Review by hyperknees91
"Tales of Graces ffffffffff-"
Ah the tales series, a series that really doesn't get enough love in the united states despite having more games then the final fantasy series. It's been awhile since the last english released game actually, I almost thought they were done bringing it over but then graces f popped out of nowhere and now we can enjoy the series once again! Or so I would have liked...
The story is split into 3 sections, a childhood arc, an adult arc and a future arc. The childhood arc is slow, boring and also limits your battle potential. Now honestly I can forgive a slow beginning, as long as it pays off in the long run. However this is certainly not the case for this game. Once you get into the adult arc, sure it's not quite as slow but it's still slow. Not only that but little development is given to any given plot point or character during this arc. There are several cases where you will see a villain for a first time and that will be the end of them. Not only that but the developers seemed to have forgotten to develop the final villain, therefore they remedy this by giving you convenient flashbacks of his past in the final dungeon that try and make you sympathize with him. This is not how you develop a villain writers! Unfortunately that's just how the story is, despite being incredibly slow it also feels incredibly rushed.
Then there is the future arc. What? You didn't like the character quests in Legendia? Good then you'll hate this part even more. The developers also decided they forgot to develop the characters much in the normal arc so this part decides to give them slightly more. Actually the only point of this arc is so that the main characters can form their romantic relationships finally. In the main arc it stars a villain that hates humanity, and in the future arc it stars a villain that hates humanity (OH THE HUMANITY). While the character development given is a nice touch, the plot in this arc if you can believe it is even more rushed then the main plot. There really is no reason to play this arc actually as it virtually adds nothing of value to the story, but if you must see the main pairing get together then by all means (it's only 5 hours long so I guess it won't hurt too much).
Overall the story is quite honestly the worst I have seen in a tales game (even worse than symphonia 2 at least that game had more character development).
This is one of the saving graces of the game. The characters are actually quite likable despite not being very deep or interesting. They are a light-hearted bunch most of the time and their goofy personality's just add a good bit of charm to the game that it so desperately needs. Even if Sophie is just Presea 2.0 (monotoned, loli, twin ponytails, age is older than she looks), yeah despite her being the character that got the most development I could never put that past me.
A few years back a game called The world ends with you came out and basically said Scream MP who needs it and thus many games have followed suit and with Graces this is no different. Instead of mp or tp or whatever the hell a game likes to call it's mana system you instead have stamina (called cc). Everything outside of guarding, moving and standing still takes stamina. This could be seen as an improvement gameplay wise because you no longer need to worry about your casters running out of mp and instead can focus on the action (like any good ARPG). However not all is well.
The problem with graces battle system is that it has take a game series that focuses on offense, and turned it into a game that focuses on defense. This includes adding guard aura's, side stepping and streamlined dashing. Since you'll run out of stamina fast in fights you'll have to focus a lot more of guarding and side stepping to get around your foes. Now that in itself is not bad, plenty of action games and action rpgs are defensive based and are still great fun (dark souls, ys seven, ninja gaiden) so what's the problem here? The problem is that those games don't have horrid and I mean horrid party members and party AI. There are multiple strategies you can set for your party members of course but that isn't going to make them block well or dodge well (leaving them to get hit by even the slowest of attacks), you can only program them to play as well as they would in games like dragon age or FFXII. The difference is those games are strategy rpg's, this is an action rpg and your party members need to respond like it is one. Now to be fair you can play this game up to 4 player to get around this, but not everyone is going to find 3 people to play with (or even 1 more person to play with) for a 30-50 hour game. And you might say well Ys seven and Kingdom Hearts have party members that are stupid so what's the big deal with this game? Well in Ys seven your party members are mostly flat out invincible when you aren't controlling them and you don't really need them in the first place, and with kingdom hearts they are more just cheerleaders. But this game? This game you kinda need them to help you deal with crowd control and to heal you. In past Tales games even since you weren't so restricted on offence it was much easier for you to cover for your party members. I've only played 3 action rpgs that have done a party system decently. One is twewy (cuz you can literally control your other party member), Another is ys seven (cuz they are almost invincible) and another is devil summoner 2 (because you can make them invincible at the press of a button). Tales games and Star ocean games are always going to be flawed until they change things up.
One of the things I hate to suggest is to play the game on normal, which probably won't give you any challenge at all but at least your party members can survive and you can pretty much use any party you want. I played on evil the whole game (like a moron) which made me realize that if you aren't using them yourself that Pascal and Hubert are all but useless and will just die crazy fast. Now eventually you become insanely broken (Like any tales game) but until then your going to have to deal with this garbage if you play on higher difficulties. Problem is if you just play on normal you can pretty much button mash and still beat every boss with ease (but if you know how to dodge just be prepared to obliterate every boss).
Speaking of the bosses there are two types generally. Ones with either lots of enemies or respawning enemies and ones with only 1 enemy. Now the ones with only 1 enemy are manageable even with dumb party members on higher difficulties if you know how to dodge at all. But then the bosses with multiple foes or respawning enemies are just flat out crazy (mainly because once again your party members can't dodge worth a crap). The only way to deal with them if you don't have a second player is to either be constantly changing strategies (which just takes you out of the game), switch to different party members constantly, or grind and have good equipment (but then it's like, what's the point of turning the difficulty up). Also to make the bosses extra tedious, plenty will have constant super armor in which you will have to use red aura (obtained by guarding) constantly to break. Also plenty can just break out of your combo's randomly. You know why? Because your accuracy isn't high enough or their evasion is just crazy high. Yeah that's right accuracy effects how much you can stagger an enemy and evasion effects how much they can stagger you. You know where the game tells you this? NO WHERE. Seriously how in the world is anyone suppose to guess this, and this is one of the few action rpgs I know of that even have such a rediculous rule regarding stats. Oh you know what else makes bosses so grand in this fine game? Giving certain bosses mystic arts that can all but obliterate your party that are undodgeable and unblockable. I thought this game was suppose to be about dodging and blocking now your taking that away from me too?
Enough with the battle system lets talk about other stuff this game does. In every Tales game there is a title system, and in almost every tales game that title system is worthless. This game changes that notion as every title you earn has various stat increases or skills attached to them. It's a nice add on I must say and it makes earning the various titles you get all the more rewarding and addicting. Not so pleasant is the synthesis system added for this game. The synthesis system basically lets you attach gems to your weapons and armor with specific stat increases or special effects. That in itself is not bad but there is a catch. To add more gems to your gear, you first need to go out and fight battles until the gear is tempered until you can add another. Why do they do this? To waste your time that's why. Rather than just letting you add as many gems to your weapon and your armor as your money allows they restrict the player with more tedious grinding antics. In turn it makes you just want to wait until you have a better weapon rather than even bothering.
We haven't even discussed exploration! Exploration is extremely limited for most of the game, you'll constantly need to backtrack and be told you can't go in certain areas and places during the game (You know...Like TWEWY!). Though unlike Twewy backtracking is a supreme chore and is taken way too far in the game. It's not until pretty much the end where you are free as a bird (Like FFX). But then comes the future arc in which the developers decide...you know what this game needs? MORE BACKTRACKING! Along with the boring dungeons in which all the rooms and hallways look the same, exploration isn't a high point for this game if I must say so myself.
But lets end with a positive note. A nice thing is you can change the difficulty at any time (Like twewy), as well retry any boss fight you play (like twewy). You also get rewarded with more loot and skill points if you beat battles on harder difficulties (again like twewy). And some of the fancy combo's you can pull off late game can be quite fun to pull off (nowhere near as much as vesperia but whatever).
Something the game does right, the control is smooth and the camera never gives you any weird angles. Of course since the battle system is so crazy easy to master compared to past tales titles, I wasn't too concerned with this issue.
Good god the music is dull in this game. I'm not too surprised with this of course because they really do work sakuraba to death on these soundtracks. I will give it credit for having at least having a variety of battle themes rather than hearing the same one the whole game. Though on second thought I can't give it credit because I can't even remember what a single one of those battle themes sound like. There really isn't a single good track in this game outside of the opening. Compared to Eternal Sonata, Baten Kaitos and Star ocean 2 this composer is capable of sooo much more.
Let's just say...it's not the best dub in the world. Certain characters are alright though (Pascal, Malik, Hubert and Cheria) but the rest of the cast and the side characters are simply horrid. Asbel almost never changes his tone, delivers almost all his lines in the same fashion and seriously lacks energy. Richard is another culprit of this, he simply just sounds bored or sounds to announcerish when he actually puts energy in his lines. Also there is several cases where the tone of their voices don't match what's going on in the scene. Another thing is the voice acting barely ever matches up with the lip flaps, and there are frequent cases of lines cutting in to one another which can be quite jarring. I think there was a serious lack of direction going on with this dub. Suffice to say it's no Catherine.
Overall with Stupid party ai which hinder the battles, a horrid story with horrid pacing, bland music and mediocre voice acting you get a relatively average game. The battle system isn't all bad and can be fun when you have a friend or when your party members actually do what their suppose to, but this game is largely a single player rpg so I really don't put that point in its favor.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 03/21/12, Updated 03/30/12
Game Release: Tales of Graces f (US, 03/13/12)
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