The "Tales of" games are seen as one of the most iconic pillars of the JRPG genre, alongside the likes of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The first game dates back all the way to 1995, with over a dozen iterations since. Each game is self-contained, with a unique cast of characters in fresh worlds and landscapes. Each game shares similarities, however. The game's "linear motion" free-flow battle system, combined with recurring themes and art styles, give the brand a unique flavor in an oft-busy genre.
The latest installment is dubbed Tales of Arise, and it is, in fact, my first experience with the franchise. I recently had the opportunity to try the game for myself via Shadow PC streaming, and came away ensorcelled by its spectacular combat effects and dizzying array of RPG systems. Here's why I'm completely sold on Tales of Arise, and why it has risen high on my most anticipated upcoming Xbox games.
A story of liberation
Tales of Arise features an all-new world, wrapped in high-fantasy. Using Unreal 4, Tales of Arise looks significantly more detailed than some previous installments, with gorgeous landscapes, interesting beasts, and high-quality character designs that look as though they were taken straight from a big-budget anime movie. The vistas and textures reminisce of water-color art, and look incredibly attractive, reminiscent of classic games like Vagrant Story. Characters have a subtle outline, which calls back to manga art, set against rich and colorful environments that just beg to be explored.
This game revolves around the world of Dahna, and its inhabitants. The Dahnan people are effectively subjugated by a fiery demonic entity, emerging from a nearby moon, known as Rena. The forces unleashed by Rena have devastated the land and its resources, placing a shroud of misery over Dahna for hundreds of years.
The game follows two central protagonists, Alphen and Shionne, who come together to change the status quo. According to Bandai Namco, you'll traverse a wide array of environments, complete with day and night cycles, battle a large menagerie of deadly enemies, and ultimately decide the fate of Dahna and Rena in the process.
The Tales of Arise demo I experienced didn't really dive too much into the game's story, but offered ample time to experience the game's world, and battle a range of deadly beasties, while doing some campfire cooking in the process. It feels like there are a ton of features and systems to dive into, from crafting materials, to side missions, NPCs to talk to, across vast expanses to explore. Every corner had something to find, even if I didn't necessarily know what it was for at that point in the game, it leaves me hungry to learn more and play from the start. The centerpiece for sure is the game's combat, though, which is phenomenal.
Anime combat comes to life
My demonstration with Tales of Arise threw me somewhere further into the game, handing me a range of attacks and party members to play with. Despite knowing literally next to nothing about the game and how it plays (I didn't read any of the press materials, sorry, Bandai), I found myself able to very quickly turn button mashing into an elegant ballet of death, raining fire, aerial juggling attacks, and slick hack 'n' slash maneuvers down upon my enemies. This gave me the (incorrect) idea that the game was style over substance, but Tales of Arise has deceptive depth behind all of the gorgeous combat fireworks.
I'm the kind of guy who typically skips tutorials, but I probably shouldn't have for Tales of Arise. After being a little confused about the unique combat system, I read a little bit more into it and discovered a wealth of depth. You can defeat regular enemies basically by spamming buttons and using the epic and stylish boost tag-team moves, but towards the end of the demo, I came across a far stronger "boss"-type mantis creature that really stretched my ineffective combat style.
You effectively play as a group of four heroes which sport standard RPG class types, including a healer, a monk, a mage, a warrior, and so on. Each has unique abilities, and can be controlled individually, otherwise they'll generally attack using fairly capable AI skills. Playing Tales of Arise efficiently is crucial to defeating some of the more complex bosses, and there are a range of reactive mechanics to test your skills.
Tales of Arise' combat is as elegant as it is satisfying.
More powerful enemies will rapidly deplete your health as well as your precious "cure points" reserves if you're not dodging and blocking incoming attacks adequately. Performing a "perfect evasion" reduces incoming damage to zero, too, ensuring that you won't use up all of your restorative reserves before the fight is over. Performing combos more skillfully gives you quicker access to those more powerful boost abilities too, alongside powerful Arte attacks, which supplement your outgoing damage.
Meeting more difficult challenges in Tales of Arise feels plodding if you're unfamiliar with the combat. When you step back and take a moment to actually learn how everything works, Tales of Arise' combat is as elegant as it is satisfying. Chaining powerful combos with your party members and finishing stunned enemies with a boost strike doesn't get old, and the game provided me with only a tiny fraction of the full arsenal the full game will possess. This is as close to being an isekai shounen protagonist as I may get.
Another great JRPG for Xbox
Tales of Arise is shaping up to be another incredible JRPG in the Xbox library, in a genre that has historically been a bit under-served on Microsoft's console platform. If Tales of Arise joins the likes of Yakuza and Dragon Quest as another Xbox success story, it will hopefully lead to others hitting the platform down the line, alongside future "Tales of" games too.
Tales of Arise is a beautiful, action-packed, and somewhat mysterious game that I find riding high on my list of most anticipated games after my crash course demonstration last week. I found myself downloading Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition too, after noticing that it's on Xbox Game Pass, given that many regard it as one of the best Xbox JRPGs out there.
Tales of Arise launches on Sept. 10, 2021, for Xbox, PC, and other platforms, and my little weeb heart is ready.
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