Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
The Tales Of series has always been one that has been near and dear to my heart. I remember days of my youth spent with my friends beating various titles 100% on the hardest difficulties, making our own challenge runs, completing the games in one sitting. Some of the more recent titles, however, have left me rather disappointed. Xillia and Zestiria specifically have left me with a rather sour aftertaste. Needless to say, I was super excited when I saw the trailer for Tales Of Arise. “Is this it?” I was wondering, “Could this be a redeeming title?”. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed, and you’re about to find out why.
Tales Of Arise is the story of uprising and liberation. In a world where there are two planets close together (let’s ignore the physics involved here), the inhabitants of Dhana have been enslaved by the inhabitants of Rena. The Renans have access to powerful magic, as well as technological advances, and use the Dhanans as slave labor and fuel for their Astral Energy furnaces, or the games equivalent of mana, if you will. One man, with an iron mask and amnesia, who cannot feel pain, is doing his work on the continent of Calaglia, hoping for a revolution. One day he comes across an escaped Renan convict, Shionne, who produces thorns that cause terrible pain to anyone who gets too close to her. Together, the two will join the resistance movement in order to dethrone the Renan lords who are currently ruling over Dhana, along with the friends they meet along the way.
I should express right now that the game gets exceedingly cornier and cliché as it progresses, and while there are a lot of plot points I didn’t see coming, there are also a lot anybody could see no problem. While I wouldn’t say the plot is bad or anything, there are some moments where you may be groaning at overused clichés. Hey, at least the characters are pretty interesting and all rather unique.
Unlike many of its predecessors, Tales of Arise is not a multiplayer title, just in case you were wondering about that. What Arise lacks in human friends though, it attempts to make up in combat. Now, if you’re like me and have played basically every Tales title with an English translation, be prepared for the combat mechanics to totally throw you for a loop. It took me nearly half the game to really figure out what I was doing, but when I did? Oh man, was it worth it. In a nutshell, Arise is significantly more action oriented than many of the previous Tales titles. You have a large area to fight in when you get into an enemy encounter, and have pretty much free range with the character you are controlling. Characters have a set number of hits in their combos, after which there is a delay before they can start again, like Tales games tend to do, but with a few notable twists.
First off, the action point system is back, where using skills in battle will consume so many points that will need to be recovered. These skills can be chained into aerial combos, or used in succession as long as you have the AP for it. Spells and casted artes also require AP to function, but there is now a new “Cure Points” gauge, which is a measure of how much healing you are allowed to do. This gauge can be recovered through items, but also remains after battle until you take a rest.
Second up we have the fact that you can evade and counter. That’s right, there’s evasion in a Tales game. By evading just before an enemy hits, you will take no damage, and be open to counterattack enemies. Counter hits tend to deal more damage, and are significantly more likely to flinch an enemy. You can also keep on evading if you want, as while there is an invincibility period delay between uses, there isn’t much of a cooldown on the ability at all. Finally, we are introduced to a lot of enemies and bosses having big glowing weak points. Breaking these will result in stuns and increased damage for a period of time, and will regenerate for you to break again.
One of the biggest learning issues for me in Arise was when to evade, as I am far to used to older titles where you block, or brute force your way through. It wasn’t until a major boss about halfway through the game, where I thought the fight was unwinnable to start, where after 10 seconds I finally learned how to play. Thirty hours in, and finally I realize why I was getting the pants beat off me in boss fights. After those first 10 seconds where I nearly had a full party wipe, I went the rest of the fight without getting hit. Considering the absolutely massive amount of damage enemies, especially bosses, can do to you, learning to evade is a must. Trust me, the game is all about learning patterns, unlike previous games were all about getting as many hits in as possible.
Apart from the standard leveling mechanic, you will also earn skill points from fights. These points can be used to redeem skills associated to titles that you can earn throughout the course of the game. Titles can be tied to certain side quests, story events, or in-battle achievements, and offer a lot in the way of character upgrades. For example, being able to move while casting is a huge deal. Upon purchasing all the skills under a title, you are rewarded with bonus stats. Now, at this point I’d like to address a lot of concerns I’ve been hearing about exp and sp rates, and how it’s basically mandatory you buy the double exp and sp dlc. Long story short, it isn’t necessary at all. Let me give you a rundown of why.
Now, a bit of info on the combat system as a basis here, but after finishing combat, you will earn exp, sp, and combat points. Once you unlock combat points, they will function as a battle result multiplier, where the more fights you get into in quick succession, they higher you can get, or keep, the multiplier. Not only can you earn about 2.5x exp and sp when maxed initially, it also increases item drop rates. Also in the game are artifacts, some of which will boost exp and sp up to 100%, meaning a maximum of 3.5x exp and sp earnings. Combat points are simply for the multiplier, but will take affect before rewards are given. I.e. if you start a fight at rank zero, and earn enough in-battle points to get you to rank 3, you will be given rank 3 earnings after the battle. Keeping this gauge high is the key to getting a lot of big earnings in battles and from bosses.
Furthermore, while there is a level limit of 100, you are not expected to hit this before beating the main storyline. I’d say probably somewhere between level 50 to 60 is where you will finish at. This is similar for titles, as all of them are technically earnable before you clear the game, but are meant to also carry through to the post game, so you aren’t MEANT to hit the cap on sp for skills before the end of the game, despite the possibility of having unlocked the option to unlock all the titles. As for exp, bosses tend to be almost entirely skill based for the most part. What I mean is that if you think you are too underleveled, you need to either rethink you playstyle, or check your accessories. There is a reason the game gives you accessories to reduce elemental damage by 50%.
Also on the subject of combat, you are allowed four main combatants, but your reserve members can be swapped in at any time, as long as they are alive. Furthermore, each character gets a special boost attack, which will down a certain enemy type, allowing you to get more damage in, or preventing them from performing certain actions. Reserve boosts can be used at any time, provided the cooldown isn’t active. I’d also like to point out that I have tried playing as all the currently available characters, and they all have a specific role to play, and they are all viable as well, meaning that who you play as is largely up to your personal preference.
Now, outside of combat you will be exploring maps, picking up food ingredients, examining points of interest, and completing sidequests. There are a lot of fast travel points, so getting around is quite easy, but even without that, you actually move pretty fast, and can run! And jump! AND SWIM!!! I was amazed at the freedom of movement you’re allowed on the field maps. As you’re exploring you may come across a campfire. Here you can rest and recover health and cure points, as well as view skits, including those you may have missed, as well as personal interactions between Alphen and the other party members. The personal scenes are both time and progression gated, and are always available again after a set amount of in-game time, just so you aren’t fretting over it like I was at first. At the campfires you can also cook meals, which will have different effects depending on the meal cooked, ranging from defense increase, to more ores acquired from rocks.
Speaking of ores, weapon crafting is back! Bring the set number of specific materials to a blacksmith, hand them over along with a sometimes moderate fee, and presto! New weapons! Armor on the other hand is bought or found in chests scattered throughout the areas you’ll be exploring. Accessories can also be found, but may also be crafted if you have the correct materials. Speaking of equipables, the cosmetics in this Tales title are fancy. They actually have dynamic physics attached to them. For instance, if you give a character the cat ears cosmetic, they actually move according to the character that has them equipped (not just following them around). As you are exploring, you may also come across large monsters, called gigants. These are powerful and usually challenging foes that will drop astral flowers when defeated, which increase your maximum cure point value.
As per usual, I have to say that the musical score is once again fantastic. From composer Motoi Sakuraba, a long time composer for the Tales series, as well as Valkyrie Profile, Baten Kaitos, Eternal Sonata and more. Coupled with some very pretty graphics, dynamic character models, and array of rather expressive facial expressions, and Tales of Arise certainly is the prettiest entry in the Tales franchise to date, both to the ears and the eyes!
In conclusion, Tales of Arise is an absolutely amazing entry in the series. While Arise may forgo the ability to play with friends, it has more than made up for it in the refined combat system. I loved playing Tales of Arise, and while sometimes the cliched plot irked me a little, there wasn’t a whole lot to really complain about that wasn’t personal preference only. Just be prepared, Arise doesn’t tend to pull its punches, so be prepared for some tough fights. Yeah, you can beat that optional level 60 boss at level 42, but it will be very frustrating and you’ll use most of your healing items. I did it though, and that means so can you, it just means that there is a bigger emphasis on skill factor now.
Even if you haven’t played a Tales title before, anyone who is interested in JRPGs or action type games will probably feel right at home here.Score: 9.5 / 10