The Average Gamer

Tales of Graces f Review (PS3)

I hate the word cute. It makes me think of cupcakes and rabbits. Annoyingly enough it’s one of the first things to pop into my head when I think of how to describe Tales of Graces f, the latest in a long line of JRPG’s to make it to the UK market under Namco Bandai’s Tales of series.

Originally released in Japanese on the Nintendo Wii back in 2009, Graces f has found its way onto our European shelves under the care of the PS3 .

I’m a first time Tales guy. I generally prefer my RPG’s a little grittier, having sunk 100s of hours into the likes of Infinite Undiscovery and Final Fantasy (see my FFXIII post-mortem). When it comes to anime, the few I choose to watch are usually high fantasy romps or extreme sci fi. It was clear by the end of the cheese and bravado filled opening song that Tales of Graces f most definitely wasn’t marketed towards me. However…

Taking on the mantle of Asbel Lhant, you start the game as a young boy gallivanting around a forest with your brother. There you encounter a pink-haired girl with amnesia. Shortly after, you name her Sophie, take her home and then promise to protect her forever. Okay, so something about this is a little weird but hey it’s a JRPG right?

Skip forward a few hours of gameplay and times have moved on – 7 years in fact – and young Asbel has been replaced by a less naïve and better dressed version of himself. Armed with a new sense of righteousness and a group of rag-tag trope filled friends and allies Asbel sets out on a journey of self discovery. The narrative is easy to keep up with and after the childhood portion ends, the entire game picks up the pace. Tales of Graces f is a story of trust, changing relationship and subsequent betrayals where character relationships and real world choices take centre stage. While the childhood section may drag on a bit, none of this would have the hit the way it does without setting up those few key moments in the beginning hours.

The combat system is, at first, clunky and difficult to learn. Character abilities are split into B and A “artes”; these are simply different combat styles that can be mixed together. With B artes as your basic combo tree, the A artes contain your more powerful skills and attacks to really beat down on the opponent. Different attacks are chained together through various stick/button combos and Tales of Graces f keeps the combat active without being overly complicated.

Once Graces f’s combat clicked (and as with most things in this Tales entry it took a while), it became my favourite combat system in a JRPG. While young Asbel’s foes are small and easy to beat without knowing what you’re doing, the later enemies require skill and refinement, a difficulty curve that is both sharp and rewarding. Most importantly, this curve fits perfectly with the narrative.

The setting of Ephinea is a world tearing itself apart through politics and war. However it’s a sincerely relatable world. The stores only tend to sell basic versions of weaponry and items, people need weaponry to defend themselves when travelling sure but anything more advanced simply isn’t needed. Fighting wars and battles is the job of soldiers, not everyday citizens.

Food is needed to recover HP and undo status effects so you have to learn to cook using your Eleth Mixer, essentially a magic-powered microwave that activates when you hit certain targets depending on the recipe.

You also have to craft new weapons and gems with the Dualize menu offered at all stores, mixing weapons and items together to create new ones. Like the combat, these are both initially confusing but soon become second nature and a key part of the game’s system.

Tales of Graces f may not have been marketed towards me, but it certainly won me over. There’s something about its cute character design, the colours, the way the Turtlez transport managers sound like they have been taking language lessons from Jar Jar Binks.

Tales of Graces f has heart. As cheesy as it is, that’s what drags you in. You become attached to the naïve and irritating Asbel. His reactions and trials are something we can all relate to in one way or another.

Mix this with often-comedic scripting and the fun combat system and Tales of Graces f acts as a firm reminder that not every JRPG needs to be desolate and soul-destroying like Dark Souls or even an over-the-top fantasy romp like Final Fantasy. Sometimes they just need to feel human.

Tales of Graces f is out now on PlayStation 3.

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