This review can also be found at The Yorker.
Namco Bandai are notoriously bad at releasing their titles in Europe. Localisations can be a lengthy and expensive process, but often many EU releases of all but the biggest titles are just the US release reworked to run on PAL systems. Yet inexplicably, when it comes to titles that could remotely be considered 'niche' - Japanese RPGs especially - a European release seems rarely on the cards.
The best example of this for Namco Bandai would be the original release of Tales of the Abyss on the PS2, back in 2006. It got a release in the US, and widely positive reviews, but Europe never saw it. 6 years later, they've decided to re-release it on the 3DS under their own publishing, and this release was apparently worthy of seeing our shores. But even though that the official release date was back in November 2011, very few copies were printed. it's only in the last 3 months that enough copies are printed that it's reasonable to obtain a copy.
So, a little context on the series itself. The Tales Of games have been around since the SNES, all of them solidly made Action RPGs, set in vaguely-but-not-significantly related worlds.
Tales of the Abyss is specifically set in the land of Aulderant, where magic and monsters reign supreme, two major kingdoms are in conflict, there is the threat of an all out war on the horizon and-- okay, none of the setting is particularly engaging; all that needs to be known is that Fantasy Politics are a major theme.
You play as Luke fon Fabre, son of the Duke of Lanvaldear. You are also a selfish, spoiled, and arrogant manchild. Due to your political importance you have not left the castle for the last 8 years; so a co-incidental accident that teleports you far from your estate is your first true breath of fresh air.
Likewise, the character role is refreshing. With the majority of Japanese RPG releases being rather derivative in terms of setting and character design; a protagonist so carefully designed to make the player loathe him is an interesting change from the norm. Fortunately, while he's a big focus for the main plot, you're not required to play as him in battle.
Battles strongly remind me of old arcade beat-em-ups, there's an emphasis on setting up combos with your team mates, dodging the bigger telegraphed attacks, and knowing the limited abilities of your character inside out. And since Tales of the Abyss is an RPG, if that all sounds like too much work for you, you can get enough levels to steamroller anything in your path.
Aesthetically, Tales of the Abyss is quite pretty. The models are clean and colourful, the voice acting is well performed (but with English-only voice acting, if that matters to you at all), and the music is composed by JRPG music veteran Motoi Sakuraba. Where the problems lie is in whether you have played any of the recent Tales Of titles before. While they all tell their own stories, they are all mechanically extremely similar, and aesthetically identical, right down to the music.
Whether this is a problem for you as a player largely depends on how you like to consume your media. If you're looking for a unique experience, Tales of the Abyss definitely does not provide that. If you own another Tales Of game, you own this one. However, it's still a lengthy and robust RPG for your 3DS, and if you can get a hold of a copy, it'll breathe at least 60 hours more life into your handheld.