Part 1: A Short Review Without Spoilers
I would have never thought there would be a day where I could say there was a quintessential Tales of Series game, but here we are. Tales of Arise represents both the strengths and weaknesses of the series all wrapped in one. The weaknesses aren’t as terrible as previous entries and the strengths are very good throughout the game; thus, I think that makes it the quintessential Tales of game. For so long, Tales of Series games have been either hit or miss and I couldn’t think of one that captured both the pros and cons of the series as a whole. However, with this entry into the series, I think that has been achieved. In terms of both story and gameplay, this is the quintessential modern Tales of game. If you have never tried this series before, then definitely try out Tales of Arise.
This game was promoted in commercials as a “new and darker tone” on worthless gaming journalist websites, but nothing about Tales of Arise is as dark as certain previous entries. However, the dark moments it does have throughout the story are conducted in a mature and thoughtful way with the characters struggling to work together due to their differences in a game that centers its main theme on the harmful effects of colonialism and human exploitation. The setting is of two worlds, Rena and Dahna, with Rena having colonized Dahna via the floating capitol city of Rena between the two worlds, the city of Lenegis. Each of the characters represent a different socio-economic background and perspective on the impact that Rena’s colonization of the planet Dahna has had on their lives.
Story: I would say that the plot and characters are deeply involved in the impacts of colonization on Dahna and go into lengthy discussions on problems and solutions to each scenario without appearing to be reactionary bystanders to the problems around them. I think the themes of colonization and human exploitation were presented respectfully and realistically for the most part. The Japanese developers evidently had Western audiences in mind for this game and I find that they delivered a really good story that ideally should appeal to most left-leaning circles in the West, but such circles seem to overflow with anti-Japanese racism that I wonder if even this game will appeal to them since Western Left-leaning circles seem keen on automatically labeling anything Japanese as evil or wrong just because it was made by Japanese people. Unfortunately, the Tales of game developers have yet to realize the sheer racism and lack of critical thinking they’re dealing with when it comes to us Western Barbarians. Anyway, the worldbuilding and plot overall is mostly done well in my opinion.
I would say there are two chief problems with the story that made me knock it down two pegs. First and foremost, the villains are absolutely one-dimensional and unmemorable. The game seems to try to mitigate this with an optional sidequest very late into the game that gives you a broader look at how Renans see the antagonists within the context of their own society, but it is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. The main antagonists’ backgrounds aren’t going to change how we only experience them from the vantage point of the oppressed. The second issue I have is against the core narrative and how I felt it has a peculiar failing as a result of a lack of a good villain. By and large, this is probably the most perfect game for Left-leaning Western audiences who want a mature game that delves into topics about human exploitation and colonialism in a fantasy setting. However, the lack of a well-developed antagonist leads to the second issue that I had with the game; none of the antagonists presented in this game truly ever challenge the core beliefs of the party. They’re largely one-note evil antagonists spouting empty words about the strong doing as they want. After a lengthy and arduous journey filled with ups and downs, the protagonists come to believe that talking things through and working on the long-term for the future generations can eventually bring about equality; they believe this can happen by talking over differences, letting go of hate, and embracing a human rights perspective. Now, I do believe that this largely works as a solution for people living within the same country if both sides want to compromise. However, and please understand this is a very real aspect of life that I learned about from my studies in Political Science, I’d like point something out that might unsettle some people, but it is something I felt the narrative either didn’t consider or completely missed the mark on: You can have differences of opinion, you can genuinely want to reconcile with your former enemies, you can hash out a lengthy dialogue to try to find peace between two groups, and you can end-up finding out that your interests and their interests are utterly at odds with each other and you will have to come to blows anyway for the interests of your people versus their people. That can also happen when attempting peace talks and there are real life examples like the lead-up to the US Civil War, the conditions that plunged the world into World War 1, and many more that I probably don’t even know about. I believe Tales of Arise, by not having an antagonist that embodied such a situation to contrast the protagonists, didn’t really live up to the full potential of an anti-colonialist and human exploitation narrative.
All that aside, I liked 5 out of the 6 main cast members, I found most of the main party members to be likable and I felt their growth was believable. I can’t comment too much on this without spoiling the story. The only party member I felt was equal parts good and bad was Law. He was such a moron and utter hypocrite in one memorable part of the game, but I liked how the issue brought up was handled overall. This cast of characters is diverse and I would say memorable, if it is your first Tales of Series game. You mostly get development from skits and character interactions and I find them to be engaging in this game. The only other issue I can think of that seemed noteworthy was there’s a minor theme of forgiveness in this game where a character says they forgive another character . . . who hasn’t actually done anything to earn it nor attempted to become a better person. It immediately blows-up in the forgiving character’s face to the extent that I laughed as it seemed to portray the complete counterintuitive narrative regarding forgiveness that it may not have intended to.
Graphics: The graphics of this game are the best that the series has been up to this point and it was a pleasurable eyegasm for me for the most part. However, I played on the PS4 and on an older model PS4 that was previously used, so there were issues of the finer details of the graphics loading slower by 1 – 3 seconds on my old model PS4. There are two caveats though: an update was released late into my playing the game which seems to have largely fixed this issue by not loading the entire area all at once, but only that which is in the eyesight of the player immediately and the other details slowly loading in the back. This unfortunately has the issue of the 1-3 second delay in loading NPC character models or the finer details on the ground and around the player if you choose to run very fast. Now, to be clear from what a friend of mine has told me: this is not an issue on the Playstation 4 Pro. Moreover, this doesn’t seem to be an issue on PC either from what I’m aware. It’s only an issue on old PS4 models to my knowledge.
The best part of this newest entry in terms of graphics is that the skits have been changed to be fully 3D modeled scenes of characters in different poses as they talk and they’ve even been adjusted to the customizable outfits that you can give the characters. Meaning my 6 characters will all show-up in their own unique outfits when talking to each other as if they’re having a normal conversation on the road or at a campfire. The style looks like popped-out Manga panels and it is actually really fun to observe and listen instead of just watching them as if they’re floating heads or the top half of their bodies on a darkened screen while they talk to each other. This is by far the best graphical upgrade in terms of newest additions to the franchise. I’m very happy with this delightful change. Unfortunately, there is an issue with the sound quality on the PS4, there’s a bit of stuttering in the early parts and in some of the latter-half before the characters begin whole sentences in the skits, but it hardly was an annoyance for me and I noticed the PS4 update made most of it go away.
Music: Apart from the opening song and a certain spoilerific content that I can’t get into, I didn’t really care for the music. It was like some sort of orchestral opera-style and it was completely unmemorable. Motoi Sakurabe tries his best, but he’s been making game music for so many years that it all just sounds the same to me. There is optional DLC to change the music to previous Tales of Series entries, but I didn’t bother with buying it. One town’s music was very annoying with how loud it was, but apart from that, the music is just bland and forgettable in my opinion.
Gameplay: The gameplay is one of the finest aspects of this game. For those who’ve played previous entries of the Tales of Series: ever since the Tales of Series changed from the PS2-days of combat with Symphonia – Vesperia’s grid system to this over the shoulder-oriented gameplay from Zestiria onward, it has felt cluttered and clunky. The worst of it was trying to make improvements to the godawful Tales of Graces F battle system. I don’t know what people saw the appeal of in that system, but forcing specific Arte trees was incredibly annoying to me and this finally does away with that garbage. The combat has returned to freeform changing your combos with the difference being that Aerial Combos are now set with their own skills.
The Artes Gauge (AG) allows you to pick between 1 and 2 consumable artes that constantly recharge depending on if you can counterstrike or evasion in time. The controls have largely changed and although difficult for old-time players like myself at first, I finally got used to it after enough practice and I can say it is the most fun system to be had. The regular attack button for Playstation users is now the R1 button and the artes combos are distributed through triangle, square, and X. By dodging with R2 or counterstriking (evading and hitting R1 afterwards on the enemy), you can replenish your AG gauge to continue combos. Unlike previous Tales of Games, combined Artes attacks are no longer clunky with the BG gauge (Boost Gauge), which lets your fellow party members strike a specific skill on enemies or bosses. For example, a very fast moving 4-legged enemy seems ridiculous to fight at first until you use Dohalim’s BG attack to wrap vines around its legs to make it slower and make the battle more evenly matched. This is a surprisingly good way to keep the battles engaging and fast-paced. I was astonished with how much I was loving the gameplay. When comboing enemies uninterrupted, you can unlock Boost Strikes where two of the party members do a fast combo attack finisher at the enemy in quick succession that is beautiful to witness and doesn’t break the fast flow of gameplay at all. Mystic Artes are also available, but they take less importance than they do in previous games, but can be useful to stagger or finish off enemies. The only real issue is that evading can become very broken.
Cure Points are a new entry into the gameplay whereby instead of the Healers of the party using AG points to heal the party, they can now use a pool of healing points that is connected to any healing arte. I actually like this change and it definitely makes the gameplay faster; the healers usually get their healing done much more quickly without being killed off all of a sudden by the AI like in previous games. Overall, I very much like this change, it felt balanced and the only time it became a huge advantage for me was when I actively awakened more Cure Points by completing difficult side quests late in the game, which is completely appropriate in my opinion. It only became a huge advantage after I had beaten all but two of the side quests in the game before finishing the main story.
The map in this entry has a plethora of fast travel points so you can get side quests done extremely easily without needing to go back and forth between large stretches of areas that you’ve already treaded. Titles give bonus material that can strengthen your characters with more Artes techniques, more AG gauges, higher amounts of the BG gauge at the start of battle, faster replenishing gauges, more damage, cooking effects, and a whole lot more. DLC Titles give a whole lot of amazing rewards; I acquired the Ultimate edition as a gift from a friend and I was loving both the costumes and DLC bonus effects. It’s engaging, it is fun, it is fast, and it feels so rewarding. Among the modern entries ever since the major change in gameplay, this is definitely my favorite modern Tales of gameplay. I feel it represents an amazing fusion of what I loved about the past games back during Symphonia – Vesperia mixed with the new modern style and gameplay mechanics of Zestiria – Berseria that has finally found it’s footing. In my view, it is the quintessential Tales of Series gameplay so far.
There is one issue going around that I feel I should attempt to nip in the bud. Now, I played on Normal for this game, and I’ve heard the enemies follow the player character around and people can presumably take advantage of the “stupid AI”, but I didn’t experience that after trying that in 3 boss fights. Eventually, the enemy AI seemed to wizen-up and started attacking the party members closest to it. So, it seems either limited depending on the enemy boss (especially when there’s two enemy bosses on a map) or the AI changes tactics when the player makes it too obvious that it is trying to take advantage. I can’t say for sure why I didn’t encounter this “dumb AI” problem on the PS4, but the AI itself seemed to change tactics when I tried taking advantage.
If you’ve never played the Tales of Series before and would like to know all the pros and cons of what it entails, then I feel this entry is the quintessential experience and currently has the best gameplay that the series has to offer among modern consoles. Overall, I give this game an 8 / 10.
If you’re still on the fence, here’s a link to my Playthrough of the game itself.
*Minor embarrassment on my part, I had accidentally put down L1 and L2, when the combat used R1 and R2 on the normal controller scheme. My bad. lol