Developer – Namco Tales Studio
Publisher – Bandai Namco Games
Platforms – PS2, 3DS
I’ve been able to review a couple of Tales games on The Geek Clinic now and I continue to look to the series as one of the best that JRPGs have to offer. With Zestiria recently released and Berseria on the horizon, however, I thought it might be time to go back and check out some of the earlier releases in the franchise. Long story short, Tales of the Abyss has won a surprise victory over my heart and from a story perspective now comes in second place behind only Tales of Vesperia, with some of the most interesting character development I’ve seen so far.
If you’d like a more in-depth description of Tales series mechanics before reading on, check out my Tales of Graces review. Also, it may be worth keeping in mind that I played the 3DS port of the game.
The realm of Auldrant has forever followed the Score on its path to prosperity. Many years ago using the Seventh Fonon, one of the elements making up the world itself, the Fonist Yulia Jue read the future of everything and named it such, and now the Order of Lorelei exists to ensure the Score is followed. Beyond the world itself, birth Scores outline the course of an individual’s life and yearly Scores reveal where the coming months will take one. Luke fon Fabre was kidnapped as a young boy. A potential heir to the throne of Kimlasca-Lanvaldear, he was eventually recovered with all of his former memories erased and from then on forced to stay within his home for his own protection. When the younger sister of Luke’s teacher from the Order attempts to kill her own brother, she and Luke are warped far from home by the phenomenon known as Hyperresonance. As the pair try to return, they are caught up in a struggle that will define a future beyond the Score’s prediction.
That summary sounds like a bit of a mess, but bear with me for a moment. Tales of the Abyss follows the usual Tales formula of gathering a party of interesting and varied individuals and somehow having them save the world, which means that as far as the overall plot goes it doesn’t break the mould. Where it does differentiate itself from its successors, however, is with its protagonist’s character development. Whereas later instalments (except for Vesperia) have more generic main characters and tend to focus on their heroines, Abyss’ focus is well and truly on Luke and it suits the story well; all things considered Abyss has some of the most emotional scenes offered by JRPGs. Because of the nature of this review (and my not wanting to rehash all of what makes the Tales series great), things are going to get negative from here on out. As I mentioned at the start of the review, for a run-down on battle and storytelling mechanics, head on over to my Tales of Graces review. One thing I’ll note is that there’s no crafting system this time around which i’m not too broken up about. There’s cooking, but it’s fairly useless.
Tales of the Abyss is the second best of the Tales games I’ve played so far considering its age. Got it? Complaint time.
Have you ever wanted to work for FedEx or [insert local courier service here]? Then Abyss is the right game for you. The amount of times you’re asked to bounce from capital city to capital city or other towns you’ve visited previously to talk to one person for five seconds to advance the story is staggering. I get that not many other people own flying machines but acting as glorified telegram readers does not make for interesting gameplay. It causes the story to drag on far longer than it needs to and only serves to create roadblocks between the scenes that make the game so much fun. Additionally, Abyss continues (or maybe starts?) the tradition of hiding story content, as despite following a guide I was still missing a hundred or so skits at the end of the game.
While the characters are as interesting as ever I can’t help but feel that some of them got shafted this time around compared to others and as much as I liked them two of the heroines especially feel like they don’t have much going on behind their character archetypes (an exaggeration, to be certain, but we’re talking relative here). On that same note it appears that Vesperia is the first instalment where amusing battle quotations really took off because Abyss doesn’t have any.
The 3DS port of the game does an admirable job with its graphics. While the 3D models don’t lend themselves well to cutscenes there are some amazing backgrounds to be seen and the 2D art is all as good as I’ve come to expect. Combat is just as fluid as later titles, though improvements were made in Graces and Xillia, and there were some incredibly fun abilities to make use of. Those emotional scenes I talked about earlier featured some excellent voice acting that suited them to a T, though unfortunately I do have to report the same problems with inflection that plague the series to this day (they may have been a little less frequent this time around, mind). The music? Well, it’s what you might expect for a fantasy JRPG.
Summary – Despite being an older release Tales of the Abyss is one of the best JRPGs out there, and I say that despite my prejudice against portable titles. It features some excellent character development and emotion that more recent games in the series seem to have missed out on, though it’s not without its own issues. There’s a lot of running around without doing much which may make the main story drag on for some players, and some of the supporting heroines don’t get as much attention as they deserve. When all is said and done, however, Tales of the Abyss is a Tales game through and through, and a good one to boot, with all of the adventure and excitement that entails.
Score: 8.5/10 – Good