Tales of the Abyss is one of the growing number of 3DS titles that have been ported and tweaked from other systems. Whilst Ocarina of Time 3D is definitely the standout in terms of overall remake quality, Tales has definitely received good treatment in its transition to Nintendo’s handheld.
The original Tales of the Abyss arrived by way of the PlayStation 2, although it never made its way to Australian shores at the time. The Tales series is an ongoing, unconnected series of RPGs, much like the Final Fantasy titles. Distinguished by its unique battle system which evolves with each iteration, it has only been in recent years that Australian gamers are (officially) seeing the series in stores.
The story of Tales of the Abyss revolves around lead protagonist Luke Fon Fabre, a spoilt rich duke’s son who is confined to his home after being kidnapped as a child. At the start of the story he is pulled out of his safe existence, and quickly finds himself deeply embroiled in a war between nations, and a crisis that threatens the entire world. Along the way you will collect a team of companions from across both nations, following the old-school RPG rule of ‘only one character per weapon type/class but two sword guys’.
Whilst the story and the world it is set in are detailed and well-rounded, the game does suffer from one old-school RPG affliction – excessive story. Walk into a new town and you’ll find that at least once per screen transition there’ll be a little dialog between the characters or some sort of on-rails scene to play out before you can get back to business. Whilst more often than not these story nuggets are interesting and advance the plot or character development, they do tend to stack up quickly. On top of this, there are extra optional skits that will pop up as a prompt at the bottom of your screen, which show extra interactions between your party members. These can stack up too, however – after watching a core story scene at one point I had a new skit indicator pop up, only to find out there were four successive skits that all appeared at once. Although they are optional, it still feels like they could have been paced out better.
Whilst it seems like textures within the game have been re-optimised for the 3DS screen, no massive overhaul has been undertaken for the graphics. Visually you are essentially playing a mid-era PS2 game, but the benefit of the smaller screen is that everything still looks crisp and effective. The game world is colourful, and whilst you may not be able to pick out your character’s individual eyeleashes moving in the breeze like a current-gen title, the character models are well built enough to convey emotion as you experience the story. In addition to this, the game has full voice acting for story scenes, as well as catch-phrases and attack effects in battle. The voice work is top notch and really gives the storytelling the extra edge to stand out among these revamped older titles.
The distinct Tales battle system undergoes a new evolution in Abyss in the form of FR-LMBS (Flex Range Linear Motion Battle System). Essentially you fight on a 2D battlefield using button combos for attacks, evading and special moves. The implementation of button combos for different attacks feels very reminiscent of a fighting game, albeit not quite so complex. New mechanics are introduced compared to earlier Tales titles; the use of ‘fonic artes’, Abyss’ equivalent of magic, can charge spots on the battlefield with a particular element. When corresponding element moves are executed within the ‘fonon-charged’ circles, a more powerful version of that attack is used by the character. Coordinating your party to make this possible can be tricky as the fonon circles seem to vanish all too quickly, but catch one at the right moment and you’ll be doing some serious damage.
As with any port to the 3DS, Abyss has been souped up with 3D graphics. To be honest I didn’t find them to be an essential part of the experience – as with any post-processing 3D, the result is ironically somewhat flat. The levels of ‘depth’ provided aren’t as intricate or layered as pure 3D titles like Super Mario 3D Land, and in battle the effect is jarring as you will be naturally inclined to move your head around as you get involved in the fights, throwing you out of the 3D sweet spot.
In addition to the graphical refinements, the 3DS release of Tales of the Abyss is also home to new animated cutscenes at core points within the story. These help bring a sense of importance to key events, although they are few and far between. At the least, they appear to have been produced by the same company that created the accompanying anime for Abyss, which was released in Japan in 2008. Whilst there is some compression to fit the animation to the 3DS screen, care has been taken to ensure these scenes are not too artifact-y.
All in all, Tales of the Abyss is a good pocket RPG, which is promising for one of the first RPGs to arrive on the system. This is traditional RPG fare and you can expect with full completion of everything there is to see in-game to have your playtime climb towards the 100-hour mark. Pick it up, and maybe we’ll get to see Tales of Innocence R arrive for us English-speakers on the PS Vita too!