Tales of Graces f
The JRPG–a genre that was once plentiful in generations past–has become something of an endangered species, rarely seen outside of its native land, and the ones that are released beyond the various Final Fantasy games typically flounder. Tales of Graces f, an updated version of the Wii title, is indicative of why the genre has become stagnant and unabashedly treads on familiar ground.
Tales of Graces f‘s plot centers on Asbel Lhant: a rebellious young boy who would much rather become a knight than be heir to the title of Lord Lhant. He comes across a powerful, purple-haired girl with no memory and forms a bond along with prince Richard later on. Asbel’s idyllic childhood is shattered when he suffers a tragedy, and the story picks up after seven years where a teenage Asbel has become a full-fledged knight and his friends have changed in the predictable ways.
From then on, the story centers on three kingdoms at each other’s throats for control of a precious natural resource. It’s the classic dilemma of a JRPG: it takes far too long for the story to pick up, and by then most players will have given up on the game. Not as if there is much of a story for players to latch onto, anyway. Tales of Graces f slavishly follows the long-established tropes of the genre. It’s almost like a parade of cliches: there’s the headstrong youth, the friend-turned-enemy, the friend-turned-love-interest, and so on. There are titles out there that break the mold, but Tales of Graces f is not one of them.
The only appealing aspects of the game are its combat and combining systems. Rather than leveling-up in the traditional sense, as the game progresses new titles are unlocked and can be equipped to gain additional attributes, some of which are tied specifically to unfolding events. With an unholy amount of titles to choose from for each party member, it’s impossible not to find something that’ll work for any style of play.
Combat largely consists of stringing various A and B Artes into effective combinations to use on enemies. A Artes are standard attacks based on the position of the left analog stick, while B Artes are more devastating and specialized attacks. Using the Artes uses up points that recharge after a little while of waiting or blocking, and further tactics include the ability to sidestep opponents.
The other portion of combat is about managing the rest of the party. Players can customize each character’s strategy to maximize their effectiveness in any given situation, and if things become dire the player can take direct control by tapping on the directional pad. Most of the time the AI-controlled characters do a pretty good job of taking care of themselves on the battlefield, and there is the option to play with three other people locally.
Managing the various items in Tales of Graces f introduces players to the Dualizing system. Items can be combined for added benefits. Weapons and armor in particular can be upgraded with shards that give a stat-boost in order to craft a weapon that perfectly fits the player’s specifications. It’s an admittedly flexible system that adds a bit of spice to item management and it’s nice to see items evolve, rather than getting quickly outmoded once a more expensive model becomes available.
Unfortunately, the combat and Dualizing mechanics can’t overcome the overwhelming sense of deja vu from the familiar characters and uninteresting story. There’s no arguing that the majority of the game is spent listening to shallow stock characters spout insipid dialogue and there’s far too much backtracking between the same bland environments. Invisible walls also rob the game of any illusions of freedom and, quite frankly, Asbel and his friends live in a profoundly uninteresting world that’s bereft of any reason to do sidequests or converse with villagers and their pointless gossip.
Tales of Graces f is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but without an intriguing plot, cast of characters, or a world truly worth saving, its penchant for seeing how many tired cliches it can cram onto one disc makes it rather obvious why the genre has found itself in such dire straits. Despite its engaging combat, Tales of Graces f fails to distinguish itself from so many other JRPGs that have the exact same elements and handle them much better.