It’s rare to see a Tales game localized, and the few that do tend to take forever. Tales of Xillia is getting localized, for example, but the game came out all the way back in 2010 and we already had tons of info on the upcoming sequel before that happened.
That’s why the few that do are a real treat. Tales of Graces initially came out on the Wii and got an updated PS3 port (Tales of Graces f) with an added epilogue (titled Lineage and Legacies). That port is what we got in English. That’s a good thing for a few reasons, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Tales of Graces is a story about Asbel Lhant, the son of a noble (as seems to be standard fare for Tales games), who starts the story at about age 9 or 10. He and his younger brother are visiting a hill that grows flowers year-round (Asbel only decided to go because his father told him not to), where they find a girl resting in the flowerbed. She has no memory whatsoever, so they name her Sophie (from sopheria flowers).
Back at home, Asbel’s sickly best friend Cheria gets pissed off at their leaving her behind, and the prince, Richard, comes to visit. After avoiding an assassination when the price visits the hill later with Asbel, the entire group heads to the capital for individual reasons, where, in underground tunnels in the dead of night, Sophie dies protecting the group from a monster. If that isn’t bad enough, Asbel’s brother, Hubert, has just been handed to a noble family in a neighbouring desert nation to be adopted. Pissed off, Asbel runs off to become a knight, and seven years pass.
After that prologue is over, a story about friendship and politics follows, with Richard having his mind taken over by that very monster from all those years ago, Sophie coming back to life, and the secrets of the world being revealed.
The story’s primary theme, however, is that things change with time. This is something they got down completely perfectly. The music here was a big help, compare the Windor battle theme from when Asbel’s 10 to when he’s 17 (which is the first song we hear after time jumps 7 years):
It really does a good job of driving home that Asbel isn’t a kid anymore. Nor is anyone else – Hubert went from being constantly scared and submissive to being stoic (putting aside how he apparently modelled all of his attacks off of in-universe Power Rangers knock-offs) and revenge-driven; Cheria went from being head over heels for Asbel, jealous of other girls who approached, and constantly sick, to being really cold to Asbel for running off without saying anything (though still head-over heels for him), no longer sick, and now goes around the world with her powerful magic, healing people on the battlefields she comes across with her relief organization; and I already went over what happened to Richard and Sophie.
Story-wise, I found it to be quite solid. There are even some jokes in the prologue about stuff in the main game, such as a girl saying she’ll open a shop (the main game has a shop with the girl running it at that exact spot), and Asbel swearing revenge against a door, which he opens later. One big negative thing, however, is how the main game’s ending really doesn’t have all that much closure – I was surprised that it ended where it did until I remembered about Lineage and Legacies (which is hard as sin, I should mention). Lineage and Legacies closes up the loose ends in everyone’s character arcs, not least of which being Cheria’s and Sophie’s. Both of them only had implied stuff in the short final scene after the credits for the main game, and you’d have to do a lot of reading into things (a child having Asbel’s looks and Cheria’s hair colour, for example) to get any idea of it, and Lineage and Legacies then points out that the scene is more than a bit farther into the future than what one would have thought.
Lineage and Legacies basically involves Sophie worrying about what’s gonna happen after everyone else dies (since, if you haven’t pieced it together yet, she’s immortal), and Cheria worrying about Asbel having to sift through a large amount of marriage proposals (since they never actually said that they liked each other at any point during the main story, and Asbel became the lord of Lhant at the end of the game).
The Skit system, standard fare for Tales games, continues to give extra story at limited, extremely specific and sometimes guide-requiring, locations and times. Sadly, they insist on things such as expecting you to turn around half-way through the final dungeon and going to irrelevant locations to find them. Since what carries over to a New Game Plus is affected by completion percentage and how many hours it took to beat the game, this can be a real hassle. What makes this worse is that practically nothing else in the game can be permanently missed. At least they’re voiced, however. Tales of the Abyss had them soundless in the English release, and the conversation moved without your input (you can’t even pause it in that game), so you have to speed read.
Speaking of being fully dubbed, the opening theme, Mamoritai~White Wishes~ (literally “I Want To Protect You~White Wishes~“) is actually dubbed over by the same singer as the one who did the Japanese version, and I must say I like the English version better. That said, it really drags on a bit too long, as you can probably tell from the video at the start of this post.
Something I find hilarious is the end-of-fight screens, which, on occasion, has some or all of the characters you’re using interacting in some way, such as Asbel constantly failing to get them to use a consistent cheer, their asking questions to each other, questioning your logic of placing all of the guys together into a fight when none of them can heal (at which point one of them points out that they can and ask why they’re pretending he can’t), Sophie asking what stuff means in her childish fashion (or just snaking), etc.
Hubert: *dramatic pose* “Over in a flash!”
Sophie: “How long is a flash?”
Asbel: “It’s less than a second.”
Sophie: *points as Hubert* “Why is he lying?”
Malik: “Right into next week.”
Sophie: *walks in from the side of the screen* “I’ve come back in time from next week. Please stop throwing monsters at us.”
The gameplay, while fast-paced with a lot of things going on in some fights, is completely solid, though the Wii version apparently had glitches that made the game unwinnable. As is standard in the Tales series, it’s an action RPG that involves movement in a straight line unless you spend for sidestepping to dodge or Free Run to move around the playing field however you want, with up to four characters running around (out of 6 in your party – 7 in post-game). You can then use your attacks at will against your enemies. Co-op can be enabled by simply connecting another controller, but how exactly the extra players can control characters instead of just pausing and using items is something that takes a lot of looking around to find out, since it’s not written anywhere, even in the instructions booklet (for the record – change the corresponding character for the player in the Strategy menu from Auto to Semi-Auto or Manual). Something that’s not like the previous game I played, however, is that this game uses Chain Capacity (CC) to determine how much you can attack, instead of the more standard FP system.
How CC works is basically that you start with a certain amount, equippables allowing you to change how much, and different attacks spend different amounts of it until you stop attacking and wait for it to restore itself. Your items also affect how much CC you can have at a time. I found this to be quite refreshing.
Also refreshing was the Eleth Mixer mechanic. It basically allows you to cook once mid-battle, automatically (and the dishes give good bonuses, so it’s worth doing), or duplicate any item you either currently or once had. This makes rare items avoid becoming too good to use, since you can just make more if you keep the Eleth Mixer filled. The mixer was also useful for copying ingredients for the Dualize mechanic, which lets you fuse two items for generally unique ones.
I also liked how levelling up your character isn’t where most of your stats and moves come from. Mastering your many titles gives you bonuses, stat boosts, etc, to a far more significant degree than levels.
All of this gives the player far more flexibility over how they want to have their character progress. All good things. I should also praise how each character plays very differently. Asbel has his sheathed and drawn sword attacks, Hubert has his double-sided sword that can split into a pair of guns, Cheria has weak, AoE healing and revival with magic attacks and dagger spells, Sophie has stronger, single-target healing with fist-based attacks and copies some characters’ attacks if left in the active party with them long enough, etc. Sadly, with Asbel being the only party member who’s always around (while your party stays mostly solid, the characters leave/return every once in a while, most of the game only having Asbel as consistent), you get used to him by the time any other character joins you for good. Even Sophie, who’s there the most aside from Asbel, gets put aside for a few dungeons, some of which are rather difficult. One character doesn’t even return at all until post-game due to story reasons (though it shouldn’t be hard to guess which from all I’ve said).
I must also praise the anti-frustration features of the game. If, for instance, there are two boss fights in a row, and you lose to the second, you’re allowed to continue from the second. They even let you re-organize your party and equipment before retrying. More games need to do this.
All in all, a solid game. People outside of Japan can pick it up for PS3.
I’ll watch over this world forever.