Review by RageBot
Reviewed: 02/22/13 | Updated: 04/22/13
Namco polishes the franchises's gameplay to the max with their finest release yet.
The years 2001 through 2006 were an agonizing time period for Playstation purists interested in Namco's stalwart RPG franchise. They waited anxiously for a successor to Tales of Destiny II, all the while listening to Gamecube owners boasting about their shining Tales of Symphonia. If that wasn't enough, when a new game was localized for western PS2 owners, it was the lackluster Tales of Legendia, by far the worst Tales game ever localized. However, the next game, fifth localized, eighth overall, caused all to shut their mouths forever.
After having quite a fiasco with Legendia, Namco had taken drastic measures with their next game. MelFes, the studio that made Legendia, was closed. In its place, Namco returned the studio that worked on Tales of Symphonia, their most critically acclaimed game. That studio immediately picked where it had left off with its last game, with a beautiful 3D anime world and a very different battle system and encounter system, and polished everything until it shone like a mirror.
The main protagonist this time is called Luke fon Fabre, an arrogant noble youth of the Kimlasca kingdom, who has been confined to his manor for the last seven years. Prior to that, he has been kidnapped by Kimlasca's enemies, the Malkuth empire, but he has no memories of anything from his childhood. He also keeps on having headaches and hearing a weird voice every time. During a sword practice with his master, Van, and his best friend, Guy, a mysterious intruder enters the mansion and plans on assassinating Van. When Luke interferes, a force called hyperresonance warps both him and the intruder deep into the heart of Malkuth. From there, Luke is kicked into an epic tale of war and peace, religion and heresy, and many personal turmoils.
In order to understand everything in this game and review, you must first understand the terms in this game, and it's quite unique. The World of Auldrant is an old world, with records going back thousands of years into the past, to a time period called the Dawn Age. Back then, combination of magic and technology, called 'Fon machinery', ruled the world. In general, the elements are called 'Fonons' in this game, a term somewhat similar to 'Craymels' back in Destiny II. When the miasma, a deadly poisonous gas, started filling the air, one woman aided the planet. That woman, Yulia Jue, devised a plan to elevate the land away from the harmful miasma, using the force of memory particles in concentrated streams, called 'Sephiroth Trees'.
Yulia then proceeded to prophesize the future of Auldrant, written on seven great stones, called 'Fonstones'. Her prophecy is known as the 'Score', and a religious organization, called the Order of Lorelei, was created in order to keep the faith in the Score. The Order is led by a Fon Master. In the game, the Fon Master is called Ion, and he wants peace in the world, yet some people always try to prevent him from achieving his goals. The game revolves heavily around the Score and the opinions of people towards it, as well as a forbidden machinery that can create clones of all things, and a lost island called Hod, which was destroyed in a war 15 years before the game begins.
The characters themselves do not make this game a masterpiece. Luke is by far the rudest Tales of character yet, at least until he undergoes a great development after the big twist hits. Tear Grants, the intruder, is a veteran soldier of the Order of Lorelei, and she is always clam and collected to the point of being stone cold. Guy can be amusing with his apparent phobia of women, until he undergoes a development himself. Natalia L.K Lanvaldear, who is the princess of Kimlasca, is as arrogant as Luke, and is one of the most emotional characters in any video game. Anise Tatlin, another member of the Order, is the game's mandatory annoying, money-loving girl. Everybody I know hates her, and so will you.
It all balances out, however, because of the sixth playable character, Colonel Jade Curtiss, a member of the Malkuth military, and a breath of fresh air among the other stale characters. He is always sarcastic and he delivers killer one-liners throughout the game. While he doesn't have the spunk of some American jokers, such as Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series, he will definitely appeal to western players, regardless of their country.
The antagonists are also quite good, although not ground breaking. The main villain has a great motive, but by this point, it should already be expected. The great shocker comes from the way he manipulates people, and what he plans to do. A second villain, Grand Maestro Mohs, is Ion's second-in-command in the Order of Lorelei, and he will lie, cheat and mass murder in order to keep the Score. Both have different ideals and goals, but neither leads to a fitting solution. Following either of them are the six God-Generals, experienced warriors, each with his own goal, which may oppose one villain or another at times. Some are amusing, and each a past connected to one of your party members.
Despite the original world and some interesting characters, it's the gameplay where this game really shines. First off, the encounter system return from Tales of Symphonia, where no encounter is random. Instead, monsters spawn randomly on the world map, and they may or may not go after your party. In this game, they look like their actual look on the battle screen, unlike Symphonia's shadowy representatives. If you use a Magic Lens on a monster, you'll be able to see the HP count of that monster whenever you press R1, and whenever you encounter that monster. That means you never have to use a Magic Lens more than once.
This game takes the 3D battle system of Tales of Symphonia, and improves it a hundredfold. Once each character hits level 5, you can press L2 and make it run freely, which is important when spellcasters bombard the field. After hitting level 15, an Overlimit gauge starts filling whenever you attack enemies in battle. When it fills to the max, you can press R2 to enter Overlimit mode, in which you take less damage, deal more damage and won't ever stagger or be stunned. However, the real deal comes after hitting level 30. You'll then unlock Mystic Artes, which, in Final Fantasy terms, are basically Limit Breaks. You use a Mystic Arte by pressing X while using an Arcane Arte during Overlimit mode, and it's usually a devastating chain of hits. If you can use it after a good combo of basic attacks and Artes, be prepared to deal a lot of damage quickly.
Don't be fooled by all the new features, as this is the hardest game yet in the series. One reason for that is the prices for items. In most Tales of games, an basic healing item costs 100 Gald. However, in this game, depending on the time and place, it could cost 200 Gald, 300, 500 or even 2,000 Gald. You'll have to grind if you want to buy everything you need, so you might come underequipped for every boss battle. Eventually, this prices will skyrocket, so wait until they are extremely high and sell everything you don't need then. After getting heaps of Gald this way, the game will return to an easier difficulty, but most bosses will still not be a walk in the park. Later enemies will enter Overlimit themselves and might even unleash Mystic Artes of their own.
The Sorcerer's Ring is now worn of the body of Mieu, a sacred animal that breathes fire. With the power of the ring, Mieu can also speak, and gain new abilities, such as breaking rocks, flying for a short distance, and improving his fire breath to an unlimited range. In the beginning, Luke treats him like a slave, but later on, as Luke develops, he treats Mieu kindly, as he treats every other being in the game. In this way, the Ring is not only a puzzle solving tool, but also a little important to the story.
There are a few new features in this game. One is a Capacity Core: A piece of equipment that can affect that status growth every time a character levels up. Some focus on magic (Or 'Fonic') attack and defense, some on physical variables, some on overall defense and yet others go all over the board. Another feature in the Fon Slot Chamber: You will encounter 'Chambers' from some bosses and chests, and will be able to use them to upgrade specific attacks by means of damage dealt, the ability to send enemies flying, lowering the TP cost, making you able to steal items, or making the attack change from a weak Field of Fonon, yet another new feature.
Whenever an elemental attack is used, a magic circle will appear on the battle ground, and an elemental crest will decorate its center. That is a colorless Field of Fonon. If another attack of the same element hits the same area, the circle might gain the color of the element in its edges. Perform the right attack from within that circle, and you'll upgrade that attack to a FoF attack. Sunlight Chamber allows an FoF attack to be used from a colorless Field of Fonon. There are four Fields of Fonons: Fire, Water, Wind and Earth. Light supports Wind and Fire, Darkness supports Water and Earth, and Ice and Thunder don't exist. Some Thunder spells, such as Thunder Blade, now have wind element, others are M.I.A. Same goes towards Ice, which is part of Water element.
Just like most games in the franchise, this game is chock full of optional quests. There are secret bosses abound, optional weapons and other pieces of equipment, a few optional dungeons, a secret town that pays homage to retro Namco games, and tons of little things. Some events just don't yield big enough a reward, and many are hidden so well, you cannot find them without the help of a guide. What really peeves me is that many are continued in some sequences, but if you miss only one time period, the entire quest is gone with the wind. That is one of the only true flaws of the game. Some quests require you to play a second time, so you will not get 100% on your first time.
The graphics and sound are also extremely polished. Character models are very complex now, but the faces can sometimes be distant from the rest of the body. Everything looks great in 3D anime style. The music always fits the mood perfectly, and there are over a hundred tracks to make a complete atmosphere with music suitable for every subtle change of mood. While there are not as many instruments as in Legendia, everything in this game gets the job done, and more.
If you can, try to buy this game, as it deserves your money. Be prepared to spend a long time, as this game can take up to 80 hours with all quests completed.
Final grade: 9.6/10
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Tales of the Abyss (US, 10/10/06)
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