Tales of the Abyss

Sequelitis is endemic in Japanese RPGs, but the Tales of... series stands alone in its naming conventions - no numerals for this baby. Keeping a handle on Phantasia, Destiny, Eternia, Symphonia, Rebirth and Legendia only gets harder as Namco releases the latest PS2 game, Tales of the Abyss.

Abyss' story quickly reveals its epic scope: a noble son, Luke, finds he is the holder of a rare power - the seventh Fonim (a sort of element) - just as war breaks out with a kingdom which had kidnapped him as a child.

This discovery triggers a quest which takes him from field to dungeon, and teams him up with a range of characters whose magic attacks are a perfect foil to his swordplay.

Combat is fast and physical, Luke letting rip with powerful combo attacks. New to Abyss is the Field of Fonim system, which sees elemental attacks have a lasting effect on the battlefield.

Visually, although the game is toon-shaded, much of the game is a little bland. The field areas feel bleak and are plagued by a slow camera. Dungeons have more character, but it's the towns that steal the show - they are richly detailed and vibrantly coloured.

The characters themselves are strongly drawn and charismatic, their interactions played out in short skits.

Early impressions are that this is a strong Tales episode but not an immediate classic. The Field of Fonim battle mechanic, combined with bonus-triggering battle abilities, is certainly sophisticated, but doesn't immediately gel.

The story, though elaborate, brings together an unlikeable hero (Luke is a spoilt brat) and a large cast of secondary characters. And visually, Abyss now faces off against the new benchmark set by the inventive Dragon Quest VIII. However, there's never any denying the core appeal of an active, boisterous RPG.

There's no word yet on planned European or US releases for Tales of the Abyss. For a European Tales fix, you'll need to turn to Ubisoft, which is publishing the PSP remake of the PlayStation's Tales of Eternia on February 6.

Or in the spring - again confirmed only for the US - Nintendo is publishing a GBA port of the original SNES Tales of Phantasia, featuring some of the bonuses included in the PlayStation rerelease.