So this week I’m reviewing a video game. I had the good fortune to beat Tales of Graces: F, an RPG for the PS3, last night. Ended up with a a clear time of 180 hours or so. Don’t be afraid (or excited, I suppose) as that is most definitely atypical. There was maybe 40 or so hours of multitasking going in there, so I’d say my actual play time was closer to 140 hours. And counting of course, I have post-game content to do. So for people that look for a lot to do in games, you’ll really enjoy Graces with its robust content besides just the main quest. But if you’re just looking to beat the game, that’s there for you too. Anyway, despite my time spent on the game, the game certainly isn’t perfect. Let’s detail those as we go on, shall we?
Starting with the plot and characters. Well, fans of the tales series know that these games are not known for their Pulitzer prize-winning plot lines. Unfortunately, Graces takes that just a step further. Now, the only tales games I’ve played to completion are Symphonia, Symphonia 2, Abyss, and Vesperia, and between those and Graces, Graces has.. the second-worst plot. But as a mothership title (I don’t really count Symphonia 2 as a mothership title) Graces is definitely the worst, plot-wise. There’s never really sense of urgency to do what the plot has you do. While you form a certain attachment to the characters, it’s more for their personality quirks than their relationship to the major unfolding plot at hand.
Graces does an exceptionally poor job at world-building, and the setting is about as generic a backdrop as one can get. For the most part these are problems that plague most of the Tales games (at least the ones I’ve played), but Graces seems like the worst out of these. To put it simply, the plot just isn’t engrossing in the slightest. The characters are much better, but by no means excellent. Like all tales games, there are hundreds of skits littered around the game, and a good number of them are pretty funny. A few of the characters go through some decent development as well. Particularly Sophie really comes far as a character. As a final note, the characters and plot are really quite cheesy together. Expect a lot of friendship speeches.
Now for the part of the game everyone’s here for, and what makes it distinctly a game. The gameplay. The tales series is fairly well-known in JRPG circles for having excellent gameplay, and Graces F certainly doesn’t disappoint. You might be wondering why, despite having all those bad things I had to say about the story, I had 180 hours clocked on the game… Well, this is it. Tales of Graces F is made by Team Destiny, which uses a radically different system for battling compared to the other English Tales games. Instead of TP system (think of it like MP) to use skills, instead you have a CC gauge. This gauge is used for all abilities, both assault and burst artes. Assault artes are your basic attacks (though they’re much more flashy now) and are accessed via the X button. The burst artes, accessed via the O button, are used more similarly to artes in the older tales games. They also take CC, but depending on the character, they’re either different attacks or spells.
The artes are very different between all of the characters, and each character fulfills a very specific niche, and given that each character also has a very unique fighting style, all of the characters are quite fun to play. The battle system has a lot of depth to it, and it’s very skill-based. There’s a lot of difficulty settings and they can all get quite difficult, so there’s a lot to strive for over the course of the game if you’re not feeling challenged at your current level. If you like grinding, there’s a ton of that. There’s a robust crafting system for creating weapons and armors (maybe not so robust for weapons and armors) and there’s a lot of materials to make healing items or other saleable items from. There’s also a ton of food you can use to make recipes. I’m not going to list all the new systems Graces F has over its other tales counterparts, but needless to say there’s a ton of depth to the gameplay, and you can get a lot of mileage out of it if that’s what you’re looking for. Definitely the number 1 reason to play this game.
I can’t really use a picture to explain the gameplay, so use this. Obviously the stuff here is not doable in the beginning of the game, but it should give you a taste of what’s possible.
Now, Graces F is a remake of the Wii game Tales of Graces. The graphics weren’t really updated from the Wii version, so obviously it looks slightly below what the PS3′s really capable of. The PS3-only content looks similar (for obvious reason; it’d be really jarring if only certain segments looked updated graphically). That being said, the graphics are rather nice stylistically, and there’s a lot of vibrant colors in use throughout the game that really makes the world pop. All in all, while it’s nice to look at, it gives off that feeling that Tales of Graces F could really have been improved, graphically, to reflect the new, more powerful PS3 architecture it’s on. Still, the graphics serve their purpose, and I don’t think anyone would ever pick up a Tales game for its graphics.
The Tales series usually has some pretty solid musical choices. Unfortunately, just as it did with the plot, Graces falls quite short here as well. The music is, for the most part, bland and uninspiring. There are a scant few decent tracks littered throughout the game, but by and large the music is sadly not that great. If you’re really inclined, there are certain DLC costumes you can buy that come with certain BGMs, and a few of those BGMs are from older Tales games. This includes the much-lauded song from Tales of Vesperia, Fury Sparks. It comes with the Flynn costume for Hubert. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how wealthy you are I assume) the costumes are $4 USD a piece, so that’s a decision you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of.
One thing the more recent Tales games are known for is great replayability. This is found primarily through the Grade shop. Grade is a hidden value tracked in Graces F via various actions you complete (filling certain books out, getting technical bonuses, etc.). For Tales of Graces F, after you beat the game, you’re given two options. You can go through the PS3 only content, Lineage and Legacies (which is another storyline and contains several bonuses for your characters) or you can start a New Game Plus. If you choose to do the extra PS3 story, once you complete it, you’re put back at the end of the normal story, so you can do the extra story and then go back and get NG+ later if you wish.
Anyway, once you decide to go into NG+, you’re thrown into the Grade shop. This is a shop you can use the Grade you earned over the course of your playthrough in order to get bonuses for your next run. These bonuses include fun things like 10x damage, or being able to carry 30 items, or even 10x EXP. Since the bonus content (like the secret dungeon, Zhonecage) is incredibly difficult in a normal run without excessive grinding, but the NG+ option allows you to go through the game (much more quickly now) with a much better chance at getting through the extra content. If you feel like the difficulty is too low with 10x EXP, try turning the difficulty up to Chaos. There’s plenty of options to take in a NG+, and with the addictive battle system and all of the content in the game besides the main story, there’s a lot to keep you playing.