Malik (11/13/06)

Tales of the Abyss (PS2)

From Namco

Pros: Wonderful plot filled with mild politics, character development, and philosophical struggles. Fast paced battle system that is nothing short of addictive and a true treat for jaded RPG fans. A good balance of a small enough world to enjoy, but large enough (through optional quests) to get involved with.

Cons: slow. Long learning curve for some battle mechanics. Too easy to miss some of the most enjoyable side quests. The world map doesn't bring anything good to the experience. The skits are still not voiced for American gamers! Unusual difficulty.


The Tales series from Namco has been a strong staple for the more hardcore of RPG elite for a good several years. Despite not having the best of receptions, or releases, in the US, the series has always been a great source of excitement for RPG geeks.

When Tales of Symphonia came out for the GCN a couple years ago, it not only brought Tales into the current generation in full force, but it also introduced a new step in the evolution of Tales games. In name, it brought about 3D battle mechanics. This step not only allowed the games to feel more natural, but it also helped to bring the Tales games to a larger audience of people, who may have been turned off from the pains of the 2D battle system of previous Tales games (myself included).

With the PS2 generation coming to a close, Tales of the Abyss may be the last new Tales game to be introduced on this soon-to-be-laid-to-rest console. It also may be the end of this generation's chance to have this series. So, the obvious question remains; does the PS2 era Tales games go out with a bang, like how ToS brought them in, or will it end with a whimper, like how Tales of Legendia was showing?


This plot begins about as cliché as humanly possible. Before you run away, however, there are some nice developments...

You are Luke, a young noble and the fiancé of the only princess of the Kimlescan royal family. You also are a young man who came down with complete amnesia seven years prior to the opening of TotA. Because of this condition, you have been locked within your family manor for these years with no real knowledge of either the outside world or the people who make up this world.. So, the clichés are being checked off...noble? Check! Amnesia? Check! Ignorance? Check!

It all starts to become more novel as you progress, however. One day, as you are training your swordsmanship with your teacher, Commandant Van of the church of Lorelei, and your attendant Guy, Van is attacked by an unknown female assailant. In the chaos you manage to become involved and as you block an attack from this woman, an explosion of energy consumes you and her. You and her will wake up half a world away from your home, and deep into enemy territory.

Soon, you learn this woman, Tear, is the sister of Van and is also a member of the Church of Lorelei. You also learn more of the nature of the world and the three powers that dominate it; Kimlesca, Malkuth, and the Church of Lorelei. However, the biggest lesson you learn is that by living a sheltered life, Luke will be an insufferable brat for the first dozen hours of TotA.

Luckily, with a little time, characters begin to appear and join Luke and Tear in their quest to get Luke back home. You also will watch as these characters develop into something far more complex than they initially appear to be. Luke will shed his idiotic exterior, Tear will become more than just a cold-hearted bitch with the goal of killing her brother, you will learn why she wants to kill her brother, and you will watch as two kingdoms go to war and eventually enter the only constant cliché of this story; the quest to save the world from an insane super powered villain.

Ultimately, the plot will develop in the course of the adventure. While the initial plot is for Tear to get Luke back home, this will soon change as your party obtains a high ranking military officer of the enemy nation of Malkuth, along with the leader of the Church of Lorelei. Soon the plot to get one spoiled brat home turns into a epic quest to restore peace to two rival nations...and then into a philosophical question of determinism versus free will as the prophetic Church of Lorelei's teachings are challenged by a group of rebels bent on giving the world free will...via it's destruction.

While the plot does take a few hours to get rolling, it does develop quite nicely with time. In particular, character development and interaction will be the most important part of this plot. Party members will betray each other, save each other, and overcome long standing psychological disorders. Also, while many deep and less than jovial elements are present, an overall tone of silliness (such as Guy's fear of touching women and his constant need to do so while protecting their lives) will keep the plot fun and interesting all the way from about hour 8 to the end (which could easily go to hour 80). Clichés may be present, but they will not be dominant in this story as it constantly evolves through some interesting and novel plot twists. However, it doesn't just twist on the basic elements of what you're doing next...but more on why you're doing it and the philosophical, emotional, and military implications of your actions.

When it's all said and done, this is one of my personal favorite plots for a console RPG. While it does take a few hours to really begin (which is becoming a sad norm for the console RPG world) and the ending is nothing short of pathetic, the middle is unbelievably fun and riveting. Most of all, expect a deeper plot than ToS, but also a less light hearted plot.

Game Play

If you've played Tales of Symphonia, then you know most of the basics, already. So, if you're a ToS fan, please excuse the redundancy.

Like with most standard console RPGs, TotA is split into three main parts. First off is the world and city exploration events. These consist of you walking around on a map of either large (world) or small (city) proportions. In cities, you have the usual plethora of NPCs to talk to and learn about the world from, shops to purchase food, items, and equipment from, and the important plot related NPCs who will advance the general quest.

Inside of cities, the game is what I view as near perfection. You will have a couple dozen NPCs in a single city. This may not sound as impressive as the massive world of recent Square Enix games, but it doesn't need to be. In fact, by limiting your interactions to only a few hundred people in the entire game world (rather than FFXII's hundreds in the first city alone), you are ensured that most conversations you have will be important enough to listen to. There is no feeling that you've watsed your time by talking to a hundreds of idiots who serve no purpose beyond frustrating you as you play time ticks higher and higher while your satisfaction ticks down equally as fast.

There's also the standard assortment of shops as you'd expect in most RPGs. You have weapon shops, armor shops, item shops, and food vendors (since Tales games always include the in/famous cooking system). However, unlike in most RPGs, the prices of these shops work on a far more complex system of supply and demand. Each town will obtain certain goods from a given location. For example, Engeve, the farming community, will grow most of the worlds produce. Thus, produce prices tend to be cheaper in Engeve than a city across the world that would need to transport their goods from Engeve. Also, you can effect the trade interactions of cities by fulfilling almost any of TotA's numerous (and fun) side quests. Additionally, other factors, such as war, can effect the prices and selection of good for sale...and the price you get for selling your collected goods.

Lastly in the towns are the important NPCs. Most of these characters are voiced, when in a plot related discussion. Some are related to the main quest, while others will blend in better with the commoners of a town and be the keys to starting or progressing a side quest. So, with such a balanced number of commoners and important NPCs in the game, you will always have plenty to hear, and very little to be upset about.

However, when you leave the static camera of a city (or dungeon) and enter the main world map, you will have something to be upset about. The world map is big...very big. It's also mostly empty. This on it's own is not too bad, except when trying to find a location for the first time (before it's added to your personal map of the world), but the fact that you move rather slowly is. Also, the world map allows for you to rotate the camera, which you will need to do to avoid missing any of the important areas. However, the world's visuals will load as you rotate the camera, so loading is a slow and lag filled endeavor.

However, to make world travel bearable, TotA includes no random battles...sort of. If you are not a fan of random battles, then TotA has a good alternative. Monsters will randomly appear on the map, but you can see them and what type of monster is in the mob before you ever begin the battle. Some monsters will actively seek the party while others will not take notice. Also, even if you are being perused, you always have the option to run from the mob before combat can begin.

The world map also offers a couple of other features. For one thing, there are the search points. While the relationship controlling skits of ToS are gone, search points take their place. If you search one of these locations, you will find an assortment of trade items. These can be exchanged at one specific store in the world that will take your trade items and give you the ability to custom order equipment based on the ingredients you've delivered. Some of the best items in the game can be found only this way. Also, you can even use these to cheaply buy the more common healing items and pieces of equipment.

The other feature of the map is the old standard of RPGs. You will obtain a boat at one point, a land traveling craft, and also an airship. All of these modes of transportation will offer the typical splendor of battle-free traveling. Later on, you're aircraft will even include the overly enjoyable ability to "autopilot" your group to any city, without having to waste time going there yourself.

Another feature of the typical exploration in TotA is the Tales staple; Skits. At various points during the game, typically with plot progression or when certain requirements are met, you will be prompted to hit the select button. This will initiate a "skit". The faces of involved party members will fill the screen as they talk to each other about various bits of background knowledge. These can range from serious (like questions between Tear and Luke about why Tear is trying to kill Van) to silly (like how if you chose to fight a battle wearing an optional swimsuit costume, why that character would chose to wear such clothing in a life or death battle). While the skits can be quite entertaining, they still suffer from the typical Tales American localization syndrome; the Japanese version had voiced skits and the American one has no voice, but the text moves in time to the voices. If you're bored with a skit...well, you're out of luck as you cannot speed the written dialogue.

The same sort of game play mechanics from world exploration continue into dungeons, but with the added puzzles involved in dungeon exploration. If you enjoyed the puzzles of ToS, then TotA is great for you. If you hate puzzles in dungeons, then TotA is also a good choice for you. Since most of the required puzzles are quick and simple, they will leave puzzle haters happy. Meanwhile, the puzzles for optional areas can lean closer to the hard side and be ideal for puzzle fans.

Beyond the puzzles, dungeons play out just like town events...except instead of pre-set NPCs, you have pre-set monster mobs waiting to kill you. You have the same static camera as you'd find in towns, and the same feeling of quick and painless exploration.

The final important element of TotA is the battle system. This is almost identical to the battle system of ToS. It is still in pseudo-3D (you move in a 2D line towards your enemy, but you can freely move with a toggled button to circle your foe) and it is still fast and furious combat that punishes button mashing with a vengeance (at least in boss fights and more difficult normal battles). You, along with up to three other party members, appear on a battle field with your enemies. The battle begins and you have control over where you character moves, and who he/she is selecting as a target. Then, if you're a combat oriented character, you can swing with a press of the X button (with combos of 3 or more hits possible in one fluid attack), guard with the square button (including special guards as you gain experience), and perform pre-set special abilities or "artes" with a combination of circle and a direction (like in Smash Bros or ToS). You can also use the right analogue stick to select pre-set artes for the other members of your group.

With a real time battle system of quick motions, you are left with the obvious; you cannot control everyone. So you have the choice of using the AI system (which can be good...but it can also be flat out f#@&-tarded) or finding a multi-tap, three extra controllers, and grabbing a few friends. Yes, TotA allows for four players to control the battles, with each person using a different character. Think of TotA as the closest game you can have to merging RPGs and party games.

The battles of TotA include two important changes from ToS and other prior Tales games. First of all, you can free target any spell. This means that you can place a spell with an area effect in the middle of a group rather than having to put it on one specific enemy. That on it's own is a massive upgrade from the ToS system.

The other important change is the FoF (Field of Fonon..."fonons" are the basic component of all matter and energy in TotA) system. When you use an elemental arte, a small ring will appear on the battle field where that arte was released. This circle, or FoF, will be aligned to a given element (the one that caused it). If you use enough arts on a given FoF, it will turn green and be a complete FoF. After this, if you, or an enemy, use a compatible arte in the completed FoF, it will be changed into a more powerful of arte. With trial and error, you will soon find compatible fonons and artes and be able to use this effect for some unique and powerful strategies.

The final aspect of TotA, as with most RPGs, is your characters. Like I said, your characters will gain artes, and they will have equipment (one weapon, one body armor, one pair of gloves, and a single accessory to augment stats, resistances, abilities, or rewards from battles). They also will gain levels with each battle (including the characters not in the battle party), and they will learn to cook new recipes and use them (along with consumed ingredients) to restore stats boost stats for upcoming battles.

However, the most important aspect of character building is the C. core system. Where ToS had you learn skills from Ex Spheres and gain extra stat increases from leveling through what titles you had equipped, TotA uses C. cores. BTW: Titles still exist and some unlock fun optional costumes, but they don't effect personal growth and instead effect minor details of how you regain HP and TP while out of battle).

C. cores are unique items that each character can equip one of. As you gain levels, these will boost any number of your six stats in a given amount. Once you've reached enough growth in one to three stats through C. core usage, you will gain new AD skills. These skills, of which there are literally dozens of, will do anything from increase your defensive abilities to increase the number of hits you can do in a single combo. Also, they can do more unique of abilities like granting the ability to chain certain artes in combos, the chance to be resurrected if killed in combat, increase resistances to status ailments, and speed up the ability to cast powerful arcane artes (spells). These will also sometimes unlock with experience levels. The level based one include the ability to use "overlimit" (think of this as an adrenaline rush), which is the only way to perform your mystic artes (super moves).

The final aspect of the game play of TotA is the side quests. Like with other Tales games, there are far more things to do than just what the basic plot gives you. Side quests will give insights into character behavior and the nature of the world. These can range from fetch missions to bonus dungeons and the Tales standard quest of obtaining swimsuits for each character. These quests are usually set to be available for only a short time window, and that is the only negative aspect...there is too much to miss if you are not following a guide.

At least if you miss any, you can always play a new game with bonuses you purchase with "grade". Grade is back from previous Tales games. Basically, the better you handle a battle, the more grade you win. If you use a lot of FoF specials, beat an enemy quickly, or use large combos, you will get more grade. If you get hurt a lot, use healing items, or die you will lose grade. At the start of a second (or third, etc) playing of TotA, you can use grade to increase earned experience, carry over your total final money, keep your world map, or keep your consumable items...and about twenty other options.

The only solid negatives of the bulk of the game play come in two forms. The first being the loading screens. The game will take between 5 and 15 seconds to load a battle, despite the battle lasting as few as 2 (literally) seconds. The other is that the normal difficulty is usually too easy and the hard difficulty (the next step up) is usually way too hard. There is no comfortable medium.


The cell shaded visuals of ToS are gone. This could be good or bad news, depending on your tastes (it was bad for me). Instead, we have some of the lesser deformed character models as seen in previous FF-styled games. While these character models look nice and are clear, they do lack a lot of the textures found on most modern RPGs. On one hand, this could be bad for visual snobs, but the simplicity looks good in action, and thus is not a detraction from the actual game.

The detraction instead comes from the world map. While dungeons and towns are some wonderfully designed visuals, the world map is bland and devoid of character. There are a few pre-set locations that have the nifty effects of sand storms, lightning, and mist. However, the bulk of the world is bland, and nearly lifeless.

However, since battles are a key aspect to Tales games, it's good to say that the effects seen in special combos, FoF abilities, and mystic artes are nothing short of amazing and fun to behold. When you see a chain of specials from one character to another, your eyes will be treated in ways that few RPGs could ever hope to accomplish.

Lastly, there are only a few real "cut scenes" in TotA. They do come in from time to time, and are viewable for posterity (via an option location) once you've seen them. They employ a nice touch of anime in an otherwise anime devoid world. However, with so few cut scenes in TotA, one could be left wondering; why were they only used in some events that really didn't need the fanciful touch of anime?


Like with most RPGs I've reviewed, this is a mixed bag. However, unlike most other reviews, it's not a quality issue as much as a quantity issue.

The music of TotA is wonderfully produced. In the end, there is not too much that is really memorable after the fact, but it is all nicely involved in the actual mood of the game. If a situation is tense, so will be the music. If a situation is sad, so will the music be. It's all very appropriate and wonderfully enjoyable. You may not walk away from TotA with any song stuck in your head...but it's more of the type of thing that's only missed when it's gone...and then it's really missed.

On the side of effects, the same could be said. The effects are all wonderfully handled, but you will not be able to pick any of them from an aural lineup.

Last of all is the voice work. There are a couple of voices that can become irritating, but all of the main parts are cast with at least as much talent as there is a lack of talent. Some lines may be acted with a little too much stiffness, but each voice seems right for each character. This even applies to your furry blue mouse-like sidekick, Meiu.

With so much praise for the audio of TotA, you may wonder where this "mixed bag" talk came from. Well, there are many instances in the American version of TotA where voice work is not present...but you KNOW it was meant to be. was present in the Japanese version. The best example of this is seen in the skits (mentioned above). You see the mouths moving, the dialogue progresses with the spoken words...but the spoken words are just not present. This, more than anything else, really kills the purpose of skits. With having no control of the dialogue progression and not even having voice work, it turns the skits into a troublesome and annoying experience.


In the end, when it's all been said, done, and played, Tales of the Abyss is definitely a solid addition to the Tales family. Especially after the bastard son, Tales of Legendia, put so much doubt into Tales fans.

The cosmetics of the game, in other words the visuals and audio, are well executed. There isn't really anything worthy of bragging rights for the Namco staff, but most importantly is that there is nothing really to be disappointed with. Well, I guess you could say one should be disappointed with the "nothing" that is found in the lack of skit voice acting. Beyond this omission, only found in the American version, the aesthetics fulfill their role perfectly.

However, the main point of interest for a Tales game has always been the game play. Once again, TotA shines like Tales of Symphonia did by reinventing the existing battle system by adding novel ideas (like FoF effects) while keeping the general feel of the pseudo-3D ToS mechanics. In fact, the entire game engine is wonderful in execution, but does suffer in the field of "nothing". Like how there is nothing to do while the game undergoes it's standard 5-15 second load times between the loading of each battle and each new map screen.

To round out this mostly solid experience, Namco took many cliché plot elements and turned them on their head. They take one of the oldest, the case of amnesia, and breath new life into it with a unique twist that on it's own could carry the plot. However, when the plot delves deeper into the philosophical realm of free-will versus determinism...nothing but net.

So, despite a few minor annoyances, TotA is an amazing game. If you're an RPG fan, than this is a must have. If you're new to RPGs, but enjoy some of the newer ones (Playstation era and later), this is once again a title worth checking out. In fact, unless you are an RPG hater or you hated ToS, then this game is worth at least a rental. I happily give Tales of the Abyss a 8.75/ would've been a 10/10 with voiced skits and the elimination of massive loading times.