- My opinion as Aston didn't improve any with the sidequest explaining how he and Kerri met. In fact, I kind of think it made him out to be an even bigger prick than he was already. When I got the scene where he says to Kerri something along the lines of "Learn to love the flowers--if you don't love the flowers you'll never learn to love people!" all I could think of was "Wow! What a self-righteous dick." This is all on top of deceiving Kerri and treating her coldly when she did nothing to earn this degree of scorn from him. Asbel, don't worry about not being being able to tend the flowers again.
- The game pushed for Cheria/Asbel, yet it continues to show a clear preference for Asbel/Richard. They fell off the cliff again! Richard protects Asbel from the monsters! They now share an even deeper connection having both experienced Lambda! He touches Asbel tenderly on the cheek. The skit with Richard calming Asbel down and telling him to focus on the present after his intense stress over the future was really excellent too.
- Speaking of, the actual romance was cringe-inducing to experience. Hubert is suddenly crushing on Pascal, Asbel is suddenly crushing on Cheria. They're not farfetched ideas in and of themselves, but after playing a whole game where there were no hints of Hubert or Asbel showing interest in those characters that went beyond platonic, it feels out of nowhere and sloppily executed. It could easily be remedied on Asbel's part if Cheria were as frequently on his mind as Sophie and Richard, but it's too late by the time L&L begins, and even when the game is pushing for the romance, Asbel is still most preoccupied with the wellbeing of those same characters. This could be acceptable on its own, however, were it not for added embarrassment that was the in-game shipping amongst the characters, of the "Oooh, you care about them, don't you!" variety. It really says something when the game itself can't devote enough time to letting the romances develop on their own and has to rely on a bunch of skits to get the ship moving.
That said, the promise scene where Asbel implicitly confesses his love to Cheria felt really well-done and natural. When the game allows the two to just interact without any obnoxious interjections from the party members, they have a sweet dynamic. A shame we couldn't see more of it in the game.
- Asbel might be the purest of the Tales heroes I've seen so far. He sympathizes with Emeraude, even knowing about the cruelty she exposed to Lambda and what she planned on doing, and still felt like it was a decision she was forced to make to restore life to Fodra. For someone who's pegged as being dense and not all that bright, he's a remarkably thoughtful and considerate individual whose heart goes out to even the worst of people.
- I loved the Richard-Sophie bonding so much. The scene where Richard takes Sophie to the fort he used as a kid was so sweet. And the post-battle "Are you alright?" "I am now." The Asbel-Sophie-Richard friendship is easily, consistently the strongest thing about the game, and seeing them redo their friendship pact was incredibly rewarding.
- Other things I liked: Sophie and her concerns for the future as someone incapable of dying, Emeraude having a post-mortem role, Hubert commenting on Lambda-Richard's lack of clothing, Richard telling Asbel what not to do with Lambda, Victoria in a bikini, the Mask of Barona, Asbel and Lambda's interactions, Lambda pointing out that Sophie has fulfilled her purpose and is left with nothing, leaving Asbel to just curse at their situation.
And that's it for Graces! I'm not sure how I'd rank it among the other Tales games I've played...mainly because I feel like I need to replay some entries to say for certain. I'm not sure which one I'll play next--Xillia, maybe? I still have Phantasia and Legendia left on my plate to finish too, and I need to get a copy of Zestia and Xillia 2. I'm aiming to have all the English releases beaten by the time Berseria comes out...