I will eat up any new entry in the Tales of series with enthusiasm, even when common sense dictates that I should keep my standards low. In the case of Tales of Xillia 2, it’s releasing just one year after its predecessor, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of development time. In addition, the series’ last direct sequel (Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World) was… not so great. Having now completed it, I’m happy to say that even though it’s not devoid of recycled content, it’s still a very solid entry into the franchise.
Xillia 2 casts you in the role of Ludger Will Kresnik, who aspires to become an agent of the Spirius Corporation like his brother, Julius. In what sets off probably the worst bad day of all time, Ludger fails his exam, boards a train that is attacked and subsequently destroyed by terrorists, and is then slapped with the resulting medical bill for his near fatal injuries. Ludger later learns of potential involvement in the attack by his brother and is tasked with tracking him down, all the while maintaining care of a little girl named Elle who’s obsessed with the idea of finding a mysterious land called Canaan. In short, there’s a lot going on, and it doesn’t take long before the cast of the original Tales of Xillia gets roped into it.
The one thing you’ll notice immediately is that Ludger is a silent protagonist. This in of itself is not a bad feature, as several games have managed to do this successfully (The Legend of Zelda or Chrono Trigger). It doesn’t quite work as well in the Tales universe where characters are inherently chatty. It’s doubly awkward during skits involving him, as the only things he utters is “Uhhh…” or “Yeah.” Your cat companion, Rollo, is more talkative by comparison. In place of proper responses, you as the player have to decide his replies and certain responses will lead to increased affinity with other characters in your party. There are also multiple endings, though the decisions that influence that come near the end of the game.
One other aspect that holds back the experience is having to repay the massive loan owed by Ludger for his medical expenses. In between chapters, a quota will be put in place of how much money has to be paid back before the next chapter begins. This also influences your ability to navigate between towns. Nova, the loan shark whose job it is to collect payment is needlessly annoying, sometimes popping up every screen to beg for money. I guess in some ways it emulates what actual debt collection feels like, but man is it a nuisance. It also stalls the pace of the narrative, as your comrades will say “Well, we can’t do anything until so and so takes place, so why don’t you go earn some money?” Thanks, guys.
It’s not all bad though. Tales of Xillia 2 fills in gaps left by the original in terms of expanding on the world’s lore as well as fleshing out the backstories of each of your comrades. Each character has their own chapters that can be undertaken periodically during the game, and each arc has a satisfying conclusion in its own right. Characters previously unplayable in the prior game have also been added to the roster, bringing the grand total of party members up to nine. And that’s not all. While it does take a bit for the plot to really get moving, it takes some wild twists and turns, resulting in some shocking revelations and probably one of the darker Tales games ever made. Very rarely is the question ever asked “Is what we’re doing even just?” Not only is the question asked, but you begin to feel the weight of your actions as entire worlds die by your influence. Powerful stuff.
The presentation is virtually unchanged from the prior game, with assets having been lifted wholesale and supplanted into the sequel. In fact, even though there are new places to explore, most everything else is untouched. From a practical standpoint, it does make sense. It’s not as if the landscape has suddenly shifted dramatically. It just would’ve been nice if there was more new than there was old. The returning characters have at least gotten a redesign, and the animated sequences look sharp. Everything else is just as it was last year. The voice cast is also unchanged, though you can tell the VA’s are more comfortable in their roles. Alvin and Gaius lead the pack in terms of quality, though the cast as a whole is at least consistent. The soundtrack is pretty solid too and the small touches, such as Ludger’s ringtone, are doubly appreciated.
The star of the show as far as Tales goes, aside from character interaction, has always been the combat. While it has undergone a few improvements, it’s relatively unchanged from last year. Read my explanation on it from back then and you’ll see exactly what I mean:
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.
So what’s new, you ask? For starters, Ludger has been designed as a more versatile character than his companions. In the beginning, he only has his dual blades, but eventually he’ll be able to swap to dual guns and a massive hammer on the fly (not unlike Heavenly Sword or DmC). Enemies have been given resistances and weaknesses to certain kinds of strikes, so this new weapon swap system plays into that. He also has an ability called Chromatus where a transformation occurs and everyone disappears from the battlefield aside from Ludger and his enemies. You then have free reign to inflict pain without fear of damage, though if you do get hit it reduces the amount of time you can stay in this form.
Character customization has been completely reworked. In the new Allium Orb system, any new skills and abilities that can be earned are based around a specific element. Depending on what “Extractor” you have equipped on a character, different elements will earn points at varying rates. It honestly sounds more complex than what it really is, as you don’t have to mess around with that much except to change your extractor every once in awhile.
Kitty Dispatch is another new feature that has you, well, dispersing cats all around the known universe to bring back items. There are also a hundred cats that can be found in the wild, some based on other Tales characters, and your success in finding rare stuff goes up the more you have. Cats will even bring back feline inspired weapons, including cat tail swords and hammers made out of tuna cans. If I didn’t like Rollo so much I’d say this game is almost a little too obsessed with the little furry critters.
Shops operate much more like a traditional Tales game. Each store will have a different inventory that will update depending on progress, though certain items can be custom made with the right materials. A job board hosts the game’s myriad amount of side missions, though I found it perplexing you could only have five active at any given time. Granted, when you unlock fast travel, making frequent trips back to town is hardly a concern, but it makes you wonder why there’s even a limit at all. Most missions involve turning in items or monster slaying, and you’ll spend a great deal of time doing it in order to work up the cash to progress. Fortunately, bringing down elite monsters earns enough money in most cases that you don’t have to put up with the grind if you’re capable enough to handle them.
It’ll take about thirty to forty hours to blow through the game depending on how much time you spend on the side missions. Post game dungeons and new game+ unlocks upon successful completion of the game and depending on how much grade you earned, allows you to carry your stuff over to your next playthrough. You can also see which decisions you made the first time through so you can see alternate outcomes if you so choose. Trophies seemed to be alarmingly difficult and grind-heavy to earn though. Much of them rely on doing the same things as the first game (fight so many battles, use X skill so many times, etc) except that they required several times the number of actions that were needed before. It took almost twenty hours before my first trophy and only because it was story related. I don’t need a game to necessarily hand out trophies like candy, but it’s not as if they’re difficult. Just mind-numbingly time consuming. The game itself isn’t terribly difficult, especially since save points are plentiful and the fact that the challenge is adjustable.
If you picked up the collector’s edition of Tales of Xillia 2 (check out my unboxing here), you should have gotten some costume DLC bundled with the game, which includes outfits for Ludger, Jude, and Milla to make them look like characters from Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, Tales of Vesperia, and Tales of Graces f respectively. Plus, all prior costume DLC from the previous game is compatible with this one. As I stated in the unboxing article, everything from the steelbook case to the artbook were nice, and now that I’ve actually played the game, having the watch and Rollo plushie make more sense too. Not to mention the soundtrack and the Ludger statue. It’s a really great set overall.
Serious Tales fans don’t need me to tell them this (and have likely already bought this game already), but if you’re still on the fence, let me put it like this. If you played and enjoyed the original Tales of Xillia, you might as well pick this one up too. It fills in a lot of the gaps left by the original, and all of the returning characters get some closure in one form or another. It has some weird pacing issues and having a silent protagonist is an odd stylistic choice, but it’s a solid game all around. Besides, it’s a game that gave us Rollo and at the end of the day makes it worth the purchase right there.
Short Attention Span Summary
Tales of Xillia 2 brings together characters new and old in an attempt to tell a much darker tale while simultaneously filling in the missing pieces left behind in the original. It mostly succeeds, though the pacing is bogged down by forcing the player to grind for money in between chapters and the silent protagonist feels very out of place in the Tales universe. That said, combat is enhanced by adding a weapon swap mechanic and giving monsters weaknesses/resistances to certain kinds of attacks. Also, this game is in love with cats. Since the game has only been in development for a year, you’ll have to adjust to a lot of reused content and assets. If you can get past these few snags, you’re in for a worthwhile RPG adventure.