Originally Posted by Urban Scholar:
I know you often get asked this but in what overall sense? I've played many a RPG so if you had to compare it to anything?
I do get asked this often, but I haven't really taken the time to fully articulate what I like about it, so I'll do that now.
The Tales series forked at the beginning of the PS2/GC era, when one team was created to work on Tales of Symphonia, and another to work on Tales of Destiny 2 for PS2. These two teams have progressed very differently over time, to the point that games from each team have a very different focus. Team Symphonia focuses more on story and world building, whereas Team Destiny focuses on the gameplay.
Tales of Graces is a Team Destiny game. It has a decent story and cast of characters, at least better than any other Team Destiny game, but the real meat is in the combat and the auxiliary systems of the game.
If you've played Symphonia, Abyss, Vesperia or any other Tales game released in English, you'd know that at their core, they are very similar. Use TP to execute artes. Graces isn't like that. In fact, Graces doesn't even have regular attacks. Instead, each character has two styles - A style, and B style - and shifting between them is the core of the combat.
To perform any action, a resource that replaces TP called CC is used. CC regenerates fairly rapidly, but not fast enough to allow you to spam moves. CC can be regenerated faster by dodging at the right time, exploiting a weakness, or other such things. Each action (including free running!) costs a certain amount of CC. "A style" replaces your regular attacks, and is performed with your weapon sheathed. Instead of just having a regular attack, A style gives you several attacks laid out in a tree-style formation. You move through the tree depending on what direction you're holding as you attack and what the last attack you performed was. Each attack has its own special effect. "B style" is more like the standard special attacks that you're used to from Tales, demon fang and all of that. You have to unsheathe your weapon to use these. The game also has a "critical gauge" that fills up as you act that, once filled, will grant you a free critical hit and later, a free heal - the caveat as that this bar fills up more rapidly if you vary your attacks instead of using the same ones over and over again. I mentioned above that free running uses CC. That's because it's only supposed to be used as a last resort. Graces has a system called "around step" that lets you strafe around an enemy in 3D space, and doing so at just the right moment as you're attacked gives you a massive CC boost. Chaining from A style into B style with different attacks to get different effects while managing your CC and critical gauge is really the core of the combat.
Outside of combat, the game takes some traditional Tales systems and uses them a little differently.
First, titles. Titles have been in a lot of Tales games, and you earn them through the story, sidequests, etc., but haven't usually been all that useful. In some games (Vesperia), they don't even do anything at all. Well, in Graces they serve as your primary progression system. After battles in Graces, you earn SP. Each title has several abilities and/or passive traits which are learned when that title reaches a certain amount of SP. So finding titles and leveling them to get new traits and abilities is a huge focus, and a refreshing change from completely useless titles in previous games.
Second, cooking. Traditionally in Team Symphonia games, cooking is done after battle one time and requires ingredients each time. In Graces, items are cooked through the new item creation system called "dualize." Once you create some food, you throw it into the arles pot and assign a condition to it. These conditions are much like gambits from FF12, stuff like HP < 20% -> rice ball or things of that nature. During battle, when a condition is met, the food item will be used automatically (only once per condition per battle, though). The arles pot has a finite amount of energy, and each food item has an energy cost, so it's not always a good idea to put your strongest food on an easy to trigger condition. Once the pot is out of energy, you have to have it refilled at a shop.
Dualize. I mentioned it above, but it can be used to create all kinds of items and equipment. It's quite fun to experiment with it, and I think is much more interesting than the system in Vesperia where you just meet specific requirements at a shop to buy a new item.
These are the main reasons why I love Graces so much, and honestly I could go on and on about how well all of the systems work together in the game. It has what I feel is the best combat in the series by far, and some of the most interesting auxiliary systems. Only Tales of Rebirth really gives it a run for its money in that area. I really want people to give it a try and have the opportunity to see what I (and many others) see in the game.