It was four minutes into Tales of Graces f that I met the amnesiac with the impossible purple pigtails. She didn't know who she was, or where she came from, or anything really. She was a deadly martial artist, but nearly walked right off a cliff. Later she asked the meaning of the word "friend." I threw up in my mouth a little and realized that Graces f would be a tale quickly forgotten. In hindsight, I guess the cover art should have served as warning.
But if the whole game boiled down to waiting for the kid in the Elvis getup to realize that the king is possessed by a demon, I wouldn't have played it for almost ninety hours. Yes, a lot of time is wasted running errands through copy-paste corridors while the characters say how they feel and explain magical jargon. But then you run into a giant spider, and the kids' anime story melts away for a few seconds of glorious battle.
I'll even say that Tales of Graces f has my favorite RPG combat, taking the crown from predecessor Tales of Symphonia. Graces f layers new abilities and limitations onto Symphonia's melee-and-magic arena skirmishes, and the end result is a more dynamic structure that makes earlier games in the series look like button mashing. It's also complicated as hell.
The long-awaited localization of two high profile JRPGs has delighted the dwindling Wii fanbase. After years of holding out, Nintendo was finally convinced to bring potential hits Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story to the new world by distribution partners GameStop and XSEED, respectively. The orchestrators of last year's Operation Rainfall fan campaign deserve a pat on the back (though I was doing it before it was cool).
But another Wii JRPG topped my personal wishlist, then and now: Tales of Graces. The Tales series' claim to fame is its thrilling real-time battles, and Tales of Graces looked like the next evolution of that combat system. Months turned into years as I waited for a localization announcement, eventually accepting the improbability of my playing the game.
Fortunately, Namco Bandai's love for milking the Tales series eventually prevailed; late last year, the PlayStation 3 port of Tales of Graces was confirmed for release here in North America. I've built up some expectations, no doubt aggravated by the years of waiting. For me, these first sixty minutes of Tales of Graces F weigh more heavily than a JRPG intro should. Does it crack under the pressure?
As you might expect from someone whose primary consoles went from Genesis to N64 and Gamecube, Japanese RPGs have never been my forte. Though I've played bits and pieces of many, I'm having a hard time thinking of a traditional JRPG cast in the menu-driven, Final Fantasy mold that I've started and finished all by myself. Chrono Trigger may be the only title that comes to mind.
Many of the RPGs from the land of the rising sun that I've completed are better described as Action RPGs (The World Ends With You, Mario & Luigi series). And if I had to name a favorite, it would probably be Tales of Symphonia. This Gamecube exclusive from Namco quickly enamored me with its excellent mix of real time combat and menu-based management. I don't think I'd ever had so much fun in a JRPG: the exciting dodges, blocks, and combos in brawls on the front lines were perfectly complemented by magic, item, and strategy commands for party members through the pause menu. It's the finest marriage of Action and RPG I've come across.
I've only played the two Symphonia-branded titles in the storied Tales series, so I decided it was time to pick up another. I remembered hearing about Tales of Legendia for the PS2 back when it hit shelves for the first time, so I figured I'd pick it up now that I'm in the mood for a fat, juicy adventure. Does it live up to its franchise name, or is this Tale not worth the time?
For years, Japan was the dominating force in the games industry. Ever since Nintendo blasted onto the scene in the eighties, it's always been my opinion that the developers in the land of the rising sun have had the edge on everyone else. The Atari age has long since given way to names like Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Capcom, Konami, Square, and so many others. If I made a list of my hundred favorite games, I'd be willing to bet that seventy or more of them come from Japan.
These days, however, the tide has shifted. The worldwide yearning for platformers and action games and traditional RPGs has been eclipsed by the first person shooter and sports game markets, two genres that Japanese developers are woefully unfamiliar with. Only the top games in each genre outside of Halo clones and Madden wannabes can make bank anymore, and developers are starting to play it safe with what they bring to the table. One genre affected by this trend is the JRPG, which has always had a focus in Japan, but also branched out to the world stage more often than not. These days, however, it seems Japan's favorite genre seems to be transforming more and more into Japan's shyest genre, rarely coming out to say hi to the rest of us.
In a rather shocking revelation, I've actually managed to find a hearty list of JRPGs that I pine for. I've never been the genre's biggest supporter, which doesn't surprise me in retrospect considering I never owned a SNES, Playstation, or Playstation 2 during their primes. However, I hereby pledge to buy any of the following games that come to America. I said the same thing about Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, thinking it would have no chance of arriving; I made good on my promise, bought TvC: Ultimate All Stars, and loved it. So it's on you now, localization teams. Make it happen.