Tales of the Abyss: a name that, even years after the facts, rouses powerful emotions in my gamer’s heart. Not only was it my first Tales game, but it was also my first JRPG — in the modern sense of the word. Make yourself comfortable and bring out the popcorn, dear fellow gamers: for this is the story of my tempestuous relationship with a game I’ll gladly part with now.
I played TotA during the summer 2013, a couple of months before launching That Extra Level!. That was roughly nine years ago; and yet, I remember everything with vivid clarity. The red vintage armchair in which I lounged while playing, the TV shows I listened to on my computer sitting on the coffee table next to me, the summer light filtering through the blinds, the whole atmosphere and feel of the 35 hours I spent on TotA.
One word perfectly sums up my experience with that game: obsession. My feelings for TotA were beyond such trivial things as love and hate — although I did feel both in turns. I felt compelled to play it by a force greater than my gaming instinct; it fascinated me and revulsed me all at once, and yet I couldn’t stop. I cannot think of another game that awoke such powerful and conflicting feelings in my gamer’s heart — and I’m glad there is no other, honestly.
Why did TotA make such an impact? I could try to pinpoint a number of reasons. First, this was my first encounter with an RPG in which the narrative and the characters were so paramount — i.e. a modern JRPG. I’ll be honest: I don’t even like the cast of TotA, and yet they wormed their way into my mind and stayed with me weeks after I finished the game. I was not ready for this: I came from a place where heroes were mute lone rangers and gameplay reigned supreme. But the TotA crew… Man, they were not mere RPG characters; they were friggin’ anime characters. Their woes and inner conflicts were all over the place, and you couldn’t escape them even if you wanted to. (SPOILERS!) Luke behaving like a spoilt kid to hide his destroyed psyche, Tear displaying some maturity beyond her years yet being a sensitive and shy young woman at heart, Guy concealing his murderous intents behind over-the-top optimism and cheerfulness and warming up to Luke in earnest, Jade being cool and caustic yet genuinely caring about his younger charges, Natalia being deeply dependable and duty-oriented despite her petulancy… (End of SPOILERS) Gosh, I still remember all this, and I don’t even want to!
And then you had the gameplay. Look, I’ll bare my heart here: TotA is one of my worst RPG gameplay experiences. My memories are kinda hazy; but I still remember dark labyrinthine dungeons full of tedious puzzles, a stealth mission in a defile that sucked dry my will to live and nearly made me (rage)quit, a ridiculously convoluted fighting system whose full mastery always seemed to elude me, a lot of backtracking, interminable trips between locations, and a general feeling of not enjoying myself. And yet, I couldn’t drop that darn game: as tedious as its gameplay was, it was also new and fresh, something I had never experienced before. Not only that, but I was still in the early stages of my Second Coming of Gaming: you could have thrown the worst RPG ever at me, and I’d probably have lapped it up anyway. Oh, and let’s not forget that I was coming out of literal years of videogame deprivation, and that dropping a game was simply unthinkable at the time.
|Why, I didn't remember decking up my team in bathing suits. Naughty, naughty me! ♠|
And there you have it, dear fellow gamers: my own private Tales of the Abyss story. I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand why I played that game to the bitter end, or fully grasp the depth and complexity of my feelings towards it. But I know one thing for sure: I don’t ever wanna play it again, and to the pawn shop it’s headed! Somehow, I feel better after writing this; I guess I needed to spill my guts about TotA, once and for all. I’ll see you soon with more gaming goodness, dear fellow gamers; in the meantime, take care and have fun!