Tales of the Abyss Review
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games / Developer: Namco Bandai Games / Played on: Nintendo 3DS / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Teen [Simulated Gambling, Alcohol Reference, Suggestive Themes, Language, Fantasy Violence]
The 3DS is nearing its one year anniversary in March and what better way to celebrate the system’s launch than with a well regarded PS2 RPG port? Okay sure, there’s plenty of better way to celebrate I’m sure, but nonetheless Tales of the Abyss has been released for the 3DS. A cherished game on the PS2 from the Tales series, Tales of the Abyss offers up solid battle mechanics, a gripping story, and loveable characters. If you missed the first go around with this game and you own a 3DS, then here’s your chance to experience one of the better RPGs of the last decade.
Tales of the Abyss tells the story of the arrogant and snobby Luke, the son of the Duke on the land of Kimlasca. When he was a child Luke was kidnapped by the rival nation of Kimlasca, the Malkuth Kingdom, and has since lost all memory of his childhood. During a routine day being confined in his homeland under the watch of the Kimlascan guard, Luke encounters Tear, a powerful woman who attacks Luke only to result in the two of them being magically transported out of the kingdom and into the wilderness far, far away. Tear and Luke reluctantly join forces to get back to Kimlasca, but not before getting drawn into a much greater plot involving war between the two nations, a religious dilemma, and a prophecy saying Luke is destined to bring prosperity to the land, but at what cost is unknown.
The story here is quite engaging, and that is because it is paced extremely well. Drama starts out light, such as Luke feeling trapped in his home, but evolves into dire straits when people come up missing, an entire city is obliterated, and the fate of the world comes into question. The array of characters you come across also add greatly to the game’s story. Playable characters are memorable and have interesting quirks and back stories. For example, Guy, Luke’s friend while living in Kimlasca, is a strong fighter who is intensely afraid of women, and Jade is an older Colonel who has a dark past dealing with necromancy. Friends becoming enemies, a healthy amount of plot twists, and the aforementioned great pacing make this game a hard one to put down.
Combat makes up the large majority of the gameplay. Just like the other games in the series, Tales of the Abyss is a unique action RPG that is both easy to grasp and full of depth. Battles are rendered in 3D but you fight on a 2D plane. This gives you the freedom to run around enemies and manually dodge their attacks. At the beginning of the game you’ll just be mashing the attack button to create simple combos, but as the game progresses you’ll learn new techniques to utilize. Artes are special attacks that each character can learn to extend your combos further, as well as dish out a large amount of damage. Instead of using traditional elemental attacks, Tales of the Abyss has the Field of Fonon system, which works by illuminating colored circles on the battlefield that give your normal Artes extra elemental damage when performed inside said ring. Later in the game you’ll unlock the ability to use capacity cores, which you can equip to your Artes to enhance their powers further, like adding more damage or lowering the cost of the move. Just when you start to get the hang of the battle system, the game throws another mechanic your way to further customize and improve the combat without making the game needlessly complicated.
Outside of combat the rest of the game feels standard for any RPG. You’ll enter new towns and search out the shops to buy/sell items and equipment, look for clues on where to go next, and stop by the inn to rest up before leaving the next morning to do it all again. I do have a few complaints about the game that are more nitpicky problems than flaws. The first is that you’re never quite sure where you need to go. Luke will say, “We need to head to St. Binah next,” but then you’re not given any idea where St. Binah is located. Early on you unlock a map but navigating it can be tough because it doesn’t highlight any locations until you visit them (thus negating any intrinsic benefit of a map). While traveling by ship I actually got stuck in the ocean and could not get out, forcing me to reload from my last save to continue. The frame rate takes a hit when there’s a lot happening on screen, particularly when traveling through the overworld. Even with the intricate combat system, most battles amount to doing the same attacks and combos over and over until the enemy is defeated, and this can get monotonous early on in this 30+ hour game. Overall Tales of the Abyss is a fun RPG experience that fans of the series and genre (and the original PS2 version) will surely enjoy, but is not without its flaws.
A fantastic soundtrack accompanies the game throughout. Majestic chords play while exploring the kingdom of Kimlasca, a dreary song sets the mood when rummaging through a cave filled with poisonous mist, and exciting music only adds to the intensity of each battle. The 3DS does a great job of capturing the original soundtrack for the game and emulates that sound perfectly on the small handheld. Most conversations are fully voiced, though not all of them. Voice acting is generally mixed, with convincing performances by each character but sometimes questionable English translation. Random optional conversations pop up throughout the game (quite often after a significant story event) but these events are devoid of any sound outside the background music. Some instances of these exchanges don’t have any sound at all and definitely feel out of place. Why these lines aren’t spoken is beyond me, and this comes off as one of the odd blemishes to the game.
Tales of the Abyss was released on the PS2 back in 2006 and thus has a visual style representative of the time. That being said, the game doesn’t look bad, it just looks like a PS2 game. Character models are large and detailed, each new location you visit is different from the last, and overall the game is colorful and interesting on the eyes. Spread out through the game are occasional full motion cutscenes drawn in anime style that look great on the 3DS screen. The 3D capabilities of the system, however, are not used well here at all. When the 3D slider is on, characters and backgrounds bend and curve to try and create a 3D effect, but it’s clear that the 3D was an afterthought tacked on later. I played pretty much the entire game with the 3D slider off, and I encourage you to do the same.
The Tales series has a great following among RPG fans, and it is well deserved. Tales of the Abyss for the 3DS is a faithful port of the PS2 version. A broad comprehensive battle system makes each fight worthwhile, if a bit repetitive. The story is told at the right pace and will keep you interested throughout the entirety of the game. But the experience isn’t entirely perfect, with some odd sound issues, a knack for getting you lost, and 3D visuals that should never be used. Fan of the series of fan of the genre, 3DS owners looking for a great RPG experience should play Tales of the Abyss.
7 / 10