Review: Tales of the Abyss (3DS)

Tales of the Abyss is disappointing.

One might expect more from a game that hails from the prestigious Tales series produced by Namco Bandai, but Tales is truly a let-down. It was my first experience with the Tales series, what with the game not being released too often outside of Japan, and me not being very old.

Tales of the Abyss
was first released as a PlayStation 2 game in 2006, and what we’ve been playing on the 3DS is actually a wholesale port with a 3D option factored in. Truth be told, its blocky, cel-shaded and anime-inspired art style isn’t quite made for 3D, but if you actually turn off the game’s 3D function, it actually makes for a more enjoyable JRPG experience.

The game is a bog-standard JRPG with replayability kicked up a notch by real-time battles and snazzy enhancements called Capacity Cores. It starts off as promising, with the sheltered teenaged aristocrat (or spoilt, obnoxious brat) Luke Fon Fabre suddenly bounced out of his cloistered life and into the far wilderness. He goes from trying to find his way home to trying to save the world as the chosen one. Or at least, as the one who hears mysterious voices. Does that remind you of any other JRPG’s storyline? (Hi, Squall!). [Ed’s Note: In most part because of the game’s age (Abyss is after all, 6-years old already), in what most would consider to be the starting of the decline of the JRPG genre, Abyss is also the epitome of most JRPG storyline’s cliches.]

A lot of the game is fully voiced, and very competently too, which makes listening to the characters yammer on a pleasure, at least. However, much of the dialogue references things you have no clue about, like fonons, fon masters, and the like, and these don’t necessarily get explained right at that beginning of the game. More often than not, you’re left on your own time (and wasting?) to wonder and discover about the game’s specific description of an item, monster and even locations. The fact that the story just barrels along and introduces new characters every five minutes doesn’t help, either.

In spite of its fast pace, the Tales of the Abyss storyline later balances itself out into something a little more full-bodied, which makes the game almost compelling. Notice I said almost. The characters in the game go about lacking that little something that could make them as loveable as the cast of say, Final Fantasy VII. It’s hard to keep on playing an RPG with characters you find hard to love or just to identify with.

Fortunately, the real-time combat system helps keep you playing. Action-heavy fights let you roam from side-to-side freely, utilising any amounts of combos to defeat your enemies. While you can start off mashing with the 3DS’ A and B buttons, later battles require a modicum of skill to perform combos with your analog stick. There are both active and passive skills available, and whilst running around you can also make use of Fields of Fonons, which are coloured circles on the ground that boost your regular attack with some elemental power.

Just like how Final Fantasy VII had its Materia system, Tales of the Abyss has its Capacity Cores. The way your characters’ abilities unlock and develop are controlled by the Capacity Core you equip them with. These cores can be picked up or bought, and can even be carried over into your second playthrough of the game. It keeps things a little fresher than they would be with just an ordinary equipment system.

Nonetheless, I found it hard to keep myself interested with Tales of the Abyss 3DS. Granted that there aren’t a lot of respectable RPGs on the Nintendo 3DS (bar LoZ: Ocarina of Time, of course), but Abyss’ reproduction on the 3DS should and could have been done better. For starters, the 3D implementation was downright bad and contributed little to its outdated art. This wasn’t a game designed for depth of field, and the character models and cartoonish cel-shaded art style really don’t suit it. Next, you don’t even get to do anything with the touchscreen either – most of the gameplay utilises the 3DS’s physical buttons. Shame.

Tales of the Abyss was well made for its time, and can still stand up to new games now, but lacks the heart that gave its JRPG compatriots their current longevity.

Graphics 6.0
Could do with an upgrade. 2005 was really long ago, and there’s nifty 3D technology to play with now…
Sound 8.0
Solid soundtrack and sfx, especially during cutscenes!
Gameplay 9.0
It’s a well-made game, no complaints here!
Lasting Appeal 6.0
I might play to the end for the story, but I won’t play it again.
How the RGB Scoresheet works

Tales of the Abyss is a roleplaying game developed by Namco Tales Studio and published by Namco Bandai that was first released in 2006 on the PlayStation 2. The 3DS port was released on the Nintendo 3DS on Feb 14th 2012. A 3DS copy of the game was given to us for review, while the still-shrink wrapped PS2 version is still sitting snuggly in our Editor’s golden treasure cupboard.