An Updated Classic or: Anime the Game?
The Tales series is by far one of my favorite JRPG series to talk about next to Final Fantasy and the Shin Megami Tensei series. Vivid story lines with fully developed characters that you come to bond with via character skits, their original item vernacular, and their dynamic battle systems that change with something major every game all are included in the thirteenth installment of the Tales series. And that’s OK. It’s a great game. It’s dependable in that if I’ve played a Tales game before, I can expect the same overarching issue to be the same problem in this game, told from fresh perspectives, given a multitude of different voices from different worlds. It’s essentially the same reason why we keep coming back to a classic book; even if we know the story backwards, its the retelling of it with a constantly changing perspective that continues to engage us.
After thirteen games and counting, Such tactics of staying in a tried and true pattern can get developers in a rut stylistically, but Tales of Xillia still exhibits some great qualities if lacking a bit of polish in differentiating itself from previous installments. Once the story has been explained, I’d like to focus firstly on the ability to pick one of two main characters and the issues in narrative this brings to light. Next, the rehashing of some features prevalent in any JRPG such as the bestiary and item system. After that, the battle system for this title, including the leveling up and its new features. Finally I have to mention the alternative wearable gag armor which has always been a great addition to the Tales games as they are implemented in all the game’s cut-scenes. Want to wear a pair of bushy eyebrows or a tiara? Well, now you can.
The story starts out with Jude Mathis, a medical student in the capital city discovering Millia Maxwell, a mysterious woman trying to break into a research facility to stop the influence of Spyrix. Spyrix is a power that is being improperly harnessed by humans on a cannon known as the Lance of Kresnik which has the power to cause mass destruction. Millia & Jude find out the Lance’s energy source is derived from people’s mana, which in this world equates to their life force. Milla, attempts to summon her four guardian spirits who separate themselves and get captured to stop the cannon from killing Millia once it becomes activated. Left without her godlike powers, Millia and Jude team up to stop the Lance for good and find Sylph, Gnome, Undine, and Efreet. They meet various companions who along the way were all affected in by a devastating war twenty years ago or the rising power of Rashugal, a kingdom on the rise to military might in opposition to its neighbor, the kingdom of Auj Oule. airs of Rieze Maxia.
The voice acting for the English dubbing is mediocre, having the younger character’s voice grate a bit. Occasionally, you have the choice to switch to Japanese voices with English subbing, but this was not the case. After hearing the original voice cast, while much better at tone, barely meets the standard that goes into most JRPG voice acting. I also watch my anime subbed though, so I have to say I’m being picky here.
Graphically, the game isn’t pushing any boundaries, opting to stay within the standard Tales cel shading that have been used for other games (While still cel shaded, it’s of note to point out that Tales of Legendia’s art style was based off of Kazuto Nakazawa, the creator of Samurai Champloo which was complete deviation from the normal Tales art style). The general enviorment along with the towns are stunning in their fantasy settings, but I noticed that all the seaports in town used the same town model. Fennmont, the Capital of Rashugal was a treat to the eyes as it’s a town that is under a spirit clime (climate) such that it is always evening. Such climate effects and how towns deal with them was an a devious yet ingenious addition, as there is no in game day/night system.
One of the main selling points of Tales of Xillia is that there are two playable main characters. Jude, a medical student in the capital and Millia, the reincarnated avatar of Rieze Maxia, dubbed as Maxwell who has unfortunately lost her spirit powers makes a nice pair of heroes to try out. By picking one over the other, you are privy to their perspective on things and you get your team separated frequently, so it becomes prudent to play through at least twice to get the whole story. I love this concept, as so far all the Tales games I’ve played have had a male main protagonist. Where I have an issue however is the lack of oversight in playing Millia first over Jude’s storyline. While I might say I have the same issue if I had played Jude first, I can tell for sure there were obvious plot points that were mentioned and glossed over, warping my perception of why something had just happened. From my experience, this notion lends me to believe that in order to experience a better overall story, I should have picked Jude first to play over Millia.
I also noticed the bestiary within the game was rather lacking so far. The majority of baddies are re-skins. While this is pretty standard in RPGs, I considered the overall variety of beasts in the game to be sub par as compared to other Tales renditions. The re-skins fit in with the environment, as they usually do, but this leaves little in the way of figuring out new enemy attack patterns for the most part unless they change their fighting class. In addition, the landscaping made item and crafting components. Items such as bags and shiny nodes on walls re-spawned after re-entering a room. I almost felt like I was cheating going back so soon to re-loot all that I had passed just a little while earlier.
“From my experience, this notion lends me to believe that in order to experience a better overall story, I should have picked Jude first to play over Millia.”
The Double Raid Linear Motion Battle System or DR-LMBS (whew) coupled with an off-the-shoulder camera view is rather new to the traditional top down battle view in previous Tales games. Luckily, you can play it either way though they both have pros and cons to each style. By playing the top down view, players are more likely to hit but have less maneuverability when dodging. Consequently, you have a much wider range of motion when switching play styles, but you are more likely to miss in that you must aim your attacks more accurately.
In addition, each unique link with an AI opens up special link attacks based on the attacks dealt by both characters. This dual play style appeals to more players overall and lets players grind more easily once they’ve out-leveled an area. The Linking of different partners is perfect for single player as it offers a more dynamic play style with different companions in your team, but rather an unused trait when it comes to multiple links when playing with more than one person. Playing with my fiancee, we decided on set partners, nullifying any abilities that boosted multiple linking in a battle. Also, if a player links with another player, the second player in the link is wrested of control and made an AI. By compromising this way, while you can play with up to four people, (which has been one of the defining and unique characteristic of the Tales Series as a JRPG) playing single player is more beneficial if a player wants to enjoy all that linking in battle has to offer.
Leveling up was a someone prolonged affair once you get into the higher levels. Incorporating the Lilium Orb system, players open up orbs on a spider web grid, focusing on various node lines that represent different stats such as Dexterity, Vitality and Psyche. With six stats in total, a roster of six and an actively rotating (via storyline) team of up to four, the Lilium Orb is a great customization feature that can regrettably get tedious as the game progresses if handled manually. Luckily for those wishing to bypass this in lieu of more active play time, an auto level feature is available. I personally enjoy the micromanagement, but this type of feature with grid system abilities is usually kept to the JRPG genre for a reason. Letting more casual players (who luckily have a journal to recap previous story if they take a hiatus in between games) focus on story and battles before making them engage in the more niche mechanics of JRPGs is an improvement overall that can help appeal to more beginner players.
Finally, I’d like to mention the ability to add gag armor as a refreshing addition. Playing Tales of Symphonia, I remember not being able til near the end of the game to unlock all the joke costumes and alternate outfits for my party. In Tales of Xillia, By finding a piece of Aifread’s treasure (Mentioning of the prate Aifread is another staple to the Tales Series), one unlocks various add-ons that alter the look of a character. Let’s just say you can get pretty creative with dressing up your party, giving you added hilarity when you watch the cut-scenes as they are fully added.
Score: 7/10 – Rating Scale
In the world of JRPG’s, the influence of anime tropes is immeasurable. From the art to the soap opera character relationships or harmartia, anime is a quintessential part in what makes a JRPG besides being made in Japan. Unfortunately, this dependability on traditional JRPG gameplay and tropes overall makes for a rather lackluster game as far as cutting edge graphics, unorthodox gaming mechanics, or a derivation story wise from other Tales games besides the outstanding anime cut-scenes which every 3D Tales game has excelled in. Personally, I love the story and the interactions of the characters. I’m always more about story than anything; if the storytelling aspect is superb, I’m more than willing to put up with abyssal graphics or gameplay. Overall I have had a great time so far, but JRPGs are my favorite genre, specifically because they are so story driven so I have to validate my bias in this respect. For someone looking to play a Co-Op RPG, you pretty much can’t go wrong for a Tales game, but as an JRPG overall, I think some of its predecessors have done better all around. In addition, Tales of Xillia is a ported game in an environment with games with two years of developmental experience on it, but for people interested in games like the Tales series, something like that doesn’t matter a bit, and it doesn’t detract from those tongue-in-cheek skits.