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Tales of Graces PS3 preview: Unlocalized fun


It's disappointing to see Tales of Graces continue to go without a North American release. Last year's Wii game was not localized, and it's a shame that the enhanced PS3 version, Tales of Graces F, will likely miss an American release as well. That's too bad, because Graces is an excellent (albeit familiar) addition to the RPG franchise.

The PS3 version of Graces may have received a fresh coat of paint, but its Wii origins are still very obvious. While the bump in resolution makes the cel-shaded visuals pop a bit more, the textures, polygon count and special effects are decidedly inferior to efforts like Tales of Vesperia. To describe Graces F as a "Wii HD" game would be quite apt. Still, fans of Tales of art will appreciate the HD visuals. Character art, in particular, looks terrific in the PS3 version, with a level of detail that really grabs your attention.

Graces F doesn't appear to have as much new content integrated into the game as the PS3 version of Vesperia. Instead, there's a few new "blast calibers," flashy special moves that can be triggered in battle. There's also a new epilogue, and a few new story scenes.

It may not feel like an entirely new game, but Graces offers a fast, fun battle system that's immediately gratifying. As with many other entries in the series, you'll be able to see enemies on the map and navigate into (or around) them. Once you touch an enemy, the real-time battle screen appears, where you and up to three teammates can fight. Players of previous Tales of games will find themselves comfortable here: mixing "A-style" physical commands with customizable "B-style" special commands. The "A-style" attacks allow you to easily button mash enemies, while the "B-style" attacks add a layer of strategy: allowing you to set enemies on fire, do a range attack, cast magic, and so on.

While you're not attacking, your teammates will act according to predetermined AI routines. However, you'll be able to quickly switch control of each character by hitting the D-pad. Amazingly, each character does feel very different. (I personally enjoyed Sophie's quick combo-friendly move set.) Adding to the dynamic flow of the battle is the ability to dodge enemy attacks, by hitting the Square button and a direction at the right moment. You'll be able to roll around an enemy, gain some tech points, and continue a combo streak. Once you integrate special attacks, battles quickly escalate into chaotic displays of sword slashes and magics. It all looks and feels absolutely terrific.

It's hard to judge an RPG after only ten minutes of play, but I definitely enjoyed my experience with Tales of Graces F. Considering Namco Bandai America's reluctance to localize the franchise, those ten minutes might have represented my only opportunity to play the game.

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