I'm not going to try to convince Anti-Abyss-ers that it's good, but I would like to voice perspective. It's long, I'm sorry, but I hope I can create a good argument, and I'll section it if you're only interested in ONE segment..
So here's my post:
And warning:Main Claim (tl;dr):
I think Tales of the Abyss
as a treat especially up against what are usually "typical" Tales and typical JRPG plots.Luke/Asch Dynamic
First off, although nothing new to the series itself, the characters are entertaining. I'd say some others in the series are certainly more interesting, but for the most part they offer compelling "dark pasts" on par with other traumatized Tales/RPG characters (even if some of the general "stories" were seen before). And y'know how everyone loves a traumatic past
Their quirks work well against each other for get the cheap-haha's from skits. Anyways... First major point:
Luke goes through a dramatic change. Born essentially as an "adult baby" he experiences the world for the first time and a lot of the complications therein. He's new to war, new to consequence, and has to learn it fast (his efforts to ignore simply made him more antagonistic). To counter him is his original, Asch, who is probably one of the more tragic heroes you'd see in a game. For all intents and purposes, you'd think this should be HIS
story; he's the original Luke
-- but instead he moonlights as the "behind the scenes" hero taking little credit for his work and working largely alone. What's worse is the fights between Luke and Asch creating existential issues for both of them. Asch lost his family, home, and fiancee in order to save the world; whereas Luke was locked up resisting and justifying much of what the world threw at him, not even on virtue of birth, but the circumstances of it. In the end, Asch is killed by a clone
during a heroic sacrifice as Luke finds a will to live on. This becomes a bit more interesting when you see how Sync deals so poorly with the revelation, especially compared to Ion and especially compared to Luke/Asch.
Luke starts as a complete asshole. He pays the price and turns it around in what feels like a realistic way (he also doesn't *completely* lose his more snarky side, but it gets reduced by about 90%). He pays the piper especially for destroying a city despite all other characters warning him (I feel like there's an Aesop Fable in there I'm forgetting)
To me, that's pretty deep; something I feel even FF7's big Zack/Cloud spoiler didn't even pull off as well (however, I thought Kuja really worked as a villain fighting and "coming to terms" with his "humanity"...well, by trying to destroy everything instead). Our main hero wasn't JUST saving the world, but figuring out who he is and his place within a world that, literally, marks him as a bit of a "mistake". Too many JRPGs love throwing that "good guy" who just kinda gets swept up into things, or one who plays so hard into the plot that the game becomes HIS show as the party supplements some dialogue then gets sort of lost so the hero can dominate the rest of the plot (Abyss does make a good effort to involve its smaller cast much more deeply right till the end). But let's go on.Politics!
Another thing I love about Abyss are the politics early on. A first playthrough makes this confusing and really exhausting to listen to, but a second playthrough (if you muster it), where you know what these places are
helps to change the perspective a lot.
I also love the "mid-game" scenario. What's the war about?? TERRITORY!
The Akzeriuth situation was a great demonstration of this. When the two major political powers were on the verge of war, a PEACE mission between representatives of both sides (i.e.; your "rainbow" of VIPs; the main party) are sent to a town that once belonged to one side, but now is under control of the other. A perfect place to demonstrate "truce". But Luke's actions had that plan almost literally "fall through" and the hazy conclusions and complete destruction of the town had of course sparked a war (Parallel: like when Poland was invaded as the "spark" for WWII; they're not necessarily the same situation, but enough to send the nations to arms).
Quick Futurama shoutout: War were declared.
Anyways, again, I feel like few JRPGs are really willing to devote themselves war, especially in such an honest and realistic way. Suikoden does, but...the series is kinda MIA right now (*sadface). Too many often games love taking place post-war
(and we get some hogwash about it within the game to explain why half the planet is now orphaned). What I love is that Abyss' plot happen "in medias res"; a lot of the gears are already spinning than simply starting-up.
Or, on the other hand, too many go the route of "there was a long and ancient war" which leads to some pretty pictures. We get that here too, but it's not particularly vital to the end-game scenario other than "shit happened".Religion
Another great thing about Abyss is how it handles Religion. You see those who are too dependent on it (ie; the population at large who overuse the prophecy readings) those who try to fight its clutches (main villain: Van, who wishes to destroy the whole system), and those who cling so hard to it they go to war for it (the Pope dude).
Also in this messy trifecta is Ion, who, despite his frail and child-like appearance, was a great character. He is the leader of his Order, takes the cards fate gives him like a man, and also tries his best AND dies trying. Ion's religion preaches about fulfilling the prophecy so that they can live a long and prosperous life (the prophecy at the beginning of the game details this: First there will be war, then unprecedented peace
-- but you MUST go to war). Despite the prophecy, despite his religion's teachings, Ion is still on a mission to PREVENT war and trying to change old and conservative religious perspective and practice. (Here's a bad modern example: Parts of the Christian Bible are anti-homosexual, but the new Pope in Rome, Pope Francis, is happy to have *anyone* who wishes to pray to god, even gays, as invited into the church despite teachings otherwise that may condemn it). In the end, Ion's sacrifices help to turn the tide on the world's understanding of the "religious prophecy" in hopes of building a new life for its people, shacked otherwise by said prophecy.
I liked this "middle way" or the use of the Order of Lorelai as its own political faction since a lot of JRPGs just love turning the "holy religion" into the "big bad" at some point (Breath of Fire II, III, FFX, Lunar, Grandia II, Tales of Symphonia, etc.). Van's extreme zeal in destroying the Order of Lorelai works as the game's primary problem, even despite the "Abyss-part" in Tales of the Abyss (I'll get into that later)Fonons
While I agree the games gets extrememely turgid with respect to "fonons-this" and "fonons-that", the Tales series as a whole is pretty guilty of this (Mana, Cryas, Aer, Spyrix, Craymels, etc). What's worse is I hate how it's this "magic fuel" that will do everything from flushing toilets
to causing world destruction
. I kind of LIKE fonons because they try
so hard to be scientific (they're basically "atoms on drugs"), and I like that the Tales series enjoys playing with ideas where too little is dangerous, but too much is deadly. But your milage may very there. Ah well, at least FoF's were fun (although underplayed). I do also like the idea of a more ambiguous "seventh element" of sound that tries to fill in the gaps of the somewhat redundant and arbitrary earth, water, wind, fire, holy and darkness that is played too much in a lot of games let alone Tales games... worked for Chrono Cross too.
This is definitely an issue though, I won't deny that. I do think that it's otherwise good they TRY at an explanation than just say "let's use magic to fix it all! *finger snap*"Characters
Anyways, while I won't try to go at length about why the characters are good, or even if they are or aren't. I will say I like the variety. Indeed, you get a representative from most major socio-political corners of the planet. I like that Luke had a very justifiable identity crises, I like that Tear had to face-off against her brother (the part of her as a soldier for the order is kind of bland, but gives her that "quirk" that JRPGs desperately love), I like that Guy has a pretty important turnabout and acts as a surviving member to a previous national disaster (Hod's destruction) and how he acts against the governments who had a hand in it, I like Jade because of a LOT of reasons (comedic relief and intellectual powerhouse never looked so good), I liked Anise for being a kid (I'm a minority here, but her rescuing her parents felt like a legit problem for a kid), and Natalia was a lovely and noble princess (she did have some of those "annoying princess tendencies" to talk her head off and get offended, but for the most part she is a woman of her people and didn't need some sort of "cathartic character-defining moment" to realize it).
The villains are also interesting enough. The best? Hardly
. But they worked, and I preferred them to fighting monsterous abominations, or as some shit JRPGs: Enemies without any real motivation or are summed up to "destroy/rule" the world. Van wanted to recreate a world free of religious consequence, free of disaster being spelled out but people blindly or complacently follow it because "it means peace down the line" and where people stopped living for the future. Lagretta is a bit of a write-off, but hey, women fighting for their lover...eugh, sure. Her dynamic with Tear works as a teacher-student relationship, but also how Van's "crush" took the front door and Tear (a blood-relative) went out the back door. Sync was interesting for reasons I specified earlier, his irrational yet purposed behaviour was like looking into an alternate reality for Ion if things didn't go as planned. Largo had his one moment and Dist "worked" as that JRPG pariah-boss/comedic relief.World
What's left to say? Oh yeah... the environment stuff, the ABYSS stuff
. I don't ave much to add, personally speaking I thought it served four (actually somewhat) small
(1) It looked cool.
(2) The idea of a damaged and poisonous world works at a psychological level.
(3) Helps give that minor "environmental message" that was literally
solved when the world "worked together" (daww PLZ RECYCLE)
(4) Helps provide for a lot of the game's dungeons; or you get a Suikoden II-issue where there's like 6 major bosses, most away
from the "political environment" the game takes so long to nurture.
I definitely think that it still amounts to creative a very FULL and unique world environment between the major players, the world religion, and the major political entities (and their contrast against the main villains). It's also better than typical world building scenarios that often just stick to "well there's a king, he's ok....!! And a great evil force!!!...And people can use magic!!!". A *lot* of games do at least one of those tropes. Abyss does to, but tries to substantiate it (the Kings are warring political bodies who fight over land; the magical force used is Fonon-Science in the wrong hands; and people use magic because they've developed how to use that "magical-fonon-science").
I'm not trying to try to change minds, but offer perspective in, what I think, is a fair way (I admit faults and personal opinions too!). I wouldn't ask someone to play an RPG again (especially 50+ hour ones), but I DO believe the game benefits from a second play rather than necessitates it.