I’ll miss these guys.

I’ve been putting this review off. Not because I dislike Tales of Graces, but because I didn’t want to say goodbye to it. 2015 was a weird gaming year for me: after shaking off my Dota 2 ‘habit’ I had a large backlog of games I’d bought but never played. Many of them sucked, but Tales of Graces F was an exception. The game was a beautiful surprise, its colourful graphics, satisfying combat, and likable and approachable characters acting as a mental balm and a reminder of all that is good and wholesome about video games. For the most part, anyway.

Tales of Graces F is the third game in the PS3 compilation which also includes Tales of Symphonia (good) and its sequel, Dawn of the New World (very, very bad). I didn’t expect much from Graces, bundled ignominiously and with no fanfare alongside two much older games, and so playing it was something of a revelation. First, the graphics are very pleasing. Originally released on the Wii in 2009, it was ported to the PS3 a year later and the graphics must have been touched up, because they look lovely. There are no major technical triumphs here, but from an artistic point of view everything looks great, is full of character, and the explosions of colour and light during combat can be really impressive. Some of the interior location designs are absolutely gorgeous. The soundtrack is fine, not particularly memorable but a good accompaniment to the story. The voice acting is very good and came as a massive relief after enduring the nightmare that was FFX-2.

The best thing about Graces is its cast of characters and their interactions with one another. Asbel Lhant is a flawed but largely admirable lead, but the real stars here are three ladies, Pascal, Cheria, and Sophie. Pascal is a hyperactive genius scientist-cum-engineer who is responsible for many of the game’s most entertaining scenes, and probably ranks as one of my favourite RPG characters of all time. Cheria is a much more thoughtful, reserved, and gentle character, and is in love with Asbel (a fact obvious to everyone except him of course); but she has enough depth and humour not to come across as a cliche. Sophie is a super-powered and mysterious amnesiac teenager, and some of the story’s best moments revolve around her struggle to discover who she is and how she fits into the world and her social group. As with most Tales games, there are a lot of skits involving the characters which provide development and humorous asides, and some of them are very funny. The comedy at times is slightly more bawdy and crude than some of the older Tales games, which is fine by me, and on the whole the tone is quite similar to the Tales of Xillia games.

Whereas the characters are the high point of the game, the overarching plot is probably one of the weaker I’ve come across in the Tales series. It’s a largely by-the-numbers tale of world in peril due to a powerful interplanetary menace. It’s all told well enough, but there are few surprises or real points of interest. I didn’t particularly mind, though, as the real drama and entertainment comes from our band of adventurers and their personal story arcs. The ending was more ambivalent than I had anticipated, and perhaps was intended to set the scene for a sequel; but it doesn’t seem like one will ever be forthcoming.

The game’s combat is terrific, some of the best to be found in the Tales series. It dispenses with mana or TP and instead combat is based on combo points, which are depleted by attacks and regenerate over time or as the result of certain combinations. It’s a good system and combat has a satisfying rhythm, and can look spectacular. The difficulty also hits a sweet spot and there is little frustration, though the game still provides a decent challenge. Exploration and adventuring is generally good fun, although certain parts of the game do rely heavily on backtracking, which was a bit of a disappointment. There’s still plenty of original content, though. Skill development is done though equipping and levelling up titles, which is also tied into the story and character development. I personally loved the system and it provides a slightly more meaningful explanation for character progression than just having killed lots of monsters.

As I say, I’m sorry to say goodbye to this game. It’s the last great experience I’ll have with the Wii/360/PS3 generation, and an unexpected one at that: a game originally released on the Wii in 2009 and only ported to the PS3 in 2012, which I bought as part of a budget bundle for £15 in 2015. I suppose it’s a sign to be open-minded, as well as a reminder of the excellence of the Tales series (surely the best JRPG series around these days).

That said, Tales of Graces F was my game of 2015.