It's fitting that the foundation of Tales of Graces f's story is the impact of time on the strength and loyalty of friendship. It almost directly mirrors the Tales series' life cycle -- Graces is like an old JRPG friend that's back to reclaim its place in your life. Your friend hasn't really changed all that much, but you also remember the fun you had together, and slowly, you realize how much you want them back in your life. And that's exactly where Graces succeeds; it captures so much of the magic and charm of classic JRPGs. For those yearning for a quality role playing title again, Tales of Graces f won't disappoint you, but those looking for something new and fresh, Graces just doesn't satiate that desire. What it does offer is one of the better action-oriented battle systems to hit an RPG in ages.
As mentioned previously, Graces focuses on cementing the bonds of friendship. The narrative lays down this concept by introducing the characters in childhood. There's brothers Asbel and Hubert, sons of the Lord of Lhant; Hubert's the shy, sensible one, while Asbel rebels against his fate as heir to his father's Lordship. It's in his first act of rebellion that Asbel and his brother meet an enigmatic, amnesiac girl who they name Sophie. Now throw in a best friend who secretly is pining for Asbel, a lonely prince who's never had any friends, and one big unfortunate incident, and you have the recipe for a typical RPG. But here's where things heat up -- flash forward to seven years later and you'll see how that particular tragedy shook the core of each of these characters. Suddenly the friends are brought back together -- not knowing that they must play a major part in the fate of world.
Seeing the main characters in their childhood not only establishes their connection from the get-go, but it also gives a perfect vantage point to how the characters have evolved. Unfortunately, it's hard not to feel like we've seen there characters before… and in other Tales games at that, which you'll notice if you've played many of them. For instance, Pascal is a cross between Norma from Tales of Legendia and Rita from Tales of Vesperia, and Malik plays the practical, experienced character like Jade from Tales of the Abyss. It's not all bad though; there's a brilliant lead up to a character's transformation into the ultimate villain. And while the narrative may play it safe, it does keep you invested enough to keep watching the mysteries unravel. Ultimately, Graces' shining moment is the continual growth of the characters' dynamic -- even with the cheesy lines it's hard not to crack a smile.
Where Tales does walk out of Generic Land (not a registered trademark) is in its action-oriented battle
system. It's always been the most unique hook of the Tales games, but now it's
even more refined. Battles consist of combining your Assault Artes -- fast, basic
attacks -- and Burst Artes --slower, more powerful attacks. Every action costs
Chain Capacity (CC) points; the more CC you have, the longer you can chain
attacks together. These can be restored by guarding or not attacking, and the
more full your CC gauge is, the more likely you are to land critical hits and
In addition, Graces is all about reading your enemy correctly, dodging at just the right moment, and attacking when they're vulnerable. The smooth dodging system quickly becomes second nature; there are quick steps, which dodge laterally and are ideal for avoiding vertical attacks, and back steps, which dodge horizontal attacks. Playing Graces f on normal, we didn't find it too tough until we hit around level 20, where the difficulty spikes and boss battles become super intense. A saving grace? There's an option to always change the difficulty along with an auto-battle option if you just want to babysit your heroes.
Learning new skills doesn't depend on leveling up, but rather which title you equip. Each title consists of five potential skills for your character to learn and the SP you earn in battle goes towards unlocking skills within said title. Warning: the game bombards you with titles -- sometimes it's a little overwhelming, since it gives mixed motivations for what to learn. On the one hand, the game tells you to learn as many skills as possible, so learning the first three skills in a title and then moving on to the next seems ideal. In the next breath, though, equipping a fully mastered title will boost its effects. Thankfully, there's a lot of legroom to play how you want.
Graces also offers a way to customize weapons: enemies will often drop shards, which can then be used to enhance weapons via the dualizing system. The more you combine different levels of shard, the more you amp up your weapon … you can even create entirely new weapons by dualizing. It's fun and addictive – we couldn't wait to see what badass weapon we'd alter next. Another nifty addition is the Mixer, in which you place an item you wish to replicate, and while you travel, there's a chance to recreate it. The Mixer definitely takes some of the financial pressure off as you can easily create items that you need for survival, such as life bottles, elixirs, and gels.
While the battle system is certainly engaging, it can get monotonous: visit a town, enter a dungeon, defeat a boss, rinse, repeat. The other major issue is a dependency on repeated backtracking to the same locations. For instance, you'll go from one location to another to hear a minor plot point, only to return exactly where you came from. The dungeons themselves aren't awful, but they are far from groundbreaking. Each dungeon is also accompanied with puzzles, though the solutions are incredibly obvious; there's nothing that you'd ever need a guide to solve.
Aesthetically, Graces is far from perfect, but is at least competent. The childhood voices are a little grating, but thankfully, it's only for the first few hours of the game. After that, the voice actors fit the characters they're portraying quite well. Unfortunately, the score really fails to create an emotional impact. As for the graphics, this is obviously an enhanced port of a Wii game, but Graces is extremely crisp and clear. The cel shading adds a hint of detail, but unfortunately, the environments won't really pop out at you much.
Tales of Graces f is just what JRPG fans need right now. It's got a handful of shortcomings, but they're diminished by the fact that this title captures the classic RPG spirit so well. It's the first console RPG in a long time where we've been engrossed enough to explore every nook and cranny, talk to every villager, search everyone's houses, and find all the paths possible in a dungeon. And for many, that's all they could want at this point – a portal back to the fun and wonderment that many of us felt during the PS2 era of RPGs. That's what Tales of Graces f completely embodies.