Editorial: Tales of Not Suck

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.

Tales of over-sexualized clothing

Tales of ridiculous character design

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.

Tales of epic setpieces

Tales of Japanese Wii ports

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?


  1. Mel
    Posted 2012.04.17 at 12:49 | Permalink

    I’ve gushed on here enough about SoA, but I’m totally on board with others who think it’s a middling or even “bad” RPG. Many things about that game could be seen as “flaws”.

    Likewise, Symphonia was utter garbage in my eyes when I played it on release (starved as a Nintendo loyal would be for RPGs, back then). I hated the characters as well as the battle system, which just didn’t click for me. I still managed to get about half way through the game before giving up (and I’ve heard the second half is when it gets good, but…I shouldn’t have to wait that long for a game to get good. See: FF13). Even the graphical presentation seemed to be a chunky and sloppy copy cat of Wind Waker’s.

  2. evilpaul
    Posted 2012.04.17 at 14:07 | Permalink

    Good Tales games are a myth of the Liberal Media!!!

  3. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.04.18 at 07:37 | Permalink

    Tales of Symphonia was complete garbage, and I tend to find most Tales games to be at least solid. That said, ToS did have the best art style any game in the series.

  4. Ethos
    Posted 2012.04.18 at 09:37 | Permalink

    @Mel – I considered using SoA as an example of a favourite game that I wouldn’t consider “good”, but when I thought about it, I don’t think that’s true. The encounter rate is too high (even when it got “fixed” for Legends), and the battles are really slow (especially the air battles), so I can understand if people hate it, but there are too many creative ideas and too much well-executed design for me to say it’s not good.

    Symphonia was the first Tales game I played, so that’s probably why I was more forgiving of it. Like Oliver, I’m sure if I went back to it now, my feelings on the game might be more reflective of its quality.

  5. Mel
    Posted 2012.04.18 at 10:19 | Permalink

    Speaking about SoA objectively, for me, is pretty hard. And if I try to think about what I like in games and JRPGs today, so much of what SoA does doesn’t hold up. But a LOT of it not only holds up, its unique. I just wouldn’t blame anyone who doesn’t like it, since I can’t divorce myself from my nostalgia enough to explain to them why they would be wrong.

  6. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.04.18 at 10:44 | Permalink

    I still maintain that SoA is a AAA JRPG in all areas excepting the visuals, obviously*.

    *I have only played the Legends version.

  7. Ethos
    Posted 2012.04.18 at 11:03 | Permalink

    SoA is dated and slow, but still very, very good. Has better gameplay pacing than most JRPGs.

    The original is nearly as good, but every change that Legends brings is positive.

  8. evilpaul
    Posted 2012.04.18 at 18:26 | Permalink

    I didn’t finish it, but kind of liked Tales of Legendia. Which apparently wasn’t made by the Tales team, so I guess that’s why? It’s like the FF:Legends Gameboy games. The third one Kawazu didn’t touch, so it was actually OK.

  9. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.04.19 at 00:52 | Permalink

    ^Intriguing! Looks like Legendia doesn’t even have Motoi ‘hack-uraba’ Sakuraba writing any of the music!