This one's been a long time coming, but here are my final thoughts on Tales of the Abyss 3DS. For those who might be new to the blog and this series, my RPG Retrospective is a look at RPG's of prior generations (or, as in this case, ported over to newer consoles/handhelds) to see how well they hold up today. When we left off, things weren't looking great for Tales of the Abyss. Despite some pretty good combat and downright beautiful graphics, the list of annoyances was piling up fast. Will the game pull through in the end, or will it continue with its downward trend? Only reading on (or possibly playing the gam) will tell.
This section is devoted briefly to the amount of cheesy RPG cliches you'll find in each game I feature here. Practically a fault of nearly every RPG throughout the years has been certain cliches that pop up time and time again. Other genres have their own, but in a genre wherein you'll likely spend dozens of hours with each game, it's good to know this in advance.
This game is one great big souffle of JRPG cheese. There's nary a trace of manliness or beards to be found on any of the male characters. There's a typical high-pitched annoying little shit that some developer or producer thought was "cute" (I'm calling it the Jar-Jar Binks Effect). There are teenagers fighting wars practicallly single-handed. Every anime character cliche you can think of is here in spades. It can be a little overwhelming at times, but in a sense, this is exactly what some people might want out of a JRPG. It's comfort food for anyone who wants a safe, familiar actiony-JRPG. Personally, I was hoping for a little bit more than that, but to each their own.
I should note here that about halfway through the game, Tales of the Abyss does its damnedest to turn some of the character cliches on their heads. It's not entirely effective, but they do get points for trying. And while I never quite care for the protagonists, they do develop into more fleshed-out, evolving characters as time goes on. Some of the plot elements as well are a little heavier than I expected, a pleasant surprise to say the least. While the political and religious intrigue isn't exactly Shakespearean, it's definitely welcome. Although there is a liberal sprinkling of RPG cheese throughout the individual moments and characters, at least the overall plot genuinely has some great thought behind it and feels quite unique.
One of the biggest attractions of a great RPG is in its replayabilty. Are there lots of hidden items, fights, or additional goodies to find that could significantly alter a playthrough? Is there a New Game+? Is the story great enough to revisit, or is it hell to trudge through?
One thing I love about the Tales series is that there's a ton of stuff to do and see outside of the main quest. Abyss is no different. To start, the world is huge, with lots of locations and dungeons to explore. There's a fascinating economics system that allows prices of town goods to rise and fall depending on certain subquests as well as your progress through the game. And those subquests? Plentiful, sometimes interesting, sometimes not.
There's a cool feature of the series making a return here called the Grade Shop. Each battle in the game nets you a certain amount of points dependant on how well you do in that battle. Those grade points are tallied up, and upon completion of the game and loading up a cleared save file, you can access the Grade Shop before the new game begins. This allows you to purchase all manner of game altering conditions, such as double gold (or gald) or grade earned. Alternately, you can purchase conditions that allow you to transfer over elements of your old game, such as consumable items or your battle data. The trick is that you're not generally going to be able to purchase everything in your first go-around. It's a neat little feature for those who want more of the game for their buck.
As to whether or not you'd actually want to go back through Abyss is really the question. As mentioned, the overarching story is pretty great, and the game world really does have some great intrigue and places to explore. But if you're at all turned off by anime cliches and some pretty atrociously bad dialogue, replaying this game is going to be hell. Personally, I started up a New Game Plus and I look forward to revisiting the world eventually. I've got many other RPGs on my plate, but I think I can look past the initial character inadequacies and eventually come back to the game for a longer, more thorough exploration of everything Abyss has to offer.
Overall Quality, Then and Now
I didn't play Tales of the Abyss when it was first released on the PS2, but I have played other Tales games before. I think it soundly trumps Tales of Symphonia on all possible levels, and it feels like a natural, evolved version of that game. I don't quite like it as much as I liked Tales of Vesperia (which was released years after Abyss), but I honestly think I prefer Abyss's visual style to Vesperia, which is pretty amazing when you consider that Abyss was a PS2 game and Vesperia was released on modern consoles. There's also something to be said for Abyss's additional content and the way it's more evenly spread out than Vesperia's. However, I'd say Vesperia has the better characters and has far fewer cringe-inducing moments.
As it stands, this is a great handheld game regardless of its brethren. I know most people want something they can pick up and play for just a few moments on their handheld, but if you're looking for something more, something meatier? This is a truly quality game despite it doing its damnedest to annoy the piss out of me.
Total Value Versus Accessibility
Amazon has the game currently listed at $39.99 for the 3DS. I picked up my copy for about ten bucks less than that, but $40 seems like it's been the game's median price since its release. Given that it's a relatively obscure title, I can't imagine the game receiving multiple prints, but I might be wrong. As it stands, $40 is a good entry point for this game. According to the game clock, I put in about 70 hours into it, which equates to a nice hours-to-cost ratio.
That said, the hours you put into Abyss won't mean a damn thing if you don't enjoy them. While the game might initially discourage players with its stubborn adherence to both JRPG and anime cliches, in the end, I'd say the game is worth a look at the very least. I enjoyed it and thought it was one of the best handheld RPG's I've played. Even if you don't enjoy the action-RPG genre, you might at least have some fun inventing a drinking game for every time some random, eye-rollinglyJapanese moment occurs.