Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tales of Graces f (2010)

Genre: JRPG | Players: 1-4
Developer: Namco Tales Studio

The Tales series is famous for not trying to reinvent the wheel. While other famous franchises go through makeover after makeover, the Tales series strives to offer gamers the same experience with each outing. Even if you've never played a Tales game, you've probably seen a story or characters like the ones in Graces f before. The plot relies heavily on tropes, and makes no real attempts to subvert or deconstruct them. There's a girl with amnesia, a fairly generic hero, and a cute healer with a crush on the protagonist.

That's not to say there's no originality in Tales at all. You follow the cast from childhood to adulthood, an element I've seen in surprisingly few games. Some of the dungeons are wonderfully inventive, and the ones that aren't are livened up with hilarious skits. The cast may look like it's assembled from a list of JRPG stereotypes, but they manage to make themselves stand out in their own way, from Hubert's secret love of tokusatsu to Malik's hidden calling as a bartender.

But this isn't the sort of game you play for the story, or even the fun but cliched characters. It's a game you play for the gameplay. Graces f hands down has the best action RPG combat I've ever experienced. The game slowly eases you into things, introducing new mechanics right around the time you've mastered the previous stuff, and the result is something that's consistently engaging even in lengthy dungeons. I almost felt like I was playing a fighting game as I mastered combos and worked on perfecting the play styles of various characters. Characters learn additional skills from titles they unlock, giving you another reason to fight as many baddies as you can.

The sheer amount of content in this game is mind boggling. There's a cooking and crafting system, a card game, and unlockable contents. There are hours worth of sidequests and an entire story arc that takes place after the main story is concluded. There's a colosseum, massive optional dungeons, and a hidden city populated entirely by cats. I have well over 80 hours into this game, and I still don't feel like I've come close to seeing everything it has to offer. It's incredible.

Graces' biggest flaw isn't its lack of originality, but how easy it is to miss its best content. There are fairly major plot points that are only resolved in side quests, and much of the character development comes from easy to miss skits. If you blitz through the game without fulfilling requests or making sure you watch all the skits you can, you'll miss the game's funniest, most charming moments, and many plot points will appear to come out of nowhere. I like that the title gives you reasons to go back and replay, but I hate to think that people beat the game without seeing the play or the running gag about the Rockagong's butt.

Tales of Graces f certainly isn't for everybody, but if you're able to look past its weakest points, you're in for a wonderfully rewarding experience. I've put a tremendous amount of time into this game, and I don't feel like I wasted a single minute of it. I am working my way up to New Game +, and can't wait to play this game again. It may not be a classic, but it's consistently, constantly fun, and that's all I can really ask from a game. If you're put off by anime tropes and stereotypes, be sure to deduct a point to a half a point from my score.

4.5 older brothers named Tiger Festival out of 5

Buyer's Guide: Japan got this game for both the Wii and the PS3, but in the western world, it's PS3 only. The title is also available on the PSN. Currently, prices for a physical copy and a digital download run pretty close, and it may be worth checking both to see what option is the cheapest.

If you decide to invest in DLC, I recommend picking up the school uniforms. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but you'll be treated to something besides a costume change when you wear these duds into battle.

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