One Player’s Tale
Namco Bandai’s Tales series has had a weird run this generation. First came Tales of Vesperia , which, despite its critical acclaim, was only available upon release to a limited audience due to it being an Xbox 360 exclusive. When Namco Bandai decided to release an extended version of the game with new characters, new plot, and weird crossovers with other Tales games (and even Eternal Sonata ), for some reason they refused to bring it over here, causing American audiences to miss out on the definitive Vesperia experience. Then there was Tales of Graces F , which is a PS3 port of a Wii game that also never came to America. Despite its fun and innovative battle and crafting systems, the game’s story leaves something to be desired, and its graphics, being that it is a Wii port, feel like they are a generation old. Now, Tales of Xillia has come out on the PS3. It’s a game that has received almost universal acclaim in Japan, yet still, it took its sweet time coming to America. It’s been nearly two years since the game’s Japanese release, and believe it or not, a sequel to the game has already been released in Japanese territories. Has the game aged well? And will the same things that appealed to a Japanese audience appeal to us here in America?
The first thing Tales of Xillia has going for it is its story. Xillia easily has the most well-written plot of this generation of Tales games. Created by a combination of Team Symphonia and Team Destiny, or for Tales initiates, old and new Tales designers alike, the game follows two characters, Jude Mathis and Milla Maxwell, and two worlds, one that runs on magic and spirituality and another that runs on technology and human intuition. Without giving anything away, the story is essentially about a war between the two worlds and the intrepid JRPG party that tries to stop it.
What’s really cool about this story is that you can observe it from two different viewpoints. This will seem very familiar to fans of Star Ocean 2 . When the game begins, you can choose either Jude or Milla to be your main character. Then, all the events of the story will progress from their point of view. Most of the time they are together, so you will simply be viewing the same events in a slightly different style. However, there are some key points where they split apart and where important decisions have to be made that are available only to one of the main characters. This gives you impetus to play the game more than once to see what you are missing.
The game’s battle system is both a high and low point. When taken as a single-player RPG experience, it’s very enjoyable. Like most Tales games, combat takes place in real time, and effective gameplay revolves around linking together and canceling out of your attacks. Players will control one character, while AI controls the other three characters in your party. You can still shortcut other party members’ artes (the game’s name for attacks) to your controller, and can manually seize control from them when need be, but the majority of your party is still controlled by the computer.
However, the big, new innovation in Xillia is the Link system, which allows you to link two characters together into a team. When this happens, the AI-controlled character will follow your character around and respond to actions your character takes. For example, if you are keeping an enemy tied down in stun as a fighter, a mage will take this opportunity to charge up a powerful spell. Similarly, if you are having a hard time getting through an enemy’s defenses, your partner will try and open them up or break their guard so that you can rush in and do all the damage you want. Linking characters also gives you access to two-character link artes as well as all the nifty Tales signature techniques like Overlimits. You’ll also get stat bonuses for linking together two characters that work well together. Obviously, you will want to keep Jude and Milla linked at all times.
While the Link system is an interesting spin on an RPG that relies on AI so heavily, it also adversely affects one of the Tales series’ biggest draws: Its multiplayer capability. In past Tales titles, if you were able to find three other friends, you could play through the entire game with a human-controlled party. This was also one of the only reliable ways to tackle the game on ultra-hard difficulties. Unfortunately, the link system forces a linked character to become an AI, which basically means that anyone who was controlling that character has to sit back and watch. Links stay in place until you want to break them, and as said before, the Link system is pretty much the center of this game’s battle system. So, optimally, Tales of Xillia is best played with two players, so the two players can each link to an AI ally. Xillia is definitely not the four-player strategic battle fest that other Tales games are. Why Namco Bandai didn’t simply allow linked characters to follow player commands, we have no idea.
RPG fans will notice that Tales of Xillia feels like it’s borrowing something from modern-day Final Fantasy games. The world map is pretty much done away with, opting instead for a seamless world connecting zone to zone. Players are given a mini-map that shows areas of interest in order to prevent them from being lost. Heck, even the level-up system has characters progressing from node to node on a web; it’s very similar to the Sphere Grid of Final Fantasy X or the Crystarium of Final Fantasy XIII . Also much like modern Final Fantasy games, Tales of Xillia is in love with its cutscenes, and there will be points where you’ll feel that you are watching the game more than playing it.
Luckily, the game is pretty enough to watch. The graphics of Tales of Xillia finally do this generation of consoles justice, unlike Vesperia , which came out too early to make the best use of the Xbox 360’s hardware, and Graces , which had to deal with the Wii’s limitations. The music distinctly feels like a classic Tales soundtrack, bringing back memories of Tales of Eternia , Tales of Destiny , and even Tales of Phantasia with its flutes and pipes mixed in with huge orchestral scores. Character models have finally grown up, straying away from the super-deformed, somewhat-chibi anime models of Vesperia and Graces , and environments are simply gorgeous; the camera sweeps around new locales as if to say, “Yeah, look at how magical and pretty this world is!”
Overall, Tales of Xillia feels like a blending of old and new Tales styles. It combines modern-day political Tales plots with the high-magic, fantasy, and wonky time travel of the Tales of yesteryear. If you are a Tales fan, then pick up Tales of Xillia today. Just don’t expect to play it with your standard four-person Tales party. If you aren’t a Tales fan and have no idea what I’m talking about, then pick up Tales of Xillia if you want to play a decent JRPG with an interesting battle system. It’s no Ni No Kuni , but it’s certainly one of the better JRPG titles to come out this console generation.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Though the graphics pale in comparison to the games lineup of the next generation, Tales of Xillia is easily the best looking Tales game so far. 3.8 Control
The battle system is really fun if you play the game single-player. However, the effective removal of four-player multiplayer is a weird choice. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
It’s great to hear some classic Tales tunes again. There’s less J-Pop here and more pan flutes and orchestras. 4.0 Play Value
Tales of Xillia is a great game to play single-player and an alright game to play multiplayer. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best