May 28, 2022

Tales Of Arise – Xbox Series X Review

Are the Highest Sales In this Series’ History Warranted? Let’s Discuss and Review.

Not gonna lie, I’ve been waiting for this one for quite a while. Tales of Berseria was an outstanding entry to the franchise with a complex combo system, and tonnes of content. Tales of Arise, therefore, had a lot to live up to. If I’m being candid, I was afraid that if Tales of Arise didn’t find success, it may be the last Tales game fans could potentially see.

Boy, was I wrong?! Arise quickly became the fastest-selling Tales game ever, breaking franchise records of previous titles, combined. But enough of my wonky speculation. We’re about to see why, and indiscriminately judge it like the Chef Ramsay of gaming connoisseurs that we are. Embark on a whimsical and dramatic journey through Dahna and beyond, with Iron Mask and friends, in Tales of Arise, released on September 9th, 2021. Arise is an action-oriented JRPG available on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC developed by Bandai Namco.

How one derives fun from a product tends to be highly subjective. Therefore ALL forms of review are opinionated and should be taken with a grain of salt (this included). So let’s review Tales Of Arise through the lens of more objective metrics such as; graphical fidelity, characters/story, content/length, controls & gameplay, then finally, sound design & cinematics. This product was reviewed on an Xbox Series X, and an Xbox One. For full transparency: this content was reviewed using a purchased copy of the game.

Graphical Fidelity

Visually speaking Tales of Arise is a spectacle to behold both on Series X and Xbox One. The entire aesthetic maintains a flashy style that features jaw-dropping landscapes, colourful and vibrant effects, topped off with expressive animations that really tie it all together.

While textures have seen a major improvement on their previous iteration, they may still look sub-par compared to many modern titles such as Cyberpunk 2077, or even Horizon Zero Dawn. That’s not to say the game looks bad, as it faithfully retains its anime design and strongly focuses on the aforementioned animations rather than crisp and flawless character models. This means that character movement and actions look natural with lifelike gestures being a clear benefit of motion capture integration. Attention was certainly paid here to make the cast seem… human?

But where this game really shines (graphically speaking) is in its combat. God damn, is this game’s visual presentation on point. During combat, players will be welcome to multi-chromatic Infinity Gauntlet-esque palettes that saturate screens with chaotic eruptions of colour. This is a department where Bandai Namco went balls-to-the-wall flashy, and it pays off. The visual spectacle of Arise cannot be overstated here. Sometimes it’s just fun to watch.

As far as performance is concerned, Arise oftentimes ran flawlessly. That being said, it did have frame hiccups on occasion with both the Xbox One and Series X (still, but less so) during intensive combat with plenty going on and effects coating every lit pixel. I did have the game freeze while loading an area a single time, and another single crash mid-fight about 40 hours later. Generally speaking, however, this is some mighty fine optimization. Tales of Arise looks and plays like a dream. Both versions are easily graphically comparable with sharpness and minor performance differences. As is becoming standard on modern consoles, Arise also offers a choice between quality & performance modes for preferences between high framerate, and better resolution.

Characters & Story

As with each entry to the Tales franchise, nailing the characters and their chemistry is an essential element to the formula. And…yeah, they dun did it again. To put it bluntly, the cast simply has chemistry. Beware, ever-so-slight spoilers ahead – as in a main character’s mysterious name that is revealed relatively early. The main cast of Tales of Arise is as follows: Alphen, Shionne, Rinwell (with Hootle), Law, Dohalim, and Kisara.

Save Hootle, Save the World

So what about this entry does it get right and wrong with regards to characters? Well first things first, Alphen and Shionne foil each other’s personalities quite well, with the Rinwell and friends adding extra layers of conflict for some rather interesting interactions. Each of them feels like individuals with their own passions, hopes and dreams that you’ll unravel throughout Arise’s tale.

Now for the bad, which isn’t all that much. I feel like most of us know what to expect when jumping into an anime-esque tale such as this. Things will get campy, I mean cheesy – as in, straight cheddar. It doesn’t quite get to the point of insufferable but there are certainly some cliché anime tropes here. While Dohalim took some time to grow on me, I found him a somewhat flat character due to his complete inability to be anything other than a paragon of perfection. While “good” characters can be welcome, when they’re too perfect they become unrelatable. But I get it, this isn’t a method acted character study so let’s move on. I could go into deep-dive analysis mode with each character and their arcs, but to keep it spoiler-free and relatively bite-sized, they’re all fine. Rather charming even.

Overall, I felt the story of Arise was a bit more focused than previous Tales, and I know, that doesn’t say much when Arise itself feels rather spread geographically speaking. Every Tales game in my experience has a moment where players or characters realize the scope of this story expands far beyond their current perception. For example, when the plot of Berseria reaches past merely “Abbey=Bad”; or the moment where the bigger picture begins to take shape. Arise certainly retains this aspect of its storytelling to fair benefit. While things absolutely get convoluted and a bit nonsensical, it’s no less weird than Attack on Titan or Full Metal Alchemist and I feel like, at that point, we’re more than along for the ride – and the tight gameplay & progression to keep us strapped.

But I must admit that around the second third, there is a ridiculously large exposition dump that completely puts the brakes on pacing. Ordinarily, I’m all for more story points and character development through moments in Arise lay it on a bit thick with so. Many. Speeches. I literally caught myself saying “oh great, more talking”, at one point. Moving on.

Content & Length

In my personal experience, it took about 45-55 hours to beat Tales of Arise to a relative completionist standard with most of its side content (prior to NG+ not including post-end-game content that adds another 10-20 hours). Completionists/trophy hunters will find approximately 70+ hours of gameplay here. There are four difficulty modes to choose from initially; Story, Normal, Moderate, and Hard. The game is broken up into three segments divided into what really feels like two halves. While I was excited to experience more from a point where most games would have ended, I was looking forward to a three saga story that never came to pass. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of meat on these bones.

Tales of Arise, in a similar fashion to previous Tales games, has included ways for players to curate their NG+ experience through “Artifacts” that allow specific elements, such as abilities, or equipment to carry over. Certain artifacts, once unlocked, grant additional bonuses such as extra experience; or even essential mechanics like the ability to have a second set of “artes”, which we’ll discuss for those not in the know in the next segment.

After beating the game an initial time and unlocking new game plus, players will also gain access to the final ‘Chaos’ difficulty. While this doesn’t add any new equipment, raise the level cap, or add any new content, it does provide an extra challenge for the true masochists who are willing to bull through to the segments that actually pose a challenge to a level 100 monster team squad. I find it frustrating that later difficulties or even NG+ do not scale to player level or raise the level cap as it really handicaps replayability here aside from merely re-experiencing the story or participating in debilitatingly difficult fights.

Interestingly, there is a strict dichotomy between the game’s length and Arise’s replayability – an aspect often utilized to bloat playtimes. To elaborate, I mean that while Arise certainly could do better in the NG+ department, the majority, if not all of the content consumed, will be in the initial playthrough. Nonetheless, this game offers more content in the first 25-30 hours than some games do at all.

Lastly, and unfortunately, this Tales entry does not contain any multiplayer function of any kind – that includes couch co-op. I’m quite sad to see the co-op squad-scrapping has been done away with, however, I understand this was done to make room for the stylistically impressive, cinematically oriented moves like boost-strikes & mystic artes that we’ll learn more about in the following segment.

Controls & Gameplay

With regards to controls, there has definitely been an action-oriented departure from previous Tales games here. Now, depending on your tastes this is either a massive boon or blight. I personally found that Bandai Namco had designed a game where (on higher difficulties) I spent more time tactically watching cooldowns and “pips” (as I call them) than hack-and-slashing mindlessly while enjoying the fancy effects provided. The combat is far deeper than it gets credit for, yet still felt like a minor step down in complexity from Berseria.

Allow me to clarify: the combination system in Berseria let players map each button (A, X, B, Y) as well as what ability (or arte) that would occur in sequence, so if you press A four times, you could choose what arte happens on the fourth attack as opposed to if you press B last (or any combination for that matter). A little complicated, but capable of some highly customizable and varied combinations. Whereas with Arise players are given Y, X, and A (B is used to jump opening a secondary move-set) with Left trigger alternative-sets.

While this isn’t inherently limiting in itself once you get the hang of it, it just left me wanting to feel a little bit more in my arsenal at any given time. All of that being said, this iteration of Tales‘ combats is so. freakin’. smooth. The fluidity of its combat might as well be liquid once you get a feel.

My only mechanical nag is that combo attacks cancel the players’ combo, stunting damage output as opposed to boost strikes continuing the chain and rewarding three pips. Through mastery of this system, I was able to attain damage outputs with Rinwell so absurd I don’t think it was intentional. The more spells she casts the quicker she casts them, (with passive ability) and she can lower the casting cost enabling her to cycle four cost spells for three, throw in a boost strike to gain the energy, and repeat. I call it “revving up”, with proper spacing this little mage is a lowkey nuke – casting her most powerful spells back-to-back, near endlessly.

This aspect of Arise I find highly intriguing as each character feels refined in their own way. Whereas I’m sure most players will main Alphen and his ridiculous damage output, some will certainly dedicate a playthrough for each playable character and their complexities. You’re next, Kisara.

The sword kind of looks like an orange horn, huh?

The core gameplay of the Tales franchise has, however, remained unchanged: maximize your combo efficiency to get achieve peak murder-ness. Many elements and mechanics have been simplified for ease of use which is what (in my opinion) grants Arise wider audience appeal. For example, the streamlined combo system will confuse far fewer players and allow more people to engage in its available complexities without being outputting.

However, Arise’s equipment feels absolutely mindless – arrow up = gud. Accessory choices have far more thought input though, as they may affect individual stats instead of consistently being better than everything else you have every time you pick one up. Equipment choices feel like they simply do not matter because every single weapon or armour has no variety or alternative – it’s just better (or worse) across the board. There is no, “well this one does more physical while this one does more magic damage/defence” here. At one point with Kisara, you get a shield from a quest that is literally worse than the one she starts with…why? Maybe I’m just missing the logic but I didn’t see the point.

Tales of Arise struggles with something that many modern action-evolving RPGs often do; difficulty and balancing. Far too often I notice RPG titles rely on endless revive/item spamming because they don’t quite know how they want to present a fair challenge to their players within the confines of their digital environment. Looking at you Final Fantasy 15, but that’s neither here nor there. A wind-dragon boss I found absurdly difficult, and possibly straight up imbalanced but maybe I’m just trash, who knows. Landfill resident or otherwise, no-countermeasure/near insta-kill abilities are a major douche move and should be avoided at all costs. Even if it’s endgame, it’s cheap. And cheap isn’t fun.

Quest design is decent enough, with most adventures being accompanied with at least passable context beyond, “this dude needs five apples because reasons”. Although, it frequently frustrated me that I had to make mental (or actual) notes regarding quest levels because there are no recommendations presented. Looks like you gotta find out you’re under-levelled the hard way: by wasting time.

Sound Design & Cinematics

I don’t know how else to phrase this, so here it goes. While a certain combat song that comes on sometimes isn’t bad, why does it sound like I’m starting an episode of Seinfeld every time I get into a fight? I joke, but I do have some notes with regards to Arise’s sound design, I found with many characters there to be a cricket/chirp/click noise when running that is super annoying, as well as a tapping sound in the first town that was driving me insane. I later figured out that sound is supposed to be a pickaxe – this ain’t it, chief.

Tales of Arise is what most would consider ‘fully’ voice acted. While not every single piece of dialogue is spoken, (that’d be a tonne of sound files) the vast majority of character interactions are fully and effectively voiced. Massive props for the performances here in both English and Japanese. Being the weeby purist that I am, I experienced Arise fully subbed.

On that note, I did notice blatant spelling & syntax errors with some translations. “Loved ones” is “love ones” and “poeple” instead of “people”, while I can be a stickler for details, did no one playtest or proof these? I did, however, notice other instances of potential mistakes. I may be missing some context, but with Phoenix Cyclone (an attack with Kisara and Alphen) Alphen yells “Shionne!”, but uh… wrong person, my guy. I’m noticing a small trend of lacking attention to detail. It sure sounds like I’m griping about Arise a lot, but trust me, I actually enjoyed it! These tiny issues were not enough to ruin the overall experience.

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I know, I know I’m being dramatic. But play those first five seconds over and over intermittently for 45+ hours. Do you hear Jerry, too?

Alternatively, there’s also some shreddy ass guitar in Arise coupled with some pretty dramatic operatic-style singing that lends the game an intensity at times. It’s really quite a diverse OST that deserves praise for its authenticity.

As per usual with each coming Tales game, this one also includes some beautifully animated segments that fill in for some of the regular cutscenes. These segments were animated by studio Ufotable. Kudos for a job well done. I was pretty delighted to discover an alternate intro animation unlocked around halfway through the game, also animated by Ufotable.

Conclusion

Upon my completion of Tales of Arise dawned a bitter-sweet moment. Alas, our journey had concluded after milking this game for each and every hour of playtime. While I enjoyed (nearly) every minute of it, I must acknowledge the sinking-pit feeling left behind when the credits rolled – a sign of something truly special. It’s over and I crave more, this must be a good sign for the series. And another playthrough.

I would absolutely recommend Tales of Arise to both fans of the franchise and newcomers alike. It retains the identity of a Tales entry while taking some steps forward and innovating where necessary. Arise keeps the important elements of a Tales game while trimming some fat away, and it’s all the better for it 8.8/10.

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What do you think of Tales of Arise? Let us know in the comments, and if you enjoyed this content why not check out our Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition review?


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The Future Of Tales Games Is Secure For Now
  • 8.8/10
    Score - 8.8/10
8.8/10

Overview

+ Enjoyable Combat & Indepth Combo Mechanics
+ Effects Are Visually Spectacular
+ Lots of Content
– Low Replayability
– Subtitle Errors/Attention To Detail

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