Tales of the Abyss 3D - Staff Review  

The Call of the Wild
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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40-60 Hours
+ Quick and fun fighting
+ Engrossing cast and tale
+ Interesting dungeons
- Outstays its welcome
- Pretty linear
- Excessively talky in spots
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   Perhaps Tales of the Abyss 3D will come to be seen as a harbinger of things to come. As a PS2 game recreated with no problems on the 3DS, it could well signify that Nintendo's latest handheld will be populated with huge quantities of Sony ports in the not too distant future. Even if that does not occur, Abyss is a welcome addition to the meager library of the system. Hopefully it will not remain almost alone in that status for too long.

   Abyss begins with a very self-centered young man named Luke being abducted from his state of palatial captivity during an attempted assassination of his combat instructor. The attempted assassin, a controlled young woman named Tear, takes it upon herself to convey the naive and narcissistic Luke back to his home. Doing so is made rather difficult due to political instability and religious strife, not to mention Luke's superior ability to infuriate those he engages in conversation.

   The six characters who make up Abyss's battle party are a varied and well-defined bunch. Initially they seem to conform to simple stereotypes, but the script does a good job of individuating their personalities as events progress. Beyond the core sextet's character development, the narrative's success gets a bit spottier, but more from the sheer amount of material it tackles than anything going horribly wrong. Fate versus free will, the justification for killing others, cloning, discrimination, religious extremism, and nature versus nurture are among the myriad issues brought up as the plot proceeds. Naturally some of these thorny subjects receive much more attention than others, and the treatment they receive is often talky without any great wisdom to impart. The narrative is nevertheless interesting enough to sustain player involvement even when it veers toward preachiness.

   Abyss is oddly structured: every sign indicates that it is over, and yet it begins again late in the proceedings. What could have been completed in under forty hours is stretched to around fifty by this extension, most of which could easily have been slotted into the earlier portion of the game with some judicious script editing. The sprawling narrative also keeps the proceedings on a fairly tight leash, with numerous occasions when the player will be restricted from travel because it's not the right time. Plenty of side content is available in Abyss, and much of it is quite interesting, but the game has to be at the right plot juncture to let ancillary moments become available.

What What's going on? It does help to play the game in order to understand this madness.

   Tales of the Abyss uses a combat engine somewhat similar to a 3D fighting game with a lot of characters onscreen simultaneously. The player directly controls one member of the party, while the other three present for each battle do their own thing as dictated by AI, which can be changed somewhat if desired. The one character under direct control can attack enemies using quick-hitting combos and special moves that can be cancelled if an enemy counters at just the wrong time. The system is not particularly deep, since getting an attack launched instead of being knocked down often depends on the speed with which the attack button is mashed, but nevertheless is entertaining. The player can also choose to block or run around the battlefield to avoid attacks. The proceedings move quickly and efficiently, with frenetic pyrotechnics that do not outlast their welcome making the whole engagement visually entertaining. A good variety of enemies is present to help reduce the possibility of losing interest, which is already slim when the onscreen pandemonium is pleasant to partake of. Enemies may not be terribly intelligent but they often hit hard with great persistence, keeping the encounters from feeling like pushovers.

   Two things were added to Tales of the Abyss in its 3D incarnation. One is the use of the touch screen, usually for a quite convenient map. Other functions added to the touch screen such as shortcuts for character attacks in battle are not vital, but turn out to be useful anyway. The other addition stems from the game now being 3D: emulating such recent touchstones as Titanic and Finding Nemo, Namco has added the third dimension to something not designed with that in mind. The result is an ugly mess, but keeping the 3D bar off will remove it from the proceedings. Something that was not added for a portable platform is the ability to save anywhere, and its lack will make players grateful for the sleep mode of the 3DS.

   Without glaringly extraneous 3D added, Tales of the Abyss looks acceptable. On the PS2 its slowdown was notorious, but the 3DS has thankfully removed most of it, but the game world is not visually captivating even so. The various environments all look distinct and the journey never threatens to become visually bland, but the level of detail in the visuals is not high enough to make them particularly attractive.

How Mieu is able to stand when its head is bigger than its body is a mystery. How Mieu is able to stand when its head is bigger than the rest of its body is a mystery.

   Motoi Sakuraba and Shinji Tamura turn in a nicely varied score for Abyss. A few of the tracks are more annoying than captivating, while a few more are simply unmemorable. The majority are fortunately quite enticing, with the rather large variety most appreciated given the game's length. The game also features a considerable amount of voice acting, most of which is no less than competent in performance.

   Picking up items and equipment is a painless process in Abyss, though the limitation on carrying large quantities of healing supplies can require frequent restocking. The game's airship is a rather slow-moving contraption that is easily stymied by environmental hazards that take lots of time to skirt, however. There is also no means of traveling instantly between locations until late in the game, which often makes for long sessions of walking through familiar areas. This is helpfully balanced by frequent automatic changes in location, plus streamlined and effective menu usage for other aspects.

   Tales of the Abyss combines an interesting plot with a stimulating combat system. For quite awhile its issues struck me as relatively minor, since the ride was rather entertaining. Abyss went on longer than ideal, though, which soured me slightly on the experience. The game makes for quite an entertaining trip, but one with a lot of filler time near the end.

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