When most people think of what an RPG is they imagine a game with a solid or better story buoying a flawed battle system. I don’t believe that this is actually the standard in the genre but it’s happened enough that it’s the stereotype. Tales of Graces is the opposite of this—a game with a really flawed story that keeps you playing because of its combat mechanics. I have played many titles like this as well but never found myself so annoyed at every character in a game and still had as much fun with it as I did here.
The theme of Graces F is friendship. They made a whole trailer about it and all the text on the back of the game talks about being buddies for all eternity. That’s a fine theme and there are many things you can do with it but there is just so much wrong with the execution.
The main characters in the story form a friendship pact as children, then a bad thing happens and they don’t see each other for something like 10 years. When people start trickling back into the picture, they are friends again (mostly) which is natural and fine. Then it starts to go off the rails.
One of the characters as a result of the bad thing that happened is evil and is going to destroy the world. His group of friends wring their hands and cry about it and at every turn go “NO! WE CANNOT FIGHT OUR NOW EVIL FRIEND WHO WANTS TO KILL EVERY LIVING THING AND HAS ALREADY KILLED MANY PEOPLE!” We’re not even talking about killing here, even the idea of confronting their buddy is too much to bear. I was not expecting a Suikoden II style approach but this shallow idea of what friendship means—apparently loyalty and never questioning anyone—makes the characters really annoying. They do dumb things and don’t learn from the dumb things. They’re all very immature. If you’ve played Tales of the Abyss the main character is a lot like Luke if Luke didn’t grow at all. It is very annoying.
This honestly wouldn’t be so bad but there are a huge number of cutscenes (featuring mediocre to awful voice acting) in the game that appear to exist solely to show how everyone is friendly friend friends. Luckily you can skip them once you determine whether they move the not-very-good story forward (there are a lot that don’t) and get back to the thing that makes the game worth playing: the combat.
The battle system in Graces is very different from any of the other Tales games that have been released State-side, but my understanding is that they borrow a bit from PS2 remake of Tales of Destiny. It’s official fancy name is the “Style Shift Linear Motion Battle System”, which it derives from players switching between two different types of fighting styles by using different face buttons to attack.
The fighting styles are very simply named “A” and “B” with A being more traditional physical attacks and B being spells and special moves. Mana is tossed out the window and characters have what are called Chain Capacity points, determined by level/equipment/skills and each move uses a certain amount of CC. CC recharges rapidly when you are doing nothing and meeting certain battle conditions (critical hits, weakness, etc) will add to the gauge during a combo.
A-type skills work along trees where a combination of a direction+button press with each successive skill using more CC than the last. You can’t customize them, it’s very much a traditional combo attack system. The B-type attacks are special attacks (skills with lightning, fire, etc and in the case of mages their spells) that you map to four direction+button matches. You unlock skills and power them up by using them a certain number of times and by equipping and mastering titles.
When you put all these elements together you feels like what the “it’s a fighting game!” system of Legendia tried to be and it is really, really fluid and fun. The only drawback is that free run isn’t really free–it costs you CC points–and so it can be hard to get away from an enemy quickly. It is so fun that it makes Graces absolutely worth playing through if you like RPGs even if you want to set all the characters on fire. I’ve always been a bit of a crazy-combo person and this just feeds into that perfectly. I haven’t gotten a 999 hit combo yet, sadly, but it’s on the agenda.
I enjoyed the combat so much that I even took the plunge into the extra dungeon for crazy people who like getting their ass kicked (some of the optional bosses are just ridiculously hard). I’m even contemplating another run-through to try and Platinum the game which is something I usually don’t even consider doing. I also figure that skipping nearly every cutscene or going to the kitchen for sandwiches frequently will help the second play-through experience quite a bit.
Tales of Graces F features the best combat of the series, hands down but on the flip side also the worst/most annoying story by a long shot. If you’ve been looking for a battle system to love then this game is for you but be prepared to roll your eyes to the heavens whenever people start talking.