The Tales series may not have the cultural cachet of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, but enjoys a devoted following and for good reason. While the games flirt with cliché they usually enjoy enough interest and innovation to warrant investigation, and Tales of the Abyss - a port of a PS2 game - is no different.
It follows the story of Luke fon Fabre, a 17-year-old aristocratic boy who lost his memory when he was kidnapped seven years earlier. After being recovered, he was confined to the family estate where he has been made to train in martial arts and converse with servants until he reaches maturity.
For the opening moments this is exactly what you find yourself doing. It's a slow start until a mysterious woman named Tear breaks into the house in a bid to assassinate Luke's sword-fighting instructor. However, a magical glitch transports Luke and Tear to a faraway part of the kingdom, kicking off an adventure in which the pair must return home, and prevent a large-scale war as they do so.
The story takes a while to get moving, and even when it settles into a canter, the few twists and turns are overwhelmed by a greater sense of predictability. The plot is further hurt by a copious amount of complex, made-up terminology, which can be difficult to follow.
But Tales benefits from a memorable cast of characters, who are written with light-hearted charm that makes spending time with them a joy. The need for a likeable supporting cast is crucial as the game is heavy on cutscenes and, for the first half at least, Luke is obnoxious and difficult to sympathise with.
The structure is largely traditional as you move from town to dungeon completing quests and defeating enemies. In combat, the player takes direct control of their character, running around the battle environment and attacking, defending or using skills. Three of the four characters you take into battle are controlled by the AI, which can be given general instructions
Characters can also be customised with 'cores', which grant specific statistical bonuses when you level up, while their skills or 'artes' can be upgraded with enhancing gems. The system affords a decent amount of customisation, so that in time you begin to feel as though the squad of characters is your own.
While the PS2 original was never the most artistically driven JRPG, with bland, generic environments and blocky characters, this port adds some detail and texture, and the 3D is passable.
Tales of the Abyss is far from a hard adventure and mashing buttons will see you through many battles. Nevertheless, for players wanting a JRPG for 3DS, this offers a solid if unexceptional journey.
This is an edited version of a review that will appear in issue 77 of Official Nintendo Magazine. For more in-depth analysis and screenshots buy the magazine when it's released on 15 December.
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