The latest “Tales Of” to hit UK gamers.
The early stages of most video games tend to have the player learning the ropes and being taught what they have to do to progress and get better/more powerful. How long this “tutorial” phase goes on for differs between games, but JRPGs do seem to push out this instruction for longer than most. Tales of Xillia, the latest “Tales of” game to be localised for a western audience by Namco Bandai, suffers with this extended tutorial and, as a result, takes a while to get moving. It is not that the game is overly complicated, just that there are a lot of basics to learn. But perseverance is the key, as once the player has the basics down and know how to progress their characters, Tales of Xillia picks up into a rather nice example of the JRPG genre.
The fact that Tales of Xillia was released in Japan in 2011 and it has taken this long to arrive on western shores (there is already a sequel available in Japan which will be making its way over here sometime next year) doesn’t necessarily work in the games favour. Visually, the game already feels old in comparison to some of the more recent JRPGs that have been released here. Don’t get me wrong, the game has an “Anime” style that is bright and colourful, and fits in well with the setting. It just doesn’t have the visual clout that may be expected from the latest entry in one of the most loved JRPG series. However, there are other aspects of Xillia that show the game to be right up to date.
The development of the characters, for example, is quite impressive. Whilst the story itself may start out feeling somewhat generic, things get much more interesting as the game progresses and the way that the characters develop and interact with each other builds the involvement and investment in the game. Often a point of concern, the localised voicework is well done and actually adds to the characters. Besides the occasional repeated phrase during combat, it is not annoying at all.
Tales of Xillia puts the player in the world of Reize Maxia, a world where Spirits exist and someone is trying to drain all of the magic from the world. As may be expected, it is down to the player to put a stop to these shenanigans and restore magical order to the world. As I already said, it is pretty standard stuff, but it is all about the journey.
And as a journey, things don’t start that well. The story revolves around two main characters, a medical student called Jude Mathis and the mysterious Milla Maxwell. Players will be able to choose either of these characters to play, and the choice will lead to different perspectives in a story which is otherwise the same. The player begins their journey through the tutorial stages within an uninspiring school, followed by a couple more uninteresting settings, complete with dull enemies as the plot takes shape. It is not the greatest start, but things get much better and, as I already said, perseverance is the key.
Through the story, Jude and Milla will meet up with a wide selection of interesting characters, some of whom will join the team. Side quests are offered and exploration is available, although the game does its best to push the player along the main story line whenever possible, making the game feel much more linear. One of the most interesting aspects is the dialogue between the characters, which serves to build both relationships and back stories. These dialogues are purely optional, which is quite handy as there really are a lot of them, and will pause the game while the dialogue plays out with portrtaits of the characters. For fans of the series, it is nice, while those who are interested only in working through the game at least have the chance to skip them. However, one of the highlights of Xillia is the depth of the characters and the relationships between them, so skipping these dialogues may mean missing out one of the best parts of the game.
The node-based leveling up system felt a little more involved than was necessary at first, but quickly revealed itself to be quite straight forward. Nodes are unlocked as experience is gained, and characters then gain access to passive skills that make them more powerful. It is possible to develop characters into specialists or all-rounders, depending on their chosen playstyle and how they approach the combat.
Which is where the majority of the learning comes in. The combat in Xillia is dealt with in real time and the player will find themselves running around the enemy feeling like they are in an action game rather than a JRPG. Members of the players party do a good job of supporting or attacking as needed, and even the enemy AI is clever enough to make tactical decisions. Simple tactical options such as getting behind the enemy for advantage is available, and players have quite a huge selection of different attacks and Artes (magical attacks) available to them. There is a certain amount of button mashing in the early game, especially against the standard adversaries, but boss battles and the later game offer much more depth and challenge.
It is in the boss battles that many of the tactics learned in the early game will become vitally important, including linking. This particular ability took a little while to grasp for some reason, possibly because it was not explained as well as it could have been, or perhaps because I wasn’t paying attention. Either way, the ability allows the player to team their character up with another character for more powerful linked attacks and linked Artes. There are a lot of options when it comes to the linked abilities, and trying them out is quite good fun.
The other important aspect of a good RPG, besides the story, combat and the characters, is equipment and swag. In Xillia, this all works quite well. Players can sell their unwanted loot at the various stores in the game, which happily have access to a wide range of gear to sell. Players will need to level up the stores in order to access some of the more desirable equipment, which is done by selling different items. Its a nice system that makes a change from the usual “find a new store to access new equipment” way of doing things.
Tales of Xillia has been a long time coming to these shores, and doubtless the fans of the series are pleased it has finally arrived. However, for the newcomers to the series, the uninspiring early game and amount that needs to learned may prove a stumbling block. However, an investment of time will reveal a deep JRPG system with engaging characters in an interesting world. The story may feel slightly forced at times, but it moves along nicely and will keep the player busy for many hours. Tales of Xillia may not be the ideal entry point for those new to the JRPG genre, but for JRPG fans, it is one of the best.