"Tales of the Abyss is still an entertaining role-playing game, but poor 3D makes this handheld version slightly disappointing."
UK REVIEW--In its short life, the 3DS has seen a number of 3D-enhanced ports. It's understandable; after all, certain games are given a new lease on life with the 3DS's visual trickery. Tales of the Abyss isn't one of these games. It is, however, just as good a role-playing game as it was when originally released. Packed with a wealth of content, a great script, and a surprisingly dark story, it has a lot to offer even if the central focus of its rerelease leaves a lot to be desired.
The game may look nice here, but in 3D it's a different story.
Set on the planet Auldrant, Abyss tells the story of Luke Fon Fabre, a sheltered sort who, when the game begins, is confined to his family's mansion for his own safety after a sinister kidnapping incident seven years prior. Of course, it's not long before he's thrown from his comfortable life, forced to face up to some startling truths about himself, his folks, and the world at large. What initially starts off as a fish-out-of-water scenario quickly descends into something more sinister, and in true RPG tradition, saving the world becomes the order of the day.
Abyss' plot is an enjoyable one, constantly offering up twists and turns, enriched by an excellent cast of characters. There's Tear, Luke's sensible ward, and Jade, the mysterious older necromancer. Then there's Guy, a valiant knight and combat expert hindered only by his debilitating fear of women, and Mieu, the small creature called a Cheagle who's frequently the target of Luke's ire. Luke himself is highly obnoxious, at least at first, and the way the other characters riff off his behavior is entertaining. Early on, the game is laugh-out-loud funny, even while playing on concepts of privilege, mortality, and trauma. Later on, the plot gets considerably darker, but even then the traditional Tales charm and humor shine through. It's refreshing to see a central character who manages to be irritating and endearing, and the writing deserves high praise.
Combat is typical Tales fare. Fights take place on a 3D plane, and your character's path to an enemy is fixed by default in 2D, with a button press letting you run around the arena at will. The 3DS controls are tight and precise, with the circle pad well suited to the slightly rigid feel of combat. Basic attacks are performed with the A button, while special attacks (artes) can be mapped to the B button plus the directional pad. Additional artes can also be mapped to the touch screen, which is especially handy when, for instance, you want a noncontrolled party member to use a healing spell or a magic attack that requires a charge.
The fighting itself starts off fairly simple but increases in complexity with the addition of exceptionally powerful mystic artes (essentially a character's unique special move) and the Field of Fonons system. The FOF system involves colored rings appearing on the ground. These are powered by any artes that have one of six corresponding elements, and when they appear, you can perform a regular arte attack inside them to unleash a more powerful elemental attack. It's not a major combat mechanic by any means; it's more an additional feature that, with correct utilisation, can give a handy advantage in battle.
Even more important are the capacity cores, which are collectible items that can be equipped on characters. These capacity cores give a character a stat bonus in certain areas (different for each core), meaning that you can equip cores to shape your character in a certain way. One core could improve a character's regular attack and defence, for example, while another could do the same but for artes. The capacity cores also allow characters to learn AD skills, essentially perks that take the form of bonuses or special moves, which can be equipped or disabled in the menu.
The combat system is deep and fun, and it works well on the 3DS.
There's a decent amount of depth, and this extends to the gameworld itself. Abyss is a game that doesn't skimp on content, and alongside the main plot, there are numerous side quests and missions to undertake. These often require you to help out townsfolk, and lead to being rewarded with currency, items, or titles, which can be applied to characters to alter their stats and appearance. There's also the usual Tales cooking system, which lets you collect ingredients and recipes to make food that offers various status effects.
Abyss is an enjoyable RPG and proof that the Tales games age well. The visuals are sharp and crisp, looking wonderful on the small handheld screen. Unfortunately, this applies only when playing the game in 2D. With the 3D slider on, it's an entirely different matter. The 3D effects are handled terribly, with everything from the perspective to the character models looking totally wrong. It's far too noticeable that the game wasn't originally designed with 3D in mind. Dialogue boxes float at the forefront of the screen, often a considerable distance away from the characters, creating a disorienting depth-of-field effect.
Protagonist Luke Fon Fabre manages to be both obnoxious and endearing.
Then there are the character models, which look awful with the 3D slider on. They're messy, out of focus, and lack any of the clarity seen when the slider is off. Testing various slider settings on the 3DS yields no better results, and the game can become painful to play for long periods of time. It's a shame, because in battle the 3D adds some depth to the arena, which in theory should make fights clearer with a better chance to judge perspective, but in reality it's little more than an uncomfortable annoyance. In the 3DS version, you can no longer play the battles cooperatively with friends, and while losing the minor multiplayer aspects isn't a huge deal, it's another reason this port may not appeal over the original.
The short conversations called skits, which are a staple of the Tales series, are a little overused here. In other Tales games, they provide some enjoyable, additional dialogue between the characters. Here they're relentless and often appear one after another in such rapid-fire succession that, should you wish to watch them all and not miss out on any of the plot, you find yourself having to stop every couple of minutes to watch another. They're as charming and entertaining as always, but the sheer abundance of them means there's a temptation to ignore that little indicator in the corner. Disappointingly, there's still no English voice acting for the skits, as was the case with the PlayStation 2 version, and it's a bit jarring when the game flips between fully voiced dialogue and reams of silent text. What voice acting the game has is of high quality, though, as is the musical score, which sounds great even through the 3DS's small speakers.
Despite the lacklustre port, the game is far from Abyss-mal.
Despite being a rather disappointing port, Tales of the Abyss is still likable. Not much is lost by simply switching the game to 2D and appreciating it for what it is: an enjoyable handheld version of a very good Tales game that we've not seen in this region before. But for those who have already played the game on the PS2, it's harder to recommend a repeat purchase when the central new feature actively makes the game worse. Nonetheless, it's an enjoyable, engrossing RPG with plenty of content and is worth a look if you've never played it before.
An excellent script, equal parts comedy and tragedy