Tales of the Abyss
Meet Luke fon Fabre. He’s the typical byproduct of the nobility social class, a teenager who is spoiled rotten and assumes that the world revolves around him. He lounges around the estate grounds all day, stuffing his face full of free meals, and getting combat training from his mentor, Van. Luke is lazy, whiny, and utterly self-righteous. However, this arrogant little bastard does have a few issues that need resolving. He frequently hears a voice in his mind calling out to him, causing him to keel over in pain. Also, he was kidnapped and later saved at an early age, resulting with him losing his childhood memories. Aside from suffering from this horribly overused RPG protagonist cliche, Luke has never been allowed outside of the estate due to the risk of him getting kidnapped again. Thus, our hero is doomed to stay locked in his comfortable home and live a life of riches and ignorant bliss…
At least, until Tear Grants shows up.
No one is quite sure why she’s there. The only warning is the sound of her singing a spell that put the guards to sleep. But before Tear can get her hands on what she’s after, a bright flash of light stuns everyone into submission. When the smoke clears, it becomes apparent that both Tear and Luke got transported out of the estate and into the wilderness. Needless to say, the little rich boy is scared out of his mind; since he’s never been outside of his home, he as no idea what the world looks like. He’ll have to learn how life in a RPG works the hard way; getting tutored in the ways of random battles, paying for food instead of eating it off a silver platter, and becoming acquainted with life on the road. He’ll have to learn fast, too; Luke and Tear weren’t just transported out of the estate, but into the country that happens to be at war with Luke’s homeland. With plenty of enemy soldiers, political uprisings, and a crew of deadly generals hunting them down, the pair will have to act fast if they hope to get back alive.
That’s right, boys and girls. You’ll get to help the calm, intelligent young woman and a whiny momma’s boy return safely and save the day from some not-so predictable plot twists. They won’t be alone, however. You’ll become acquainted with a witty colonel/magic user named Jade, a young girl named Anise that can wield gigantic stuffed toys (including the Prince from Katamari Damacy) in the heat of battle, and a snooty princess/archer called Natalia. Then there’s Guy, who fulfils the role of the generic best friend/backup swordsman with a compelling secret. If you’ve become jaded with the incredibly cliched characters of Tales of Symphonia, don’t worry; this new batch of characters are far better written, designed, and portrayed. Though they suffer from a few of the usual RPG character flaws, each has their own developed backgrounds that ultimately make the story far more entertaining.
Despite their differences and hybrid fighting styles, this group operates remarkably well; In terms of gameplay, Tales of the Abyss doesn’t differ much from Symphonia. If you’ve played any of the last few Tales games, you’ll feel right at home. You’ll still wander over a vast world map, visiting towns, cities, and fortresses to progress the game’s plot. There’s an extensive amount of items, weapons, armor, and other little things to collect through your travels. You’ll also be able to modify your characters’ stats based on their class titles, abilities they use, and items they equip. There are still meal recipes to be found, legendary weapons to be acquired, optional bosses to be fought, and a few sidequests to be undertaken. You’ll also get treated to a wide variety of mini-conversations that can be viewed as your journey continues.
The bulk of the game, however, will be spent battling random monsters, enemies, and whatever else that get in your way. Once a battle starts up, the team will face off against their adversaries at once in an epic real-time brawl. You’ll be able to control your character freely, which allows you to attack with multi-hit combos, or defend and evading when necessary. You can also configure the rest of your party’s actions depending on the situation; if the default setup isn’t to your liking, you can have the characters rush a single enemy, use only magic or physical attacks, focus more on defense and evasion, use items sparingly, and plenty of other options. With every hit that lands, you’ll whittle away your foe’s health until they collapse. Get the experience points to level up, and rinse and repeat until you’re powerful enough to take on stronger enemies.
For those of you that have played Symphonia, this should sound pretty familiar. However, Abyss fixes a few nagging flaws that were detrimental the last title. In the previous game, you were forced to lock onto an enemy, then run forward or backward along a straight plane; you could not run to the side or in back of your targeted foe. In this game, the problem has been fixed by the inclusion of the “Flex-Range Linear Motion Battle System.” That’s just a fancy way of saying that you can hold down the L2 button and use your controller’s analog stick to move the character anywhere on the battlefield at any time. This makes the action far more fluid and fast-paced; you’ll frequently use this free movement system to avoid attacks and spells that would otherwise kill you. Even the camera has been improved; instead of focusing on the main character, the camera will pan out and angle so every character can be seen onscreen. The combat is further developed by the Field of Fonons magic system, which basically boils down to using enough of a single attack in battle to have modified by elemental powers and upgraded in the middle of combat.
Don’t get too bogged down by the game’s descriptions of Fonons and how they’re supposed to work in battle. Despite the long-winded explanations, the game’s magic hasn’t changed much from Symphonia. By leveling up, a character can acquire a wide variety of special attacks and magic spells called “Artes.” These can be anything from fast-paced sword slashing to summoning a deluge of water, or turning your foes into charred corpses. These can be mapped to certain button commands, allowing you to perform them freely (assuming that you have enough magic energy stored up) in combat. Though many of the attacks have been renamed and modified, you’ll still get to enjoy fan favorites like the Stalagmite and First Aid spells, complete with their usual animations and special effects.
Despite some framerate issues and an overall lack of polish, much of the game’s style has been retained as well. The game is filled with vast expanses of green land and hills, with plenty of random encounters to be found. The enemies are fairly detailed, showing off furry pelts, gleaming armor, flowing capes, and plenty of vivid colors to portray magic spells. Even the main enemies have tons of personality; unlike the generic uniformed bad guys from Symphonia, this new crew of baddies includes a pink-clad narcissist, a child beastmaster, and a dual pistol-wielding femme fatale that looks like a cheap knockoff of Rozalin from Disgaea 2. Our heroes, however, don’t look quite as memorable; they are more geared toward personality as opposed to appearance. Though Luke begins as a spoiled brat, you’ll see him gradually grow into a better person as the adventure wears on. You’ll get used to the characters little quirks, like Anise’s frequent flirtations with Luke, Jade’s dry humor, and Guy’s obvious fear of women. Such things are made more apparent by the game’s excellent use of its camera angles. You’ll be able to see close-ups of the characters’ faces during cutscenes, observe their body language, and other little things that make them so much more entertaining.
I despise most RPGs. I find them long, boring, and tedious. However, Tales of the Abyss is one of the few games in the genre that truly appeal to me. The story is both entertaining and memorable. The characters are well-written and interesting, and nowhere near as cliched and predictable as their Symphonia counterparts were. Fans of that game will be treated to the usual adventuring, combat, and magical spells that they’ve come to know and love. Minor tweaks, such as the free run combat mechanics and improved camera make the combat much more involved and engaging. The Tales of the Abyss may not look and perform as smooth as its predecessors, but the sheer amount of personality, charisma, and humor cannot go unnoticed. Indeed, it is the RPG to play.
Nine out of ten