Namco Bandai’s Tales series has always been a storytelling platform of epic proportions. Tales of Graces f, a remake of the original port, reinforces this notion, writes Victor Davion
THE 12th Mothership title from Namco Tales Studio, Tales Of Graces, has been given a new lease of life in the form of a US release for the Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3). Originally developed for the Nintendo Wii, the PS3 version — renamed Tales Of Graces f — has, much to the fansí delight, been given the go-ahead to be translated and re-packaged for the English speaking market.
Notably, the English voice-over dub is rather decent and not as annoying as other translated Japanese Role-Playing Games (RPGs).
Like most Tales games, TOGf starts off by introducing players to the main cast within an immersive environment that will allow them to interact and learn (for newbies or those who need a refresher) the movement and fighting game. This session, which takes place in the childhood arc, is used as the story’s prologue as it is designed to intricately explain the circumstance of each characters and their initial background stories.
Players will take control of Asbel Lhant, a young naive noble and the idealistic aspirational hero of TOGf. The story begins with Asbel planning a short trip for Lhant Hill with his brother, Hubert, to watch the Sopheria flowers bloom. What they found upon arriving at the hill instead was an unconscious girl lying in a field of Sopherias. She seems to carry an air of mystery about her as the story reveals that she has no memories of her past and is not able to recall her identity. On a whim, Asbel named the amnesiac girl Sophie, likening her to the flowers that surround them.
Almost eight hours long, the introduction was a fine mix of adventure, action and soul searching. The plot elements within act as fore-shadowing pieces of a larger puzzle that sets the stage for Asbel, Hubert, Sophie and their friends later on in the game. Avoiding any spoilers, this arc ends in a pretty tragic manner, causing many adverse results on the young heroes.
Wanting to create an unusual twist for a Tales game, the developers of TOGÉ have done a seven-year time-skip right after the prologue, allowing Asbel and company to age into late-teens.
Picking up after the gap, the story reveals Asbel, now an accomplished member of the knighthood, to be a strong-willed and determined young man who hopes to ultimately protect those he loves. However, his dreams of being a great knight are dashed upon receiving news of his father’s untimely death. As he rushes home to address the crisis, he finds himself entrapped in a confusing web of politics, deceit, betrayal and crime.
These trials will put Asbel and his friends on a journey that will see them traverse the gameís entire over-world, exploring towns, dungeons, castles, forests, and lairs to unravel the confounding layers of conspiracies that they are caught in. The challenges they face will test their friendship, question certain actions and cast into doubt what they once thought was absolute.
As the plot for TOGf follows the tried and tested formula that almost all Tales RPGs adhere to, changes are critical as they make the game more interesting, increase its replay value and once again, set the bar higher for other anime-based Japanese RPGs. Included in the improvements are enhancements for enemy encounters, seamless over-world/town/dungeon exploration and navigation, better Free Running capabilities and combo-chain styles during battles, improved special attacks (now called Mystic Artes), updated character drama skit system (renamed as Groovy Chat) and enhanced learning capabilities interchangeable fighting styles.
While TOGf has many exclusives as well, only two are considered as a first for a Tales title — the time-skip and special job titles that boost stats, improve attack and defensive powers and imbue characters with additional power moves and rare Mystic Artes.
Pushing the time-skip concept a little further, TOGf also introduced a six-month gap between the main story and the post-main event arc. While it is a subtle way of expanding the story further, the two stories modes — one focusing on the adventures of Asbel and a post-main event side-story called Lineage And Legacies (LaL) — serve their purpose well in providing an interesting linear storytelling experience.
While both have highly individualistic character and story development phases, some elements interlink and/or overlap with each other, acting as plot devices that further enhances the novelty of the overall game narrative.
It’ll take an average 70+ hours to complete both the main storyline and LaL as well as going off tangent to solve and complete all the optional challenges and side-quests that TOGf has. This serves to enrich the gameplay experience as well as encourage players to locate super-rare equipment that become real handy later on.
With a multi-tiered storyline, oodles of side-quests and novel downloadable content, and a group of colourful, amusing yet easily relatable characters, TOGf is certainly a tough act to follow, especially for those who are from the Japanese RPG genre. It would have been better if the over-world has more locations to explore and not force players to re-visit certain areas over and over to clear different scenario objectives.
Overall, TOGf is not a push-over game and has definitely left an impression. Indeed, watching the main cast grow from childhood and being there as they mature throughout the game makes for an interesting concept. It helps that the story has a focus most players — fans and non-fans alike — can quickly relate to and provide a deeper meaning for the relationship Asbel has with his friends.
As far as Japanese RPG goes, TOGf has hit all the right notes and then some, outdoing itself especially in the area of influence: anime-driven storytelling. It has, thankfully, more gems than duds this time around.
Namco Bandai’s Tales
Name: Namco Bandaiís Tales
Score: Over 5
Replay Value: HHHHH
Pros: Great immersive story and extended epilogue with high replay value, improved game mechanics, fun side-stories, novel DLCs
Cons: Can be draggy at certain times, revisiting similar areas too often, graphics are not solid
(being a Wii port)