Genre: RPG
Year: 2009
Developed by: Namco Tales Studio
Published by: Namco Bandai Games
Platforms: PS3
Feeling Like: Sweeping the Floor

ANOTHER one? You must be aware, by now, of my penchant for role playing games. I can’t say I’m sorry; there are so many more to come on the 500 that it would be an empty apology. I’m helpless. Ever since Dave and I were transfixed by Super Mario RPG, all I’ve wanted to do is gain experience points, obsesses over incremental stat increases, befriend allies of every shape and size and complete a journey that’s on par with epic fantasy novels.

That’s the goal, anyway. It doesn’t always work out like that.

The Tales series tends to land the plane, but without some turbulence. A Tales of will always offer me a meaty adventure with solid gameplay and ideas, but the dungeons and music tend to be huge letdowns. Graphically they’re never spectacular, but never offensive. None of them have come close to Tales of Vesperia, but Tales of Graces f meanders its way to be in the same neighborhood on the strength of the battle and upgrades system, and some of the character relationships.

It falls flat on character development and story. I recall getting Brewster to tag along with me to EB Games at the Bay Centre while we both worked for Neverblue. I don’t know which entry I’ll pick to profess my love for malls, but I’ll mention it briefly here; I love malls. I know they’re unholy bastions of commercialism, likely a huge waste of space and soulless architectural traps designed to get your money. That’s not news. I just find them relaxing, even during the holidays (as long as you’re not worried about parking). There’s always tasty treats to be found. I like wandering aimlessly when I’m not in a rush. There be video game stores.

Brewster is one of the few to totally get my sense of humor, or more accurately, humors me by pretending my jokes are funny. We used to laugh so much at work that the brass literally separated us like we were in high school. He was also never afraid to mock my love of Japanese Video Games. It didn’t help that the motto on Tales of Graces F’s box was something like “Save the world with the power of friendship.” Brewster thought this was hilariously cliché and corny. Brewster was right. Why did I bring him along again?

I warned him that I was about to purchase something that some guys may be ashamed of, and that we were about to enter a store that would undoubtedly filled with nerds. My people. I was right. I must have known something hilarious would happen, that’s why I brought him along.

Verbatim, I swear to God, a young gentleman in coke-bottle glasses was in-line in front of us and asked the employee…

“Excuse me, my good man, do you happen to have Broom Pushers 2? It’s an obscure Japanese RPG.”

Broom Pushers 2.

Broom. Pushers. 2.

I was about to pick up a game that had anime characters combating amnesia, world ending threats and adolescent crushes and here I was, holding my laughter in so much that I’m sure I burst a blood vessel because somebody had the audacity to inquire about something even nerdier than Tales of Graces F. Brewster had to temporarily leave the store, citing a fake coughing fit. It’s been an in-joke for us ever since. Here’s an Instagram post from my birthday a few months ago.

Ok, well that was more a mini-story about a not-so-mini mall, but it highlights that these kinds of games can be mildly embarrassing to enjoy. There’s a mild stigma to a white dude in their 30s enjoying anime. It’s not that there isn’t a ton of effort being put forth by the developers, but the writing is generally riddled with banality. There’s no room for subtlety, particularly when the technology doesn’t allow for a range of facial animation. I’m certain there’s something lost in translation and the main protagonist’s motivations start and begin at wanting to be a nice guy and protect everybody. Yawn.

I’m being pretty critical of a game that’s at #264, but RPGs are complicated. I have to somehow justify why I spent 60 hours of my life getting to the ending.

I can’t!

Have mercy on me, I can’t. How can anybody justify spending 60 hours on a hobby that only amounts to writing about it on a blog 12 years later? I should’ve been learning a new language, or reading more, or going back to school for my Master’s. Or going outside!

Why am I so enamored with a genre that’s always too long, heavy on exposition, tells more often than shows and has extremely repetitive gameplay? Oh sure, it’s like reading an interactive novel if the dialogue was on par with my Grade 9 Creative Writing class’ best efforts (RIP Mr. Gibbs), but at least I’ll get to an end dungeon that’s ridiculously obtuse and an ending that isn’t really an ending, since there’s 10 hours of epilogue to get through (that’s what the F is for in the title, apparently).

Why am I going through an existential crisis for Tales of Graces F?

I think the answer is that it’s foolish for me to try and explain to you fully why I love JRPGs, but I’ll try my best. They’re relaxing. I can go at a snail’s pace. I like oddly dressed, colorful characters and the skits showing them interact against a fantastical backdrop. I like that I can slowly, steadily improve in levels and become massively overpowered after a few dozen hours. I like arriving at new towns and resting at the inns. I like gearing up. I like taking stock of my inventory and seeing what I need to buy at the merchant’s before exploring the nearby cave rumored to have a deadly monster living in it. I like that the townspeople are appreciative when I slay said monster and return their missing fish. I like finding a tucked away treasure chest containing a healing herb (even when I already have 48 of them). I like the wide variety of songs.

I’m shrugging. What else can I say? Tales of Graces F was responsible for Broom Pushers 2, a frantic battle system that properly rewarded grinding, characters that had good chemistry and a world that was worth exploring.

Even if it went on too long, even if the story is a weak point in the series, even if the combat is overwhelming at times, I still enjoyed it. God help me.

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