A Story Of Tradition
There aren’t that many “good old JRPGs” out there anymore, but the Tales series from Namco’s Tales Studio—now defunct and absorbed into Namco proper, by the way—has always clung stubbornly to the idea that their formula was cut from a cookie that the audience would be happy to eat up again and again. In light of Square-Enix’s innovations in gameplay at the cost of a compelling story, they might actually be right. Tales of Graces f isn’t going to win any awards as a work of technical genius, but as a cliché ridden yarn that you can’t help but feel guilty for enjoying, it’s a resounding success.
Wii Are Moving To Another Console
Tales of Graces f is actually a port of the original Tales of Graces that debuted on the Wii in Japan back in 2009. It eventually got a PS3 port a year later and that Japanese port has now been localized for Western consumption. It’s a puzzle why Western Wii owners are getting snubbed on the original Wii version, but then they get Xenoblade, so I suppose it all balances out karma-wise. This localized version also includes a number of extras from the PS3 port, including the extra “mini-JRPG” epilogue called Lineage & Legacies, which adds another 10+ hours to the experience.
The story for ToGf is about as generic as it gets. Asbel Lahnt, the plucky young hero, is full of confidence at the start of the game but gradually undergoes the necessary process of needing to be stronger in order to protect the ones he cares about. There’s also an amnesiac orphan with a special destiny, and of course, one can’t have a JRPG without the required cheese that is known as The Power Of Friendship™. It’s all here, relentlessly checking one box after another on a typical, cliché plot, but it’s executed with so much heart and sappiness that it ultimately manages to succeed despite itself. The characters may not be original, but as the hours pass, they will become damn likable; even Asbel’s staggering naivete will become less offensive in time.
Getting into the technical specifics, it should come as a surprise to no one that a Wii port—even an HD one—is not going to compare favorably to the PS3’s benchmark titles for graphics. The anime aesthetic is a somewhat simpler one to begin with, and the Tales Studio decided to go with a softer, almost pastel look inspired, apparently, by water color paintings. Valkyria Chronicles is a much more successful example of this, but you can still see a more painterly, illustrated influence in the art direction of ToGf. One happy bonus of this game not exactly taxing the PS3 is that the performance is very, very stable. Combat—which is real time, not turn-based—uses a lot of flashy effects for the special/magic/”Cryas” attacks and the light show can get pretty ridiculous. The engine never falters, regardless of how hectic combat is. The fixed nature of the camera (yes, this are really old school JRPG conventions we’ve got going here) also keep players from experiencing draw-in and pop up most of the time, something that not even the sequel, the only-currently-available-in-Japan Tales of Xillia cannot claim. The audio side of things is about what seasoned JRPG veterans would expect at this point. Once again, Western gamers are cruelly denied the ability to switch over to the original Japanese voice acting if they so choose, but the cast of dubbers for this localized version, consisting of old anime mainstays like David Vincent and Laura Bailey—who, by the way, played Serah Farron in Final Fantasy XIII-2—do a good job of bringing emotive performances to what amount to stock characters with some occasionally generic dialogue. Musically, Motoi Sakuraba continues his streak as the mainstay composer for the series, and while his compositions continue to not offend, they also fail to attain the memorability of Nobuo Uematsu at his height. To be fair, even Uematsu doesn’t do this these days. The audio effects themselves are functional, though lack the richness and “oomph” of other titles. Part of this is the fixed camera aspect of the game not really lending itself well to surround sound. That doesn’t really explain why the bass is more restrained, as there are plenty of magic spells to go around that could really make use of booming thunder and explosions, but don’t. Curiously, the audio feels more robust when the theme song is playing during the opening intro before the title screen, but in-game, it lacks this same presence.
Tales of Cliches
The Tales series, has, by now, established itself as a sort of Dynasty Warriors for JRPG enthusiasts, not really varying dramatically in mechanical terms, but providing a safe, familiar experience by doing so. And in an age where the traditional JRPG is in short supply, this is actually a great boon to the fans. Make no mistake, in many mechanical aspects, Final Fantasy XIII-2 did some interesting things, bringing back more open dungeons, tweaking the leaner, meaner ATB system, and introducing the Pokemon-like aspect of capturing monsters and using them as a 3rd