I have grown over the years, dear readers. Perhaps it is not immediately obvious. I still flail my arms flamboyantly while skipping and singing down the streets of Downtown Canada. I still giggle before eating chocolate, and I still wear diapers and sleep in a crib.
However, when it comes to my perspectives on gaming, I feel like there has been a more objective influence creeping into the opinions I spew all over the internet.
I do not hesitate to call Mario Galaxy 2 and Skyward Sword two of the better games in recent memory, but I no longer attempt to defend Nintendo as a whole. Flower might be my favourite game of this generation, but I no longer take personal offense if others choose to take a giant wet shit all over it. Their feelings are as valid as my own.
So in this way, I no longer instantly equate “my favourite games” to being “the best games”. Kingdom Hearts 2 is one of my favourite titles, but as a game it is surely lacking. Level design slipped significantly from the first title, as did any semblance of battle strategy or difficulty.
So over the years, I have learned to clump the Tales games that I have played into this category. Tales of Symphonia is a good battle system surrounded by bad pacing and two of the worst heroes to grace an RPG. Tales of Vesperia has a far more tolerable hero and an equally addicting battle system, but also suffers from bad writing and a story with no direction or sense of cohesion. Also, like Symphonia, Vesperia sets up character arcs with fervor and then drops them as if they never existed.
Still, the Tales series is one that I enjoy every so often. The battle and growth systems are generally good and of such an unique flavour that they create a very specific craving. So when I picked up Tales of Graces f, I expected an experience equal to that of Vesperia so that I could get my fix for the next few years.
Then something very strange happened.
The game turned out to be good.
Not just “good for a Tales game” good, but “one of the better current-gen RPGs” good. Of course, the actual writing still leaves much to be desired, but even titles that I can praise endlessly for excellent character work do not actually have very strong writing.
The major difference – besides having the most addicting growth systems in recent memory – is that Graces actually does story right. And for a series that attempts to be story-focused, it is an element that needs to be good for me to consider the game better than “decent” no matter how much I might enjoy it.
The game begins with all the characters as children as an extended prelude to the story. As such, all the backstory is not relayed through text or flashbacks, but is rather freshly part of the player’s experience. The technique is remarkably effective and for the first time ever, I found myself legitimately caring about the characters and story in a Tales game. Previously I would feel a dull fondness for one or two of the cast members, but that was the extent of it. It is a strange thing to say, but Tales of Graces f is performing the great balancing act of an RPG and brings the goods where it counts.
Of course, the game still has plenty of time to throw it all to shit, but never have I played 30 hours of a Tales game still wanting to know what happens next.
So, Lusi-Sprites. Have you played Graces f? Do you have some favourite games that you would never actually consider to be particularly good from a more objective standpoint?