Let's discuss Avengers: Infinity War -- a movie BOUND to make you feel so good!

August 18, 2012

Let's discuss Tales of the Abyss.

...Wait, why's he showing off his midriff?

I have a very specific rule when it comes to playing RPGs: never play them if there’s so much as a raindrop outside.  It’s a lesson that I had to learn the hard way one summer when playing through Final Fantasy 10.  I was trekking through the Macalania Woods, merry as could be, choosing to blissfully ignore the rain pounding atop the roof of my grandma’s house.  “I have nothing to fear from mere rain,” I scoffed.  “My team is steadily growing stronger -- just as I surmised, making Yuna the party’s black mage was a brilliant move.  No force on earth can stop me!”

 And then, before I could get to a save point -- mere steps away from one, most likely -- the power went out.  My progress, my EXP, all of it erased.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t taken some time out to grind for extra levels (because I’m not satisfied with my RPGs unless my party members become verifiable deities)…and it wouldn’t have been so bad if, once I’d re-leveled later and made it back to the same point, I had to shut off the game so I could go to Red Lobster with my grandma.  So basically, I had to play that section three times… but it was worth it for those Red Lobster biscuits.

I would covet my neighbor's wife for you.  Could use some midriffs, though.

Why do I bring this up?  It’s because it’s been raining quite a bit on my end -- a blessed reprieve from the summer heat -- and because of it, I’ve been momentarily stalled on finishing my playthrough of Tales of the Abyss.  It’s my intention to talk about that game one of these days; in the same sense that I tried KH1 to see if it’s aged well, I thought I’d give Abyss a whirl.  I won’t go into any grave detail, so I’ll keep this post a bit short.  And I’ll start by saying this:

Tales of the Abyss is too damn long.

I know that JRPGs are well-known for their length.  For forty to sixty dollars, you’re usually getting forty to sixty hours of gameplay.  A fair trade-off, assuming that the game’s good. And of course, there are times when you’ll be playing a game for upwards of eighty hours (like the Persona games).  I’ve logged about a hundred fifty hours at least in Star Ocean 3…though that’s mostly because I can’t beat Super Blair over in Sphere 211, even after gaining about thirty levels in one sitting.

Eddy of Light spam haunts my nightmares.  As do midriffs.

But in the case of Star Ocean, those extra hours are long after the main quest has been completed.  I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of game could have nearly a week’s worth of main content.  Even though the Persona games (3 and 4, as per my knowledge) last for quite a long time, their pacing is even and steady.  It’s a long trip, but you’re steadily moving toward finding an answer to a single issue.  And because you can’t get through the main content of the game-- at least not easily -- without tackling the easily-accessed, 100% optional, regularly-rewarding sidequests, a “change of pace” is available whenever you’re ready for it.

Tales of the Abyss isn’t quite so fortunate.  There are sidequests, of course, but they’re hardly integral to the plot or understanding of the characters/world -- and considering that important, character-developing events can be completely and irrevocably passed up, it makes the issue more glaring.  But even with that in mind, Abyss’ story and gameplay don’t lend themselves to being any longer than forty hours…and I’ve passed the fifty-hour mark on my current run.

Fifty hours of Luke's midriff.  What a delight!

I’m not saying that Abyss has a bad story.  On the contrary; it’s quite good, and I’m enjoying it as I go (though I’ve noticed it has more problems than I’d anticipated…but I’ll get to that).  The problem is that it’s not particularly even -- there are too many scenes that don’t go anywhere, too many scenes where the angst is ratcheted up, too many scenes where we have to be reminded that Luke is bothered about being a replica, too many scenes about replicas, too many scenes with exposition and technobabble…there’s just too much everything.  It not only weighs down the plot, but lessens the impact of a scene each time it’s just a rehash of an earlier scene.  It’s to the point where I kind of wish the game had the courtesy to straight-up END after the second act instead of limping along for a third.

The lynchpin of the issue lies with its main character, Luke fon Fabre.  Apparently, he’s a very divisive character in the Tales series; some love him, others hate him.  I can see why people might hate him, though; the game’s three acts are more or less a reflection (and divided by) Luke’s three “stages”.  In the first stage, he’s an arrogant, whiny, selfish rich kid.  In the second -- after inadvertently blowing up a mining town -- he’s repentant, and after a quick haircut sets out to change and make up for what he did.  Stage 2 Luke is my favorite of the bunch; he’s understandably shaken and questions himself, but he doesn’t fall prey to angst.  Instead, he focuses on what he can do.  He uses his hidden power to operate world-saving machinery, acts as an ambassador between warring countries, and not only displays concern for his fellow men but also seemingly gains a few dozen IQ points.  He’s proactive, but also thoughtful, and develops evenly over the course of the act.  Though it should be said that Stage 1 Luke isn’t necessarily awful; I have a hard time hating a character who eagerly tells the pope to piss off.

Pfft, what a maroon.  What kind of pope doesn't bare his midriff?

Stage 3 Luke is where things start going wrong, and the detractors can likely point to it as evidence.  Here’s a scenario for you: you’ve just finished going on a bombastic journey across the world with your motley crew.  You’ve gone from being a noble’s son cooped up in a manor to (after discovering you’re a clone of the real noble’s son), in no particular order, an ambassador who’s effectively ended a war, a swordsman that can cleave through mechs, a symbol of hope for the people, a maintenance technician for the entire planet, a symbol of hope for the people, an ally of one of the highest authorities in the church, a symbol of hope for dozens, including politicians as well as townsfolk, a warrior capable of trumping your teacher (albeit with the typical four-on-one ganking common in RPGs), and the virtual savior of every living being on the planet from continental collapse and tumble into a poisonous underworld.  If I’d gone through all of that, I’d resign to a quiet life of mediation and humble instruction, passing on my knowledge and skill to future heroes -- though of course, I’d spring into action whenever needed, be it ambassador work or slice-and-dice diplomacy.

Stage 3 Luke has a different plan.  He just develops an inferiority complex, becomes resentful and ashamed to be alive, and wonders -- frequently -- why he’s alive and what he’s supposed to do.

Seriously, Luke?  I mean…fucking seriously?

Mo' midriff, mo' money, mo' meandering angst and aims at martyrdom.

I would be perfectly all right with Stage 3 Luke being skipped completely -- or just taking his issues and fusing them with Stage 2 Luke.  Because really, there are some important and interesting ideas that the game’s third act brings to the table; they’re just handled poorly.  I get that replicas have to face some questions that would leave even a room full of philosophers stunned into silence; hearing Luke spend every other cutscene (often more frequent than that) put himself down doesn’t make for a compelling character or tale -- to say nothing of the fact that his drive takes a nosedive while others do the thinking for him, which is something Stage 2 Luke grew out of before the end of Act 2.

There’s also a severe gameplay imbalance.  The “too many cutscenes” issue leads to there being a dearth of dungeon exploration -- and when you do eventually get to go to a dungeon, there’s often not a boss waiting for you.  This is less of a problem at the start of the game than it is in the later parts, and that’s exacerbated by you going back to a couple of dungeons to conduct a largely unimportant investigation.  I view fights -- and the victory that comes with them -- as more of a reward in Tales games than the cutscenes that tend to follow.  Why the developers would choose to tuck those away behind hours of backtracking to previously visited towns -- towns, not dungeons -- to listen to the same general conversations is a baffling decision.  It’s padding, plain and simple.  And bad padding, at that.

Midriff midriff midriff midriff midriff midriff midriff...

But even so, I can’t bring myself to hate the game.  I like it a lot, even with its nitpick-begging issues (and make no mistake, I WILL nitpick this game eventually).  Is it perfect?  No.  Does it overstay its welcome?  Yes.  Is it worthy of the hate heaped on it?  That’s subjective, but I’d argue no.  Is it fun?  It may sag at times, but for the most part, yes.

That’ll do for now.  See you arou-

Oh wait, there’s one more thing I don’t like about this game: Ion seriously sucks.  He’s bad.  Just…bad

Thanks to him, the word "midriff" has lost all its power.  


  1. I got a buddy of mine in to the Persona series and, in return, he got me in to the Tales series. Abyss was the first one I picked up as I was informed by various sources that it was one of the best in the series, but after 20 hours of absolutely zero story progression and Luke being a complete bitch, I took a break. One of these days I'll head back in, but it'll have to wait.

  2. I'd definitely recommend getting back into the game. Stage 2 Luke (and with it the second part of the game) are probably the best, in the sense that you're accessing new content regularly and the plot moves at a more-than-tolerable pace. There are certainly worse things you can do with your time, at least.

    Barring that, there are still plenty of other Tales games out there for you to grab if you want; with the exception of Dawn of the New World, I'd heartily recommend any one of them (though even DotNW isn't THAT bad). I personally have a soft spot for Tales of Symphonia on the GameCube...though that's partly because my brother and I keep quoting Kratos. "Don't die, Lloyd" and "Aren't we clever?" are two common ones.

  3. Oh, since starting the game I've picked up almost all of them lol. I love the combat systems and generally the stories that go with them, but Abyss was the first one I actually purchased. Symphonia for Gamecube was pretty fantastic as was Vesperia for the 360. The only two console releases I have little to no exposure to are the original two Destiny titles. I think part of what made Abyss go by at a constipated pace was the lack of grinding I did early on. I'd plow through dungeons only to either die from a boss or escape with 1 or 2 party members alive. I definitely plan on delving back in, but Capcom has my PS3 on lockdown right now with Dragon's Dogma.

  4. In this Abyss playthrough, I've found that Natalia can actually be a pretty useful party member if you build her stats correctly (and don't mind playing as a princess). Give her a capacity core that boosts her attack power, and she can eventually lay waste to enemies anywhere on the field -- and since Luke and Guy can draw enemy fire, you're free to buff yourself and gain even MORE attack power. Even the third Sword Dancer's a snap with a powered-up princess.

    Anywah, I admit that I haven't played the Destiny titles either -- nor have I gone out of my way to look for fan reactions/opinions...though I'm assuming that the solid pedigree holds true. Generally speaking, though, I think the Tales series needs more notoriety and respect; The people who claim JRPGs are dead are likely looking in the wrong places...

  5. No.

    I refuse to believe that green-haired individual with pigtails, high heels, and a freaking gown is a dude. No.

    Seriously, why do developers keep doing this? There's a difference between creating complex characters that shatter preconceived notions about masculinity and femininity, and this crap.

  6. Oh, you think that's bad? Wait till you hear him speak.

  7. Around that time you had a steady flow of JRPGs that the market just became saturated with garbage like Eternal Poison. The PS2 is a haven for some really fantastic JRPGs though, what with the Shin Megami series, Suikoden 3, both Tales games, the Shadow Hearts series, Disgaea, etc. It was a great time to be an RPG fan overall, much like the end of the PSone era.

    For most bosses in Abyss I tend to use Luke and Guy to draw fire and damage crap with Natalia and Tear focusing on healing (with Natalia assisting with her bow only) and outside of taking an extra 2 or 3 minutes to down them, I'm not running in to any trouble at all. It was really just prior to Natalia where the bosses were letting me know that I should be spending more time grinding and less time staring at Luke's abs like a train wreck. Full shirts or GTFO.

  8. The midriff, it compels you...it invites you into its lair...and just when you're about to snap out of your trance...IT STRIKES!