Bandai Namco Entertainment’s Tales franchise has remained one of the developer’s flagship IPs since first launching with Tales of Phantasia in 1995. Twenty-six years later, the franchise is still going strong, the latest being Tales of Arise, which launched on the PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. What I have enjoyed about the series since first picking up Tales of Vesperia on the Xbox 360 is just how diverse the games have been in terms of narrative, visual style and tone. While you have been able to go into any game expecting an anime-like approach to building its fantasy world, everything else can be up in the air and differ game-by-game. Tales of Arise makes arguably the most significant jump from all its predecessors, and following Berseria’s attempt to offer a darker and more sophisticated narrative, Arise feels like the end-point of that progression.
Rather than introducing characters before shit hits the metaphorical fan, the game starts pretty much in the middle of the bad end scenario. In a world with two races – the Dahnans and the Renans – the former have experienced 300 years of servitude and slavery at the hands of the latter. We are introduced to the game’s world through a depraved mining encampment, where Dahnans, young and old, are worked to the bone through the encouragement of corporal punishment, threats and brutality leading to death. It is a shocking start to the game, and can leave you taken aback. However, I am glad they pulled it off, as it helps set the scene for a much more serious game than those before it.
Players take control of the protagonist, initially known as Iron Mask, a servant with amnesia who cannot feel pain. Through a series of events, they find themselves out of captivity and assisting a resistance movement and in the companionship of Shionne Imeris, a sharp-tongued Renan who allies herself with Iron Mask for unknown reasons. From there, they seek to defeat the “Five Lords” holding Dahnan society hostage. The story is simple from the outside but weaves a complex narrative that makes good use of all six main playable characters – and keeps you eager to keep playing through to the end to tie up all loose ends. The main party members and supplementary characters are some of the best offered in the Tales series to date, all being uniquely different from one another, having their own flaws and issues to face, and all contributing to the overarching story in their own way.
The Skit System is back from many other console Tales games, with banter between the character taking place both while travelling on the open road or, if missed, at a campsite. With a new visual system which features 3D character models on backdrops rather than 2D artwork, there are many memorable moments of character development – and more than a few moments leaving me chuckling uncontrollably.
Contributing to world-building is just how amazing the game is how the audiovisual elements contribute to the experience. With exceptionally designed characters, a more detailed and open world than ever before and the return of the outfit system giving you a range of accessories and costumes to dress your characters up in, there is a lot to admire this time around. The animeness of the series is less prevalent in Tales of Arise, but instead delivers a more universally appealing JRPG that takes advantage of what is possible with late-last-generation gaming. While there are few perks for playing on the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S in terms of visuals, but the quality offered makes me excited to see what the next Tales game may deliver.
As is now standard with the franchise, Tales of Arise offers English and Japanese voice-acting, both of which are of stellar quality. During my playthrough I opted to go with the English dub, which featured the talents of Ray Chase, Erica Lindbeck, Christine Marie Cabanos, Bryce Papenbrook, GRiffin Puatu and Katelyn Gault. All are active in the voice acting community, and it is clear this ain’t their first rodeo, with all delivering the emotion and tones of their respective characters incredibly.
The combat in Tales of Arise should be immediately familiar to anyone who has played pretty much any Tales game in the past, albeit has a few twists of its own. The real-time combat system is fast-paced and designed to have players think on their feet, with the ability to use different artes for ground and aerial combat, a much greater emphasis on dodging which provides a brief slow motion buff w/ invincibility and ultimately being easy to pick up.
There are a few new features introduced in Tales of Arise that flow seamlessly into the combat experience. One of these is boost attacks, where you can summon a character to your active party member once a gauge is filled, and have them perform a unique ability providing special effects. These character-specific effects include trading HP for more significant damage, the ability to destroy enemy armour or providing buffs to all party members. Another change is an over-limit mode, which temporarily gives you the ability to use unlimited artes without affecting your AG gauge, and perform a powerful mystic arte at the end. While these sound like elements for people who don’t want to just button mash their way through a battle, they tend to be critical in getting through fights at a reasonable pace for content you are currently working through.
One element that I was initially hesitant about but warmed to very quickly was the healing system. Healing or “Recovery Artes” are no longer an infinite resource determined by your MP, instead relying on a second counter known as “Cure Points” which renders healing and resurrection impossible once it hits zero. While you can use healing items as well, you also have to deal with both a limited supply of them and the short cooldowns associated with item use. Part of the fun with bosses was finding out how to properly defeat them, knowing my healers couldn’t spam healing magic to make up for my failures.
From mid and post-game sub-quests to a New Game+ mode to discovering all the owls to acquiring collectable accessories to tackling more complex difficulties in the training ground “arena” mode to completing the game’s crafting system – there is a lot to keep you occupied both during play and post-game.
Overall, Tales of Arise is what I would consider being the definitive Tales series experience. The JRPG takes elements that have served the franchise well over the years and combines them with an addictive narrative, exquisite audiovisual backing, and some of the smoothest, approachable and challenging gameplay yet. If this is the template that future games are based on, I cannot wait for the follow-up – whenever that is announced and released!