It’s easy to be disappointed when the Vita Tales games don’t make out of Japan. It’s also natural to feel upset when told that Tales of Vesperia PS3 will never be localized. Despite its immense popularity in Japan, Tales just doesn’t sell that well everywhere else, and the number of localized releases in the franchise reflects that. I’m right there with you when I say that I would like to see more of this series. But rather than stress over the have-nots, take a moment to think about we are getting. Last year brought us a 3DS port of Tales of the Abyss plus Tales of Graces f on the PS3. Tales of Xillia is not only out, but comes in multiple versions (Limited and Collector’s). Come next year, the HD re-release of Tales of Symphonia and its sequel, plus Tales of Xillia 2 will both be making their way to PS3. I’d say that’s plenty to smile about, yeah?
Of everything that has been, or will be released, Tales of Xillia is the one I had the highest expectations for. It’s the first to be built from the ground up for the PlayStation 3 (I don’t count the enhanced ports) and the combat system showed a lot of promise. It may technically be a two-year-old JRPG at this point, but it was definitely worth the wait.
Xillia takes place in the land of Rieze Maxia, a world ruled by the kingdoms of Rashugal and Auj Oule. The citizens of Rieze Maxia are able to communicate with spirits using a part of their brain called a mana lobe, and thus artes can be used. Much of society is built on the foundation of the symbiosis between humans and spirits, though that all changes with the advancement of Spyrix technology and a super weapon known as the Lance of Kresnik. Rather than just borrow mana from spirits, these devices flat out destroy them, which in turn throws nature and the world off balance. Enter Milla Maxwell, the reincarnation of the ruling spirit Maxwell, who seeks to destroy this technology once and for all and prevent a war between the two main nations.
When the game begins, you can choose to experience the story from either the perspective of Milla or the game’s other protagonist, Jude Mathis, who stumbles across Milla during a search for his missing professor. The story doesn’t change wildly whether you choose one or the other, nor are you locked into playing as a particular one. Both characters are usually together throughout most of the game, though during the times when they do become separated, you will only see events unfold through the eyes of the character you chose.
Both characters are well written and quite likable, though Milla takes a bit more warming up to appreciate her personality, as she’s the more stoic type (think Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII). Jude on the other hand is more of a goody two shoes, as it were, though his reasons are thoroughly explained and doesn’t fall into the trap of becoming annoying or whiny as is typical with this sort of character. The supporting cast is equally well done, particularly Alvin whose mercenary profession does well in disguising his true intentions well towards the end of the game. Without spoiling too much, the only somewhat weak addition is the childhood friend character, as she seemed far too naïve for my tastes.
The overall plot of Tales of Xillia has to be one of the stronger ones in the series. The writers managed to take elements from a man-destroys-nature plot point and meld it with a story about two nations on the brink of war and spin quite a number of surprises out of it. I’ve played enough JRPG’s that I can usually predict what’s going to happen at any given moment, but there were numerous times during my Xillia playthrough that I had no idea what to expect next. I also thought the game was almost over multiple times given the direction things were heading, only to be reminded that things are not always what they seem on the surface. It’s not quite the kick in the pants that Xenoblade Chronicles was, but they did a damn fine job nonetheless.
If you weren’t that impressed by the visuals in Tales of Graces f (a title that was an upscaled port of the Wii version), then you may find Xillia to be a bit more to your liking. Most cutscenes are done with the in-game engine involving cel-shaded models that really accent the anime styling of the artwork. There are a few fully animated movies sprinkled throughout the adventure aside from the opening that plays as you start up the game. They are incredibly stunning sequences that are long enough to justify their presence, but still short to the point where you don’t get restless sitting through them. There was a time when sequences like this were treated as a reward for making a certain amount of progress in an RPG and the experience of watching these harkens back to that era.
The areas that you have to explore are pretty large in size, as each area seems like its own field ripe with monsters that wander the landscape. There are even little details, such as butterflies that float by or random equipment laying about in caves that help perpetuate the idea that this is a living world. And let’s not forget the chaos that happens during battles, with spell effects and attack animations that go off left and right without a hint of slowdown. Given the game’s age, it’s not the best looking title on the market, but it does its job and without hindering the engine it runs on.
Tales of Xillia follows the same pattern as many of the previous games in that it changes up the battle music during each act of the game, insuring that you won’t grow weary of it before credits roll. Not that I would, as it is a well orchestrated work of music through and through, even during the exploration and town bits. There is no Japanese dub included with this release, though fortunately the English cast carries their weight. I was a bit taken aback by some of VA’s at first, namely that of Milla and Teepo, though you come to realize with time that they fit the characters’ personalities perfectly. Matthew Mercer’s work as Alvin is probably the highlight of them all, a talent whose previous work includes Chrom in Fire Emblem: Awakening and Walter in Shin Megami Tensei IV.
As in most other Tales games, you can see the enemies before you engage them and should you get behind them, you can inflict some damage before the battle even begins. This is tricky to pull off though, as they will always turn to face you, though they certainly don’t have any trouble sneaking up on you. When battle begins, you take control of whomever you designated as party leader, with up to three other players that can play as the remainder (assuming you have enough characters in your party). Using the left analog stick will move your character left and right on a 2D plane, though by holding L2 you can free run in any direction. You can use X to do normal attacks along with circle to launch assigned artes you have equipped that change depending on which direction you are holding. You also have the right analog stick to add artes to, including those that belong to other characters. Artes consume TP that can be regenerated with items or by attacking foes. There’s also an AC (or Attack Counter) meter that shows how many consecutive attacks you can launch before pausing. Holding square will allow you to block and moving your character while doing so will allow them to quick step out of the way of attacks. And of course, anything else that needs to be done from using items to non-equipped artes can be done from the menu access from triangle.
Where Xillia sets itself apart from other games in the series is its Linking system. Pressing the directional pad towards a character portrait will draw a colored line to that character indicating that you are linked up. Your linked comrade will attempt to surround whatever targeted enemy you are facing as well as ward off any foes that try attack you from behind. Additional benefits include character specific abilities known as Partner Skills, such as Jude being able to help you up after getting knocked over or Alvin’s talent for shattering enemy defenses. Landing blows on an enemy together helps build up a Linked Artes Gauge, and when it reaches a certain threshold and flashes, a Linked Arte is possible using R2 that will unleash a devastating attack involving both characters. Do this enough to fill the bar completely and you will go into Over Limit; a technique that will let you do Linked Artes as much as you want within the time limit at no cost to your TP. Plus, your characters won’t stagger or use up AC during their attacks. What makes this mechanic even more flexible is that characters currently not in use can be swapped in at any time, so those more suited to a particular enemy type can be brought in whenever you see fit.
While characters still gain experience and level up as normal, there is more freedom given on how to build your characters. Using the Liliam Orb system, which is vaguely reminiscent of the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X, you get to select orbs that represent various stat boosts in which to apply to your character. In between all of these orbs are skills that are learned if you trace lines all around them with the orbs that you select. The Liliam Orb only expands after you’ve filled out so much of what you have, so while there will be some that you will be forced to obtain at some point in the future, you at least have some control over what direction your characters will take. And if you don’t really care that much, there is an auto-level function that will just do it for you. Skills have not gone away either, so you can pick and choose which of the unlocked techniques to have on you at any given time.
The shop system has been given an overhaul this time around. Rather than bring components to a store to manufacture the occasional rare item and buying the rest, all stores in all towns are the same. They only change their inventory when they earn enough shop points to level up. Shop points are earned by buying from them, contributing materials, or donating money. Once they hit certain levels, they will either add new items, or they will discount ones they have. This feature alone gives players a huge advantage, as with the right materials, they can obtain items much earlier than one would reasonably expect, so long as there’s enough money to purchase them all.
The cooking feature works a bit differently now too. At least, in the sense that there is no cooking feature anymore. Rather than find recipes and purchase ingredients that can be cooked by an individual after battle, there’s simply a food shop with everything already pre-made for you. Once consumed, the effects that are granted last for a designated number of battles before you have to eat again.
There is still no “overworld map” this time around, as the Tales of Xillia universe is just one continuous world. This is a bit disappointing, as in its place is a mostly linear path, though there are occasions where the area will branch out and you can explore down another road. There are also some optional areas to explore, and every region is ripe with little nooks containing treasure chests to loot. Although there is no flight travel, the good news is you can fast travel anywhere at any time so long as a particular area is not locked out for you during a particular part of the story.
The main game will take about thirty to forty hours to complete, though there are a number of sub-events that can be pursued that unlock numerous items to customize the appearance of your characters as well as money. There are also a ton of full voice-acted skits to be watched and titles to earn, though the titles can’t actually be equipped to your characters nor do they have any impact statistically to their overall well-being. A new game+ mode unlocks upon finishing the game that will allow you to wrap up any loose ends post game, or start a new one with aid from the grade shop (using points unlocked from earning titles). The difficulty of the in-game battles are adjustable as well, which is good on account of how easy the standard difficulty is. Death comes rarely, and even if you do manage to eat it during a fight you have the option to retry the battle. Save points are plentiful, though even if you don’t have enough time to make it to one, you can quick save anywhere you want, so lost progress during an emergency or ill-planned battle is basically a thing of the past. In short, there’s enough content between the extra content, multiple difficulties and playing through again with the other character to keep a person busy for quite some time.
I was surprised given the low western sales of Tales games, that Xillia was treated to such a nice package for collectors. Even if you didn’t purchase the designated Collector’s Edition, you do get the Limited Edition at normal MSRP price. In it, you’ll get a code for DLC that series fans should appreciate, as it dresses up Milla as Stahn from Tales of Destiny and gives an outfit for Jude to look like Cress from Tales of Phantasia. Also included is a character book that outlines each of the cast and features some of the artwork for each one. It’s not a large book by any means (only about 40 pages) and it’s only the size of a PS3 case, but it’s full color and a nice bonus; especially since a paper manual was omitted. The soundtrack comes in a cardboard slipcase and has twelve tracks on it. It’s not the complete track list of the game, obviously, but it’s a nice selection and a fair mix of different parts of the game.
Tales of Xillia doesn’t revolutionize the JRPG nor even the series with which it is apart of, though it at least makes a solid case as to why the genre is still relevant. It plays to its strengths without falling back on tired cliches that pervade games of this nature. In fact, if you’ve never played an entry in the franchise, now is as good a time as any to jump in.
Short Attention Span Summary
If you’re already a Tales fan, then you don’t need me to tell you that Tales of Xillia is worth picking up, as it stands as one of the better entries in the series. The cast is likable and well-written, and the plot manages to pull some surprises despite its otherwise standard premise. The new Linking system is a great addition, especially on account of how smart the A.I. is this time around, and the Liliam Orb system allows for more customization in how you build your characters than what was available previously. If you’re a fan of JRPG’s, especially those with more action-focused combat systems (such as Star Ocean) then I highly recommend taking the plunge.
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