Thursday, 20 September 2012

Tales of Graces f

“Like a blossoming friendship, Tales of Graces f takes time to come out of its shell, but when it does you will find a game brimming with life and passion.”

There was a time not so long ago when the Japanese role-play game was considered a beloved gem in the video game industry. Modern genres have unfortunately eclipsed the market for wonderful adventures, beautifully woven stories and larger-than-life characters. Tales of Graces f belongs to what is generally considered one of the best role-play franchises around spanning all the way back to Tales of Phantasia on the SNES. Coming from such gaming royalty, it is only fitting that Tales of Graces f is another engrossing and mesmerising adventure that while plays on particular clichés, introduces enough new content to make this an RPG worth your time.

Graces f begins by introducing you to the common themes of friendship and love. Veterans of RPG’s and gamers looking for something a little bit different need not worry because while this is an age-old tale, it is told in an interesting manner. Graces f tells the story of a young lord Asbel Lhant and his discovery of a mysterious girl with amnesia (and obvious magical powers). Alongside his brother and love interest, Asbel and co journey to discover the newly named Sophie’s memories.

Your journey takes an interesting twist immediately after the prologue because unlike most games, Graces f forcibly pushes the story forward seven years and lets you rejoin with your team of characters when they have reached adulthood. Giving you a sneak glimpse of their childhood is certainly an interesting way to create a strong emotional connection and it also provides interesting ties that all come together as you progress further through the game. This is a real relief for Graces f because not only does the game start quite slowly, the prologue is in fact the weakest section of the game. Perhaps it is fair to say while you will be forced to grind your way through the beginning, Graces f builds the appropriate foundations to create an enjoyable and deep experience for you after.

Graces f starts picking up momentum when you get on the road to explore. Unlike most Tales games, there isn’t actually a stereotypical world map, although one is unlocked near the end to allow exploration of past environments. Rather every section of the world is made up of connected pathways that you must cross. As a result Graces f feels considerably smaller than its’ predecessors, but by the same token it is compact, to the point and keeps pushing the pace. Fans of a real open-world adventure might be left frustrated by this but I really felt it was a good way to go -- keeping you focused on the goals at hand and always knowing where to be heading next is never a bad thing in my book.

As with all Tales games, the combat is splendid albeit slightly altered from past titles. Artes (skills) make a return but are now split into A-artes and B-artes. The latter will be the more familiar with you able to choose what move corresponds to the circle button and direction of the analogue stick. The former however provide an advanced combo system for you to employ. The A-arte performed not only depends on the direction pressed, but how many hits you are into your combo. This certainly adds deeper levels into the combat when players are expected to time and count their hits to perform appropriate moves against their enemies. Graces f also introduces command points as your currency to perform attacks. These points are constantly replenished throughout battle but it takes time, forcing players to carefully choose between attacking and defensive stances as you wait to rebuild and mount another offensive charge. New abilities and artes are unlocked by earning titles, of which there are too many to count. Titles range from unlocking new skills, increasing the strength of current ones, adding resistances, learning support roles – all of which benefit combat in some manner. How you choose to unlock these titles and use them is all part of the fun here. It really is fair to say that Graces f has one of the most enjoyable and comprehensive combat systems ever seen from a Tales game – something that is certainly no easy feat to accomplish considering how good past games in the series have been.

Graces f continues to impress with its absolutely gorgeous visual design. As with all Tales games, a wonderful cell-shaded approach is taken that explodes to life on the screen. Environments, characters and enemies all look gorgeous, making this a visual spectacle for the eyes. The narrative and dialogue are also quite impressive but some voices can get a little bit annoying. I love how Tales games use clever snippets and camp-fire like stories to really show relationships in your party build, giving you a real sense of partnership between your characters that just doesn’t appear in all RPG’s.

As with all games, there are a few issues that do hold Graces f back. I have already mentioned the tediously slow prologue, but there are also particular problems with the difficulty curve. Graces f pretty much forces you to do serious level grinding if you hope to stand any chance against the majority of the games’ bosses. There’s almost no room for missing out enemies and you will definitely need every single experience point you can get because there are some pretty unbalanced monsters in this game that require a whole load of time to get through. This issue has been present in a few Tales games and perhaps a little challenge is what’s sometimes needed, but here Graces f strays over the line of challenge to frustration on occasion.

That aside little can be said to fault what is otherwise a wholly entertaining, fleshed out and fun experiences. Tales of Graces f provides a stereotypical story but turns it into a wonderful adventure, one that you will feel privileged to partake in. An awesome combat system coupled with great pacing makes this a treat not without issues, but a treat nonetheless.

8.5 | Gameplay |
Tales of Graces f is easily one of the most advanced and enjoyable games in the series to date. A new imagining of an already proven combat system gives players even more control and depth, while at the same time providing plenty of opportunity for exploration. This is also a more condensed and focused Tales game; meaning action comes more frequently, albeit at times the difficulty curve can be an issue.

9.0 | Presentation |
As with all Tales games Graces f is absolutely stunning in all forms of presentation. The graphics are beautiful, narrative and dialogue are deep, immersive and entertaining, the story while slow initially, picks up pace and is engrossing throughout. Even the little details like the menus and customization screens are well organized.

5.0 | Replay Value |
When you reach the end of the game there is content to go back and complete for perfectionists. However, there really isn’t much reason to go back and play Tales of Graces f again unless you really did love it that much. This is a wonderful game, but it doesn’t have that same replay spark that classic titles like Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy X or Kingdom Hearts have for example.

7.5 | Final Thoughts |
Tales of Graces f is an endearing and wholly immersive experience that fans of the role-play genre should absolutely consider playing. This is a PlayStation 3 exclusive so if you have Sony’s machine and are looking for something a little bit different, especially if you have never played a Tales game before, then I absolutely recommend giving Tales of Graces f a go. Who knows, this may be the game that might take you away from the Final Fantasy series if you haven’t jumped ship already – controversial!

Igor Kharin.

*Editor’s note – If you’re wondering why there is a random ‘f’ in the title, I did a little bit of research to answer that for you! Tales of Graces initially came out for the Nintendo Wii in 2009 and when it was announced for the PlayStation 3, the game was ported over under the title Tales of Graces f. That really annoyed me so I hope you can now enjoy the rest of your day!

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