Review by egoflux0
Active battle system, great humor, good storyline, only 1 major flaw...
If you're unfamiliar with a "Tales" battle system it is basically a "side scroller-esque" active fighting system similar to Street Fighter. You have a basic attack button and a special attack button and each of these can be combined with any direction for a different attack, with the special attack linked to special abilities that you set to whatever your character has learned.
You will get something called AD Skills as you level up, or reach certain amounts of Capacity Core (CC) growth levels. What this means is if you equip a character with something called a capacity core their strengths in whatever powers the CC has will permanently be grown on that character. In other words, if you want your spell casters to be more powerful in magic, you'd likely want to equip them with a CC geared for higher magical attack powers, etc. This CC growth leads directly to learning additional AD Skills and reflect what types of CC's you give each character. If you have a CC emphasizing magic, you will learn new AD Skills geared towards magical abilities and so on and so forth.
Each character in this game is, IMO, very well elaborated on throughout the entire game. Many, many scenes that are focused on character development frequently have each character saying something to the effect of "well, I don't want to talk about that yet..." or "nevermind that, that's not important!" just as it is getting really good -- it just eggs you on to keep playing.
There are very humorous events all throughout the game often times making fun of each character or each other (even in very mature ways sometimes, which is quite funny). There are little talking skits that happen, sometimes way too often and back to back, that add to the overall development of each character and how they interact with each other. The skits usually elaborate on what is going on in the world, people's feelings, background development, etc. Sometimes, these skits get kind of annoying to READ (yes read, the English version didn't have dubs, unlike the Japanese version) because just after reading one skit that took 5 minutes to read, there's another one immediately after it... and then another one... This happens quite a lot when visiting places for the first time or something pretty major happens in the game -- so on one hand you want to just keep being involved in a hyped up storyline event, and then you have to read a bunch of skits which sometimes feel a little distracting to what is actually happening.
I highly recommend this game if you have a person nearby to share this game with, since by far I think the single most important reason why I played this game so much was that you can have multiple people playing during the battle scenes. This works out well if all people involved enjoy RPGs and/or everyone involved except for the first player like watching the first player move around and control the game. Unlike many other Tales games, this game has an AD Skill called "free run" which allows players to move freely up and down in the combat scene -- immensely useful for not getting in each other's way and allowing to pincer attack enemies, especially large boss battles. If someone needs to stop playing, they can change their control style back to automatic and the AI will take over for them again -- which is kind of a double edged sword, because we found that the storyline was good enough to where the other player(s) might be unable to play for whatever reason, yet the other people involved didn't want to stop playing -- but the person leaving didn't want to miss out on the storyline... leaving the "do WE keep playing or do we stop for now..." question up in the air. We found that in the beginning of the game each person gave dibs for what character they wanted to "be" during the course of the game and only switched when that character was unavailable for storyline reasons -- which feeds directly to higher replay value so everyone can pick different characters on the next play through like in new game+ (more later).
Playing this game single player is decent (AI partners are not very bright though...), but by far is much more fun with 2, 3, or even 4 people. There are a couple battles in the game that are darn right near impossible to win without multiple people practically exploiting the enemy AI to win -- that is if you play through the game like we did on HARD. Playing the game on NORMAL/EASY is pretty easy and you could likely win without too much effort in level grinding or hoarding items to make overpowering items (this can be done with some gamefaqs know-how on where to find
New Game+ is also an option in this game adding a lot to the replay value. There is a "grade" shop after completing the game that allows you to purchase new game+ things (like retain items, Capacity Cores, retain all AD Skills, etc). After starting a new game+, you have quite a bit more stuff to do, like an additional very difficult dungeon near the middle/end of the game, additional special skills for some characters (mystic artes), unlocked new skit scenes and dialogue based on what your character's skins are during storyline events (Luke wearing a bathing suit during certain scenes changes the dialog for example), additional difficulty options -- all of these are nice perks in new game+.
Really the only terrible things that were just agonizing were the SLOW LOAD TIMES and somewhat choppy world map camera movement -- so much so that it is down right very annoying to wait more than 5 seconds for the battle scene to load from the world map or transitioning to a city. For a game that took around 130 hours to complete (did almost ALL side quests), this load times will agitate you and try your patience, especially when playing with more than one player. If you're grinding some exp and loot... you can only imagine.
If you have a hard drive in your PS2 (the old style ps2 has an IDE interface in the back of it behind the network port), I highly recommend putting this game on the hard drive and playing from that -- this will significantly speed up the game and make it much less choppy overall -- with a small price and some game halting glitches that happen rarely. If you do this (scour the internet for how, it's worth your time). You will want to use the following options MODE0 and slow hard drive access times, just be warned that it's not 100% perfect and can freeze your game randomly (rarely), lose your background music, or other various phenomenon -- but in the end still very much worth the risk.
Doing the above will remedy really the only thing wrong from this game and keeping me from giving this game a 10. If you've played Tales of Symphonia on Gamecube, those load times are lightning fast compared to this game -- so be warned.
Oh, and the music and sound effects are decent to excellent fitting the mood of the game.
The graphics are great for the theme of the game and the character's facial expression are quite humorous.
In the end, this game is well worth the cash. If you can get the hard drive thing to work -- this was the game that inspired me to go through all the hassle and spend the extra cash for the hard drive to get rid of the load times as best as possible. Replay value is very high since it's highly unlikely that you will be able to feasibly "get everything" in one play through and without a game guide.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Tales of the Abyss (US, 10/10/06)
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