Japanese role-playing games have something of a poor reputation amongst ‘mainstream’ western gamers. Too slow, too linear, too repetitive. People who think this probably haven’t played a Tales game though. Known primarily for its dynamic combat system, Tales is also marked by engrossing characters and epic fantasy plots – and this latest entrant in the long-running series is one of the best.
Focused on the lives of Asbel Lhant, his brother Hubert – delivered to another family for political reasons – and a strange amnesiac girl found in a field of flowers, the story that unfolds spans from their childhood to becoming mature adults themselves. It’s a story of fathers and sons, timeless friendships, fractured nations and the odd demonic force. Thematically, perhaps not so different to your average J-RPG outing, but the delicate way Graces portrays its cast and their emotions makes for a compulsive narrative.
What makes Graces truly shine though is how it constantly reveals new gameplay elements throughout. Unlike, say, Final Fantasy XIII’s 20-hour tutorial, here it’s a steady stream of post-battle hints and tips, explaining and expanding upon the game’s many nuances. Item creation, levelling up techniques and even world exploration have multiple layers, and while Graces is accessible without delving too deeply into any of the systems, you’ll soon feel confident in doing so thanks to the info.
How about that aforementioned dynamic combat though? Tales steps away from the traditional turn-based system, instead giving you direct control of your lead character while setting guidelines for the rest of the party. Each character’s talents or focus can be pre-set or changed on the fly, and with hundreds of potential skills to learn, there’s phenomenal tactical potential available. It’s also fantastic that enemies are onscreen and can be avoided before battle, rather than subjecting players to endless random encounters.
With gorgeous character designs and stunning cut-scenes animated by Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell), Tales goes a long way to redeeming the J-RPG in western eyes. Utterly brilliant.