Part 79: CH74: Final Thoughts and TidbitsCH 74: Final Thoughts and Tidbits
OK, so Tales of Graces. We're done here. There might be a few things I missed/forgot to show, but I think that was fairly comprehensive. I said I was going to do a post about my impressions here and now it's that time.
Tales of Graces is the most gamey of the Tales games. "Story" is a thing that happens to give context to dungeons and boss fights, the CC system and quick-step are designed to keep you pressing buttons, and the number of fiddly bits to fiddle with is at an all-time high.
Story and Theme
It's instructive to compare the story of Graces with the story of Destiny, since Graces was made by "team destiny". While Destiny has a few interesting bits, it seems to be in the same mode of "a location's story is largely self-contained, except for a single thread that connects the overarching plot". While the opposite can be a problem, reusing locations too much ("return to Daath"), the game can feel disconnected and episodic. This is easy to see in Graces: nobody cares about Kurt once you leave Fendel, nobody cares about Oswell outside of Strahta. The thread of "RICHARD!!!!" and later "LAMBDA!!!" connects everything, but you never really have a chance to stop Richard before the fated confrontation, just as you keep missing the Eye of Atamoni. In the meantime you get Team Symphonia evolving towards Abyss and Vesperia.
The difference in writing quality can also be seen in the difference in themes, and how they connect with the "characteristic genre name". The "characteristic genre name" is a sort of engrish-y subtitle that tells audiences what the game will be about. For example, Abyss had "To Know the Meaning of One's Birth RPG" and was about free will, fate, and self-determination. Vesperia is "RPG to Enforce 'Justice'" and up until the environmental message Team Symphonia loves takes over like a brain parasite, it's about who should enforce justice.
Graces's genre name is "RPG to Know the Strength to Protect," however the game isn't about that except when Asbel whines about not being able to protect someone. Instead it's about friendship. Are they trying to say the "strength to protect" is "having friends" or something? I'm actually not sure here. I do know that there's a deeper, possibly unintentional theme to the game. It's that having a strong social support network helps you deal with grief.
Every important member of the cast has lost a loved one except Sophie. Asbel loses Sophie, then his father. Hubert is taken from his family, then learns that his father is dead. Richard's father is killed in front of him, and I'd bet money Cedric is responsible for the absence of his mother as well. Cheria's parents died offscreen before the game even started, and she grew up in the shadow of her own impending death. Pascal's parents also died offscreen. Malik had Lorelia and then Kurt die because of him. Lambda had Cornell get killed by Emeraude.
Of these, some of them adapted to the pain better than others. Cheria and Pascal had supportive communities and doting grandfathers and thus came off relatively well. Hubert has nobody but his emotionally distant adoptive family, and thus grows up to be emotionally distant until his brother gets him to open up again. Malik leaves the country and basically becomes a bum and soldier of fortune, which historically was a way to deal with emotional problems you weren't culturally allowed to show. Asbel ditches his home and friends in the midst of a tantrum, but his parents never try to get him back so presumably aren't doing a very good job of supporting him. Richard had nobody except Asbel, Pascal, and Sophie to confide in after his father's murder, and thus the point when his social class separated him from them is also the point where he started to go mad (yes I know the stabbing technically happened before that, but that's far more reasonable than his later actions). Lambda of course had absolutely nobody and thus was the most maladapted of all, but comes out of it when Asbel gets worried about him. In the Future Arc, he finishes his transition to a productive, decent individual once it's clear that people can and do care about him.
Sophie I'm going to give a whole paragraph, since this theme gets more attention with her in the Future arc. She's immortal, and this is the "immortal's curse." She's going to watch Asbel die. And Cheria. And Malik, and Hubert, and Pascal, and Richard, but mostly she's thinking about Asbel. What allows her to deal with it is the idea that while Asbel and everyone else may die, the community that she lives in will continue to support her into the future. That, and making friends with Lambda and possibly in the future Fodra (the Little Queen that merged with her indicates that it's possible).
Now there's also the Little Queen. Little Queen, or LQ, seems to have a lot of friends that she can rely on to deal with her issues - the problem is that they're all the same. It's the worst possible "groupthink" scenario and it results, predictably, in decision making becoming more and more radicalized until it's straight to genocide town, population Nazis. Having Lambda and Sophie around to bounce ideas off of should help her become less determined to kill everyone.
The one problem with the CC system is it doesn't go far enough. It takes a little too long to regen CC. Xillia solved this by having AC fill to full after a pause in attacks, but it also brought back TP to "prevent you from spamming your most powerful attack endlessly". Honestly, all it really needed was slightly faster regen. Blocking is valuable because it generates red auras that allow you to guard break, so "hold block until your CC fills" isn't so bad.
OK, I've actually got a bit to talk about because apparently there are people out there who dislike the crafting in this game. I gotta say that I like it, although it's not quite there.
I've been a big fan of the Mana Khemia and Ar Tonelico games, which are descended from the Atelier games by the same maker. The Atelier games are all about crafting mechanics. You can read some LPs of them here but the point is that I like a good crafting mechanic. The problem is that the way shards work isn't a good crafting mechanic, mostly because it's such a pain to get the shard you want, and that you have to dualize stuff in pairs.
The thing about dualizing weapons is that you have to always use a shard with a higher level than the effect you want to keep or you'll lose it, and you can't fix a mistake since the effect left after you screw up is usually lower in level than the one you lost. Except, if you have the right quality on things, since certain effects are attracted to certain qualities. Honestly, if the system for dealing with effects involved choice rather than this bullshit I'd be giving the crafting system a giant thumbs up. I like dualizing things (although it's missing Ar Tonelico's helpful interface), and getting shards isn't too bad. It's just dealing with all the quality-related stuff that's the hassle. All of the "special" qualities should have been effects, weapons should have let you pick effects to remove, and so on.
Despite this, I do like the depth crafting has. You can (in theory) customize your weapons to the weaknesses of your opponents, and it's more depth than just "run predetermined upgrade recipe" like in prior Tales of games.
There are a few attacks we have that I haven't shown you, although fuck going back and checking which ones, there's 300 or so different ones just for our party. There is one that I do regret not showing, but I did try to. Sophie is the other character besides Malik that has a hidden Mystic Arte. You get it by doing a chain of four (I think, could be three) A-artes and holding the A-arte button after you perform the Deadly Force attack. However, all of the hits of Deadly Force must connect, which never seemed to happen for me (except one time when I wasn't recording ) so I couldn't record it.
However, Admiral H Curtiss did, so here you go, the last secret Mystic Arte.
Also, I didn't get the special quotes that trigger if you finish off Lambda with a Mystic Arte, as I mentioned in the previous update. Fortuantely, youtube user "omegarevolution" compiled all the Mystic Artes in the game into one video, including those variations.
He also has the Shining Gate "fuck you" from Solomus at 5:25 or so.
Once again, thanks for reading, everyone.