|Dev: Namco Tales Studio|
|Pub: NAMCO Bandai|
|Release: February 14, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Language, Simulated Gambling, Suggestive Themes|
by Robert VerBruggen
2012 looks to be delivering a strong lineup of JRPGs to the 3DS. Square Enix will drop Bravely Default: Flying Fairy (which I think is about an angel who can't pay her mortgage), and Tri-Ace will release Beyond the Labyrinth.
Add NAMCO Bandai's Tales of the Abyss to that list. It's a port of a 2005 PlayStation 2 title, and it promises to entrance newcomers to the Tales series while giving longtime fans the eye candy of a third dimension. Even a completely faithful port would give 3DS owners a massive amount of content, and the 3DS version offers a few new features. It has already been released in Europe, where its review scores have tended to come in at around 80/100.
Tales of the Abyss is the eighth "Mothership" game in the Tales series, and, this being a JRPG, there's a significant amount of backstory and a lot of weird names to learn before the action even starts. The events take place on the planet Auldrant, and all matter there is composed of elements called fonons. When a new type of fonon was discovered that allowed its owners to see the future, the world erupted in chaos until a poisonous gas leaked out from the planet's interior. A woman named Yulia looked into the future and learned how to seal the gas away.
Two thousand years later, the world is ruled by Yulia's prophecies, which promise a utopia if everyone follows the plan she set forth, the Score. The Score places a great deal of importance on a man named Luke, the 17-year-old child of a noble family. He was kidnapped years ago and can't remember anything from before the traumatic event. Since being returned home, he has hidden in his family's mansion, safe and spoiled. However, Luke is kidnapped again, and brought halfway around the world, where he's drawn into a battle over the Score. True believers want to follow it to the letter, but others want to break it. By all accounts, the story's presentation is magnificent, with anime cutscenes, hours and hours of voice acting, and graphics that look great on a handheld in 3D.
When it was originally released, Abyss also got a lot of attention for its innovative Flex Range Linear Motion Battle System. Not only do fights take place in real time and resemble bouts in a 2D fighting game, but you're able to break out of the 2D mold and move your character freely around the battlefield. You can also give instructions to the other members of your party, who help you in various ways. Another feature introduced in the game was the Town Link system, which made the game world change based on your actions. For example, prices go up and down based on what you do.
At the end of each fight, you're given a grade based on how quickly and efficiently you won; high grades on your first playthrough will let you buy bonuses for your second. Other mainstays of the Tales series make an appearance as well, including the cooking system, which allows you to create items, and the "skits" system, which allows you to watch extra cutscenes without forcing you to. (Even if you skip the skits, of course, you'll be reading plenty of non-optional story text.)
As for 3DS features, aside from the obvious third dimension, the port includes some touchscreen functionality. This is helpful during battles, especially for accessing your abilities or quickly issuing commands to members of your party. The second screen will also display a map, which should make navigation a breeze, and the HUD, which cleans up the top screen. The 3DS port also has new artwork by Kōsuke Fujishima, as well as reduced loading times and slowdown.
The biggest downside seems to be that this is a niche title that wasn't perfect to begin with, and has already aged more than five years. European reviewers have lodged minor complaints about a few aspects of the game, including the side quests (they're pointless), the main story quests (they're too linear, despite occurring in an open world), the battles (they sometimes reward button-mashing), and the quest guidance (there's not enough of it, so you can end up wandering around not knowing what to do). Another issue is that the multiplayer fighting mode is gone.
These potential issues aside, Tales of the Abyss is looking like a must-play for JRPG fans who missed it the first time around. This series is huge in Japan and has a history of winning over American audiences, and this particular game is known as the best in the franchise. As the 3DS gears up to take on the PlayStation Vita next year, Abyss will be an essential weapon in its arsenal.
CCC Contributing Writer