Tales Of The Abyss 3D Review – It’s A Subtle Arte
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Namco Tales Studio
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 14th, 2012
ESRB: Teen 13+
If you know anything about me as a gamer at all, you’ll know that I grew up playing Japanese-made games, primarily Japanese role-playing games. And, for many years now, I’ve been a casual (but perhaps more serious than most) fan of both manga and anime. Since I was in 5th grade and did a report for my class on Japanese culture and customs, I’ve been in love with anything and everything Japanese. It’s simply part of who I am, and as I stated in my Christmas-time review of Xenogears, JRPGs are a very large part of my gaming identity.
Then why is that I have not played a single game in the long-running and popular Tales Of series? Some might say that such an offense would warrant a slap to the facial region, or might fight against my claim that I’m such a big JRPG and anime fan. Well, simply put, I just never got around to it. It just didn’t happen, and while I had heard of the series and always wanted to play it, it just never came to be…until now. I’m experiencing Tales Of The Abyss for the first time on the 3DS, a port from its original Playstation 2 format, and I’ve no reason to regret this being my first run with the game. However, even with this being my introductory course in the series, I can’t help but feel like there wasn’t much changed from the source material…if at all.
Tales Of The Abyss follows the tale of Luke, a smart-mouthed, privileged and brash son-of-a-duke as he more or less leaves the safety of his mansion home and begins to understand that the world is not all sunshine and comfort…in fact, it’s anything but. Abyss only just barely misses a big check-off for having a main character that’s suffering from amnesia or some other memory loss-inducing head trauma by stating that Luke lost his memory several years ago. Players of a rival nation kidnapped him, and the whole experience was so horrifying to the poor lad that all of his childhood memories were simply wiped away. Perhaps, back in 2006 when the game was first released, the memory loss cliché hadn’t been used as much. I can’t remember. All I know now is that the concept holds so little merit that the first mention of a main character having amnesia is met with a chorus of disgruntled mumbles and grumbles. Thankfully, this part of Luke’s backstory isn’t touched on too much, at least at first.
For all intents and purposes, Luke is a brat – he’s so oblivious to how the world works and the proper way to treat people that everybody should hate him as a main character. But, his naiveté plays host to some fairly comical moments, and his begrudging ignorance in the beginning of the game leaves lots of room for his character to grow as he experiences more along his travels. This, at the very least, is a strong point for Abyss. The supporting characters are far more likeable, especially Tear, a female swordsman who accidentally ends up as Luke’s guide through the trials and political heat of life outside his mansion. Other characters more or less fall in line with many JRPG and anime clichés, and for someone used to watching both subtitled and dubbed anime, I can more or less tolerate some of the more annoying sidekicks Luke picks up in his travels. Despite anything, though, there are a lot of genuinely hilarious moments sprinkled generously throughout the story – most of which involve Luke and his often-times abusive treatment of his unwanted, indentured servant Mieu (a small, blue creature with big ears and a voice like nails on a chalkboard – no wonder he makes Luke so angry!).
The voice-acting is, again, about what you would expect from a decently dubbed anime, and considering that the game is broken up by beautifully illustrated animated cutscenes, it very much fits the feel of the game. What impressed me more was the quality of the voice recordings; they translated surprisingly well to the handheld format, and considering that other ports to the 3DS have made the source audio sound like it was recorded through a garbage can, this was a welcome relief indeed.
Other implementations of the handheld’s capabilities, namely the auto-stereoscopic 3D, do not suit the game as well. While I feel that the game could have been a great experience in 3D, it just didn’t seem like the time was taken to truly give it any real depth and that certain areas still needed fine tuning when being given a three-dimensional treatment. For example, dialogue boxes appear in the foreground, as is expected, but if you try to look at a speech bubble and the characters in the background your eyes will automatically go out of focus…in fact, this one dilapidated feature was what made me decide to flick off the 3D in the first place. Rarely do I spend all of my time with a 3DS title with the 3D turned on 100% of the time, but playing Abyss in 3D literally gave me a headache – worse than I usually get from the system’s display. When there was so little effort put into making other areas of the game translate to the format, such as putting more menu options and control inputs on the secondary screen, the fact that the visual translation was handled so poorly really put a dent in the experience. Otherwise, however, the game is crisply and richly animated; the anime ambiance permeates throughout the entire experience. It’s a shame that it may have been better off on the Playstation 2.
While the port may have suffered and not been given enough careful consideration in many areas, there are still plenty of aspects in which Abyss shines. With a battle system that reminisces entries in the genre such as Final Fantasy XII and Kingdom Hearts, the mixture of using real-time attack and magic inputs with the menu-based use of items and controlling NPC AI is a welcome and fast-paced take on the traditional turn-based style of other JRPGs. Players mainly control Luke as he hacks and slashes away at foes, and unique abilities come in the form of “artes”: special attacks that range from healing magic, to powerful attack skills to elemental spell blasts. The player can also make use of the full field of battle, a “Free Run” skill (learned fairly early on) giving them the freedom to run in a full 360 degrees and bring a more tactical and position-based strategy to battles. For the most part, the AI of the NPCs are competent enough, and there weren’t too many times where I was wishing for a healing spell to be cast and didn’t end up receiving it. Learning to play off of your allies’ patterns in battle is a core concept to the whole system, and timing artes and combos to coincide with the NPCs’ is key to maximizing damage and coming out victorious in tougher battles. Most battles are over quick, and overall, wading into battle is a pleasure and only ages with a little repetition as the game hours pile on.
As I mentioned before, audio-wise, Abyss does little to disappoint the aural palette. While some of the more screechy characters’ vocal talents ring on the inane, that sort of thing is to be expected and trivial to those who are used the voice acting in anime and other JRPGs. The music is usually right on the money, blending well-orchestrated piano tracks with the traditional fantasy jingles that don’t do anything to detract from the game. Unfortunately, compared to other games (even close relatives), there’s nothing that feels special or particularly stunning in the compositions. It does its job with blending in with the narrative sequences and gameplay that it can be hard to notice the music sometimes at all; a shame, when there’s so much potential for the game to shine in this area. Much of the game’s lore and the world’s backstory relies upon “fonic artes” and “Scores” to generate the fantasy that runs underneath the hood, both obscure concepts that base themselves around musical notes and powerful element-like hymns that bind the planet together…or something. All I know, is that for a game that places so much of its drive in the combination of magic and music, there should have been something more noticeable coming out of the 3DS speakers.
I don’t regret having held out for so long on the series – my time with Tales Of The Abyss was a memorable one, and certainly one that has piqued my interest in other entries in the series. However, from everything that I’ve read and heard, this port to the 3DS might not have been the ideal way to enter the fray, especially since a majority of my playtime was spent with the 3D turned off. Would it have been better to track down an original copy of the PS2 game? Maybe. There was also a lot of feeling like I had been here before, like I had experienced these characters and these plot twists at a prior viewing or play session…and that instinct is probably right. Abyss is a game dripping with genre clichés, but also a game that does well to impress with its unique battle mechanics and gorgeous cel-shaded characters and make an imprint on the mind. I never like to play through a game and have the designer in me spring to life more often than it should, and there were plenty of times when I could think of better ways to have implemented the 3DS’ technology to the game – but I also don’t like to miss out on a series I should have been playing a long time ago given my interests and background. There’s just no helping the fact that Tales Of The Abyss 3D might not have been the proper place to find out what I was missing.
+ Colors are vibrant and the world pulses with life, even on the pocket screen
+ Combat system is nothing strikingly original, but still fresh and fast-paced
+ Competent anime-style voice acting is still crisp and clean on the 3DS speakers
- 3D graphics option deserved more careful attention; headaches may ensue
- Some characters could be considered…intolerable
- 3DS’ second screen could have been put to much better use
3.5 out of 5 stars