JRPGs are gaming's period dramas - handsomely mounted yet reliably old-fashioned stories featuring immaculately styled haircuts and the kind of outlandish outfits that really allow costume designers to earn their corn.
With this month's World Of Nintendo showing that the DS is the equivalent of digital channel Yesterday, genre veterans will no doubt be hoping that 3DS still has plenty of room in its schedule for traditional role-playing. Encouragingly, Tales Of The Abyss makes for a good start to the 3DS program.
The 43rd entry in the Tales series, Abyss is a straight remake of the 2005 PlayStation 2 game. You're placed in the rouge loafers of rich loafer Luke fon Fabre, confined to his palatial family mansion following a kidnapping seven years earlier that - surprise, surprise - has wiped his memories.
Handily, when events take a turn for the pyriform, he turns out not just to be a keen swordsman but the person destined to bring balance to the Force - or rather, ensure that his kingdom prospers. (Presumably so ma and pa can keep him in Brylcreem for another year or so.)
FONON AND ON
So far so familiar, then. Yet if Namco mostly stay within the lines of a fairly dog-eared template, they still have a few surprises up their sleeve. The battle system - sorry, the Flex Range Linear Motion Battle System - offers a new spin on Tales' traditional real-time scrapping, in that you're no longer confined to fighting on a 2D plane, with a squeeze of the left shoulder button allowing you to run around as you please.
It's mostly used for avoiding incoming attacks, but also handy as another angle of approach. If you're the kind of sneaky sneakster who likes to get team-mates to draw fire before nipping unseen behind enemy lines to administer a sword to the rear, you've found your dream game.
Also new are Fields Of Fonons (FOF), circles that appear on the battlefield whenever elemental moves are performed. Alone these are entirely useless, but if you stack similar attacks, then the circle glows. Hop inside and special moves suddenly gain extra elemental force.
You won't see these too often early in the game - a blessing given the terminology overload of Capacity Cores, AD Skills and Fonslot Chambers - but by the halfway point the game will actively encourage you to FOF around in battle. It's particularly important during boss encounters where you'll need to work out which elemental alignments work best - hammering A just won't cut it against these HP-obliterating gits.
Of course, you're not alone in the fight. Three of your party can join in, and you can pause at any time to adjust their tactics, asking them to take a more active role or to hang back lobbing spells and healing the walking wounded. You can even ask them to use particular specials at key moments, and the touch screen allows for four such commands to be issued without the need to call a temporary halt to the action.
You'll rarely need to babysit your AI friends against small enemies but they can go to pieces at the sight of anything bigger, blundering into area attacks from lumbering blob-beasts and standing stock still directly in front of monstrous mechs, as if actively inviting a robot fist to the chops. Even without such suicidal behaviour, boss battles will be a struggle for those without the necessary deciphering skills, tactical nuance all but lost in a fog of kanji.
Importers should also be wary of the dialogue-heavy plot. Abyss isn't one for visual storytelling, with words speaking louder than actions in the chat-heavy cutscenes. Further character beats can be found in optional 'skits', talking-head sequences that add a pinch of extra flavour, but only if you speaka da lingo. And the absence of checkpoints ensures plenty of hapless stumbling until you trigger the next plot-advancing event.