As predicted, Richard appears to be being possessed by something. I was pretty bummed out when he inevitably dropped out of the party, because aside from him being my favorite, none of the other characters have really leapt out at me as ones I'm itching to spend more time with. I think the problem is none of them have very compelling goals or motivations, and the ones that are interesting, like Asbel contemplating his reason for existing, gradually flicker out in favor of the plot.
And the plot...the Tales games are generally regarded as "play for the characters, not for the plot" and that's a sentiment I can't necessarily disagree with. While I liked Symphonia and Abyss's plots, and liked what Vesperia's was up to a point, the rest of the ones I've played (Destiny, Eternia, Hearts) had pretty passable, if forgettable, stories. Graces is no different, starting up with politics, followed by more politics, and now a fetch-quest of sorts where we have to go to area X to stop Y from happening (and Y happens in the end). I think they were looking for a reason to stretch out the game so it'd meet the usual quota of Tales games' lengths, but I'm looking at the average lengths of the beating the main story of other Tales games on HowLongToBeat.com and it really doesn't have to be as long as it supposedly is (45 hours) to tell a satisfying story, especially when it's as thin as it is now. Maybe things will change as I progress sooner than later, but I'm not counting on it. I can only hope that I'll eat my words.
Pascal isn't growing on me per se, but I am tolerating her a great deal more than I did in the first couple hours of her appearance. It helps tremendously that they (or at least for now) dropped the whole running gag with her wanting to touch Sophie.
Malik is, unfortunately, becoming less interesting to me the more we learn about him. I think the thing I was most interested in was his past relation to Richard, and it's puzzling that it hasn't cropped up again; their exchange in the childhood arc seemed to hint that something big was going to involve them in the future, but it's never come to fruition. As it stands, his backstory isn't bad, but it's not as involving or exciting as it could have been. I saw all of his extra scenes showing his past with Kurt and Lorelia and....I'm not sure if it was because of there being no voice acting in the scenes or what, but it didn't give me any sense of knowing Malik himself well. In fact, I'd say the one skit where he explains his fear of heights (and how he, hilariously, lost to Asbel and the gang at Wallbridge because of it) gave me a better feel of Malik as a person than any of his flashbacks could. Needless to say, Kurt's sacrifice and death scene didn't register as tragically as it could have.
And man does this game need a terminology section. It has a library section with various sub-sections, but none of it with a list of terms explaining the different locations or what the hell a "cryas" or a "valkines" are. As a result, the reveal that Pascal was an Amarcian also lost its shock on me...because I still had no idea what an Amarcian was. The game really, really needs to step up on its world-building before plunging us into its politics. It isn't unusual for a Tales game to introduce you to a host of new fantasy words without really explaining what they are, but it's been especially bad in this game.
I'm doing a lot of complaining in this entry, and I really wasn't planning on it! I'm still enjoying this game, and even if none of my party members are as compelling to me as Richard, I still like them and their interactions. I wish I had more to say about them, and hopefully will when I've finished the game.