I said in my brief preview of the game that the Tales series as well as Shin Megami Tensei were really best of class when it comes to JRPGs, and after finishing Tales of Arise, I can honestly say that that opinion still stands up. Between gorgeous graphics, a decent story, likeable characters and a fun combat system, Tales of Arise is one of few RPGs I’ve played in the last year that has really had me wanting to complete the game fully.
The story in Arise is that Milla Maxwell (Lord of Spirits) and the unsuspecting Jude Mathias break into a research facility to destroy the Lance of Kresnik, a device that kills spirits and turns them into destructive power. As is normal, stuff goes wrong, you flee the city and you’ll spend almost the entire game getting back to the first city to destroy the Lance. I actually really liked how focused the story was, it’s not terribly often you have a real goal in mind for such a long time, though they do pull the rug out from under you near the end to show the real boss, but it was over thirty hours into the game before that happened.
There are a lot of systems I love in this game. I still love the skits that happen during play sometimes; I love the way that you need to level up shops by buying items, donating gald or materials, which unlocks new items and discounts; I love the combat system, and all its complexities.
The combat starts out in very traditional JRPG style: running into an enemy puts you into a instanced battle, where you lock onto an enemy and can run in a line toward or away from them (by default) or hold down a button to enable ‘free run’ and run around the battlefield. Battles are done as an Action RPG, so you’ll be able to fight off enemies and dodge their attacks in real time, all the while using your Artes (spells/skills), and building up all sorts of meters to launch special attacks.
There’s a lot to consider in battle too. Am I using the right elemental abilities? Is my linked partner helpful against this specific type of enemy? If I use my linked Arte now, will I still have enough time to dodge attacks? The AI isn’t hugely smart either, so you’ll want to fiddle with the strategy section to make them actually useful in battle. You’ve got six characters with you (only four per battle) which you can switch on the fly in battle, so it’s easy enough to change the tide of battle if you’re of strategic mind.
I do have some issues with the amount of side-content though. Coming from Tales of Vesperia, there doesn’t seem like there’s anywhere near as much ‘other’ stuff to do during the game, and this is especially true post-game. There are side quests, sure, but you’ll miss most of them unless you go over every area with a fine tooth comb after each story beat, because many of them are timed, and you’ll lose them unless you take them all up (and complete them) before continuing.
Another slightly weird thing is the fact the story is split depending on who you choose at the very beginning of the game. You can choose between Milla and Jude, and both play very differently. During the main story, these two will split off and you’ll get one side of the story. I sort of liked this idea, but I don’t think it was taken far enough; the splits only happen around four times, and each time is only really for a single area. It felt like this feature was implemented to make up for the lack of side content.
One of my favourite things about the Tales series is the titles/grade system, which are unlocks awarded for completing certain things in game, such as killing a lot of monsters, or using a lot of linked attacks, or finding loads of treasure chests. When you unlock a title you also earn grade, which is used at the end of the game for New Game+ to change the criteria for your next play through, such as keeping your current level, or your items, or earning twice as much experience.
I loved the music on show too. Motoi Sakuraba composed the music here, and it’s great all the way through. There are some tracks with a distinct Asian flair, the battle music never got old, and there’s the traditional RPG-style orchestral scores.
There are two more things about the game that really surprised me, so I want to bring them up. The first is the Lilium Orb, the system you use to level up. This is absolutely fantastic and really hits the right spot for me In terms of levelling; it’s a giant ‘web’ of skills, where you buy ‘points’ across each strand of the web, and when you complete a strand, you get the skill inside the strand. Each of the points has its own attribute attached too, such as extra health, strength or vitality, as an example.
The other point was one that was completely surprising for me; there are some very heavy plot points in the game that can be completely missed. Stuff like genocide, child slavery and trading, suicide, the consequences of differing needs in survival, conspiracies; this game has some hugely deep themes, which I am always delighted to see.
Tales of Arise is a great game, plain and simple. Sure, it’s not as good as Tales of Vesperia or some of the other games, but that doesn’t make it any less great on its own merits. If you’re interesting in a game that has a good story, fun characters, an awesome unlock system and great combat and looks fantastic to boot, then you’ve really got no reason to not already own this game. Go on now, get.
Final Score: 8 – Amazing
Tales of Xillia was received as a promotional copy from Namco Bandai. The entire game was completed on Milla’s side, up to and including all post-game content. Play time was around forty five hours.