Tales of the Abyss 3DS Review
Publisher – Namco Bandai – Developer – Namco Tales Studio – Genre – RPG– Players – 1 – Age Rating – 12+ – Other console/handheld formats – N/A
This 3DS version of Tales of the Abyss marks the first time that the 2006 game has made it to European shores. Whilst we’re on the subject of firsts, it may be the eighth game in the enduring series but it’s also the first JRPG on Nintendo’s handheld system.
Tales of the Abyss wasn’t originally designed around 3D, and this version proves that. It grants additional depth to the world and, in terms of positioning, it can be somewhat useful in combat situations, though it’s somewhat of a subtle effect that doesn’t enhance and bring to life its modest visuals in the way that other 3DS games can. The touchscreen can also be used to execute Artes (the series’ take on special abilities, in case you’re wondering) allowing you to assign up to four Artes to different positions of the screen, which is a welcome addition.
The world of Tales of the Abyss is dictated by the score, a stone filled with prophecies. If the score is followed it is said to send the world coursing in a prosperous direction. Some people use the reading of the score to simply decide what food to eat, but there’s also destruction detailed in the score, so it’s also used for more nefarious means. It’s an interesting, rich and often bleak world. The story however can be a bit incomprehensible on occasion, with lots of nonsense words thrown at you such as fonons and hyperresonance and little explanation of just what it all is, though as you advance through the game and get acquainted with its world, things begin to make at least a little more sense.
As is most often the case with the Tales series though, it’s the characterization that is the greatest strength in the narrative sense. Lead character Luke is a spoilt young aristocrat, who spends much of the early stages of the game moaning about one thing or another and, yes, he’s own got memory issues and, yes, he might even have some sort of hidden power up his polished sleeve. His complaining can be often amusing, though it eventually begins to grate, so as predictable as his character arc ultimately is, it’s without doubt a good thing that this is soon dropped and his eventual growth is actually handled relatively well too.
Whilst Luke is an interesting enough character, some of the supporting cast however manage to far outshine him. There’s Guy the swordsman, who has a female phobia, shaking whenever he is simply so much as touched. The female lead is Tear a stoic knight, who also has a hidden soft side. Without doubt the strongest, most well rounded character in the entire game is Jade, a soldier that, in spite of his dark past, is delightfully sarcastic and has easily the funniest and most memorable lines in the game, all of which are delivered wonderfully by his voice actor, Kirk Thornton.
The voice actors overall are generally very capable, so it’s disappointing that there’s an overreliance on skits that, unlike the Japanese version, are unvoiced. These are entirely optional and some will welcome the choice to completely forgo them, whilst others will relish the chance to further explore the characters and their world and perhaps in doing so, try to make sense of all those funny words that keep getting thrown at you, almost every time the characters open their mouths.
The combat is much the same as any other Tales game, which is to say fast paced and intense, though certainly not the most strategic. You take charge of one character, whilst the other three members are dictated by capable AI. The normal difficulty level allows encounters to be won through simple button bashing alone, though the harder difficulties require more skill and allow you to see the combat in a whole new light.
Through magical use by any of your party in battle, fonans will form on the battlefield. By standing in the circle before it disappears and using certain artes, you’re able to use modified versions of the artes that have elemental properties. On normal there’s very rarely any need to make use of this ability, but it’s a valuable tactic when playing on the harder difficulties.
Outside of battle, you’re able to equip Capacity Cores, of which will increase certain stats whenever you level up. The stats are determined by the type of Capacity Core equipped, giving you the chance at focussing on further enhancing the strengths of a character, or working on improving their weaker areas. Have a Capacity Core equipped long enough and once you level up, you’ll also sometimes pick up AD skills, which consist of stat bonuses and new abilities.
All the usual series staples are there as well, including cooking, titles and dungeons that whilst relatively simple in their execution are nevertheless well designed and it’s simply a pleasure to loot them from top to bottom. Its main story is also a bit bloated as well, taking up around fifty hours at the very least, with a fair chunk feeling like needless padding and when advancing deep into the game, it can begin to feel like a bit of a grind from time to time.
Tales of the Abyss may have many of the foibles of the franchise, but it nevertheless serves as a great introduction to the 3DS for the genre and is at the same time a delightful look back at the legendary JRPG series, featuring a cast of personality laden characters that rank amongst the genres best and gameplay mechanics that will be familiar to anyone that has previously embarked on a Tales adventure and for the long time fans there will be comfort in that familiarity, whilst for everyone else, it’s as good a place to start as any.