Tales of Graces F PS3 Review

It can be hard being a Japanese RPG fan and living in the UK. There have been times when I wanted to play a new JRPG, but region locking or lack of translation often stopped me or delayed my chance to play the game for months, even years. Releases have become better during this generation, but there are still improvements to be made. Take the Tales series for example. The last release that was not a port was the wonderful Tales of Vesperia on the Xbox 360, which came out in 2008. It’s now 2012, and in this time the same franchise has seen three (nearly four, as Tales of Xillia 2 is out in November in Japan) releases in the core series, all that never saw an English release. While I can go on about how I want them, I can at least have a smile on my face as Namco Bandai has promised to do what it can to bring more Tales games here. Yippee!

Graces F begins with the hero, an eleven-year-old Asbel Lhant, and his brother, Hubert, defying their father’s orders to stay in town to visit a place called Lhant Hill, a special meadow where flowers are supposed to flourish all year round. Upon arriving, they find a young, purple-haired girl who is suffering from amnesia – she has no idea how she got in the meadow or even what her name is. The brothers feel sorry for the girl, so they take her in and give her the name Sophie. Asbel introduces Sophie to his long-time friend Cheria, and the befriended Prince Richard. As the group of five become really close pals, they are ultimately torn away from each other when a disastrous event happens.

The story of Graces F is split into three arcs. First is the four-hour prologue that takes place when the main characters are children, and the second – the bulk of the game – occurs seven years later, in which everyone has grown up and their paths cross with one another, rekindling their friendship. The way the story is done with two time periods contributes insight into the history of the characters and what motivates them. The overall plot for Graces F isn’t as crazy as some of the past Tales games, and while it is full of clichés (I guess that is something that comes with friendship stories) and takes time to get going, this does not stop the narrative from providing an enjoyable time.

Originally, the game released as an exclusive Japanese title on the Wii. Later, the title was moved to the PS3 as an enhanced HD port with additional content and story. The “F” in the title stands for future, referring to the new Lineage and Legacies content (the third arc) that opens up after the main game is completed. This lasts around eight hours and expands on the unanswered parts left at the end of the main game.

Combat in this latest Tales game has been given a reworking and plays slightly different compared to the last few titles in the series. It still features the real-time battling, but in the past characters used normal attacks and special moves called Artes. Gone are these mechanics; in its place are A-artes, B-artes, and a metre named Chain Capacity that determines how many times a character can attack before said character needs to wait for a recharge. This tweaking with the battle system makes fighting in Graces F more tactical than ever before in the franchise. Chain Capacity is used for all character activity. What that means is when you drain it, you can no longer dash, free run (not parkour, but 360 degree movement instead of linear) or attack, left with the only option of defending until the metre refills. Thankfully, the time for a recharge is short, giving minimal downtime before you are ready to carry on a beatdown.

These changes to the combat have increased the speed of the battle system. Even the character selection has moved to the D-pad (players play as one of the four in battle, rest are AI-controlled), giving on-the-fly character changes without any delay. The computer-controlled characters do a good job of looking after the team and themselves. I never once saw the AI do something stupid that would cost me a fight. The option to limit their move set is given, cutting away the use of weaker moves when stronger versions are more feasible.

Character growth has become more predominate in Graces F, due to the way titles (which have been in past games, but no way as important) are used as the main function to increase the power of the seven characters. Every individual has over 100 titles, with each one holding five stars, and each star assigned with a new skill or a permanent stat increase. Winning in battle rewards experience and skill points, with the latter used in conjunction with the titles as a way to level them up. Unlocked moves and stats are forever tied to that character, allowing for players to switch in another title to learn more moves or improve stats. This way of leveling up gives the player options to focus on specific skills or stats they feel the character needs. This is something I am happy with, as I never bothered with titles in the series. I often just equipping the latest one because it was newer; now each one has been given value, making them just as important as equipping gear.

Enhancements to the franchise are scattered throughout Graces F, but one other key improvement I feel that needs sharing is the Dualizing system. Continuing the idea of customisation, Dualizing – or crafting to you and I – gives players the option to combine items together to create new ones. It is not just limited to general items, as weapons and armour are available to combine with shards to boost stats or add status elements. Keep using the gear in battle and it becomes tempered, allowing it to be infused with other tempered weapons to create gems that can be used as accessories. Dualizing is a complex and clever system that offers the capability to kit characters with a player’s own created accessory, again building on the foundations of giving players their own way to build up the game’s heroes.

Origins of the Wii can be seen in Tales of Graces F’s presentation. The graphics aren’t as detailed – textures looked washed out and muddy – and the animation is robotic, losing the striking visuals compared to the last English game, Tales of Vesperia, on the Xbox 360. Graphics aren’t everything, and just because it has jumped from the Wii does not mean the game is ugly. Far from it, the art truly shines with rich colours, sharp visuals and no sign of jaggies. No doubt the anime-imbued characters that the series is known for has helped the game look good on its move to HD.

Voiceover work is decent enough and there is plenty of it. Keeping with the Tales tradition, comical skits (short optional segments with characters talking to each other about a topic) are placed around the world and are used to give more insight into the personality of the characters, but also to change the mood. These will likely stand out because they can be so daft. There are stints where the voice acting sounds mundane, but overall it never becomes annoying or painful on the ears. Disappointment is in store for Japanophiles as there is no Japanese voiceover track. I hope this is included for the next Tales game.

Over the past couple of years the HD consoles haven’t had a great traditional JRPG – lately, handhelds are the place to go if anyone wants to play some of the better titles. That being said, Tales of Graces F makes a return to form for the genre on these systems, bringing with it an engrossing tale and an evolved, more tactical and fast-paced battle system, which when blended with the new customisation features, make this the best Tales game when it comes to gameplay.

Having played almost all of the Tales games that have been translated, with Tales of Symphonia and Tales of the Abyss being my favourites, I can easily say Tales of Graces F follows closely with these two titles. If you are in the same boat as me, then you might be thrilled with the above sentence. Either way, JRPG fans should pick up Tales of Graces F and relish in its throwback to great times when the genre was alive and kicking. Ah, those were the days…

8 out of 10