The Tales of series has been running since 1994, and in that time no less than 22 titles (including spin offs). As tends to happen with these kinds of games, they rarely get ported over to Europe and in fact we have only had a handful to ever make it, and those sell like hot cakes so nabbing a copy is almost impossible. Tales of the Abyss is a port of a PS2 title that never made it over, so right off the bat we have something to be happy about.
Tales of the Abyss, like most RPG’s, is very story driven. As a result you won’t actually do much for the first 20-30 minutes other than look around a fairly restricted area and read text boxes. When it all goes south, which is of course inevitable, you are thrust into a deeply engrossing story full of twists, turns, betrayals, revelations and all that good stuff. The story is complemented by a really strong cast of characters, all of which change massively over the course of the 40-60 hour campaign (not including New Game+).
To help progress the story, Tales of the Abyss uses several methods. First off you have pre-rendered cutscenes which make use of stunning anime themed art. These are pretty sparse initially but get somewhat more frequent as you advance through the story. Secondly you have in game cutscenes which are fully voice acted and very frequent, and finally you have Skits. Skits are completely optional scenes which display conversations between party members about the current situation. These, whilst not really animated and lacking in voice acting, are my favorite segments when it comes to the narrative as it delves deep into each characters personalities and without them, you would not have as much of a connection. Each skit lasts about 20 seconds, and is well worth a read.
When you are not conversing with the locals, you are travelling from location to location. This being an RPG of course, you have lots of monsters to fight along the way, and this is where the brilliant combat system comes into play. Combat has you, and three AI companions on a semi-2D battlefield and is in real time. You can move your character towards enemies, and duke it out with an assortment of basic attacks and special Artes. At first, having seemingly no control over your AI is a bit strange, as you feel like you are contributing to only a small fraction of the battle, however this is far from true. During battle you can pause the game and issue commands to your partners, like use an item, cast an Arte or attack an enemy. Its a nice touch, and is great for on the fly alterations. The real meat comes from setting your partners skills and behavioral patterns. You can customize exactly how your team mates will act in battle, what skills they will use, what restrictions they have etc. It is wonderfully deep, and when you have 6 characters to customize all with unique strengths and weaknesses, you can spend quite some time in this menu.
Even more depth is found with Capacity Cores and the FSC systems. Capacity Cores are incredibly rare, and powerful weapons that allow you to customize how your characters stats will progress as the game goes on. Each core is unique, and will grant various buffs to stats, and when a stat or combination of stats, gain enough of a modifier you unlock new skills. These could include something as simple to a more powerful guard, to increasing have many attacks you can combo and even allowing you break the 2D restrictions and roam unhindered. Each character can have one Core active at a time, and choosing which ones to use will massively change your party during the end game. FSC on the other hand lets you upgrade your Artes in various ways. Each Arte can have one token equipped, and these tokens will increase overall damage, decrease cool downs decrease mana costs etc. The more you use these skills in battle, the more potent the effect becomes. These are of course limited (but can be swapped around) and managing them is vital to your success.
Graphically Tales of the Abyss looks pretty nice. The character models look great, the environments in towns and dungeons are detailed and when in battle, the special effects looks fab. The presentation however is lacking in the over world map, and characters from a distance look a bit blurry. The 3D effect is also atrocious, so having it turned off is pretty much a must. The games score however is brilliant, with music being used to great effect in every instance. This is complemented by a stellar cast who successfully bring each character alive with a flawless performance.
Minor graphical niggles aside, Tales of the Abyss is a brilliant addition to the 3DS ever expanding library. A genuinely fascinating story complemented by an amazing cast of characters all mixed in with a deep and very rewarding combat system leaves you begging for more when all is said and done. If you can get your hands on this excruciatingly rare title, you owe it to yourself to give it ago.