Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here $99.95 AUD – Available Here
The Tales series has become one of the longest running Japanese RPG franchises with consistent releases through the years and while every release has seen some form of upgrade or modification, few titles have really changed the mold in recent years. In fact, the gap between games in the franchise has always been small to the point that the release of Tales of Berseria nearly five years ago marked the largest time between releases in series history. As such, with Bandai Namco taking extra time to revitalize the franchise, have they managed to succeed with Tales of Arise? With a brand new engine, multiple modifications to a familiar combat system, and more, Tales of Arise may just be one of the best games in the series so far.
Three hundred years ago the advanced planet of Rena invaded the medieval world of Dahna and took advantage of their technological supremacy to lay waste to the Dahnan population. After utterly destroying the planet’s forces, the Renans split the land into five separate regions and enslaved the Renan’s to do their bidding. So much time has passed since the invasion that the Renans’ spirits have been all but crushed to the point that almost nobody is willing to resist the Dahnan rule, even with the cruel slave labor being simply used to gather Astral Energy that is then gauged in a once every decade contest to select the next Renan king/queen from among the five ruling lords at the time.
Players take the role of Alphen, an amnesiac Dahnan slave who, until a few hours into the game, cannot even remember his name. To make things even stranger, he is incapable of feeling any kind of pain and ironically ends up teaming up with a Renan woman on the run named Shionne who suffers from a curse that shocks and hurts anyone who tries and touches her. With his inability to feel pain and her “thorns” the pair seem like a perfect match however that is far from the truth as long standing issues constantly keep the two at odds. Considering the two only begin working together simply because their abilities benefit one another, watching their relationship evolve throughout the story works incredibly well. In fact, while Alphen may not be the most interesting character around on his own, his interactions and growth with Shionne make for some of the best character moments in many recent Tales games.
Of course this is a bit expected because the relationships between party members and their interactions with one another has always been a key element in the franchise and that remains a strong element throughout Tales of Arise. Although the appearance of the classic “Skits” may have changed slightly they are still as numerous as ever and players will constantly be able to see their party members interacting with one another and talking about various things that either just happened, random cultural differences, or even just messing around. In fact, the campsites that players use to cook meals will also be a source of small conversations between the party as well as one on one interactions with Alphen and other party members. All of these moments of characters chiming in to have their own say helps develop their personalities and really give players a sense of the team and how they are growing throughout the journey. Of course it also helps that the characters themselves are strongly written on their own whether it be the pugilist Law, pampered Dohalim, or the owl toting Rinwell, every character in the group brings something to the table.
Outside of the actual character storylines and interactions the overall tale told in Tales of Arise may start a bit small and rather dark in nature as it deals heavily with enslavement and sacrifice, things eventually grow rather massive in scale as they tend to do with JRPGs. That being said, most of these massive twists and major reveals are paced out well enough to not entirely overwhelm the player and help let some of the heavier moments hit with enough emotional impact as a result. That being said, players should be ready for some of the smaller plot points to take quite a long time to be revealed as often a few elements are brought up, dropped for hours on end, only to be answered much later as a result of most of the aforementioned twists and reveals. As a result, Tales of Arise once again feels like the best parts of the story are the journey with the characters, though considering the cast assembled here, that is hardly a bad thing.
As players explore the various lands that they must travel through they will encounter a number of sprawling environments that have little goodies often hidden away. These can range from simple ingredients used for cooking or items with permanent stat boosts, ore used to craft accessories, or even chests and Owls. Alongside these items to track down players will encounter plenty of monsters, called Zeugles this time around, with a few occasionally appearing far beyond what the player may be capable of at the moment, instead serving as an optional boss fight at a later time. In rather interesting fashion, Tales of Arise allows players to make heavy use of quick travel between maps and, while the exploration and combat is incredibly satisfying, it is often great to be able to immediately return to a town and report a side-quest complete or travel to an old location in an instant should the need arise.
While the Tales franchise has always made use of a fairly fast paced battle system players will find that Tales of Arise has taken things a step further and made a number of changes throughout the system. Players will still be able to control only one character in their party at a time, though they can be swapped between at any time, and make use of standard attacks and Artes to chain together combos against enemies while also trying their best to avoid taking damage by almost always dodging out of the way. In fact, only Kisara is actually able to block attacks so players will want to definitely master being able to dodge attacks, especially since there is a counter option available for quick payback.
As usual, Artes cover any type of skill that players use in combat be it a weapon attack or magical ability but this time around rather than trying to tie it to a standard gauge, players will now have an “AG” (Artes Gauge) that dictates how many Artes the player can use before needing to be refilled either by taking a brief break from the fight or slowly while still pushing forward on offense. This gauge works rather well as it keeps players engaged and always wanting to try and come up with a combo that not only works best for them but also one that makes the most out of what their team is capable of pulling off. I say this because while players may initially only have three ground Artes and three arial Artes at the start, the combo list is expanded quite a bit into the game and gives players even more options to choose from.
Truly learning what your character is capable of with their combo attacks and what your party is doing at the same time has a number of advantages, especially thanks to the game’s break gauge that fills up quickly the higher a combo is on an opponent and the lower the health is. Once filled, players can call upon one of their teammates to pull off a two-man team attack that will either instantly kill a standard Zeugle or deal massive damage to a boss. Along these same lines every character in the player’s party will have a unique attack that can be called upon whenever their “boost gauge” is filled.
These Boost Attacks work similar to assists and can even bring reserve teammates into the fight temporarily. Shionne’s boost attack will instantly down flying enemies, Law can smash through enemy armor, Kisara can stop charging foes, and even Rinwell can not only put a stop to all enemies casting magic on the field but then use that same spell herself at a higher level. These Boost Attacks work incredibly well and fit perfectly into combat just like the aforementioned finishing blows as they never feel like they are interrupting a fight and instead feel integral to fights as a whole.
One of the most notable changes to the standard formula happens to come in the for of Cure Points. Rather than use a character’s Artes Gauge to cast healing Artes, these skills instead take CP every time they are used. This works as something of a double-edged sword as these healers can actively play a role in fights without diminishing their attack points but at the same time when CP is used up, players cannot heal outside of using items. CP is restored either through camping at a campfire, using Orange Gel, or slowly recovered with the help of food buffs, and it is also worth noting that certain field actions such as clearing obstacles or healing hurt civilians also takes CP, dipping even further into a player’s reserves. It is clear that Cure Points may be seen as a bit divisive but ultimately thanks to the ease of quick travel, ability to rest at campfires to restore it, and various ways to boost the total CP as a whole, players will rarely feel like they are completely out unless they happen to be fresh from a challenging boss battle.
With combat featuring a number of new enhancements and plenty of other smaller just as important mechanics that we’ve yet to mention, players will find plenty to do here in Tales of Arise. There also happens to be a large number of side-quests that generally are simplistic in nature but still rather fun to partake in, an enjoyable fishing mini-game that may seem challenging at first but quickly becomes an easy timesink, as well as a number of optional bosses and potential post-game content to take on once everything is said and done.
Visuals & Audio
The move from their previous long used engine to Unreal Engine has allowed Tales of Arise to make the largest graphical improvement in perhaps the series’ entire history. Almost every aspect of the game’s environments is gorgeously detailed and varied, with each region players explore having a unique theme to it while the character models are also incredibly detailed both in cutscenes and even in the skit segments. It is worth noting that while the action looks amazing as well, the game does still make use of far too many pallette swapped enemies to the point that even some bosses eventually begin appearing as standard field enemies.
The voice acting for the title is handled quite well with the English voice actors putting in a great performance, though it is worth noting that there are a few inconsistencies here and there between subtitled text and skill names and what is actually said out loud. The Japanese voice track is also included in the release for those who prefer that option. The soundtrack features a number of great pieces of music including a stellar battle theme and a classic opening track to accompany some gorgeous animation.
Featuring some of the fastest and most accessible combat the series has seen in years, Tales of Arise is a perfect jumping in point for those who haven’t tried the series before while also offering a great experience for longtime fans of the franchise. With a compelling cast of characters used to support a fairly dark story that has plenty of twists and turns and a gorgeous presentation, those looking to see what this long running series has to offer will find that Tales is as strong as ever, if not more so as Tales of Arise marks a clear step forward for the series.
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