Platforms available on: Nintendo Wii
Developer: Namco Bandai Studio
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Tales of Graces f is the HD remake of the Nintendo Wii role-playing game released back in 2009. It's also the first time a Tales game has surfaced on the PS3 outside of Japan, launching ahead of next year's hotly anticipated Tales of Xillia. With so many releases in its near 20-year history, keeping track of the Tales series and spinoffs is no easy task, leading to one or two forgettable titles falling through the cracks. Will Tales of Graces f suffer the same fate?
On paper, Tales of Graces f features all of the clichés and conventions associated with the typical Japanese role-playing game. One rebellious child and his intellectual brother stumble upon a girl with amnesia and seemingly magical powers, taking her under their wing and back to another friend with an unnamed illness - possibly lovesickness. The region's sheltered prince ends up joining the gang, and it's not long before the group is bound together by friendship pacts and a shared reluctance to embrace their futures.
The captivating story is complimented by a battle system that's incredibly deep, but equally accessible. Entering a battle sees players control a single character with the ability to perform standard sword-based combos with one button (A-Artes) and slightly more complex, customisable moves with another (B-Artes). Performing attacks requires CC (chain capacity), which automatically recharges and increases by blocking or chaining together consecutive hits. Blocking aids offence in other ways too, leading to critical strikes and unblockable attacks.
Additional depth comes from the lack of a traditional level-up system. Users instead learn skills and increase attributes by equipping different titles, which are unlocked by playing through the story, performing tasks or by reaching milestones. Each title has five skills attached, which are learned by defeating enemies and earning skill points. Once a skill is learned, it remains with the character regardless of whether the title is equipped or not.
Juggling titles is oddly enjoyable and switching between them soon becomes an obsession. Certain situations call for very specific skills and defences, so you'll find yourself searching for a title and skill set to suit the predicament. Some players will prefer fast-track learning, unlocking one or two skills from each title before moving on, something that will give characters a wider set of moves and attributes. The alternative is to spend more time learning the more powerful skills from each title, but leaving yourself vulnerable in certain situations.
Teammate behaviour and titles are also fully customisable. Players have access to a pretty deep command list, so even when not under your control, teammates offer full offensive or defensive support. If the support isn't quite right, however, users can easily switch between characters, accessing their individual skills. The ability to combine and create hundreds of items and weapons - even being able to set when they are used - adds further depth, making Tales of Graces f one of the deepest RPGs we've played in years.
The game also lacks balance, which makes boss battles particularly frustrating. Most foes pose very little threat and can be dealt with in a matter of seconds. Bosses, on the other hand, are much more difficult, often requiring multiple attempts to best. In most RPGs, players can gauge the potential difficulty of a boss by the challenge presented in the preceding dungeon. This isn't possible in Tales of Graces, so you're never sure how much grinding is completely necessary.
It's unlikely that Tales of Graces f will win over JRPG sceptics, which is a shame because despite adopting many of the genre's conventions, it still manages to excel. While we would have liked a more detailed world and would have appreciated a milder learning curve, the game's battle system, storyline and cast of characters more than make up for any shortcomings. Tales of Graces f is a tale worth telling and a game well worth playing.
Copyright: Namco Bandai