Game Review

Tales of the Abyss Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Mark Reece


In the nine months or so that it’s been on sale, the 3DS has had a number of obstacles thrust upon it, but one major problem for early adopters to lament has surely been the distinct lack of quality software available, with only a handful of truly great games seeing release. Of course, in the last few weeks that’s picked up somewhat, with Nintendo treating us to a bevy of brilliant new games. However, the 3DS has also found itself home to just as many — if not more — remakes of older titles, as publishers seek to capitalise on the stereoscopic 3D as an easy way to enhance games from years ago

Tales of the Abyss is a port of the PlayStation 2 game of the same name, a Japanese RPG that strictly adheres to many conventions of the genre, while straying away from others in a few key areas. One tradition that Tales of the Abyss adopts with gusto is that of an epic storyline that finds unlikely heroes banding together to save a world in peril.

Luke Fon Fabre is the 17-year old son of Duke Fabre of the kingdom of Kimlasca who lives the life of a privileged aristocrat. Unfortunately his kidnapping seven years ago left him with no childhood memories, and his subsequent confinement within the Fabre mansion has left him with very little understanding or knowledge of the outside world. One day, during a swordfighting training session with his master — Van Grants — a young girl named Tear appears from nowhere and sets off an unfortunate chain of events that lead to Luke and Tear finding themselves lost and alone far away in the kingdom of Malkuth. Before long, Luke and Tear become entangled within a plot that sees Kimlasca and Malkuth go to war with each other, and are joined by various other denizens from both kingdoms as they set out to prevent that war from ever coming to pass.

So it’s all very typical JRPG fare then, truth be told, with the story occasionally serving up some genuinely tense or emotional scenes. Its biggest accomplishment in terms of storytelling is undoubtedly the off-the-wall Japanese humour that permeates the personality of almost every character, beautifully breaking the ice whenever things get overly serious. Luke’s initial social inadequacies, Guy’s irrational phobia of women, Tear’s secret love of all things cute and the relationship between Luke and Mieu — a little blue animal called a Cheagle, who finds himself the constant victim of Luke’s verbal and physical abuse — never fail to raise a smile. The decent English voice acting — well, it’s no worse than the English dub of any anime you’ve ever watched, anyway — helps prevent the story from becoming stale over the many hours you’ll spend with the game, although it would be remiss of us not to mention Mieu’s irritating high-pitched squeaks. Every JRPG has a character with Mieu’s traits, and Tales of the Abyss is no different.

Of course, the real bread and butter of any JRPG lies within its battle system, and Tales of the Abyss — like other instalments of the Tales series — ditches turn based fights in favour of real-time battling. This battle system is deceptively simple to begin with, but gradually becomes more complex the further you are along on your journey. Whenever you encounter enemies (be they human or monster), the game switches to a battle area in which you’re able to move either left or right. Should you need to gain a more strategic position, holding down the left shoulder button allows you to move around freely. The fundamentals behind fighting against opponents are relatively simple: the A button attacks, Y blocks and X opens up a menu, from which you’re able to access your inventory: handy should you, for example, ever require the use of healing items in a pinch. Combining either attacking or blocking with a push of the Circle Pad will yield different results, allowing you to string combos of moves together while dodging your enemies’ attacks, and new techniques are unlocked as your characters gain experience and subsequently level up.

Another set of skills — unique to each member of your party — that you learn as you progress come in the form of Artes. These are essentially special moves that can deal out massive amounts of damage to your enemies, provide beneficial stat boosts or heal your friends' wounds. Sussing out enemy movement and attack patterns and chaining your Artes together with your basic attacks and evasive techniques is the key to success in Tales of the Abyss’ battles. Further options become available during battles by way of the Field of Fonons system, which involves rings of varying colours appearing on the ground, powered by any and all Artes that have one of six elements corresponding to them. When these rings appear, you’re able to perform regular attacks within them, which will be transformed into a substantially more powerful super-attack.

While it’s a complex and oft-bewildering system — especially if you’re a newcomer to the series or the genre in general — should players take the time to wrap their heads around the ins and outs of its intricate battles, they will find that Tales of the Abyss’ precise controls make using all the techniques at their disposal as hassle-free as possible, with the more hands-on approach also allowing more scope for strategic planning, making that final killing blow to the particularly challenging foes all the more satisfying.

And you’ll vanquish many foes, as Tales of the Abyss — like any good JRPG — certainly offers up an adventure of substantial length. Players who stray from the main quest to explore the numerous towns, cities, forests and other locations that litter the game’s enormous world map will unearth all manner of special items and side-quests. Make no mistake, if you pick up Tales of the Abyss, be prepared to lose well over 60 hours before you finally reach its conclusion.

It’s a lovely looking game as well, with every location gorgeously rendered and exuding its own unique vibe. The various special moves you'll perform during battles boast flashy effects that really make you feel like you’re unleashing Hell on your opponents, while character models are animated fluidly, even if they move somewhat more stiffly outside of the battles. Everything is accompanied by a wonderful musical score that sets the mood of every scene or location brilliantly: you’ll be aware you’re walking into a quaint village before you even begin exploring, while the music that plays out during battles is suitably fast and heart-pounding.

There are setbacks, however, even if they’re never so detrimental to the playing experience as to be truly game breaking. First of all, throughout the game you’ll be prompted to press Start and sit through a “skit”, which sees all present characters exchanging words and filling the player in on what’s going on in even more depth, often by revealing background information or suchlike. Unfortunately, while most of the game’s script is delivered by way of full voice acting, these skits are presented in text form only, accompanied by barely animated images of everyone present. Thus, should you be interested enough in the plot to be hungry for more insight into what makes these characters tick, you’ll have to sit through this text. This wouldn’t be so bad were you able to scroll or skip through it at your own leisure, but you can’t, so — depending on your reading speed — you’ll either be tapping your fingers waiting for the next block of text to appear or sit there frustrated as they whizz by before you’ve had the chance to properly read them and absorb the information.

Additional headaches arise from that classic trope of JRPGs: save points. You can’t simply save wherever you feel like in Tales of the Abyss, instead needing to seek out specific points at which to record your progress. This might not sound like a major sticking point, and indeed it wouldn’t be on a home console, but on a handheld this seems counter-intuitive. Granted, you could always close the 3DS should you need to stop playing for whatever reason, but given the 3DS’ abysmal battery life, you could very well find yourself up a certain creek without a paddle should that red light begin to flash.

To top it all off, the 3D effects — something that should in theory enhance the visuals and provide a welcome sense of depth handy for positioning yourself more precisely and strategically during battles — are awful in Tales of the Abyss. Characters become blurry, the visuals lose their crispness and vibrancy and the text balloons that accompany the voice acting pop out so far in front of everything else on screen that they distract from what’s actually happening. You’re far better off ignoring stereoscopic 3D here and enjoying Tales of the Abyss’ otherwise stunning visuals.


The 3DS doesn’t yet offer much choice for those who favour lengthy adventures over quick-fix pick-up-and-play games. However, if you are such a person, Tales of the Abyss should quench your thirst. It might not make the best use of the 3DS’ unique visual capabilities and certain omissions might be cause for minor grumbling, but this is still a shining example of a great JRPG and one that any fans of the genre would be foolish to pass up on.

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User Comments (56)



jkgatling said:

Totally gonna get this one, love the tales series and never got around to play this one on ps2



FernaMedel said:

I am still looking for a port that does the 3D well, but I am definitely picking this up.



shingi_70 said:

Only played Tos. But you should be able to save anywhere ob the overworked and in towns right.

still picking this up when it hits.



FonistofCruxis said:

This game looks amazing! I'm so looking forward to getting this for Christmas. Tales of Symphonia is my favourite game ever and its unlikely that this will beat it but it could come close.



daznsaz said:

im a fair bit into the game,cant fault it the saving isnt a problem you can win random battles easily anyway.but the boss fights can be a struggle its then i notice the fight set up can be tricky.but love the story etc its a top game.



AVahne said:

Sigh, wish there was effort put into this port. Definitely not worth the $40, I'll wait til it drops to $20-25. Hope they at least put in voiced skits in the American version, since it looks like its delayed for no reason. Would make sense if they did this, after all we got ToS2 before Europe, but they got the finished version of the game.



zeeroid said:

If the 3D effect truly is that bad, it will be mighty unfortunate. There hasn't been a 3DS game yet which I have not played on maxed out 3D. Guess I'll find out for myself.

Would have been nice if the port were a bit more polished, but I won't complain too much. Just want to get my hands on it now, since I missed it on PS2.



Pokefanmum82 said:

i'm getting this game. I have three games that I'm preordering in February and this is one of them.



Tryken said:

When I read the caption "Abysmal?" I almost shouted out "Nooooo!" at work. Now I see the review, and relief just floods in.



DarkEdi said:

I have the PS2 version. Is it any exclusive content in the 3DS version? if no then i can skip this version.



EarthboundBenjy said:

As far as I can tell, this game is identical to the PS2 version, except that it lacks multiplayer control during battles, and only allows four save files. Definitely get the PS2 version if you want every single tiny feature like that.

Conversely, you should definitely get the 3DS version if you aren't willing to get an difficult-to-find American or Japanese version of the game, and also the means to play it if you live outside America or Japan.
And portability, too.

And I believe the huge loading times the original suffered from are toned down a bit on the 3DS, which is always a plus, because the original PS2 game had some of the longest and most frequent loading times I've seen.

Conclusion: Both are awesome, get the one most convenient to you and your tastes.



Mr_Reece said:

Anything goes when it comes to taglines

(plus I didn't come up with it, although I wish I had)



Glade said:

Yep worth the 8.0 Now I just need a reason why they didn't bring this out earlier!!!



CanisWolfred said:

"you could very well find yourself up a certain creek without a paddle should that red light begin to flash."

Oh I've been there before. Anyways, glad to know this game is good. I should also note to collectors that this version is going to be much harder to get ahold of than the PS2 version, so it's certainly worth investing in. It's already impossible to find in Europe right now, and I doubt conditions in NA will be any better.



FonistofCruxis said:

@DarkSquid I can't, I only own Nintendo consoles but I would definitely get it if it was on a Nintendo console. But, I plan on getting all Tales games that I can though so I'd like to get ToS: DotNW at some point as well as the three DS Tales games as they may be Japan-only but they all have fan translations.



CanisWolfred said:

"but they all have fan translations."

Last I checked, Tales of Innocence was the only one with a fan translation.

"Definitely not worth the $40, I'll wait til it drops to $20-25."

That will never happen. Tales of games never go that low unless they're terrible, except that one time Vesperia got a reissue, then the price jumped up again when that sold out. Judging from the European stock, this will be the rarest game in the series, so you'll be lucky if you get it for normal price, let alone $20.



Azikira said:

For a second from reading the tag line, I thought "Great, more filler crap."
But it's good to see that it's actually a good game. And Real time battling? Sign me up! :3



retro_player_22 said:

It would be awesome if they remake the recent DS Tales of game for 3DS. I never did get to play Tales of Hearts and would really love it if that were to be remake for 3DS as well considering Tales of Innocence will be remake for the PS Vita.



FonistofCruxis said:

@Mickeymac I thought there had been fan translations for the other two but I just checked again and all I could find for Tales of the Tempest were some English translation patches on sites that seemed unreliable and it was mostly the same for Tales of Hearts but I found that one definitely had been started but it had never been finished.



Azikira said:

I didn't exactly see what "omissions" were in the game... Did I happen to just miss them in the review?



CanisWolfred said:

"well, it’s no worse than the English dub of any anime you’ve ever watched, anyway"

I can think of ten anime shows off the top of my head that kicks the voice acting of TotA up and down the block, and I'm sure there's far more that are outside my limited knowledge of the genre. Even Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Vesperia have better voice acting, and those are games. While it barely comes off as decent, lowering all of voice acting, especially in anime, is downright insulting.



GlasS said:

A tank shoot-em' up and a jrpg, both with high ratings... fun. I'll need to get these when my 3bay-ds shows up in the mail.



EarthboundBenjy said:

I felt like the voice acting was pretty good in this game, though I don't really watch anime all that much so I can't compare.
With the main cast, I especially like how Jade was voiced - the snide and sarcastic touches in his voice were perfect for his character. Guy's voice is fine, Luke sounds suitably whiny, Natalia sounds suitably haughty. I really don't get what's wrong.



DarkLloyd said:

i didnt read the reveiw sorry just the comments on here lol

anyways i doubt id be paying soo much attention to the 3D when im trying to focus on the game espically leveling up if im going to do that most of the time no point in looking at the same section in 3D for hours on end after all this isnt a movie where its literally ok

i only look at the whole thing in 3D once then if id replayed something again i turn it off



Noire said:

I'm disappointed in the crappy 3D. Otherwise it seems just as good as the PS2 version so I'll be picking this one up since my PS2 hates memory cards and is generally a pain in my cute butt.



AVahne said:

@ Mickeymac
I guess I'll just get a used copy in a couple of years. Even IF you say it'll probably be rare, I doubt it'll ever come close to the difficulty of getting a copy of Fire Emblem Fuuin no Tsurugi (used to have a copy, then I was robbed =_=).
And another Tales game I liked the VA in was ToS2. Collette, Emil/Ratatosk, Richter, Marta, and especially Tenebrae had some of the best English voice acting I've heard in a Japanese RPG or anime.



alLabouTandroiD said:

Great review Mark. Love how detailed it is, all the negatives you brought up are important to me too and i can easily see how they brought the game down to an 8/10.

"X opens up a menu, from which you’re able to access your inventory" - Would have been a good use for the touchscreen imo.

Ordered this game the weekend it launched but it still hasn't been shipped. It was described as "usually shipped within a month" so when push comes to shove I might ask what's going on early next year. It's not so bad though since amazon.de still seems to sell it for a normal price and it wouldn't be the first time a good game got neglected in shops near me either.



Blaze said:

I love the game, and have had it since launch. Just a shame that I've only played about 9 hours, due to the fact that Skyward Sword and MK7 are taking up most of my time. This and Cave Story 3D will be my two games to finish during the 2 and a half week Christmas Holiday!



DarkKirby said:

I'm not sure if it's been said already, but the skits can't be sped up because they're SUPPOSED to be voiced and the character pictures have more emotion as they are in the Japanese version.



Traxx said:

Don't know how to rate this game.
It's typical Tales of... battle system with some more advanced features here and there, but chances are you won't care much for the deeper mechanics and just brawl/button mash, what will make this game very boring. On the other isde, the game fails to explain the more advanced mechanics appropriatly.

The voice acting is decent and it's mainly simple english to help the non-native speakers, but it's hard to get your head around the plot and world explanations and how things work together. Fontech fonbelt, sephiroths, planet storms, it's just annoying and I reached the point I don't really care what I'm doing for what reason. To make things worse, I'm right now at a point where I have to run from one point to another just to trigger a story element I don't really understand.

Definetly, this game is not for everyone. But I will keep it, since it's already hard to buy it in Europe. Some significant stores even never had the chance to sell it, cause they didn't receive any copies.



Dizzard said:

Got this game on Saturday, didn't have much trouble picking it up. Enjoying it so far....at first I wasn't sure of the characters since they're designs were a bit meh....but they more than make of it for it with their banter and personalities.

The gamestop I went in to didn't have any on the shelf so I had to ask for it. The girl behind the counter said she hadn't sold any of the game before.....well no wonder if it wasn't even put on the shelf.

On the way back though I looked into a different gamestop and they had copies of the game right at the front of the shop (with other new 3DS games)



Dizzard said:

As for the 3D, I don't think it's as bad as people say. Obviously it isn't the main attraction and I don't generally use 3D much (in any game) except for scenic areas mostly.



CanisWolfred said:


I suspected that. It's a shame they didn't voice the skits in this one, I remember them doing it in ToV, not sure if that's the only one.



Dizzard said:

That's one thing that annoys me about the game is the lack of voiceovers in the skits. It can often be very hard to identify who is saying what when it's just text. (that you have no control over at that)

I'm just about managing, but voiceovers for the skits would have made the experience so much more pleasant.



nocdaes said:

Great review. I've been looking around for some more details on this game to confirm my intentions of buying the game. I've only played Tales of Eternia on the PSP before this but that was such a great game that I'm really looking forward to getting onto this adventure.

It's currently sold out on Amazon UK but hoping they get some back in stock ahead of Christmas!



MofieWilson said:

I just competed this game on the 3DS, never played the PS2 version. I loved this game. I have become almost competely obsessed! Just competed it - what a great story! I cried I spent a long time playing it, 76 hours - and I know I didn't do everything - there are a few side quests I missed which I will pursue now on my second playthrough - can't wait!



hopesfall said:

I own the PS2 version, and the 3DS version and I must say the 3DS version is so much better. The load times for the PS2 version were annoying, and they have basically vanished in the 3DS version. I also mostly play handheld games, and I'm also a Nintendo guy, so I love they rereleased this game for the 3DS!!!!



rayword45 said:

After about 2 hours, I can say this is my second-favorite below $10 (at 4 bucks) purchase, beaten only by the PSP 1000. Great game, pretty massive, just wish they polished the graphics better.



Mus1cLov3r said:

I bought this game today. It was still $30 at Gamestop, but it'll be worth it, from the looks of it. :3



Mus1cLov3r said:

Oh yeah, and you can save at any time; just open up the menu, go to "system," and you'll figure the rest out from there.

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