Developer: Namco Tales Studio
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: Out Now
ESRB: T for Teen
After several years of active requesting from the passionate fan-base, Namco-Bandai finally gave the fans what they wanted with Tales of Graces F (The “F” in the title stands for “Future”, just for your information), the definitive version of the original Japan-only Wii game from 2009. Is it as graceful as one would hope or does it stumble, making for a role-playing-game which wears a demeanor with little to note?
The prologue of the game focuses on the lead Asbel, the would-be Lord of Launt, and his friends as kids who, despite being the heir of nobility, are a motley crew of rascals when banded together. After sneaking out of the manor one day, they happen upon a mysterious girl lying in a bed of flowers. She awakens and bears no recollection of her origins or even her name. Despite that, they befriend her and even give her the name "Sophie," the abbreviation for Sopherias, a special type of flower. Seven years later, and after a series of circumstances, the lead characters find themselves going their separate ways. Asbel is working hard and on the cusp of becoming a knight, breaking from his preordained life that shackled his childhood; however, he is to face the responsibilities that he ran-away from upon pursuing his goal.
The narrative plays on some interesting ideas and themes, like the contrast between childish ideals and the actual realistic nature of things upon growing up. Like most Tales of- games, Graces F’s main story in particular will require more than a normal tolerance towards some hackneyed narrative cliches common in Japanese RPGs, and an iron will when the emphasis of themes regarding "friendship" are consistently regurgitated. Considering how the game doesn’t take itself seriously all of the time, the strain of the narrative focus is thankfully lessened overall, but it remains quite prevalent none the less.
Meet Pascal, who noticeably lightens the mood of the main story with her... eccentric nature.
While the story overall is disappointing, the gameplay, or rather I should say the combat system in particular, makes up for it. I use no hyperbole when I say Graces F quite literally boasts one of the best battles systems I’ve ever seen in an action-RPG; that includes previous Tales of- games. It isn’t immediately apparent for the first couple of hours with the admittedly slow child narrative arc, since the lead playable characters have different and stripped down fighting mechanics, but after the seven year time-skip the combat system reveals itself to be quite fast, flashy, and just plain fun.
Unlike most action-RPGs, which usually come off as a battle of mindless momentum with the occasional item use, Graces F’s combat actually rewards defensive-styled play just as much as aggressive. You'll constantly be transitioning from dodging, blocking, and countering as well as reading and reacting to the flow of battle, even in normal skirmishes, as if it were second nature.
Despite being easy to pick up, the game’s combat has plenty of depth. Each playable character has a very varied style of play, like Asbel, a melee fighter who transitions from a sheathed sword to a drawn one, leading to a very different moveset for each battle stance. Then there are more advanced characters like Malik, a ranged fighter with a boomerang-sword (I can't make this stuff up...), who is also a deadly spell-caster and will encourage adjusting between the two regularly. In contrast to a lot of Action-RPGs, including previous Tales of- games, all playable characters are fairly viable in combat and can more than cater to different playing styles, though some characters are easier to learn than others and more useful in different battle situations.
Worthy to note, the game also supports up to four person local multiplayer, which from personal experience seems to be easy to pick up even to those who have never played the game. Just make sure you don’t discourage new players like I did at first by forgetting to adjust the difficulty slider (like Chaos, the highest difficulty)… to something more reasonable.
A key component towards getting stronger, outside of the traditional "leveling-up," is the emphasis of "titles," which are gained through different story segments and sidequests as well as completing special actions in combat. While titles have been a staple of the Tales of- series, in Graces F they have a more direct impact on the game. Which can do anything from yield stat increases, new abilities/skills, passive combat bonuses, or even different outfits (which are visible in combat and cutscenes) based on which ones you equip and level-up.
Titles mean a lot in Graces F and can- wait...Major Splurger?
A new feature of the game, called the "eleth mixer", is a nifty multipurpose item generator… thingy. Where so long as it has energy (eleth), it can do stuff like activate healing meals/dishes, which can replace the need of selecting items or casting healing spells mid or post-battle by meeting certain prerequisites in combat. In addition, it also has the ability to randomly generate multiple copies of an item you’ve obtained, which is actually really neat because it eliminates the annoyance of farming item drops as you level it up. Speaking of items, there is the obligatory crafting system called "Dualizing". Which can be used to combine two items in order create an entirely new item as well as "tempering" equipment to add passive or direct stat bonuses to different types of weapons/armor.
If the game has any real flaws with its core gameplay, it resides outside of combat, having more to do with traversing in general, even if the game is relatively straightforward in nature with hints (both deliberate and passive) on what you are supposed do next. It tends to like to waste your time when backtracking from different dungeons and field areas, which is only really alleviated in the final stretches of the main game (but is readily available in the “Lineage and Legacies” mode at least, thankfully).
The game also chooses to use some occasionally obnoxious dungeon design, which for some are maze-like in their execution, and the absence of a mini-map doesn’t help either (yet, it exists in the standard field areas.). If you are patient like I was for a decent majority of it, some players may not mind as much. However, earlier access to quick-travel, better dungeon design, and/or the ability to escape dungeons at any time would’ve been more than appreciated.
Visually, believe it or not, Graces F looks… above-average for what is basically an uprezzed Wii game. On one hand, the visual style is colorful and vibrant. On the other, it can also seem kind of stilted and awkward upon closer examination. The game looks at its best in combat with fluid animations, flashy attacks, and never skips a beat on a technical level, despite being bombarded with visual flair in some of the more heated battles. While the animated story segments however, serve to contrast, the character models seem sort of doll-like in their appearance and the environments are fairly basic and bland overall. While I was hardly bothered by it (I’m used to games with lower production values), those who are more picky about the visual presentation of games may be unlikely to find Graces F too impressive outside of the variety in color palette.
I would imagine these guys are quite good at poker
The localization, while at its core is pretty solid (for the questionable script it has to work with at times…), is a bit hindered with the hit and miss voice work. For example, characters like Pascal, Sophie, and Hubert do a fairly solid delivery throughout, while characters who ironically have a bigger role in the primary narrative like Richard, Asbel, and Cheria seem to be a bit off, which is unfortunate since they have some good dialogue at times (Asbel and Cheria, admittedly, far less often than they should).
In the vein of some of the hit-and-miss voice work, the music is pretty lackluster overall in this entry of the series. Which is odd, considering how recent Tales of- games have been relatively consistent with their high-quality musical score (despite the destined familiarity brought by most of Motoi Sakuraba's compositions), with the exception of maybe a handful of tracks, which can either be found to be played too infrequently, like some specialized battle themes, or even overstay their welcome and be repeated too much in the story scenes.
Like most recent Tales of- games, it is pretty dense with replay value depending on how much you enjoy the game. There is a lot of worthwhile sidequests (though a lot are also very missable for some reason) and other things to do outside the main story. Even after completing the main story, new game+ is there to satisfy completionists, make it easier on trophy hunters, or test the might of challenge seekers. There is also the "Lineage and Legacies" mode which serves as a sort of after-story for the main game, with ten or so hours of additional content and narrative context. By itself, a normal playthrough is likely to take around fifty hours, but I personally had no problems clocking in over a hundred hours into the game total for my multiple playthroughs.
As it is, Graces F remains as a game that is somewhat dwarfed by flaws that would outright cripple most RPG experiences. Yet, it also manages to sustain itself almost entirely by its very fun and deep combat system, sheer amount of content, and love it or hate it character interactions (most notably in skits, end battle quotes, and various sidequests). So, while it is not likely to satiate purists of high quality role-playing-game narratives or those teary-eyed for high-production values and technical prowess, for those looking for a very fun action-RPG, Tales of Graces F will more than fit the bill.
+ Very fun and deep combat system that encourages just as much defensive play as it does aggressive
+ Lots of content
+ Plenty of entertaining and light-hearted character interactions
+ Pascal <3
- Main narrative isn’t particularly engaging, even grating at times
- Backtracking and some tedious dungeon design
- Weak musical score
Overall: 7.5 (out of 10)
Tales of Graces F is a very fun to play action-rpg, while the storytelling and a few other flaws stubbornly hold it back from greatness, it is otherwise easy to recommend for fans of the genre.
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