I love Tales. That much should be very obvious to anyone who reads this blog at any point. So obviously, when a new Tales game was released stateside, I was excited for it. Oddly enough, when the game first came out, I still found myself wrapped up in other things, and it took me some time to get into the game. A week after it had come out, I had probably only put about 7 hours into the game, which is an unbelievably low amount for me. Nonetheless, I shrugged off my attitude and kept playing, much thanks to my friend KT. KT was playing Abyss at the same time, and unlike me, he quickly got into the game and played away. This was his first Tales game (I guess it was my 4th). So KT’s rocking opinion of the game kept me going, and the more I played and talked to him about it, the more obsessed I became. Before long, I couldn’t even think about not playing the game and it raced past my old favorites. Before long, the only Tales game that I could compare Abyss to was Tales of Phantasia, my undisputed favorite of the series up to this point. So, that being said, I’ll be a little more specific about the different aspects of Tales of the Abyss.
Quite frankly, Tales of the Abyss features the best battle system that I’ve seen in a Tales game yet. To be honest, I felt like in many ways, Symphonia’s battle system was flawed. It was 3D, but only in name and not in application. You couldn’t actually control your movements except on the 2D plane. So in reality, it was just another edition of the standard Linear Motion Battle System, and it really hadn’t improved on the post-Destiny Tales games by a whole lot. If the Tales series had continued to develop Symphonia-type battle systems, I would have been worried. The LMBS has always been the thing that truly set Tales apart from other RPGs. However, I see now that all of my concern has been for naught. At the most basic level, you can call Abyss’ system an evolution of the Symphonia engine. However, it does far more than that. First is the Free Run ability. By holding down the L2 button, the controlled character can be moved around the map freely, and takes reduced damage if struck while in this Free Run state. However, in order to actually attack, the player must release L2, at which point the view shifts and places the player back on the 2D fighting plane. It makes perfect sense, afterall, the 3D battlefield is just made up of an infinite number of points which in turn make an infinite number of horizontal planes upon which to fight.
The system also improves upon the basic combat engine. You can still execute the four types of ordinary hits (up, down, forward, and standard), after which you can execute a Base or Arcane Art. As you go on, you gain the ability to not only improve the length of the initial combo, but to link Base Artes to Arcane ones and then to Mystic Artes. Although, Mystic Artes (or Hi-Ougi as they are referred to in Japanese) have been available in past Tales games, they have never made up such a large part of the combat system. By activating Overlimit mode and holding down the X button after an Arcane Arte or High Level Spell, each character can execute their own Mystic Arte. Considering the absurd rate at which the Overlimit mode charges for use, these Mystic Artes become a large source of both damage and GRADE throughout the game. On top of that, on later playthroughs, each character gains an additional Mystic Arte. These are more akin to what older Tales gamers are used to and many require special conditions to be met in order to use them.
Probably the best addition to the actual combat system in Abyss are Fields of Fonons (or FOFs). FOFs enable some of the most powerful and useful abilities in the game. The problem with them? They require some practice in order to properly use. Basically, during the course of battle, as your allies and foes use elemental attacks, elemental fields (FOFs) will form on the battlefield. Not all of these will be possible to use right away, sometimes an Arte must be used twice before a usable FOF will form. FOFs are activated in different ways. For many Strike Artes (physical), you must be inside of the FOF in order for the ability to activate. i.e. Luke’s Base Arte Fang Blade will change into Lightening Tiger Blade if it is used inside of a Wind FOF. For Support or Healing Artes, the person being healed or boosted must be inside the FOF. i.e. If Natalia casts Barrier on Luke while Luke is inside a Water FOF, it will become Aqua Protection. For Fonic Artes, the fonic spell must strike inside of the FOF circle in order to activate. i.e. If Jade casts Thunder Blade on an enemy standing inside of an Earth FOF, the Arte will become Gravity Well. Many Arcane Artes do not have an FOF activation and each Arte has only one element that will activate it’s FOF ability (Wind, Water, Fire, and Ground). However, Light and Dark create special FOF Circles. Light Circles will activate either Wind or Fire FOFs while Dark Circles will activate Water and Ground type FOFs. Thus, having characters who can cast High Level Light and Dark Fonic Artes will be the best way to ensure that there will be plenty of FOF activations during battle.
Artes and Core System
Obviously, on top of the battle system itself, there are many other ways that the player can power up the characters. These are generally introduced more slowly and some of these options will not be available through partway through the game. First, Leveling Up and Capacity Cores. Each time you level up, as you would expect, your different statistics increase like with any RPG. On top of that, as you level you will gain all of your Base Artes. If you use these Base Artes enough and are above the required level, you will start to obtain Arcane Artes. This is all standard fare for Tales players.
However, the most important feature when leveling up are Capacity Cores. You gain access to the Capacity Core menu not all that far into the game and it will continue to be important throughout the rest of the journey. Capacity Cores allow you to boost certain stats more then others as you level up. These stats are kept separate from your normal stats and can be seen on the C. Core menu. They will display as (Normal Stat) + (Boosted Stat). At first glance, this system doesn’t appear to be anything special. Okay, great, so it lets me boost a few stats here and there. They primary use of the C. Core system actually has very little to do with the boosted strength that the Cores give you. As certain stat boosts grow, they will allow you to acquire Additional Skills (or AD Skills). What are AD Skills? Simple, they’re the most effective way to increase your efficiency in battle on your first and every playthrough thereafter. Many of the first AD Skills that you will gain will be gained simply by leveling up. This is how you will gain the first abilities like Free Run and standard skills like Backstep, Overlimit, and the ability to use Mystic Artes. However, the best of the skills you might not obtain at all if you don’t go at it with some direction. Abilities that keep you from staggering from attacks, abilities that make it so spell casting cannot be interrupted, and abilities that revive once you when you are killed in battle. And these are just a few of the nearly 90 AD Skills that can be obtained by using your Capacity Cores well. In order to obtain every skill, you will need to get 200 Physical Attack, 70 Physical Defense, 70 Fonic Attack, 60 Fonic Defense, 90 Agility, and 90 Enhancement. My recommendation? Make sure you work on keeping everyone’s Physical Attack abnormally high. The other points will be [EXTREMELY] easy to obtain if you manage to get the ultimate C. Core, Tutti. However, 200 P.Attack is a lot no matter how you look at it.
Okay, if that wasn’t enough to impress you with additional components of the combat system, let me throw one more at you. Fon Slot Chambers. The quick version is that for every single Arte in the game, you can improve it in one of four ways using different gems. Red Carmine Chamber – Increases the Damage or Effectiveness of a particular Art. Blue Cobalt Chamber – Increase the Knockback/Stun Effect or Reduces the Recovery Time of an Arte. Green Grass Chamber – Reduces the TP Cost or adds a Steal or Heal Effect to an Arte. Yellow Sunlight Chamber – Allows for the activation of FOFs inside of incomplete FOF Circles. Honestly, the best way to figure which gem works best where is to experiment with them. Basically, here’s how it works though. If you use an ability while you have a gem equipped, you will slowly start to master it. If you use that ability 100 times without ever removing that gem, it will be mastered and will activate 100% of the time. Thus, if you wanted to master all 4 abilities on a single Arte, you have to use that ability 400 times total with each type of gem equipped. However, I don’t advise doing this your first time through the game unless you’re as crazy as I am. There’s really no reason to do all of them. You can only have one type of gem equipped at a time, so you will have to decide for yourself what the best setup is.
Characters and Storyline *No Spoilers*
This is where Abyss truly won me over. The battle system and level of control were great, but the reason that I came to love this series in the first place was because of the story. And Abyss has surpassed all Tales except for Phantasia in this regard. The cast is easily among the best in the series. Your party features 6 characters, all of whom have their glaring flaws and issues that they will have to sort through during the game. You will come to love characters that you hated, laugh at characters that annoyed you, and understand characters that confused you. Undoubtedly, this game features the best character development that I have seen in the series. Period. Their story is one of growth more then it is one of truth and justice. There is no perfection to be found. Each one of your party members and even better, each one of your enemies fights for what they truly believe is right. At times, the line between friend and foe will be drawn in sand and at others, it will be carved in stone. The story progresses in an excellent manner. It isn’t unpredictable, but you also can’t imagine some of the places that it will go. The story and characters in this game are first class. I went in with high expectations, and I will admit that they were completely shattered and surpassed.
There is so much else that I could talk about. I haven’t even mentioned the mini-games, sidequests, skits, voice-over, or many of the other things that the game could certainly be praised (and sometimes criticized for). You can expect the usual Namco cameos, the painful experience of leveling up cooking, and the joys that Tales gamers have come to expect of the series. The AI in the game is very good and I never had a problem with it. You can also customize how your party members act by the standard Strategy menu, though I found it didn’t have as many options as I was used to in the past.
Final Word: This game is truly awesome. If this is the direction that Tales is headed, I’m damn excited. [TFR]. Fo juice.