Namco Bandai's Tales franchise has come a long way since it was first created in 1995. The console fantasy role-playing game series now spans 12 titles and four animated works, a celebration of anime and Japanese culture featuring a handful of charming, childlike characters that populate an array of colorful fantasy environments.
Tales of Graces is the latest title in the series, released in Japan on the Wii in December last year and coming to the PlayStation 3 later this year (named Tales of Graces F). The game follows protagonist Asbel in his quest for greater strength and wisdom (did we mention it was a Japanese RPG?), a journey we were able to share with him during our recent hands-on session with the PS3 version of the game at Tokyo Game Show 2010.
The Japanese-only demo began with a cutscene depicting our tiny heroes battling an enormous flylike creature before making a rather narrow escape. The game takes place on Efinea, a planet dominated by three kingdoms competing for the right to rule. After losing a close friend, Asbel, the eldest son of a feudal lord, enlists in a knight’s academy in his kingdom’s capital to learn to better protect those he loves. After his father’s death, Asbel takes his place as a feudal lord and the adventure begins.
As in other Tales games, Tales of Graces doesn’t use a traditional world map; rather, you journey from town to town using interconnected locations, parts of which you have to unlock to proceed. During our short demo, we travelled around in a forest locale; our path was blocked in several directions, and only by doing battle with several of the forest creatures could we unlock new directions.
Entering battles proved easy enough: We literally had to walk into the creature we wanted to fight. Although Asbel was journeying alone during our demo, once we entered a battle, we found his friends came to his aid. During battles, you can switch among these different characters using the D pad; characters come with their own individual abilities and weapons.
Because the demo was in Japanese, the battle system was a little hard to grasp. The first few battles were tutorials, where we learned the artes attack (artes being a substance used by the people of Efinea) and something called the burst attack. The game uses the SS-LMBS (Style Shift Linear Motion Battle System); in this system, each character can choose between two different fighting styles. The set of moves using artes are predetermined; however, you can also choose from another set of attacks and switch between the two in the middle of a battle. Don’t ask us how this is actually done because we couldn’t figure it out.
We did figure out that characters can free run (L2) and do a nifty 360-degree side step around enemies (square button plus the direction you want to go in). The demo was very lenient and taught us how to choose between our assigned weapons (triangle button), but once again, we got lost in the language barrier and could only work out that at least one of the weapons was a sword. As for the others, we couldn’t tell (one looked like a chess board and another looked like an ironing board, but we’re guessing that’s not correct).
As we progressed through the forest, we found the battles got harder, with more creatures to fight, and the game demanded a set number of combos to gain the experience points needed to progress. This was rather fun: The battles were not hard, and the bright colors and lighting effects made the whole thing visually pleasing.
After our demo ended, we took a sneaky look at our neighbor and saw a screen where you can assign the experience points earned to different character attributes and abilities, but we had to leave it there because the line to play the game had already stretched around the corner.
Given the Wii version of Tales of Graces sold 143, 215 units in its first week of sale in Japan, we have no doubt the PS3 version is setting the same course for success.