After completing my first Tales game, 'Tales of Vesperia', I wanted to play the others and when I saw Tales of Graces available for pre-order, I didn't waste a second!
The special one-day edition includes extras, which would otherwise be unavailable elsewhere. These extras include a soundtrack, an 100 page artbook, a DLC card for three costumes, and a behind-the-scenes DVD, all included with the game and presented in a neat box. I was most interested in the artbook, and it did not disappoint. The artbook includes character sketches, as well as coloured pictures, coloured banners (which appear in-game) and concept art. The art itself was printed on normal paper and not the thick glossy stuff you find in larger artbooks, but that didn't affect its quality much. The soundtrack I haven't listened to yet, but the music in-game was very similar to Vesperia's, and was very pleasant to listen to. Some may even be good for relaxation! I have not yet watched the behind-the-scenes either as I am less interested in interviews and the like, but I have watched similar videos online and they were quite interesting.
The story involves Asbel, a young Lord of a manor in Lhant and his childhood friends, Sophie, Richard and Cheria, as well as his brother Hubert and other characters who they will meet a the story progresses. I don't want to give any spoilers, so basically, Asbel and Hubert find a girl called Sophie at the top of Lhant hill (which they weren't supposed to climb), who has amnesia and they try to help her regain her memories. They meet Richard sometime after and save him. Richard then leaves Lhant and Asbel gets scolded and he runs away to find Richard at the capital. He meets up with Cheria and Hubert at the capital and is able to see Richard. That night something happens to Richard and Sophie, which makes Asbel run away (again) to become a knight. After that, it's about wars and the story revolving around the other characters.
As for the game, the graphics is similar to those in Vesperia, but as sharper and is closer to Xillia's kind of graphics if I'm honest. The landscape and backgrounds are done beautifully with a more realistic feel (as vesperia's was more vector-like). Towns are larger than in previous Tales games and there are more things to do in towns. The art is good, with anime-like scenes throughout the game. These are always a treat to watch and in addition, skits are shown when you reach specific areas of the game. These skits are short conversations between the characters and are always enjoyable to watch. This time, they fill the entire screen with at least four characters, making them more easily seen, and small banners appear occasionally to mark a funny scene.
Now onto gameplay, I think everyone is interested in the battle system, otherwise known as Style Shift Linear Motion Battle System. This is similar to the battle system for Tales of the Abyss and Tales of Vesperia, where the controlled character can move around in the field and by pressing specific buttons can perform artes, or normal attacks. However, instead of usig TP to perform artes, Namco have decided to use what is called 'chain capacity' or CC. Each character has a specific number of CC which they can use to perform artes and attacks and these deplete according to how many moves you make. It is more complicated than the battle systems of the previous games and I have to admit that I haven't fully grasp it yet. The strategy menu, however, is much more fluent and enables you to command other characters easily without having to control them. So there is no more 'save tp', or 'moderate' and instead each individual characters can be set their own commands (kind of like the gambit system of Final Fantasy XII). You can also easily character characters during battle by using the dialogue stick, although, it can be annoying when you change to the wrong character.
Skills in this game are learned by equipping titles. Each title is unlocked when you complete a specific task and the SP are used to learn the skills equipped with the title. I had a problem with my equipped title always changing, so I could never master it without having to switch back to it after every battle.
The sound, as with all the newer Tales of games, are top notch and are relevant to the scene they play on. You have a mixture of battle, tranquil, sad and happy music, and as I have mentioned, is very similar to the music from Vesperia. I enjoyed the music, especially the battle music, which does stick in your mind after a while.
The characters were probably what made me want to buy Graces in the first place. The designs are excellent and the character development so far is good. As the story progresses, you do start to wonder about some of the characters motives and what would happen to them. Some are more predictable than others. Each character has their own story, which is what makes the Tales games good, but I havent completed the game yet so I can't really explain them all.
Overall, this game is enjoyable. Personally, I wouldn't put it on the same level as Vesperia, but it has some points to it which I think are a major improvement. The only aspect of this game I didn't like was the battle system involving the CC. It is more complicated than it needs to be and I personally like my battles short and snappy. It slows the flow of the battle and not everything is explained in detail in the in-gameuser manual. So, I rate this game a 4 out of 5.