I have a fond to JRPGs since the Tales of Symphonia and Baten Kaitos era (still hoping for a new Baten Kaitos). However, when I purchased those games, they were on their low 20’s and barely passed two years since their releases. So, when I saw Tales of the Abyss at the same regular $30 after more than 1 ½ years ago, that spiked my curiosity, and even more because TotA was originally released 7 years ago. So, I purchased the game at full price to see what it got. Was it worth it? Let’s find out.
So, what Tales of the Abyss is about?
Tales of the Abyss is a Japanese Role-Playing Game originally released to the PS2 in 2006, meaning that the 3DS version is basically a port. However, the PS2 version never made it to Europe, so, this is the best chance for Europeans to get it.
The game starts in the year ND2018, where a young Luke fon Fabre is confined on his manor in Baticul, the capital of Kimlasca, because of his kidnapping seven years ago. Because of the trauma of that event, Luke doesn’t remember the first ten years of his life and has no idea about the happenings in the outside world. Born with royal blood, he is the next in line to become the king of Kimlasca. His friend, Guy, and his master, Van, visit him occasionally to teach Luke the art of swordsmanship. One day, a woman infiltrates the manor with the purpose to kill Master Van. When Luke strikes the woman, she blocks his attack, creating a hyper-resonance and teleporting them miles away from home. Now Luke and the mysterious woman, Tear, must find their way back to Baticul, with the help of new friends and unraveling the secrets of the planet Auldrant, which is in the brink of destruction.
Now then, let's see what makes Tales of the Abyss a buster and what busted this game:
Amazing story and content that will not let you leave the couch
Beautiful display of graphics, even for a 3DS, and decent 3D depths for your eyes to see
Fluid battle system greatly loved from a Tales game
Poor voice acting and lack of voice in skits (nope, not even Ben 10 and the Black Ranger could save them)
Touch screen commands in battle could have responded better
Navigating between menus is a chore
The game is presented with the same art style shown in the PS2 version, only cropped to the voluminous size of 400x240. The landscape remained surprisingly preserved, and viewing them in 3D is priceless. But the character sprites and some monsters suffered from the downsizing, making them sometimes unrecognizable in widespread areas. I got to say that even when the game was not originally made for 3D, Namco did a great job showing nice depths on the best areas possible. The anime cut scenes unfortunately didn’t received the 3D treatment, but it’s not something to worry about.
I’m impressed that the 3DS can handle all the visual areas of the towns and dungeons without affecting heavily on performance. The 3DS version actually loads miles faster between scenes than the PS2 version, which is a plus. On battles, I noticed occasional FPS drops when everyone attacked at the same time. But on the world map, the FPS lag is evident when entering a forest or passing on areas with weather conditions.
As for sound goes, the 3DS hardware limits this feature, making hard to listen the anime cut scenes and the music even with the volume on max (I have the brick 3DS, I don’t know if on an XL the game sounds better). I enjoyed the music composed by Grand Maestro Sakuraba-san best using headphones, and I think you should do that too.
For the voice acting, I found it lacking. Many of the dialogs were presented in a monotonous tone at the beginning of the game, with an annoying high pitched voice that is Mieu. As the game progressed, I noticed some significant improvements on the voice overs, but it would have been better if they showed more emotions to it.
Story and content
When I started playing Tales of the Abyss, I wondered how different from Tales of Symphonia the story is. Abyss seems like a more mature version of Symphonia; the characters have more profound personalities, badmouthing is kept to a minimum (that doesn't mean they are less insulting), darker topics are presented, and when the characters think they saved the world, even more problems happen. Warning: The story might get confusing at the beginning, with all those weird names that even I can’t pronounce well. After 10-15 hours or so, you will get along with the story well.
The concept of life and death is greatly emphasized as shown in Luke’s fear of killing while the rest of the characters have no problem doing it. Also, the Fear of the future is one of the main topics in this game. So, even if there’s so much to read and watch, the story is immersive enough to keep you glued in it, and, like what happened to me, you will always want to see what happens next. If you like to read much, there are almost 500 skits of all sorts of conversations with the characters, some of them very funny ones.
The characters in Abyss are constantly changing, but their personalities remains almost the same. Luke is an insecure guy, and although he improves, he still relies on others to think for him. For me, Jade is the most comical character of the group, also my favorite, and he doesn’t even smile much. In the end, you will find the character that suits you best.
Sidequests in Abyss are very important because, not only they can get you rare items, but they can be chained with other sidequests. You can stay in a city, like Grand Chokmah, and pass 5 – 10 sidequests on your first visit without even noticing. Also, upgrades to the Sorcerer’s Ring can connect you with even longer sidequests.
As for the content goes, none of the things in the PS2 version were cut in the 3DS version; even the North American changes and extra content are here. So, there is no excuse for not playing it thinking it’s a nerfed version of the PS2.
The gameplay is also not much different than Tales of Symphonia, like the battle system and map navigation. Some small differences are: Ex Skills are changed to AD skills, Titles no longer grant you increases in stats, so that you can use Capacity Cores, and the use of Fon Slot Chambers to improve your artes. One thing that I liked from Abyss is that Jade, which is the mage, and Tear, which is a healer, can use physical attack artes in case they run low on TP, unlike Symphonia, in which Raine and Genis rely only on spells.
The battle system in Abyss feels improved. The atmosphere is more polished and artes visual effects are fantastic. Artes and spells can be casted between special areas called Field of Fonons to turn them into more powerful ones, seizing victories faster. The button controls are really responsive, but I had difficulties when executing artes via touch screen. For those who haven’t played a Tales game before, the system might seem a little complicated, but after 10 battles or so, you would start to get the feel of the system, and your only road is to get better.
The world map navigation is the same as well, making you go on foot or on ships to distinct places. Later in the game, there is a feature that let you go to places almost instantly, saving time since the Albiore is way too slow.
Tales of Symphonia may be the most successful Tales game to date, but Tales of the Abyss is by no means an inferior cousin. Tales of the Abyss feels more polished, the story is a little less bland, and the characters synergizes with one another. If you played it on the PS2 and loved it, get it on the 3DS to take it anywhere. If you have played Tales games before, this is a must have addition to your JRPG collection. I might not like Baba, but if this game was possible on a 3DS, I can’t wait to see a Tales game made entirely for the system.
Recommendations (if you want to follow them)
On the first playthrough focus more on the main story and earning as much Grade as possible. The second playthrough is where the game really shines with extra sidequests and more intense difficulties.
If you played Lloyd from Tales on Symphonia and loved him, I recommend using Guy because he has most of Lloyd’s artes while you master using Luke.
Use headphones if encountering difficulties in sound.
If you have a brick 3DS, like me, you better have it plugged the entire time.
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