Tales Of Arise
(available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and S, Xbox One and PC)
(PC version used for review)
Despite the fact that I am a very big JRPG fan, further evidenced by the fact that over half of my reviews this year have been from games in said genre (I admit I’m slightly obsessed), I have very little knowledge on the Tales series. While I have been very interested in trying to get into the series for a few years now, the most I can say about the games is that I’ve played about five hours of Tales of Berseria (which I really need to get back to as it is really good). So, when I first heard about Tales of Arise, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to finally try and see why this series is so beloved. The game was first revealed at e3 2019, with an original release window of 2020, though it ended up getting delayed and was eventually released on 10th September 2021 for the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and Microsoft Windows.
In Tales of Arise, the world of Dahna had been invaded and, with the help of creatures named Zeugles, was overtaken by the world of Rena over three centuries ago, leading to all of Dahna’s inhabitants becoming slaves to their Renan oppressors. You take on the role of Alphen (or Iron Mask at the start), a Dahnan slave within the realm of Calaglia, who doesn’t remember a thing about his past and has the inability to feel pain. One day he comes across a Dahnan resistance group called the Crimson Crows, after capturing a woman called Shionne Vymer Imeris Daymore, a Renan bearing a curse that causes harm to anyone who touches her, that she calls her Thorns. When the Crimson Crows’ stronghold is attacked by Renan soldiers, Alphen learns that Shionne carries a Master Core, which produces a sword made from molten fire named the Blazing Sword, which only he is able to wield because of his lack of pain. Because of this, and because their goals align with one another, Alphen and Shionne reluctantly form an alliance, with the goal to eradicate the Renan Lords of Dahna’s five realms and to finally free the Dahnan people. While the story may sound basic and somewhat generic, I can guarantee it’s anything but. With great characters and world building, and plenty of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, the story this game has is actually pretty damn good.
The game’s presentation is great. The character models look clean and very distinctive, all of them do a really good job at drawing out the characters personalities and are a perfect blend of simple and grandiose. The environments aren’t really anything new, each realm focuses on a different element (or a different astral energy type in the games case), but each one uses that to its advantage, having elements like the earth realm Elde Menancia having a lot to do with nature, or the water realm Ganath Haros being very swamp like. The voice acting is also very good as well, each actor really brings out the feelings and personality of their character and almost makes a lot of the corny dialog work… almost. One thing I was excited for with this game was the soundtrack after one of the songs was played at the Summer Game Fest 2021, and it did not disappoint. The soundtrack was very grandiose, whether you were in a battle or just wandering the world, but also knew when to be quiet and sombre, it reminded me very much of something I would hear in a Final Fantasy game, which is a massive compliment.
Just like with Neo: The World Ends with You, the game is an action heavy JRPG, focused on encounters against small groups of enemies fought in real time. Combat takes place on a small plain, focusing on enemy weakness and character utilities to take the enemies down. The main mechanic to these encounters are Artes – a feature that is very iconic to the series. Each character has their own set of Artes that they can either learn by unlocking them on skill trees or by simply learning them in battle. Artes are, to put it simply, special attacks that are exclusive to certain characters, they utilise certain elements that enemies can either be weak or resistant against, they can buff up the character that used it or another party member, or they’re just cool looking attacks that deal a little more damage than your normal attack. Using Artes requires you to use up points from that character’s AG meter (or Soul Gauge as some call it) – which is pretty much this game’s (and the series’ for that matter) substitute for a mana bar – which will be refilled automatically very quickly and you’ll be able to increase it as you proceed through your adventure. The one exception to this are Healing Artes, which also use up CP, which can only be replenished by either resting or using items. When it comes to using Artes, Alphen is the most unique. When you use an Arte with Alphen, if you hold the button you’ll be able to perform a second attack with the Blazing Sword that deals a large amount of fire damage, however, doing so will require Alphen sacrificing a small amount of his health so keep that in mind when using it. While the AI controlled characters are able to use whatever Artes they want, the character you control will only be able to perform three ground and three airborne (six in later game) that you can swap around both in and out of combat, and you’ll even be able to decide on what Artes your allies perform when you’re not controlling them, just in case there’s one or two that you don’t want them to use.
Using Artes will also increase the chance of breaking an enemy. By breaking an enemy, it’ll be more susceptible to your attacks, letting you bring it into the air easier for example, and will increase the Boost Strike Meter. Once that meter is full, you’ll be able to perform a Boost Strike – a flashy attack which involves two of your characters combining their efforts to perform – which will kill the enemy instantly while also dealing a ton of damage to opponents in its vicinity.
Another big combat mechanic is Boost Attacks. As the battle proceeds, each character will have a meter (I know, there are a lot of meters in this game, but it’s a JRPG what’d you expect) in the bottom left hand corner increase, once filled you’ll be able to hit one of the buttons on your D-Pad and use that character’s Boost Attack. These attacks work best against certain enemies like Shionne’s against flying enemies or Law’s against enemies with stronger shields, or when an enemy uses a certain type of attack like using Rinwell’s when an enemy is using an Astral Arte, doing this will leave the enemy stunned for a few seconds and will leave the meter slightly refilled depending on how many enemies were staggered, otherwise it will fully deplete and will have to go through the slow process of refilling itself. Something that I really like is that the character doesn’t have to be out on the field in order for their Boost Attack to be used, you can still activate them even if they’re off screen, it’s a major relief as I don’t have to worry about swapping them around as much. While I do really like this mechanic, I felt that it takes too long for the Boost Attack meters in fill up if you don’t use them on the right enemies, which can be very annoying in encounters against specific enemies where those attacks would be very beneficial, especially with Rinwell’s attack, it was seriously annoying to have to wait for that to fill up when you’re against enemies that primarily use Astral Artes.
Finally, there is Overdrive mode. When a character is dealt enough damage, deals enough damage or does enough perfect dodges during the course of a fight, they’ll be shrouded in a blue aura indicating that they’ve entered their Overdrive mode. While in this state they are able to perform Artes without using up any of the AG meter. At any point during Overdrive that character will be able to perform a Mystic Arte, which is like the Boost Strike – a very flashy attack, but it’s only performed by one character and won’t outright kill the enemy – that will deal a large amount of damage to the unfortunate enemy who’s caught in it, with the consequence of ending the Overdrive prematurely.
While you’d expect combat to get old quickly, it somehow remains incredibly fun all throughout. I had a ton of fun swapping out characters for certain encounters and swapping out Artes and testing out new ones to see which ones I prefer.
Outside of combat you’ll be spending your time exploring the world of Dahna, gathering items, completing quests and moving on to the next story event. While exploring either the world or dungeons, you’ll get multiple prompts to have the character interact with one another – another thing the series is well known for. These will involve character bonding moments, small pieces of lore on the world and character building, or just “humorous” and somewhat cute scenes of characters talking with one another (or another heavy debate or very intense monologues about food, which there are plenty of in this game).
One of the biggest things you’ll be doing is completing side quests. Most of the time these will consist of finding particular materials or food ingredients, or going to a certain area and fighting a number of Zeugles there. Though every once in a while you’ll be tasked with fighting a much bigger and more powerful Zeugle, which acts as a form of miniboss. If you manage to kill these creatures you’ll be rewarded with an Astral Flower, which will increase your CP meter by ten. Completing these quests will reward you with money, SP to be spent in the skill tree and materials and items.
Yes, just like multiple of the games I’ve reviewed so far, this game has skill trees. You gather SP by battling in encounters and completing side quests, and spend them to gain some very useful benefits, like increased damage, new Artes for said character, or an increase to your AG meter. Each character can gain multiple skill trees either as you progress through the story or by meeting the particular requirements necessary to unlock them.
As hinted at before, you’ll be gathering materials and ingredients as you explore the world. Materials can either be gathered by killing Zeugles or just by finding them in the wild, either in chests or by mining crystals. By gathering these you’ll be able to craft new weapons for you and your allies, and be able to create accessories that will add extra benefits to battle, like stat increases or being given better rewards for example. Ingredients on the other hand, can be found either by exploring the world, are sold in shops that can be found in inns or by campfires, by fishing with Kisara, or by farming animals for their meat (and before you ask, this does include horses… for some reason). When you find a bonfire or decide to rest in an inn, you’ll be able to use these ingredients to create food that will give you and your party certain benefits for a certain amount of time outside of combat, like an increase of attack and defence, or being able to gain a little bit of health or CP back after battle. These food recipes can be obtained by completing particular side quests or just by gathering the required ingredients in the overworld (insert Ignis from Final Fantasy XV “I’ve come up with a new recipe” joke here). If you’re worried about not being able to find certain ingredients, don’t worry as they’ll respawn when you leave the area for a while and re-enter it, so you won’t be running out of potatoes any time soon.
Now for some negatives. First of all, a lot of the enemies that you face are mostly rehashed from earlier in the game, only made to be slightly more powerful and with some having the ability to use Astral Artes, even some of the previous bosses are changed to be regular enemies in the later game. While it’s nothing too major, it would have been nice to have been able to face enemies unique to each region for example. Another one that I have is when I’m swapping out characters. Something that I do like is that you’re able to swap out characters during encounters, in case one of them has a certain Arte you’d like them to use or another one is low on health. Though what I don’t like is that if you’re swapping out characters while they’re in the middle of an attack or are charging up their own Astral Arte, they’ll either take a while to leave the field or, even worse, won’t even do that, choosing to instead refuse my command and stay in battle. It gets really annoying as this is a frequent issue that I have, I would just much prefer it if they left the moment I tell them to.
So, do I recommend this game? Well considering the fact that I’ve been raving about it to everyone who’ll listen and that it’s gotten me to buy all the other Tales games that are available on Steam, the answer is a definite, hell yeah. I had a blast the entire time I played this game and only got tired of it after especially long play times. If you’re looking to get into the series or are looking for a JRPG that’s a little bit different, I cannot recommend this game enough. It’s a definite contender for game of the year for me, and I absolutely love it.
Anime Amigo and Nerd Consultant
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