Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Available on: PC, PS4 (reviewed), PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Release date: September 10, 2021
The Tales of series has a long history, beginning in 1995 with Tales of Phantasia. Now, in its 25th year, the franchise releases its newest title, the 17th in the series, called Tales of Arise. The new title was to be a reboot of the series of sorts, with plenty of classic moments to please long time fans while updating enough to bring in new ones. The result is an engaging game with a great and memorable cast of characters, a fun combat system, and some weightier and timely themes such as occupation of a land and insurgency. Despite dark themes such as warfare, racial subjugation, and the abuse of power, the game does have its lighter moments, putting forth some genuine moments of humor that won’t make you cringe. And while the game does stumble a bit in its final level, it does deliver an overall very satisfying experience that lifts Arise above the rest of the franchise.
Dahna and Rena are twin worlds, separated by the artificial satellite Lenegis. At a point some 300 years in the past, the advanced world of Rena stages an invasion of Dahna, subjugating the Dahnans to serve as a slave labor force. The Renan Lords also make them pawns in the Contest for the Sovereign, where the Lords of the five lands- Obrus Calaglia, Cyslodia, Elde Menancia, Mahag Saar, and Ganath Haros- duke it out to be supreme ruler. While many Dahnans accept their role as slaves, some do not, and form resistance groups like the Crimson Crows and the Gold Dust Cats. It’s in Obrus Calaglia where the story begins, d enh us to a soldier known as Iron Mask, who joins with the Crimson Crows as they capture a renegade Renan named Shionne. Iron Mask is later revealed to be Alphen, a Dahnan with a mysterious past that links him to Shionne. The pair join forces and along the way pick up allies like the mage Rilwen, the fighter Law, a Renan Lord named Dohalmin, and a warrior named Kisara. The cast are all likeable, and each are given moments to shine, both through the story and the series mainstay skits (which this time feel far more relevant and enhance the story, rather than be an annoying and pointless diversion).
The cast of characters is one of the game’s main strengths, along with a solid story and a combat system that remains fun throughout your 50+ hour journey. Combat, as it has throughout the franchise’s history, takes place in an arena you enter when making contact with an enemy. The combat is action based, called the Linear Motion Battle System, and is inspired by the system used in 2009’s Tales of Graces. The system lets you style combat to your own way of playing, where you can put everyone on auto mode or control each individually, with all stages in between. You can work together with other party members to pull off Boost Strikes, where, when conditions are right, you can pull off powerful destructive attacks. Even if you put everyone but Alphen on auto, you can still direct the others with a simple button push on the D-pad for them to jump in with a powerful assist. The AI is fairly competent, and you can set how you wish your party to fight, whether it be go all out or concentrate on defense and healing. It makes for a layered system, and allows each player to tailor the combat to fit their preferred style of play. A skill tree unlocks further abilities, and you can tailor each character’s Artes to fit your party’s needs. This can be done on the fly, even during combat. Merchants are plentiful, so you have plenty of opportunities to stock up on healing gels and get new armor and weapons crafted.
Merchants and craftsmen can be found at the inns in each land, and there is always a merchant/craftsman by the camp fires which serve as resting spots and fast travel locations. Fast travel points are set up nicely to make it easy to jump back to an earlier location without having to slog through an entire level again. The final stretch of the game isn’t as generous, unless you make sure you undertake certain actions. If you set things up right, your final battle will be easier as you can stock up instead of going in with scant supplies. The multi-stage battle can be frustrating if inadequately prepared, but beating it does lead to one of the most satisfying finales I’ve experienced in a JRPG. Beating the game unlocks New Game +, which lets you carry over your gained abilities. It also opens up some post game content with extra adventures that take place prior to the final battle.
Visually, the game looks terrific, with well detailed and varied environments. The five lands are each different. Obrus Calaglia is filled with rocky canyons and flames spewing from underground. Cyslodia is a snowy land. Lush forests surround Elde Menancia, and you’ll encounter ruins, swamplands, and extravagant castles as well on your journey through the lands of Mahag Saar and Ganath Haros. Things take a sci-fi twist once you get to Lenegis and Rena. Each area is nicely but not too densely populated with people to talk to and to find side quests to undertake. Aiding others can provide its own perks by expanding your skill tree. Accompanying all the pretty pictures is a fantastic musical score, complete with operatic choral arrangements and soaring guitars during combat. The voice acting is also well done, even with the English vocals. The good voice acting helps to make the characters better defined, and the skits add layers where you won’t want to skip them.
The game isn’t without some minor stumbles, however. Some technical issues such as frame rate slow down are more noticeable in the game’s final levels, and I experienced one crash on the PS4. For the most part the game manages to avoid the more annoying anime tropes, but they start to rear up as the game heads towards its climax. The skits become more numerous towards the end, putting the brakes on the game when it feels you need to be moving at a faster pace. Thankfully, these are overall minor quibbles, but for some they may be more annoying than for others. There’s nothing too bad that sours the overall experience, but these stumbles are noticeable enough to be worth mentioning.
In all, Tales of Arise proves to be a Tales game that will please long time fans while bringing in those who haven’t ventured into the franchise before. A solid cast of memorable characters helps carry you through the 50+ hour journey across two worlds, and the story’s themes are both weighty and timely, making the game feel more relevant. The visuals are beautiful to look at, the music is outstanding, and the voice acting is well done. There’s plenty to explore, and the combat remains fun and engaging throughout the entire game. While there are a few minor missteps towards the end, the overall experience is highly satisfying and lifts Arise to the top of the list, making it one of the best titles in the 25 year old franchise. It also makes it one of 2021’s best games. For JRPG fans, this is one not to miss.