I have recently been exploring a series that I’m not particularly familiar with – the Tales series. Though I’ve played several of the games before, namely Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Phantasia, I never fell in love with the series as much as others have. However, in a short time, I’ve cleared through both Tales of Graces f, and Tales of Xillia. The former out of boredom and the latter because of a surprising amount of hype surrounding it. The Tales series has never hit the mainstream. Despite having a long history, it has remained firmly in the niche camp, venturing out only briefly with releases such as Symphonia. As such, the series has perpetually been underfunded when compared to the heavy weights in the genre such as Final Fantasy, or the more suave Atlus RPGs, which don’t attempt to make as ambitious projects. Nevertheless, the Tales series has a strongly devoted fanbase. So today, instead of making two separate reviews, I’m going to pit Tales of Graces f and Tales of Xillia against each other and tell you which will give you the better bang for your buck.
– Main Character –
Starting with the main character seems wise, as these are story-based games, and you’ll be spending a lot of time around them. For Graces, you have Asbel. He is young overly courageous, stupid and virtuous. He embodies the red oni trope pretty much entirely. For Xillia, you have the choice of Jude, a caring and intelligent boy, or Milla, a divinity. Both Jude and Asbel are extremely boring. Sure, they’re likeable enough, but there is nothing interesting between either of them. They have the bare necessities in place to be a likeable protagonist, but they left out any element that would cause me to remember them. Milla is more interesting. While ‘the out of touch non-human having to learn about humanity’ thing has been done to death, voice actor, Minae Noji, does a good job at actually making me care about the character. I must note that in my research, I discovered that Milla’s English voice is not well liked. I strongly disagree, but that’s the opinion from series fans. Nevertheless, because of Milla, Xilla has a more interesting main character. Between Asbel and Jude, Asbel is generally better because his motivations occasionally extend past “I always do the right thing”.
Point – Xillia
– Supporting Cast –
In many games, the supporting cast is the real standout. Writers are too afraid of having an unlikeable or weird protagonist so they often default to boring. With the supporting cast, they are far less restricted. I’ve noticed that Tales games seem to draw their characters from just about every trope out there. Very little originality went into these character designs in either game, but that doesn’t make them bad. However, most of the cast in both games is completely forgettable.
The standouts in Graces were Hubert, Pascal, and Sofie. Hubert is smart and arrogant. He plays blue oni to Asbel’s red. To really drive that point home, Namco colour coded their hair just so you wouldn’t miss the point. The reason he stands out is because of his often-voiced frustration with the stupidity of the other members of the cast. This often mirrored my own thoughts, so +1 to Hubert. Pascal is bubbly and absentminded. She is the kind of character that is either really annoying or charming to all ends. Fortunately, her voice actor, Kate Higgins, pulls out every bit of charm from the dialogue and Pascal, in my opinion really stands tall. Sofie is a little girl who discovers how to be human like Milla. Unlike Milla, Sofie’s interactions with the rest of the cast are actually really good, equal parts funny and heartwarming.
In Xillia, the only standout is Alvin. He is played in the same kind of suave roguish way Balthier was in Final Fantasy XII, though not as good. Nevertheless, he’s a fun character to see in action. It’s unfortunate that I don’t have anything good to say about the rest of the cast. They aren’t horrible (Ok, Teepo is horrible), but none of them rise above mediocrity.
Point – Graces
– Story –
Both games purport to thrive on their story. I would argue that their gameplay is significantly more impressive, but let’s look at story anyway. Graces is a blunt instrument. All of the devices are lined up in such a way that the outcome is identifiable hours in advance. It does mean that most of the game is coherent, though predictable. This is frustrating when the rest of the cast acts like some really obvious plot point is a surprise. Graces has a strong, present villain and the heroes have real goals to pursue. That is – in the mid-game. Early on, you’ll be mostly locked back-tracking around the same places. Graces also has a cast that works much better together. In Xillia, half of the cast can barely interact with the other half. Since I already gave Graces the supporting cast vote, though, I’m not giving this point much weight, but I would be aware of it.
Xillia has a much more nuanced story, which is appreciated since the theme of friendship wears thin in Graces. However, with mystery comes uncertainty at times, and a good chunk of the game plays out for no reason other than to see what happens next. The villain isn’t as present, but all of the antagonists are much better designed. Actually, I found myself often hoping that one of the villains would join my team instead of the next boring team-member. Overall, Xillia is tailored more for adults without sacrificing accessibility. This alone gives Xillia an edge, though only barely.
Point – Xillia
– Gameplay –
Both games seem to have similar combat systems at first, but there is a world of difference between them when you sink your teeth in. Graces’ combat is significantly more tactical, and less of a button mashing affair than Xillia. As part of this, the higher difficulty levels are very rewarding in Graces. Xillia, on the other hand, places a strong focus on frantic seat-of-your pants combat. Aerial combos, and large chains ending in devastating team attacks are definitely a beauty to behold, but, overall, Xillia’s combat depth is superficial. The fun factor immediately breaks down on higher difficulties where half of your moves are simply pointless and even the most basic enemies are a slog instead of an exhilarating challenge.
In terms of levelling systems, Graces is very basic. One neat aspect is the ability to master titles that you unlock throughout the game by doing certain feats, some very fun to do. These titles allow you to upgrade abilities as well as pad your stats. Xillia has a sphere grid-grid like system where all of your stats are associated with nodes on a chain you can unlock as you acquire points by levelling up. This system provides a lot of customization, but, truthfully, it’s incredibly shallow. A character I did nothing but pump strength for wasn’t doing an impressive amount more damage per strike than a character I focused in intelligence. Also, the ways skills are placed and the inability to try them out before hand, means you can waste many levels trying to get to a skill that ends up being useless. Titles are present in Xillia, but only unlock new game + content, and are thus pointless, in my opinion.
Point – Graces
– Graphics and Sound –
This is not a fair comparison, but a point needs to be raised. Tales of Graces is a Wii RPG and Tales of Graces f is its port to the PS3. As such, Tales of Graces operates with the same kind of graphics you’d find on the PS2 or Wii. In other words, it won’t impress. That’s not to say the graphics are bad. For an RPG of its scale and budget, what Graces achieves is admirable. The only problem is that if you’re expecting something impressive, you’d best back away slowly. Xillia on the other hand is a very pretty game. True, graphically it falls flat in front of heavy weights such as Final Fantasy XIII, but its colour and charm help it stand on its feet in a world full of brown FPSs and poorly rendered JRPGs (I’m looking at you Neptunia).
Sound-wise, they are both pretty poor. RPGs like those in the Tales series go a long way to remind us how spoiled we are by game series like Persona or Final Fantasy. The overworlds, battles, and towns are all very forgettable. I don’t think there’s a single theme between the two of them worth remembering. It’s never ear-wrenching or anything like that, but it’s really bland. The voice acting, minus the examples I listed is a little below average. Poor Richard Epcar, a very talented voice actor, must voice half of the NPCs in Graces. It feels like half of the world sounds like Batou from Ghost in the Shell. Xillia doesn’t run into this problem, but falls into the trap where there is no enthusiasm for almost any character. It’s all workable, but flat. And no, I don’t use Japanese vocals and never will so I have no comment on that.
Point – Xillia
Tales of Xillia wins! Good news for fans looking forward to Tales of Xillia 2. Unfortunately, the two games are actually pretty equal. Graces has a less mature story, and a friendship plot that angries up the blood, but it also has a better assemble cast, and more satisfying combat. Xillia wins by being technically better. They have a better story, main character, and graphics. All in all, both games are deeply flawed, but really enjoyable. Trust me, if you hate JRPGs, these are two games that will pain you to no end. But, if you like all of the silly conventions and poorly thought out ideas associated with the genre, then you’ll find two charming, though occasionally boring games to tide you over until something else comes out.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer