like MP in RPGs. This doesn’t exist here. Instead Graces uses the Chain Capcity System (CC). Each attack you do will consume a certain amount of CC and restoring it is relatively easy. Once you regain your CC you can unleash your attacks once more. It’s a complicated system that mixes risk and reward. Do you wish to continue attacking and be left helpless or end the combo early leaving the enemy staggered? This complex idea of battle really creates a fun environment that rewards skilled players but doesn’t brutally punish average players. In the end, CC allows for an extremely fast paced combat.

Combat is the game's saving grace

            Movement is handled extremely well in Graces. Just like other games in the series, characters move in a linear fashion. The twist in Graces is that you move in a circular motion around the targeted enemy. This allows for a very intricate movement mechanic called Sidestep. When an enemy attacks and the player Sidesteps right before the attack hits, the character will receive a perfect opportunity to counterattack.  However, this is not the only benefit the player receives. The dodge allows for the player to regain CC. Free-run makes its way back into the series. Previously, players can freely move anywhere they please with no punishment, but here it consumes CC. This is a very limiting system that forces you to strategize. Moving to a specific position will now consume CC so you have think carefully.

            Fans of the franchise will find that the battles are similar to Vesperia but there are always differentiating factors. Just like Vesperia, players will control one character in combat among a party of four and will attempt to clear the arena of enemies. While Vesperia used a linear plane to control the character with the added Free-Run mechanic to be able to run in full 3-D motion, Graces uses a very different movement system. Characters move in a circular and radial manner around the enemy. What this means is that while the player can move to and from the enemy in a linear fashion, he or she can side step in a circular manner.

Customization is more comprehensive than its predecessors. While the players will receive the usual stat increases from leveling up, there is an added depth of progress through the use of Titles. Each character has a large board of Titles that you can choose from. Once you equip these titles, you will slowly gain experience and level them up. Each level will give you certain features such as giving extra damage to an Arte or granting CC if certain conditions are met. These little effects grant your characters enhanced abilities allowing for a very big emphasis on how you want to them. You can switch out various titles as you please therefore changing how they grow. This in-depth system truly makes it feel like you’re carving your own character while retaining the sense that this is the same character you’ve had since the beginning of the game. It doesn’t end here though, the item customization known as Dualize allows for the player to combine materials to create new weapons or upgrade current weapons so that they may become more effective in battle. All of these systems compliment each other well and enhances the combat experience.

Mystic Artes, the series' specials, returns!

Other systems include the Eleth Pot which allows for players to cook in combat for status effects or possibly create more quantities of an existing item, and the Eleth Meter. The Eleth meter is separated into two sections: one for you and one for the enemies. Once either end is filled, the respective side receives bonuses therefore making the battle a challenge or a faceroll.

Unfortunately, there are some issues that the game faces despite the combat system having so much depth. The enemies can sometimes be easy and the game can be played like a button masher. It’s recommended that Hard be the difficulty for veterans. However, unlike Vesperia, the game rewards the player for using the mechanics that the game offers to its fullest. This will set apart from the best players and the average as bosses can be taken down in mere minutes if the player attacks efficiently. It’s also disappointing that Graces combat mechanic can be limiting due to the ability to be extremely cheap. While the game encourages you to be smart, there are some fights that will seem extremely difficult and ridiculous even on the normal difficulty due to the stats of bosses being absurdly ridiculous, but this only occurs in extra bosses or extra dungeon enemies.

Unlike its combat system, the musical score seems average ranging from rock to light-hearted pieces. While the music fits each cutscene perfectly, the dynamism and the flair to push it to super stardom just isn’t there. This doesn’t mean that it’s particularly bad or disappointing; it’s just typical average music so don’t expect much.

Graphics are crisp and slick

The visual style that Graces employs is very synonymous to a watercolor painterly-style and while the effect is real nice, it’s very dull. The vibrant and colorful world that Graces presents lacks much detail and instead uses the smoothness and the simplicity of the blend of various colors. In addition, the locales that the players visit have fixed camera angles disabling the player to fully explore the world visually as he or she pleases. Despite being stylish, the game’s age is somewhat telling perhaps when you look at the visual style of the recently released Tales of Xillia in Japan. Graces originally came out for the Wii in 2009 and its graphical capabilities are definitely limited during its port to the PS3. Where Graces can’t pull out technically, stylistically it’s a great work.

I can go and on about how great this game and how Tales of Graces f is wonderfully crafted to give an experience that is very unique but at the same time somewhat familiar; but the fact remains this is a game that is already almost 3 years old since its original release on the Wii. This means that many of the progresses made by the RPG genre during this time will not be here. Archaic designs such as fixed camera angle or dialogue boxes still plague this game and unfortunately hinder the overall package that Graces has to offer. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t miss out on this game. In fact, the combat holds very well and I personally think it’s better than Tales of Xillia’s, but if I had to recommend this game to a friend that isn’t particularly interested in the genre, it may seem a bit dated. While Graces deserves a shot out in the market it’s a little hard to overlook at some of the flaws due to its age. Perhaps Tales of Graces f is being released a little too late. 

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