TOKYO--Namco's Tales series of role-playing games returns to consoles with Tales of the Abyss for the PlayStation 2. At the Tokyo Game Show, we got a chance to tool around with a short demo of the game. In its look and feel, this one seems to follow closely along with the Tales of Symphonia formula--not at all a bad thing, since that was a great game to begin with.
We started out moving through a green forest, where a young blue-haired woman in priestess garb is surrounded by a pack of monsters. She lifts a hand, which glows with a bright light, and then calls forth a curtain of magic that whisks the enemies away, all performed in a very neat and tidy way. She's discovered by two characters, a woman (who's tromping around in high heels despite all this rustic "journey through the forest" business) and a red-haired young man by the name of Luke, who seems to be the chief protagonist this time around. Once the magic-user is found to be safe, the group joins together and moves deeper through the trees. They discover a hollowed-out tree, which proves to be home to a tribe of rabbitlike creatures with tiny fluffy bodies and long, tufted ears. One such creature joins up with the party as they then move out again to further explore the forest.
The battle system is done in what is by now the classic Tales formula. An open battlefield lets your characters move freely in all directions as you close in on your foes. Each character has a number of skill abilities that you can assign to different button combinations on the controller, like left and x, down and x, and so on. You can use these abilities to chain powerful attacks, and your teammates will assist you based on their AI settings, which you can adjust via the menus both inside and outside of battle.
Along with the magic-user and She of the Impractical Shoes, we had another few characters with us that we could swap in and out of fights, including a bespectacled man and a little girl mounted on a giant stuffed cat, whose big button eyes and irregular stitching could inspire terror in even in the coldest of hearts. The enemies we did battle with were readily visible on the area map, and we could maneuver to avoid them if we so chose. A new wrinkle, though, was that fluffy rabbitlike creature we agreed to take along with us. She spit fireballs (a useful skill in a critter that's otherwise imminently edible and lacking any natural defense), and we could harness that power for our own benefit. When coming up on an enemy from behind on the area map, we could whip out our little bunny pal and torch them, which would then make that group of enemies a bit easier to defeat.
The look is also classic Tales, with characters that tend to be cute and perhaps slightly superdeformed, rather than people with realistic proportions and a more serious mien. Japanese Tales fans will be able to call this game their own on December 15. Nothing has been mentioned about a North American release date as of yet. We'll be sure to keep you up to date in all matters concerning the world of flammable and fluffy creatures, so keep your eyes on this gamespace for the latest news from TGS and beyond.