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Drip drip drip...

Today's the first day in a long time that we've had a temperature above freezing. Water is running off the roof in torrents.

I've spent the past few days doing magical snow removal (I quit) and playing Tales of Graces F for the PS3. Considering how much I had been waffling about whether or not I wanted to risk being disappointed by another Tales game, I actually like ToGF quite a bit. I've clocked about eighteen hours now. I've heard the game is quite short. Not that I have a problem with that. I have more of a problem with supposedly epic games that drag you through mindless clusters of events for 100+ hours. XD

I'm one of those rare Westerners who prefers the Inomata-designed "Team Destiny" games to the Fujishima-designed "Team Symphonia" games. I may still have a framed print of Skuld from Oh My Goddess! in my bedroom (for some reason) but I actually think that Fujishima is a pretty poor artist. It was Inomata's designs for Tales of Destiny that originally enticed me to try the series. Never mind that I thought the PSX version of ToD was pretty damn awful after I finished it. XD

You can play Japanese PS3 games on a U.S. console without modding the system. I wasn't about to break my Tales ban for Vesperia, but I couldn't say no to Graces F. Here are of my early impressions of the game:

The Good:

Much better CGI cut-scene direction than ToA. You never find yourself forced to stare at a character's back during an important speech. Characters don't strike so many weird poses. They do make some amusing faces, though, especially Richard after certain events...

Best battle system to date for a Tales game.

Lots of anime cut-scenes (although they don't look very good).

Brisk story pacing. More happens in five hours of ToG than in fifteen hours of ToA.

The Bad:

Totally unmemorable soundtrack.

Bad frame rate in towns might induce seizures.

Characters are incredibly dumb in the face of certain events.

I don't loathe any of the characters at this point. My favorites right now are Hubert and Richard, followed by Sophie. I'm indifferent to Asbel and Malik (though I believe that Asbel is probably the most f**ked up, whiny and masochistic Tales hero of all time). I don't care much for Cheria or Pascal at this point. Cheria is a bit of a bitch, but at least she doesn't play the "good girl" and constantly apologize for her actions. Her voice is also very, very weird. Pascal is...grating. I'm hoping she'll become less obnoxious later. Right now I'm not even sure why she's in the game. You literally find her sleeping on the side of the road and she's attached herself to the party ever since.

Asbel is....ha ha ha. I can't say that he's a badly written character. He is at least consistent. I'm just not sure what we're supposed to think of this guy who's constantly on the prowl for people he can latch onto under the guise of "protecting" them. He's Richard's sycophant for the first fifteen hours of the game, vowing grandiosely to protect him, help him regain the throne, take his pain away, be his "sword", perform sexual favors for him...okay, so I made up that last part, but if they had only stayed together longer...probably. The relationship between Asbel and Richard is pretty much fujoshi bait. It's like Burn on top of Keith in a corn field in the Psychic Force OVA-type of fujoshi bait.

The whole game is filled with implied man-on-man stuff. Sometimes too much is too much, but we ladies need some compensation for the lesbian lolita fan-service Gust has forced into the Atelier series, don't we? XD

Of course, once Asbel realizes that Richard is a nut (though you'd think that hellfire, fits of murderous rage and red, glowing eyes would suggest more than just ordinary megalomania) he decides to become obsessed with protecting Sophie instead. Even she assures him that she's "fine" and would rather use her powers to protect him a'la Leeloo he insists that she isn't fine. She has no memories, she doesn't know who she is or where she's from! She's sad and she needs him to protect her!

Obviously, the game's theme is about "protecting those you care about." Just the same, Asbel is the kind of character who would disguise himself as a masked intruder and smash his brother's legs with a crowbar just so he could push around his wheelchair. He hasn't gotten too heavy into the "mamoru" business with Hubert yet...but I'm waiting.

He's good for laughs, at least...