Tales of Arise is the latest entry in a legendary series of JRPGs whose history spans over 25 years at this point. This franchise has seen its fair share of highs and lows, with many players holding radically differing opinions on what their own personal favorite entry is, and why they love it so much.
And although I’ve enjoyed almost every entry I’ve played, my personal favorite has always been Tales of The Abyss. There’s a certain magic to that particular game that I feel the series has never managed to recapture, and perhaps I unjustly compare each new release to it. What I mean to say is that I have extremely high standards for these games.
So when Tales of Arise was first announced, my expectations were through the roof by default. What made me even more enthusiastic was the fact that the developers had gone on record saying that they intended to push the envelope further than they ever had when it came to the gameplay.
Now after almost 75 hours with the game, I’m here to tell you that the wait has been worth it.
Tales of Arise Story And Setting
Tales of Arise takes place on Dahna, a planet that was conquered by a more technologically advanced world known as Rena over 300 years ago. The Dahnan people were enslaved by the Renans, and now their entire world is ruled over by five lords, each of whom control a different realm.
Unlike a lot of previous Tales titles, Arise is not afraid to delve deep into some tough subjects. The games explores themes of slavery and racism, and how colonialism leaves its mark on groups of people. It takes a look at the conditions that allow for a culture to so thoroughly and utterly dehumanize other people to the point that they aren’t even seen as living beings.
And although the game is anything but subtle at depicting these atrocities, it does handle the conversation around these subjects with some skill. The story doesn’t presume to offer permanent solutions for solving these problems, but instead aims to give a voice to the oppressed. Because after all, this game is also a story about revolution.
At the heart of it all is a Dahnan slave named Alphen, our protagonist. When the game starts, all we know about him is that he has amnesia and that he is unable to feel any pain. His face is also covered by an Iron Mask, which incidentally is also his moniker.
Soon after, he encounters a mysterious woman in a white dress named Shionne. This is our secondary protagonist, and she has a mysterious power that hurts anyone who attempts to touch her. Despite their differences, the two decide to team up and work towards the goal of taking down all five Renan lords.
Now for the most part, the story is well written and has a decent hook from the start. We have a central goal to work towards, as well as some enjoyable main characters. Over the course of the game, we’re introduced to the four remaining party members and the narrative builds in scale. None of this is new to the Tales series, and there are few genuine surprises.
But one of the greatest things about this series has always been the evolving relationships of its main cast. And as far as I’m concerned, Tales of Arise nails that once more. You learn to care about these characters and their motivations, and you want to see the conclusions of their personal story arcs. A lot of the cast does falls into archetypes that this series has used again and again, but it’s not a massive complaint.
I will however offer criticism of issues that are present in the game, but are also not exclusive to Arise or the series as a whole. JRPG writing constantly has this problem with dialogues, where characters give long unnecessary pauses between sentences. Or that a single point is bought up multiple different times, as if the developers don’t trust the players to remember something they heard mere moments ago. These moments occur so frequently, that sometimes I felt the urge to skip important conversations. Though granted, these problems are much more pronounced in the English Dub than the Japanese.
Speaking of which, the voice acting is great overall. Apart from the issues mentioned above, each of the characters in the game are skillfully voiced and bought to life by their respective actors. There are some minor localization issues, such as the lips not properly synching to the words being spoken, but nothing too major.
Gameplay And Combat
At its core, the gameplay of Tales of Arise is the same as it’s been in the series for over a decade or so. The notable additions however are the numerous refinements to existing systems and quality of life improvements that make it a much more satisfying game to play.
When it comes to combat, encounters still take place within a circular arena that is blocked off by invisible walls. Both enemies and allies share this space together, letting loose their various powers in flashy displays of lights and colors. Any Tales fan should feel right at home in this familiar environment.
However, combat is much more dynamic than ever before. Attacks hit faster and with much more force, and the combo system allows for moves to be effortlessly linked together in a chain. Characters are also able to dodge away from attacks and use a follow-up Counter Edge attack to close distance with enemies quickly. The sluggishness of fights in previous games has been replaced with a much more responsive system that’s akin to something from a hack and slash title.
Artes, which are special attacks in Tales games, also make a return to form. Different characters have access to abilities that range from sword slashes and shockwaves, all the way to large area-of-effect elemental attacks like a lightning storm or a tornado. These are also divided into a few different subcategories of their own, and you’re rewarded with quick unlocks depending on what you frequently use.
So say for example that you’ve taken a liking to the Demon Fang Arte. If you keep on using it constantly in battle, your Sword Strike Arte proficiency will keep increasing. And once you hit a certain threshold, using it in combat again will unlock similar Artes like the Double Demon Fang. Additionally, the more you use an Arte the quicker it levels up and becomes more effective. Once again, this is a system that has been present in previous games. But the abilities now are more diverse and more enjoyable to experiment with.
Each party member in the game also has access to their own mechanics that affect the abilities they use. Alphen for example is able to charge his Artes so that they evolve into powerful flame attacks at the cost of his health. Shionne on the other hand is able to throw grenades that can be shot to create larger area-of-effect attacks. And if you thought this wasn’t complicated enough, we haven’t even talked about Boost Attacks and Boost Strikes.
Boost Attacks are character specific attacks that can be triggered in specific situations for specialized effects. Rinwell for example can use her Boost Attacks to stop an enemy from casting a spell, while Law can use his attack to break down the defenses of an armored foe.
Boost Strikes on the other hand are powerful tag team attacks that can kill most enemies, with the exception of bosses, in one hit. These can be initiated only when an enemy’s health is low enough, or when you rapidly keep attacking them to build up your combo meter. Using these is a surefire way to quickly end battles if you know how to keep the pressure on.
All of these different features mentioned above combine to create a combat system that is complex and constantly rewarding. Though it can be a bit hard to internalize all of this information when the game introduces it in quick succession.
Outside of combat, you still get to explore a massive open world that has a number of unique cities and locations. But unlike previous entries, the game doesn’t put a barrier between you and past areas. A new fast travel system allows you to instantly move between every map in the game, barring a few scenarios where the plot calls for it.
Each of the five realms you explore also have a great variety of resources to collect and optional activities to compete. Most of these are not essential, but they do enhance the combat experience for those who put in the time and effort.
You can cook with ingredients you find in the world for temporary boosts for the party, and you can even harvest ores to use them for crafting weapons. Cooking is optional, but crafting new gear is absolutely essential if you want to keep up with the difficulty curve.
There are also Dhanan Owls scattered about that can be found to unlock various cosmetic options for your party. Interacting with them simply gives you an accessory. But collecting a bunch together and then turning them in at The Owl Forest rewards you with consumables and costumes as well.
If you’re feeling the urge to put your combat skills to the test, there are even unique enemies known as Gigant Monsters scattered throughout the world. Taking them on rewards you not only with experience, but also permanently increases your CP limit by +10. These are Cure Points, and they are necessary to cast healing Artes for your party.
So basically, there’s a lot to see and do in Tales of Arise. Even after you beat the main story, there are multiple different objectives that can still be completed if you still haven’t had your share of fun.
Tales of Arise is an absolute gorgeous game that is leaps and bounds better than the previous game in the series, Tales of Berseria. And I’m not simply talking in terms of graphical fidelity here, although that is a massive factor as well.
The game looks sharp, with character and monster models that are more detailed than ever before. The textures in the environment look fantastic as well, and water effects in particular are a notable step up. Particle effects on Artes are absolutely gorgeous, and the use of light and color simply adds to the feeling of fluidity you get from them.
Arise also makes excellent use of its art style to create a world that is as diverse as it is beautiful. Each of the 5 different realms are completely different from one another, with varying weather and environmental effects that are unique only to them. The starting realm Calaglia for example, is a land of fire and ruin. It stands in complete contrast to Cyslodia, which is a frozen nightmare where the sun never shines. These two locations are at two opposite ends of the spectrum, and this contrast is also true, although to a lesser degree, for all the other realms as well.
The game is also great at its use of space. No longer are players forced to constantly walk through large expanses of open map in order to get from one location to the other. Instead, every area you visit in Arise is competently designed, and they never outstay their welcome.
For the most part, Tales of Arise manages to perform well on both the Xbox Series X and Xbox One.
On the next-gen console, the game has two different modes. Performance mode runs at 1620p, while managing to maintain a steady 60FPS. The entire thing looks great, and I’m glad to see a FPS mode that runs at greater than 1080p. Graphics mode on the other hand is supposed to target 4K at 60fps, but the game constantly dips below the intended framerate.
The Xbox One version of the game runs well enough for such old hardware, but there are problems as well. Most times It manages to maintain a steady 30FPS, even in combat, but then there are also some random issues with freezing both in and out of combat when things get a bit too hectic. Other times it seems to run as smooth as butter, but the performance does depend on how many assets are on screen at a time.
There are texture pop-in issues that are present on both generations of consoles. When making my way through the open world, I constantly saw either plants or other items popping into existence in front of my eyes. It’s nothing too serious and it never occurred on anything too big, but it was still something that was distracting. Overall though, the game runs great otherwise.
Tales of Arise Verdict
With Tales of Arise, Bandai Namco has once again managed to rediscover the magic that makes the Tales series great. It is another phenomenal new entry into a franchise that shows no signs of slowing down.
Combat is better than ever before, and the new mechanics and systems add a whole new layer of complexity and challenge to encounters. Fights are also much more smoother and dynamic. The visuals are also fantastic, and the maps are much more focused and denser. Traversing the land no longer feels like a chore like it has many times before.
The story is decent, but I have issues with the way some of the dialogue is delivered. I cannot however deny that the voice actors gave great performances either way. The lip synching could have used a bit more work though.
In conclusion, this is one of the best games of the year so far. It’s a must play not only for fans of the Tales series, but also for fans of JRPGs in general.
- Phenomenal Combat.
- Great Characters.
- Diverse World.
- Enjoyable Story.
- Lip Synching Issue.
- Last-Gen Performance.
- Occasional Texture Pop-Ins.
Tales of Arise Rating – 4.5/5
While you’re here, why not also check out our Deathloop Review.
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