Fans of the Tales series have seemingly had plenty to cheer about in the last year. Tales of Xillia has been released in Japan to superb sales and critical acclaim, with an enhanced port of Tales of Innocence also announced for the PS Vita. More importantly for Western RPGamers, however, Tales of the Abyss 3D and Tales of Graces F have both been announced for localization by Namco Bandai, signalling a period of somewhat cautious optimism from the passionate fanbase.
"Graces F should go a long way to appeasing the Western fans long awaiting an entry on the PS3."
Originally released as Tales of Graces on the Wii in Japan, Graces F is an enhanced port for the PS3 that, in addition to the various graphical and system upgrades, adds an entire arc of story to the end of the game. Following its December 2010 release in Japan, Graces F has been incredibly well received and is regarded as one of the best games in the series, beaten only by Tales of Xillia in Famitsu's scoring system. It should go a long way to appeasing the Western fans long awaiting an entry on the PS3.
Graces F's battle system is considered one of the big highlights of the game, even compared to other highly praised Tales systems. Named the "Style Shift Linear Motion Battle System" (or SS-LiMBS), each character has two distinct fighting styles. Alpha artes are basic attacks pre-determined by the character's setup, while Beta artes more closely resemble the artes seen elsewhere in the series and can be set by players, who are able to freely switch between using the two types. 360-degree sidestepping and a limited ability to run freely are also included, as are variations of Mystic Artes from throughout the series and Chain Capacity points seen in the PS2 remake of Tales of Destiny.
Mystic Artes are a group of very powerful attacks that can only be performed in Eleth Break mode, activated when a gauge on the left side of the screen is filled, while Chain Capacity (CC) takes the place of the more traditional TP gauge for using skills and spells. Chain Capacity increases when a successful attack is made, as well as when blocking or evading enemy attacks, and decreases if the character guards excessively, is hit, or simply stands idle for too long. The battle system is certainly set to continue the series' tradition of action-packed battles that require both skill and strategy.
While the above features were included in the original Wii version, Graces F also adds a few more. Accelerate Mode can be used if the character has the correct skill equipped and the corresponding gauge sufficiently charged. The mode has different effects for each character, but upon entering it any status effects are removed, and HP and CC regained. An additional Mystic Arte can also be used if entering Accelerate Mode when the gauge is fully charged. In another departure from more recent entries like Vesperia and Abyss, Graces does away with the world map seen in the previous editions, instead linking each location together.
The title and cooking features have also been enhanced. Titles now have a much greater impact on character growth, enabling the learning of different artes and skills as well as providing stat-bonuses. Meanwhile, cooking now acts more as an item synthesis system in the form of Eleth Pots, which can be used during battle to heal or enhance characters as well as to help enhance equipment. Graces F allows many different items to be put into the Eleth Pots and these will give players a lot of opportunity to customize and enhance character's attributes in battle. Other stalwart Tales features also appear, such as battles starting upon touching the visible monsters, and a variety of unlockable, alternate costumes for characters to wear.
There are prevailing opinions that the story doesn't quite match up to that of Tales of Vesperia's, possibility heavily influenced by the absence of Yuri Lowell, but even then players can expect to see another solid-at-worst entry filled with twists, betrayals, and surprises that Tales games are well known for. Set on the world of Efinea, the main protagonist is Asbel Lhant, eldest son of the local feudal lord. The people of Efinea have flourished thanks to heavy use of a substance called Eleth. Efinea has three kingdoms competing for dominance, Windol, Strata, and Fendel, with Asbel living on Windol's border with Fendel.
After a certain incident, Asbel decides that he wishes to become a knight and spends a lot of time training. The game takes place seven years after this incident, following the death of Asbel's father and his choice to take over the position of feudal lord. Other characters in the player's party include: Sophie, a girl who has lost her memory and is named after a flower; Hubert, Asbel's younger brother; and Cheria, the granddaughter of the Lhant's butler, plus others who join as the game continues. In addition to extra skits, scenes, abilities, and upgrading one character to a fully playable party member, Graces F also adds a full epilogue set six months after the original ending. This epilogue is said to have a script roughly three-quarters the length of the original game and Namco Bandai has stated it should add another ten to fifteen hours of play time.
On the graphics front, Graces F keeps the unmistakable Tales anime style, albeit using a slightly more watercolour-based palette. While it may not quite be at the level of Xillia, which was designed with the PS3 in mind from the start, Graces F is still a big step up from its Wii original and certainly isn't a step backwards from Vesperia. Skits from the other recent entries in the series return and are fully voiced, although Graces F displays more of each character rather than just as set of portraits and allows animation and other effects to play a bigger part in the scenes. Motoi Sakuraba and Hibiki Aoyama once again collaborate on the soundtrack, and while the music may not deviate too much from the usual Tales "sound", the tracks should still do the excellent job of adding to the emotion, setting, and action that is expected of the series. Samples of the battle music give the impression that it will succeed greatly in complementing the pace of battles, and once again the background music is very likely to blend seamlessly with the visual styles and locations in the game.
Considering the long wait it's been for a Tales game to appear in the West on the PS3, it's fairly certain that the fans will have some fairly lofty expectations of Graces F in order to justify it. Fortunately for Namco Bandai, the signs are very good that the game will manage to meet those expectations, and hopefully a rosy future awaits both Tales of Graces and the series' as a whole in the West. Tales of Graces F does not currently have a definitive release date, but is due to be released exclusively on the PS3 in 2012 in both North America and Europe.