Well, it’s finally here. Tales of Arise can finally unleash its full force onto the world, delays notwithstanding. We’ve already done two previews of the game prior, each time eking out out what little we’re allowed to disclose. It’s not much different here, as, after all, the story is arguably why you’re here, but put it this way: with the full game, there is absolutely no more caveats attached to one’s recommendation of this game. With that preamble done, let’s go through it bit by bit.
The settings aren’t particularly plentiful, lacking accessibility options. However, if you find the game challenging, there is a Story difficulty to allow you to enjoy the, well, story, without worrying over getting stuck in fights. The slider goes from Story, Normal, Moderate and Hard, which vaguely sounds misleading, but there you have it. Subtitles can be turned on and off, without anything specific regarding closed captions.
What’s interesting is the Battle Music option. This will default to Arise‘s OST, but if you want, you can throw in the tracks from the other games in the series, and you can tweak the play order. Look at all those tracks!
From the previews, I’m sure it sounds like your regular JRPG plot: free the land by taking down the Evil Lords TM and everyone lives happily ever after. Then, one remembers that Tales is also fond of their “Sike!” plots. It would be best to ensure you’re secured in your seat when the moment does come. Look, I know I’m setting up for grand expectations here, and I don’t typically consider myself surprised at plot twists. Still, what’s most important is the way that it’s executed, and they’ve knocked it out of the park.
That’s not forgetting the characters in play here. Seeing characters develop over the course of the plot is one of the best things you can hope for in any great story. Who are these people who have been brought together to complete a task seemingly so much bigger than all of them? I mean, a handful of people are meant to have the fate of the world in their hands? Who woulda thunk? Alphen for one looks to be Shionne’s means to an end, but I’m sure you’ve seen the music video where he pulls her in for a hug. That’s just our leading duo, too. As always, you can see another side to characters through the series’ staple Skits. Keep an eye out for the rest of them!
While the leading cast shines through, the same can’t be said for the villainous side. They give off less presence than the characters we’re going to spend pretty much all our game time with, that the actual confrontations can feel flat. The realms they rule over have more lasting impressions, what with your time spent in exploring and how beautifully designed they are. Personally, if villains aren’t outright cartoonish and have understandable, if cliché, motivations, they’re fine.
Most of it has already been discussed in the earlier previews, but if you haven’t seen them yet, here it is again. Arise mostly sticks to the same formula as its other titles with a few differences. It’s an action RPG, though you can choose to engage in battles by approaching enemies. String together basic attacks and Artes (skills) for combos. There’s a lot more focus on evading and counters over blocks, less so if you play Kisara if her hulking shield doesn’t clue you in. You can’t spam your Artes either, as you will need to mix it up with basic attacks in order to fill up the Arte Gauge (AG) which otherwise requires a bit of waiting time to recharge. You will mainly control one character, while swapping to the other three on the field, with the rest acting as supports through Healing Artes or Boost Attacks / Strikes.
Boost Attack is a command to summon allies to perform their unique attacks suited to a particular situation, only usable if the Boost Gauge is full. Boost Strikes are one-hit kill attacks performed in tandem with an ally, complete with cinematic kill cam. Boost Strikes can only be performed on weakened or almost-dead enemies, upon which you will see the “STRIKE” prompt. On bosses, Boost Strikes only appear at around 50% HP, and signals more like a phase transition than an instant-kill. You can Break enemies as well, making them vulnerable and the only time where you can juggle enemies or perform uninterrupted combos.
You can trigger a special Boost Strike when facing strong bosses when you find the opening for a counterattack. You can miss executing some sick moves, so it’s not a scripted thing in battle. Of course, there’s also Mystic Arts when you hit Over Limit, allowing you to perform Artes without AG cost. This is executed by holding two pre-assigned Arte buttons at the same time, which the game doesn’t quite explain properly.
As unique as they are in story, they too have their perks in combat. Alphen’s is Flaming Edge, sacrificing HP to deal a strong and wide blazing sword attack. These perks are tied to their Boost Strikes, so you will need to pick up that tactical edge and not spam these off cooldown. You can instead try to target weak points, appearing as shiny parts on bosses. The fights can be brutal even on Normal difficulty, so focusing on these breakable points to stun enemies will be extremely helpful. Consumables and Healing Artes both use Cure Points, adding an other layer of management.
Don’t forget to shuffle your Artes as needed, both Ground and Aerial ones. You can learn them just by levelling up or enhancing abilities from the Skill Panel. Skill Points from levelling up can be used to unlock said Artes or Skills. Additionally, there are five slots for Emblems, which basically work as broad categories or sets of skills obtained from a variety of conditions – main story progression, sub-quests, levelling up. The Strategy menu is where you can set your party’s behaviour, whether to be aggressive, support, and the like. You initially have 3 each for Ground and Aerial Artes, later expanding to 6 each. It gives me the feeling of a fighting game, where I “main” one character and get on the road polishing their entire moveset.
THE WORLD AT LARGE
Arise features some “open world” actions with jumping and swimming, making exploration that much more interesting. The world has a sense of scale to match this increased freedom, with all the realms you visit having their distinct designs. Map Actions were briefly touched on previously, where a character can perform an unique action to open up more paths. This does consume CP though. Despite these additions, the game is still primarily linear, which isn’t a bad thing by any means. Enjoy your movement options as you gather up items dotted all over for crafting or cooking. You can even indulge in some “life sim” with raising livestock or fishing, posting a guard dog (to reduce the chance of monster attacks) or cat (to prevent mice from eating feed). Fishing is both for collection and cooking purposes.
Take a break at campgrounds to restore HP and CP. Here, you can try cooking or watching any previously viewed Skits. Cooking can provide temporary buffs (or not?) depending on who prepares the meal. Before turning in for the night, you can also get occasions to spend time with one party member. These are essentially the same as skits, but these moments tend to revolve around more serious topics. Other than that, you can check out the Merchant nearby to restock or upgrade equipment.
Inns are still present, with expanded facilities. They’re now a general store, blacksmith and metal engraver, for accessories. It’s incredibly convenient to cut out even more travel time, as you’re likely going to spend a lot of time fast travelling anyway. The blacksmith and metal engraver will be the services you’d want to upgrade stats, as you might expect. There’s no worry about having an ugly, extremely powerful weapon: you can change its appearance to whatever you fancy. Now that’s Tales of Fashion!
Aside from that, there’s the sub-quests from various NPCs. Standard stuff, flavoured with character interactions and rewards including SP and Emblems. Last but not least, you can search for hidden Owls that give you accessories. You can find an NPC later to get more rewards depending on how many Owls you’ve located.
Last but not least, the visuals. As mentioned, the realms have been wonderfully crafted, care that has extended to the presentation of the game. I would certainly assume it looks like a “standard 3D anime JRPG”, but seeing it in motion is just something else. The team have done excellent work with Unreal Engine 4. Perhaps one could say that every frame could be a wallpaper!
The past titles have often been limited to 2D skits, with animated portraits. Arise has made the move to 3D-esque skits, presented like a comic book and characters moving like a cutscene. I’m fine with either presentation to be perfectly honest, though I’d say the use of 3D allows it to be more expressive, with body language and more subtle expressions. One gripe is that these skits can be easy to miss, with the cues not particularly obvious at times.
It’s still relatively early in September, but Tales of Arise is quite a secure contender for Game of the Year. It isn’t simply a “refurbished” Tales game, incorporating many elements you recognize from the other titles, while putting its own spin to it that it feels brand new. Like I said, the “twists” aren’t necessarily The Most Surprising, but what matters is how it’s executed. It’s also an absolute joy to see the characters grow, that all that pay off from the time you spent with them has culminated into this.
There’s nothing to truly dislike aside from a few small things; draw distance quality on PS5, English localization choices, the occasional bug, to name some. The combat system can take some time to get used to and enjoy, with the lock-on not completely perfect. The camera can also feel sluggish at times.
As for the bigger picture, you definitely will want to play this game blind. If you’re aching for the next JRPG fix, Tales of Arise is an unhesitating recommendation.
Game code provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment. Played on PS5.
Tales of Arise
Truly worthy of an anniversary milestone mothership title.
- Incredible story and characters
- Solid combat system
- Amazing presentation
- Side content doesn't feel tacked on as filler
- Lock-on and camera could use some work
- Villains feel mostly forgettable
Who said the Tales series ever left?