In a vast sea of JRPGs, the Tales series has always been a bit of an odd duck. On the surface, they give off the vibe of generic anime-based role-playing games that would only appeal to otaku gamers.
Once you actually take the plunge, though, you quickly find out they are far more than trope-riddled generic JRPGs. The Tales games have multi-faceted characters who carry their narratives sometimes better than famous JRPG protagonists like Cloud Strife.
Furthermore, the series has a signature action-based combat system that blends RPG mechanics with fighting game combos.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing this, given that the Tales series flies entirely under the radars of most gamers. That should all change now as, thankfully, Tales of Arise is both an excellent entry point into the series and has been given more time in the limelight.
Arise carries on the Tales tradition of compelling characters by introducing us to the odd protagonist couple comprising of Alphen and Shionne. The former is a slave who doesn’t feel pain and has been wearing an iron mask ever since he was discovered unconscious and with no memory of who he is.
His counterpart is a female Renan, a race of superior beings that came to the world of the weaker Dahnans and enslaved them. Her thing is that she emits a powerful lightning aura whenever someone touches her.
The combination of Alphen’s immunity to pain and Shionne’s inability to be touched because “big ouchie”, coupled with their polar opposite personalities and motivations, make them the perfect odd couple.
Stuck as they are with each other, they embark on a quest to defeat the Renan lords who use the Dahnans to fuel the Crown Content that decides who gets to rule it all.
The overarching story itself is as straightforward as it gets. Heroes set out to liberate enslaved weaklings. However, the underlying complications that come from 300 years of slavery imposed on the world take center stage.
As you progress through the story, you meet new party members, side characters, and minor NPCs, each of which has a tear-jerker of a tale to tell. I couldn’t help but talk to every person I saw in front of me.
While there’s plenty of filler text to go around, I found small nuggets of what life has been like in each of the realms of the Dahnan homeworld. There’s powerful stuff to found throughout Tales of Arises 35 hour main story. Seeing it all through two different pairs of eyes makes it all the more compelling.
Arise delivers its storytelling in a way that I don’t often see in games. Instead of sticking to a single paradigm, such as cutscenes, it blends several methods together to create variety.
The most crucial story beats are given the complete in-game animation treatment. At the same time, meaningful conversations are carried out in a comic panel style or the typical camera-over-the-shoulder back-and-forths. This varied storytelling made the narrative feel fresh.
Given that it all gets particularly lengthy at times, it was a welcome way of keeping everything moving at a brisk pace. My main gripe with Tales of Arise in this area is the way it uses music. The game clearly has a decent selection of tracks to its name. However, it doesn’t like switching it up to support what is going on.
There were plenty of moments where I’d be walking around an open area with an epic track setting a tone fit for an incredible journey, then cut to a scene while the music still carried on. It didn’t matter if the scene was intended for comic relief, solemn contemplation, or mourning a loss.
The epic track carried on, taking away a part of the impact these scenes were meant to have. On the surface, it’s a nitpick. Once you experience a few of the better executed Shionne and Alphen moments, though, this lack of attention to detail begins to rear its ugly head. It’s a shame when you consider that the game has some great music.
Arise’s adventure is one of an epic scale, and the scoring does a fantastic job of supporting that notion. Each realm is also given its own score that matches the landscape and its accompanying story arc.
As the opening zone, Calaglia has an appropriately heroic track that feels motivating and well-fitting for heroes beginning their epic quest. Once you step into the ice-cold region of Cyslodia, the epicness is toned down, layered by a solemn overtone.
The combat tracks, in particular, I’d argue, could easily rival some of the most beloved battle tracks in JRPG history. I grew so fond of the regular fight theme that I bemoaned its occasional absence. And it’s at this juncture where I’d like to wax lyrical about Tales of Arise’s combat.
I have been known to be ambivalent about action-based systems in JRPGs. Aside from the fact that I’m raised on tried-and-true turn-based paradigms, I’ve also felt that something is lost in translation when combining button sequencing and mashing with RPG mechanics.
However, the Tales series is known to have a formula that blends fighting game combos with traditional role-playing mechanics. That’s the secret sauce that tied it all together for me in Arise.
The system comprises several key mechanics. You have your standard attack, which melee characters like Alphen can use to execute short combos while ranged party members such as Shionne can fire steady barrages of projectiles. The real meat and potatoes lie in the Artes, abilities that you can mix and match to create different battle styles and combos.
With Alphen, for instance, I can start hitting an enemy with my basic attack until they enter a Break state, after which I can use an Arte called Rising Wyvern to launch them into the air and continue with an air combo before ending it with another Arte. Combos like this one can be further extended using Boost attacks.
When available, these team abilities call upon one of your party members to execute an attack that resets your Arte slots and enables you to carry on hitting the enemy. Boost attacks also have other uses, thanks to their unique properties. Rinwell, for example, can use her Boost attack to cancel enemy spell casts and copy them.
These unique effects give Boost attacks an added use when facing off against bosses who often don’t allow for extensive combos. And, as if all this wasn’t enough, repeatedly hitting the same enemy can place them in a Strike state, allowing you to execute a team attack with another party member that acts as a spectacular finishing move.
Once the mechanics all click together and you begin playing around with different Artes setups, you’ll quickly discover a whole other metagame within Tales of Arise’s combat systems.
Customization lies at the heart of this Tales game. Besides selecting your Artes, you have plenty of other ways to further enhance your party, both in strength and style.
Throughout your journey, you’ll come across various pieces of armor, accessories, and weapons. You can also gather materials for crafting even better gear. What’s more, you can further enhance accessories by leveling them up.
As these trinkets gain more levels, they become more powerful and gain new properties and effects. But it’s not just about power. When it comes to collecting items, you’ll have a lot of choices to indulge your inner fashionista.
By trekking off the beaten path and completing a few side-missions, you’ll likely be rewarded with cosmetic items that add 0 to your power level but significantly boost your style. On top of that, the Tales of Arise has a baked-in treasure hunt where you need to find owls scattered around the various zones.
Each of them will grant you a new customization accessory once you find and interact with them. These can be anything from animal ears to tails to even glasses and eye patches, which you can then put on your party members. Cat group, anyone?
Outside of items, Tales of Arise has a highly robust skill unlocking system that gives you access to enhancements and skills at a fairly brisk pace. Each character has a set of mini skill trees called Titles, each of which contains abilities and passives that you can unlock by spending SP.
Titles are opened up naturally by progressing the story as well as meeting specific requirements. For instance, you can choose to spend time with your comrades at rest points, which raises your Affinity with them. Build up enough Affinity, and that will unlock a secret Title.
SP can be earned by completing quests, defeating enemies, and completing other small tasks. What I found to be incredibly handy is the skill flagging system. As there are a considerable number of skills, you can flag the ones you haven’t acquired yet.
When the selected character has reached enough SP to unlock it, the game will notify you. It’s an invaluable feature that I didn’t know I needed, but now I want it in every other RPG ever.
Speaking of trekking, Tales of Arise is a bit of a mixed bag. The game has a fair amount of linearity to it, with only a handful of quests expecting you to do some wandering about. That doesn’t mean, though, that the game plays like a straight corridor.
More often than not, trails and paths branch off into small nooks and crannies that may hide a few goodies for you to find. It’s also the primary way you can find some of the game’s nastier elite enemies.
These bigger mobs can be identified by the red energy crackling around them and can be particularly tough to take down, especially when you’re under-leveled. Arise makes a point of this by giving you an early quest to fight a level 43 mantis-like creature, which you’ll only be able to take down way later in the game.
Succeed in felling these ferocious brutes, though, and you’ll be rewarded with tons of experience, materials, and, naturally, items. Overall, Tales of Arise’s world is anything but an actual open world game. That being said, there’s an epic sense of scale when journeying through each map.
Thankfully, fast travel makes it all the easier to move about, mainly when doing side-quests.
Tales of Arise is a well-executed JRPG. It may have its flaws, but there’s an easily discernible passion hidden within it. The story and its characters had me hooked from start to finish.
Even though some emotional moments didn’t land because of some misplacements with the music, I ultimately engaged with the narrative as well as the finer points of each character’s development.
The combat is easily the biggest highlight. There’s so much you can do with it, even if you’re just running the same loadout of Artes. Despite being a complex weave of individual mechanics, getting to grips with it is straightforward. I admittedly found bosses to be an often unreasonable spike-up in difficulty, but that was until I realized that I had to approach them as easily solvable puzzles.
Whether you’re new to JRPGs or have been looking for the next big adventure to suck you in, Tales of Arise is an absolute must-buy.
Pros & Cons
- Engaging story with a twist on the “odd couple” trope
- Multi-layered characters with intriguing backstories
- Multi-faceted yet accessible combat system with a lot of options for customization
- Simple itemization with an accessory leveling system which is excellent for min-maxers
- Storytelling delivery variations help move the story forward without becoming cumbersome
- Music sometimes doesn’t match specific story sequences and interactions
- Some more variety in character animations during cutscenes would have been welcome
- Boss difficulty spiking isn’t going to sit well with everyone