Review by Loopmeister
A prime display of undeserved hype for such a weak product.
Tales of the Abyss was panned and reviewed favorably by importers since its release, building hype and excitement for it since the release of the mediocre Tales of Legendia. With Tales of Legendia's atrocious sales and the success of Tales of Symphonia, not to mention that Tales of the Abyss was praised for its similarity to Tales of Symphonia its not a surprise that Namco decided to release it here.
Unfortunately it seems that the importers had bad tastes.
Tales of the Abyss tells the story of young Luke fon Fabre, a seventeen year old boy living a secluded hermit life at his father's mansion. His father refuses to let him go until he reaches maturity at the age of twenty and aside from conversing with the servants that includes his best friend Guy and his teacher Van Grants, Luke's life is pretty weak. However one day on the day of Van's departure for a military assignment, a girl named Tear attacks the mansion, attempting to kill Van but Luke gets in the way and he and Tear are warped far away from the mansion into the wilderness and from there they have to cooperate and survive.
Tales of the Abyss has an average story with elements you've seen everywhere in weak fantasy stories; conversations flooded with technobabble that destroy the aspect of the story that can be related to the viewer, weak and forced political "drama", pseudo-intellectual religious themes, and of course a journey to save the world. The villains are clear right from the get-go and little will surprise or dazzle the player.
Such stories can be saved with good characters. And good characters are prevalent in this series, after all Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Legendia are proof of this. But there are none here or at the very least, few enough to cater to the average viewer's interests for long. Without going into spoilers, Luke is a brat for much of the game and rightfully so. After all he's been warped from home into a strange world and he's confused and angry. As he progresses along his journey, he reacts to reality with hostility and narcissism. Such an unstable character makes mistakes over and over again and in time, predictably changes.
But not all change is good. Immediately Luke goes from spoiled brat to angst ridden cliche hero in the second half of the game and while the change in character is believable, the actual character he becomes is not. The changed Luke is not only boring but extremely brainwashed by his party considering how, despite knowing what kind of person he was before his change, still felt it necessary to attack him and berate him for his ignorance, instead of trying to reason with him calmly. Changed Luke also makes his fair share of mistakes, some severe, yet he isn't blamed as much as first Luke was, another sign of the wonkiness of the game's storytelling.
As for the rest of the party, they are as unlikeable and for the most part nasty. Unfortunately, aside from a few examples, they're trashy anime/J-RPG cliches who aside from interacting blandly when the story demands them too, are defined by lame quirks and situational stupidity. Tear, a soldier in the Order of Lorelei's (the game's religious body) military is a cold, vile girl who despite being sixteen and hardly mature, thinks she's a woman and feels the need to berate Luke constantly, all acting as coldly as possible and never takes responsibility for some of the wrongs that she makes, always looking instead to take action. Such a flat character is rounded out by her love of cute things, giving a warm layer to her but quirks aren't real development, they're just that; quirks.
Next up is Guy, filling the role of best friend and at times, rival, for Luke. Guy comes off as reliable but also at times as downright selfish and impulsive, much like the first incarnation of Luke, yet no one feels the need to berate him as much as Luke is. This storytelling not only reflects unlikeable characters but also the writers' incompetence in building up Luke's "development"; Luke's childish actions, despite being natural, will understandably irritate the player and make Luke an unlikeable character, enough to forget about the nastiness and hypocrisy of the other characters. Thus when Luke changes from spoiled brat to cliche bag of depression and stereotypes, the player will not notice any of the other character's incompetence, instead they'll be so glad that Luke has changed. All of this information pertaining to Luke is related to Guy because Guy, being Luke's best friend, is also one of his worst critics, making him that much more of a fool. Like Tear and much of the other characters, he's also absurdly quirky, being a womanizer yet at the same time, also being afraid of women.
Anise, the thirteen-year old attendant of the fourteen-year old Ion, a prestigious member of the Order of Lorelei. Aside from why a thirteen-year old is traveling on a journey to save the world, the Order of Lorelei sure does like children don't they? But aside from that, Anise is a bratty and impulsive child yet the rest of the characters treat her as someone responsible and reliable and furthermore. Anise seems to suffer from dissociative identity disorder; sometimes in the plot she's acting cute, nice and understanding and other times she is spiteful and filled with bile. Such a character makes many mistakes, some extremely severe, and ties into Luke's pathetic second character because while she is chastised, it isn't near the severity of Luke's criticisms, marking another strike against the game's storytelling abilities. Her quirk of the day is her love of money and her lust to marry Luke because he's rich.
Jade Curtiss is the thirty-five year old Colonel of the Malkuth Empire and the butt of stereotyped jokes that he's an old man, because thirty-five year olds are such old people. His personality is refreshing compared to the rest of the party because he is consistently nasty, twisted, and has done his fair share of real evils, making him a "loveable jerk" of sorts. He has no quirk to weakly round out his personality but unfortunately like the rest of the characters, he, despite being the most intelligent and calculating protagonist, suffers from the hypocrisy and situational stupidity from the rest of the party, destroying the value of his character a great deal.
There is also Princess Natalia. She is actually a strong character with good levels of development and shows good intentions and benevolence towards the world. Unfortunately she suffers from situational stupidity just as much as the rest of the party but her situation and the ordeals she ensues are understandable and believeable. Her quirk is her naivette, the ditzy princess so to speak but thankfully its rarely used, making her one of the few good characters.
The last playable character (unnamed for spoiler reasons), who doesn't join the party as so much as serve as a playable character when the plot requires it, is flat in that he is constantly angry and impulsive, giving him the aura of a bad boy character. He also has a bit of self-loathing which rounds out his blaming of others because he acknowledges his mistakes. At the same time however through the plot, he acts shady, uncooperative and mysterious and despite the party having means to subdue him for their own safety as well as to figure out his plans, does nothing.
The villains are all boring and terrible because while their motives are good, they are a selfish bunch, uncaring for others and willing to kill anyone who gets in their way. While this sounds good to create villains that the player can hate, the villains sadly have angsty cliched dialogue with boring backstories and oftentimes the hate the player feels for the villains is of sheer annoyance. In fact, their motives while good, are obstructed and lose sympathy with the player exactly because of their stupidity. The villains' plans are done for the sake of the world, however, of course with every cliched J-RPG, the world has to be threatened in some way and that is the case here. Considering there is a simpler solution to the problem in the plot, that solution being to essentially start a rebellious campaign to destroy some more painful aspects of the Order of Lorelei which is minimal compared to their fanatical campaign, it feels as if the writers tacked on the "save the world" part of the story.
Lastly, the biggest blow is the weakness of the Skits in the story. Few of the skits are actually used for character development here. Instead, they're used to reiterate plot events over and over again as well as reiterating exchanges between the characters.
The character graphics are good no doubt, but they lack polish but this isn't surprising knowing the PlayStation2's limited graphical capabilities compared to other consoles. The actual world graphics are pretty good however. There really is nothing to complain about in that regard but at the same time, nothing to give awards to either. The style achieved by the graphics isn't much however, considering the locations are not that special aside from a few choice locations as well as the mundane looks of the spells and palette-swapped generic choices of goblins and thieves that are encountered in the game.
The music done by Motoi Sakuraba, is standard fare from him, in that barring few exceptions, once you've Sakuraba once, you don't need to listen to anymore of his music because it is all the same. Expect tons of stereotypical angst and battle tracks with synth thrown in. The voices are excellent on the other hand and each voice actor fits his character perfectly.
The gameplay is a mixed bag. The game is very linear and forces you to go where the plot demands, rarely allowing you to explore other available areas. The world map is also irritating in that with the vehicles of the game and in certain areas the game will make freeze you, annoying splashy effects on the screen for about a minute then make you go somewhere else. This is unnecessary of course, after all if the game didn't want you going to an important area they could have simply barred access from important areas as necessary and in the end this aspect of the game serves as how weak the game is. Certain areas which were certainly intended to have been fields and areas to be explored, have been compressed into a mini-world map separate from the main world map and the effect is weak. The item creation system has also been murdered in that random materials are collected and after taken to a shopkeeper, you hope for a good item. That's it. Nothing more.
The battle system is the best aspect of the game. Taking back Tales of Symphonia's battle system, Tales of the Abyss introduces the system of Free Run, giving your character the ability to freely run around the field, disposing entirely of the 2-D plane found in previous entries of this series and the psuedo-2-D plane found in Tales of Symphonia. This alone is enough to make the game good, however there have been some unnecessary subtractions and additions to the game. The game also introduces the FOF Artes in the battles, in which after a spell is cast, a magic field is left behind and sometimes your skills will resonate with the FOF, making the Arte completely different. However oftentimes the improved Arte isn't that much better anyway and setting up the FOF and finding out which Arte resonates with which magic is tedious anyway.
Tales of the Abyss is a weak entry in this series. Considering the hype leading up to it, I was looking forward to so much more. Not the best game ever as this series hasn't produced a game even close to that title but something great all the same. Instead what was delivered was a terrible product that gets by with Tales of Symphonia's weak battle system, sloppy character development meant to deceive the player in most cases, and anime-inspired character designs that appeal to the typical mindless J-fanboy. Those who are expecting the same cookie cutter lousy J-RPGs will be right at home. For those who are looking for something more, look elsewhere.
Rating: 2.0 - Poor
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