Before I go into this, if you are the type of person who judges a movie or show based on the book or game it was based off of, you are a fool in my eyes. If a "movie will never be as good as the book it's written off of", then you should give up your petty argument, and try judging it as a work of cinema, not as a work of literature. The thought of taking a 50 hour gameplay game, and squishing it into a 10 hour series will of course leave out very important aspects. That being said, the Video game is a GREAT video game, much as the anime is a GREAT anime, even if there was alot of important information lost along the way.
Story: 9 out of 10
Much in the vein of my favorite series Last Exile, the series revolves around two great nations, pitted against each other in an accidental war that was orchestrated by a secret order. An unlikely group of people end up together, and through the hardships, they grow. Tales of the Abyss is set in a fantasy world, which is wholly original, and relaxed. They do nto take every opportunity to throw another namedrop phrase here or there, and this makes it feel more genuine to me.
Due to the nature of the series, mostly anything I say would be a spoiler, so for now, you'll just have to trust my judgment when I toss you vague descriptions :]
The series revolves around Luke, the son of a Duke (Wow... I just now caught that... Luke the Duke? He'd definitely get his ass kicked in high school) who accidentally falls into a group of people that are trying to stop their world from being destroyed. Bad Guy 1 (no spoilers :D) has decided mankind needs a kick start, and he then starts to destroy the known world by destroying a magical device that keeps the world operating functionally. This is for lack of better words "poop" to Luke and his friends, who agree that the world needs a change, but does not need to be a clean slate devoid of life. The true treasure of the series is watching the characters grow together, and specifically Luke who grows from a child into an adult quite incredibly.
And also there's magic, murder, and Cheagles. Why aren't you watching this already?
Animation: 8 out of 10
Animation was a real treat in TotB. Very fluid fight scenes, pretty posture and character design, gorgeous landscapes, innovative, and original architecture and creatures, and beautiful landscapes. I can't say I agree with the costuming, as it seems to borrow heavily from fashions I recall in more childish series as a kid such as Yu-Gi-Oh, and Luke’s hair in the beginning fading poorly from red to blonde at the tips looks like something straight out of a Chris Hart book (In case you don't know who that is, go to Barnes and Noble, check the drawing section, and laugh your butt off at how horrible his How to (not) draw anime books are).Everything from the amazingly cute Cheagle, to the incredibly cool Fonic Artes systems, this series had some great creative drive. The only things I didn't like were how they drew the Grand Maestro in his arc at the end. VERY Yu-Gi-Oh card to me haha.
Sound: 7 out of 10
Sound was played down a bit to me because of the melodrama it focused on. Background music was all sort of plain, and the series relied heavily on passionate shouts for dialogue at times. "Tear! NOOOOOOOOOO!". Very hard to listen to in every single episode, and although it was never enough to ruin the scene (which is why story stayed so high), the sound did take a beating with me.
Characters: 8 out of 10
Characters was a tough call. The main characters are all fun, loveable, and visibly grow throughout the series, but not so much for the bad characters. Not a single bad character (Besides one who is more of a neutral player that I won't name) had any sort of growth. Up until the very end, there is absolutely no growth. It's frustrating to see "evil" people, being portrayed as "they are evil because they cannot change their minds.". To me, you can have resolve in something without being so ignorant that you wouldn't change if the truth bit you on the neck. Another tough call is that the characters are loveable, but can be sort of stereotypes at the same time. Everyone fits into their niche, whether it be calm, and cool military man, or the bubbly, cutesy youth girl. Near the end, they all break the mold on their own, and bond as a group, and this is where they truly shine. However, in the beginning, it is very hard to get into them if you hate those stereotypes as I do.
Overall: 8.5 out of 10
Overall, perhaps I am biased seeing as how I find it similar to my own favorite series, but I truly believe this to be a sleeper of a series. Perhaps people are too tough a critic because it came from a game, or perhaps people cannot get over Luke's terrible personality in the first 7 episodes. Who knows? I just hope if you're reading this, you've decided to give it a try, because it really was a treat to watch :]