Friday, March 23, 2012

Gracefully Stepping Aside

In the past, David and I have shared the various ways in which a game ends up on the backlog.  Often, it starts with a good game that we put down and just happen to never get back around to.  Sometimes, it's a game that ends up frustrating you so badly after a boss fight or random encounter that you don't want to look at it again for the indefinite future, and, unlike Devil Summoner 2, doesn't have a bitchin' enough soundtrack to keep you coming back for more.

Unfortunate for my pride, but fortunate for my eardrums!
And of course, with no shortage of good games having come out in the past few years, it's easy to push aside a respectable game in interests of another, never to get back to it.  All of this is, of course, ignoring the everyday factors of life such as work, school, family, or other obligations.

What we haven't discussed at length, is this rare case:  Occasionally, a game gets put on the backlog because it's just too good.  You're scared to let it consume you because you know that after finishing it, it will be hard to find another game in your stack that measures up to it.  Enter Tales of Graces f.  While I have no shortage of excellent games from the Tales series, Graces, which sports one of the best combat systems in the series, has (at least early on), fairly likable characters, and is a rare case of us getting a "final mix" of a games distinguishes it as one of the better games in the series.

Unfortunately, it also risks diminishing the experience of the other Tales games I have.

Tales of Unfinished Business

Under normal circumstances, Tales games tend to disappear from my backlog fairly quickly.  In fact, the "too good to keep playing" phenomena has happened twice before (albeit for different reasons) with two other games in the series.  Let's examine the games which still remain on my backlog from this series:

Tales of Destiny II

I'm not referring to the English release (better known as Tales of Eternia), but the true sequel to the original ToD.  I ordered this game alongside Super Robot Wars Alpha 2, and while I finished the latter, I actually made a significant amount of progress in this game first.  Due to my limited understanding of Japanese at the time (which has only grown worse, sigh..), and wanting to understand the story better, I opted to put this one to the side, in hopes that the translation FAQ that was up would eventually be updated to completion.

Yeah, that still hasn't happened.

Tales of Rebirth

This was a purchase I made while in graduate school, and similar to ToD2, had any progress in it (significantly less than the aforementioned game) halted when I saw yet another translation guide in the works.  Unlike ToD2, a complete translation exists of this game's script, although now there seems to be a translation patch in the works.  It's likely that I'll start hammering away at this one soon, though. .

Tales of the World:  Radiant Mythology
As a fan of crossovers, you'd think I'd be a fan of a Tales one, right?  Well I never finished this one.  Why?  Because fuck Mormo, that's why.

You belong in Pokemon, not Tales

Tales of Vesperia

I bought Vesperia as one of my first games when I initially purchased an XBox 360.  Suffice to say, I was not disappointed.  However, Vesperia suffered a similar problem as Graces:  Compared to the other games I had at the time, it was just too good for me to keep playing.  I figured it would be wiser to go back and finish a few older games before I tackled Vesperia again.

Unlike my dear friend Canadian Wench, I tend to finish more Tales games than not.  Phantasia, Destiny, Eternia, Symphonia, Abyss, Symphonia:  Dawn of the New World were all games that, with the exception of one, never actually made it to the backlog in the first place (Symphonia is the game in question, and one that I played nearly to its end within a week of purchase before I moved and left it at home).

So I know that if I sit down and play a Tales game, I'm going to finish it quicker than anything else I own.  In the case of Graces, this can be a detriment.

Tales of Evolution

Before purchasing Graces, I had heard people repeatedly praise its combat as "one of the best" in the Tales series.  Honestly, I didn't pay the game much mind.  Aside from liking the design of the main character, Asbel, nothing really grabbed me about the game.  Even when I popped it in after purchase, I didn't see what the big fuss about the combat was:  Sure, the Chan Capacity system, which takes the place of the TP system for Artes was interesting, but it was similar to what Destiny 2 did.  The Artes Tree system was kind of cool, but also felt limited.  Furthermore, you started off playing a few of the main characters in their childhood, which made for a bit of a snooze fest.  I was starting to feel misled.

After some events, a time skip occurs, and you're playing as an 18-year old Asbel some years later.  You're immediately thrust into another tutorial battle.  With age, comes some degree of wisdom and skill.  It also comes with a pretty big damn overhaul to the combat system.  Asbel goes from flailing a rusty sword around with a limited moveset sporting names like "Bell Ringer" to, well, being able to do something like this:

Traditionally, Tales games, with a few deviations, maps special attacks (or Artes) to a single button and specific direction.  For the novice player, it usually means that, in spite of a character having anywhere from 15-20 different special moves or spells, you're realistically picking four and using them over and over again.  Abyss and Vesperia changed this up somewhat with allowing more moves to be mapped as well as the extensions, but it took some getting used to.

Graces, by contrast, separates your artes into A(ssault) artes and B(urst) artes.  The A-artes are what you see in the initial part of the game:  artes that chain into different combos depending on the direction pressed, the sequence in the chain, and the CC expended.  In the case of the adult Asbel, B-artes are the traditional Tales staple that are mapped between a button press and direction.  For Asbel, most of his A-artes follow his default combat style, where he attacks with a sheathed sword and some hand-to-hand, while his B-artes use his "iron stance":  Fighting with his weapon unsheathed (activating it is similar to doing an iaido strike), making for some pretty interesting variations.

My explanation may not be the best, but here was my impression:  I went from using a kid flailing around with his sword to a bad-ass who can switch styles quickly on the fly, and do some pretty awesome combos?  Talk about a game changer.

But that's only scratching the surface.  While it might seem like a minute thing, Graces makes it much easier to switch between characters on the fly in the middle of combat (done by simply pressing up, down, left, or right on the direction pad):  Why it took this many games to get it right is beyond me, but it certainly gives me more of an incentive to want to use other characters.

There are tons of other nice little touches and improvements on the formula that make Graces a title I'm sure to enjoy.  Which brings us full circle to why I've had to set it aside.

Concluding Thoughts:  Setting a Good Thing Aside

When I finally got to the part of Graces that unlocked B-artes for characters, I asked my good friend, Nick the following question:

"How am I supposed to return to ToV after this?"
"You.. don't."

While this isn't a knock against Vesperia, there was some wisdom in his words.  I had actually tried to pick up Vesperia a few months ago and had a harder time than normal getting back into it (more likely than not, due to forgetting where I was in the game).  And while the game certainly has one of the best protagonists in the series, I started to worry how much more difficult it'd be to go back to playing it after experiencing Graces.

Then I thought about Destiny 2.

Rebirth, that little-played gem, also received some attention.

At that point, I realized that if I continued playing through Graces, a considerably shorter game, I might risk spoiling the experience of the other games, which might impede me actually completing them.

So with a heavy heart, I removed Graces f from my PS3.  In the end, maybe I'll return to it after attempting to pick up my other Tales titles and giving them another try.  But that is a tale--I mean post, for another time.

Except for Radiant Mythology

No comments: