And so after like 14 years of not watching the anime and being that I’m playing a bunch of Tales games now, I finally decided to jump into playing Tales of the Abyss. Unfortunately because Bamco would rather make failing mobile games than port this game, the only way for me to play it was through an emulator with the PS2 edition. As usual Kanade’s comments will be in blue. This review is actually spoiler free so feel free to read on!
So on that note, my usual disclaimer: I used codebreaker codes to basically make my characters have every item in the game so I could steamroll my way through to just focus and enjoy the story (which is ultimately my goal for most of these games anyway.) Unfortunately no cheats could ever save me from the horror of the map and dungeon design by none other than Anabuki Kenji – who directed one of my favorite games Scarlet Nexus. 🤣🤣😭😭 I’m glad he no longer did dungeon design after this game because it was fucking garbage and clearly they made the right decision to switch him to directing games and leave the dungeon design to someone who can do more than just copy & paste platforms 10 times.
As with basically any Tales game at this point, we need to include the disclaimer that we feel that the combat system just doesn’t work on a fundamental level, and then each individual game that we’ve played has its own game-specific failings on top of that . So because of that, as usual we tried to do the most that we could to bypass or trivialize combat. In this case, there were plenty of cheat codes that granted an infinite supply of every item in the game, meaning that we could equip endgame gear instantly and scarf down an enormous number of herbs to boost everyone’s stats far beyond what they would actually be at their level.
I can’t stress enough how ANXIETY AND STRESS inducing the dungeon and map design in this game was.
I started joking very early on “this game is already a double kusoge by your definition because this is now the second puzzle you’ve had to do” just a few hours in. But I was joking, since yeah, most RPGs have the occasional extremely simple puzzle in them…except little did I know what we were in for! Our gold standard for annoying pointless puzzle dungeons is FFX, so a few days later I then googled “how many cloisters in ffx” and learned that there were six cloisters–but by this point we’d probably done noticably more than that! I completely lost count of how many puzzle dungeons there ultimately were (and whether or not to include when we had to go to them additional times throughout the MSQ) but it was at least a dozen.
For absolutely NO REASON at all, every time you are told to go talk to an NPC, visit a town, or go find a dungeon you must first go through multiple empty maze like rooms. Nothing is obvious and towns have no maps what so ever so in some places (*cough*DAATH*cough) you can spend 15 minutes wandering in circles trying to figure out WHERE you’re supposed to. I knew shit was bad when literally the first thing I had to do in game was find Luke’s parents in his own house which took me a good 10 minutes of wandering through 7 empty rooms trying to figure out where the hell they were. It doesn’t help either that sometimes the awkward camera angles made it hard to realize that something may be a door at the bottom of my screen rather than just a plain wall.
Before we even get into how incredibly bad the dungeons design is, we were honestly surprised with just how badly even the TOWN design was. Because this game is old enough that it doesn’t include a minimap, there was a constant mismatch throughout the game between the size of a given area, the amount of the area that the game could display on a screen at once, and the density of locations on the map. The most extreme example by far was the cathedral in Daath, where there were frequently numerous different passageways in a given area, which in turn had further passageways (all with separate loading screens) in a way that it was impossible to remember where anything went. I mean look at this shit!!!!!!!!!
And then another headscratcher to us were all of the intermediary areas surrounding towns in this game. To take Daath as an example once again, to go there you first must take your ship to a nearby port, rather than the town itself. From there, you leave the port (and the ports are generally extremely small towns with more or less nothing to do or nobody to talk to), then walk a few steps over on the overworld map to Daath itself. But then rather than enter the town, you enter a tiny map of a hill overlooking the town that has a few NPCs on it that you walk past to get back to the overworld map. Then this puts you outside of Daath, so you have to walk forward another step or two to then FINALLY enter the town. Three completely extraneous loading screens for this! Why!!!!!!!!!???????????
I am so directionally challenged that this actually was a complete disaster for me. I need google maps to walk in a city I’ve lived in for 15 years and I have my map open in FFXIV at all times even though I’ve been playing the game for 10 years 🤣😭. So as you can see, a game where there’s no clear map in towns or dungeons (only an overworld map) with all dungeons looking like the same god damn room over and over just thinking about it sends me shaking internally. The near-ragequit point for me was when I got to this dungeon from hell called the Absorption Gate:
It was such hell that it took me 1 hour and 11 minutes to complete and that was with trying to follow some guy’s half assed video on youtube (and I say half assed because he cut out a bunch of parts that he probably thought were trivial but WERE ACTUALLY DIFFICULT FOR MY BRAIN LMAO😭😭). In case there are other sad directionally challenged souls, I ended up editing my run through, cutting out all the skits, cut scenes and the many times I got lost to make a cohesive walkthrough. It’s a good thing I did because the game made me come back here a SECOND TIME and of course even though most of the puzzles were done, there was still one small area you had to “figure out” how to get through which I wouldn’t have done without my own guide.🤣🤣🤣😭😭 Shurrey Hill and the musical note game was awful too and when I came back a 2nd time at the end of my stream to redo it because I missed a scene of Luke hugging Tear – I of course got LOST AGAIN LMAO and had to look up a video to remind myself where I had to press the correct switches to finish it. (ノ# ﾟдﾟ)ﾉ ┫:･’∵:．┻┻:･’．:∵ I’ve played every Final Fantasy game and I swear the dungeons in FF1 and 2 were less convoluted than the ones in this game.
But also remember that this isn’t just “age”, but rather being in a kind of transitional period in terms of technology. All those really old games like the original Final Fantasy were primitive enough that it needed to use a top-down perspective and technologically limited enough that they could never make an area too big, so this still generally gave you a pretty clear birds-eye view of most of a given level. And then obviously newer games will often have easy to follow built-in maps (and potentially fast travel) to ease getting around. Meanwhile here they can make these giant cut and pasted areas with lots of entrances and exits and staircases up and down that it’s just too much to keep in your head, and that’s even before trying to link all the different rooms together.
Anyway without beating a dead horse, the dungeon design and puzzles in this game are insanely cursed. Even when I finally got to the very end of the game, the game threw a curveball at me with some bullshit puzzle side quest, but fortunately an ancient GameFAQs text guide informed me that it was just a side quest and I can just ignore everything and proceed to the final boss ＿|￣|○ i|||i
I love to make the joke about how most walkthrough sites these days are completely useless because they’re all algorithmically generated bullshit compared to the good ol’ days of GameFAQs, but this game finally showed the limitations of those ancient text files. This game is just old enough that it only had text guides but would’ve greatly benefited from modernized HTML ones (like we used for recent Tales games like Berseria and Zestiria) that could put in pictures or diagrams or map to show us exactly how to get through these cursed dungeons, or embed a video to show exactly which pathways to take.
Yet as frustrating as that all was though, there was still no encounter design as idiotic in this game as the opening quest in Tales of Symphonia that prompted us to straight up ragequit once we realized that we would need to completely start the game over. (Boss fight BEFORE the start of the first dungeon, which then led us to assume that this would be maybe a short cutscene or maybe a puzzle or two rather than a full dungeon, then we assumed it would be a fairly short dungeon so we kept going through it and ended up burning most of our consumables trying to get to the end, then once we finished the dungeon the game removed the innkeeper at the starter town leaving us without an ability to heal and not enough items to be able to survive past the next few battles.)
Now my massive grief aside, the one thing I came to this game for: the characters were all amazing. Even though Luke started out as an annoying turd, he grew on me by the end and he definitely got better (except his LACK OF SEEING ACKNOWLEDGING TEAR’S FEELINGS LOL🤣😭). Every character had their charm, all the skits were hilarious, I laughed a lot. The story was fairly easy to follow even though it got a little convoluted with all the musical jargon but at least it kinda made sense in the end. So as far as characters and story, everything was great and if the god damn maps and dungeon design wasn’t so fucking cursed I would have loved to do more side quests (which because of the cursed design were mostly miss-able and completely not obvious unless you followed a guide or decided to randomly go to random parts of a map for no reason what so ever.) Despite constant frustration with dungeons and that horrid Absorption Gate, I still kept going because of my love for our gang and the story. (´;ω;`) I played with Japanese voice patch and the Japanese voice cast was absolutely stellar from Koyasu to Suzuki Chihiro voicing both Luke AND Asche and doing an amazing job.
So as you can see, the reason that we didn’t ragequit this game after it officially gained kusoge status (the first time we had to push a switch in a dungeon) was because this had probably the most fun cast of all the Tales games we’ve played and probably the strongest story. The other related part here that I want to highlight is that it also had some of the best skit pacing out of all the Tales games. I thought that Arise wayyyyyyyyyy overdid it to the point where the skits would grind the game to a halt when we were just trying to do basic things like heal at a campfire, and then on the extreme end was Zestiria which barely had any skits other than to try to explain the absurdly overcomplicated game mechanics. Meanwhile here the skits were peppered in to sometimes give a little more fleshing out to a previous cutscene or toss in one more joke.
And one other thing that I did actually like about the game design was that it had a very good journal. It filled in a lot of the story as you were progressing through the MSQ and gave you a general description of what to do next. This was very helpful when we might need to put the game aside for a few days so that we could easily understand where we left off. I feel like most games these days instead use a codex for the background, which is fine if you forget what the difference is between a Fon Master and a Scorer, but less useful for remembering the story itself. Where it did fall short though were the times where the exact specific actions you needed to take to trigger a progression in the quest, where it might say “Let’s ask the emperor for his help” but then simply trying to talk to him doesn’t seem to do anything (because instead you needed to like go to a specific part of the headquarters and then that would trigger a cutscene with him, that sort of thing.)
If I had to grind stats/weapons on top of all of the crappy dungeons I honestly don’t think I would have made it. Bamco knows this and that’s why all recent games have easy/very easy modes to let people steamroll through battles just to see the story (even though the battles/maps aren’t remotely as terrible nowdays.)
If I put aside the horrid dungeon/map design, I would say Abyss is definitely one of my favorite Tales games after Arise but the dungeon/map design really kills it and if you are someone who doesn’t have much patience (or is a masochist like me) you will not be able to make it through. I ended up ragequitting Tales of Symphonia for basically this exact reason because apparently it’s another shitty dungeon/puzzle simulator and since I had the steam version I couldn’t inject some codes (without installing 10 viruses into my computer) to at least make the grind painless. I know a lot of people enjoyed Abyss and have a “fond memory” of it but they probably only remember the story and the characters which is what truly shines in this game. The dungeon design aged poorly and if Bandai were to ever port this game they would have to basically redo every dungeon because they are HORRIBLE and most people in the modern era would not put up with this shit lol.
If you have a good sense of direction, a lot of patience, love old school puzzles then you will definitely enjoy this game more than me. If not, but you want to see great characters and story, you absolutely MUST HAVE PATIENCE and use TEXT AND VIDEO guides to get yourself through this. If Bandai ever did a true remake of this game (like FF7R) where they refined the dungeons to be less cumbersome it would be such an amazing game but of course instead they ignore one of their most hit games in favor of failing mobage. ಠ_ಠ I would still like to try Tales of Graces, and Xillia but I think I am going to take a bit of Tales break because my brain melted after all these puzzles. _(꒪ཀ꒪」∠)_
Thanks to those who stopped by my stream for the last 3 weeks. I’ll have some of my favorite skit moments and all my favorite Luke x Tear moments on Youtube later. (●´ω｀●) For those who can’t wait you can check out my highlights collection. I leave you with a video of Mieu spinning:
In short, the game DESPERATELY needs a FFVIIR-style remake. There’s a great core there with the characters and overarching storyline, but all of the level design, quest design, and encounter design is so unbearable that it needs to all get completely redone from scratch. I’ll even assume that they won’t completely the signature bad Tales combat system, but seriously redo the rest. But maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan the constant frustrations any time we had to actually interact with the game itself was constantly sucking the fun out of the game for us.