It has been a long time coming, but four years following Tales of Berseria, series fans finally have another meaty Japanese roleplaying game (JRPG) to look forward to with the 9 September launch of Bandai Namco’s Tales of Arise. With the amount of development time and plenty of contemporary inspirations to draw from, it is perhaps no surprise that Tales of Arise is an excellent entry into the series, one that combines the staples that fans know and love with the accessibility to appeal to a bigger audience.
At the crux of the conflict and narrative are the planets of Dahna and Rena, the former being subjugated and at the mercy of the more technologically advanced latter. Tales of Arise does not exactly shy away from some heavy topics such as slavery, racism, and the inherent disparity between the haves and have nots, but it does address them in a more palatable way using its characters and interactions.
Without venturing too deeply into spoiler territory, the arrival of Iron Mask, aka Alphen and his meeting with the Renan runaway Shionne will set off a fateful chain of events that will bring beliefs and conventions crashing down in a satisfying manner. Of course, players will have to buy into the whole premise of intertwining fates and perfect coincidences and just enjoy the exhilarating ride for about 40-50 hours for the main story.
Who the Renans and Dahnans are, how they relate to each other, and their roles to play in this interplanetary conflict is quite heady stuff. While the narrative pace will pretty much always have players hooked to get to the next juicy tidbit, things do get accelerated swiftly towards the end, throwing exposition and explanations at every turn that can be hard to digest if you miss a crucial piece of information.
There is much talking in the JRPG, and that is simply par for the course. However, that is not to say Tales of Arise tells a convoluted story that is hard to get into. Rather, it demands a commitment to the premise and the world at stake, and the more you immerse yourself into it, the more you can enjoy it in all different aspects.
The anime style of the Tales games has never been better as well, with Arise utilising Unreal Engine to the fullest instead of the in-house engine. When those Ufotable animated cutscenes hit, just sit back and enjoy before attempting to save the world again.
And this is a world worth saving, with Bandai Namco creating regions full of interesting characters to meet, with every place you visit decked out in its own style both visually and the way people behave. You could be entering a region that is shrouded in mistrust and deceit, or one where an unfamiliar sense of peace makes for a stark contrast in your adventures.
There are stories to experience in almost every situation, and the return of series staple skits and the short chats between your party members help to expand upon all the major happenings during Tales of Arise in an organic and enjoyable way.
Speaking of your party, as you progress further into the game, the initial pairing of Alphen and Shionne will soon be joined by four others, each bringing a different perspective to the table. While the aforementioned pair definitely get more screen time, the rest of the party have their fair share in the limelight, developing into fully fleshed out characters that invite players along for an emotional rollercoaster ride.
Their interactions are all well voiced, elevating the dialogue from just conversations between anime characters into exchanges that represents the growth of friendships, trust, and overcoming the odds together.
Suffice to say, Tales of Arise succeeds in providing players with the means to understand these individuals and their motivations, and the incentive to dive even deeper into their world.
These colourful characters do more than just add to the narrative, they are also essential cogs in combat, which is integral to making progress in the game. Whether you are facing off against small Zuegles or hulking monstrosities that require a concentrated effort to bring down, Tales of Arise shines bright in combat.
Aside from your basic attacks, every party member comes equipped with their own set of Artes, special moves that deal considerably more damage and help chain combos together. The limitation of your Arte gauge will determine how many Artes you can use at any given time, adding another layer of strategy when it comes to prolonging one’s combo.
Deal enough pain and you get Boost attacks designed to counter specific enemy movements like casting spells or charging at you. Even with only four party members active at any given time, the other two can still chip in when the need arises.
In general, the longer your combos are, the more susceptible enemies become to Boost Strikes. These are the spectacular team-up moves that are both flashy and effective, and the different combinations make for some visual popcorn. Combat brings danger, and the dodging in Tales of Arise works for the most part, allowing the more nimble players to counter with vengeance.
Even if you take plenty of damage, you are not at a loss. Get some dodges together and you will enter Over Limit Status for a short while. During this heightened phase, you have unlimited uses of the Artes, and a powerful Mystic Arte can be unleashed by consuming whatever is left of your Over Limit status.
As for healing and support aspects, Tales of Arise utilises the Cure Points (CP) system, which is shared across the party. The limited pool of CP that you have will mean that you need to be tactical about using healing or support Artes, although there are also items that can recover your CP outside of camping and inns.
With a healthy mixture of magical Artes and combat maneuvres, the flexibility and accessibility in Tales of Arise gives you manual or semi-auto control over any character, or hand it to the AI to do the dirty work for you. The options to determine your overall strategy are quite useful, and can apply to most kinds of combat scenarios, just be sure to jump in to apply the finishing touches. Nothing feels quite as awesome as everything going according to plan without you needing to lift a finger, and even if you do, the fast-paced action is going to entertain.
While this is a JRPG in every sense, albeit modernised to lower the barriers of entry, combat in Tales of Arise is going to happen a lot. Even if you cede control to the competent AI, there is still lots of enemies to take down and the incessant in-battle banter will take a toll on your ears, so you have been warned.
The rewards for every hard-fought battle will see your party obtain valuable resource drops, level up, get stronger, and earn Sklll Points that can put into learning new Artes or gaining passive and active bonuses.
Every party member has a total of fifteen different branches, each with five unlockables, which is quite substantial. This should satisfy those looking to get into the nitty-gritty of a JRPG experience, not to mention the gear you can obtain in the world, through battles and quests, or crafting. You can most certainly grind to get more powerful, and the game makes the process fun enough to justify it.
If you are constantly looking for a fight, the Battle Chain bonuses in Tales of Arise will make sure you are rewarded handsomely. Starting from zero, completing more battles will increase your chain to a maximum of five, increasing your XP gain, improving item drop rates, and even invite rare foes into the mix. It is a kind of combat high that serves a purpose, giving players the impetus to keep going just to stop the bonus from decreasing and subsiding.
Outside of combat, Tales of Arise has much more to distract you from the main quest. Side quests are quite plentiful, although they seldom diverge from the usual fetch quest or elimination quests, but do provide a little more colour in bringing the world to life. Even after the main story is done, there is still much more of such content to experience, which easily adds another five to ten hours of playtime.
The fishing mini-game is definitely a highlight, sending you all across the world in search of better rods, lures, and more rare fish to hook. While the actual fishing is not exactly rocket science, the hunt and knowledge gained are worth the effort. Cooking also plays a huge role, granting useful boosts and other beneficial effects when camping. The downtime also allows the player to converse with their party, strengthening the bond through more character interactions.
Resource gathering is easy to understand, if you see something glittering in the world, head on over and grab it for yourself. These can be equipment, precious ores, cooking ingredients or consumables. There is also the farm where you can raise livestock, which provides a more reliable source of materials.
Tales of Arise is not without some faults, unfortunately. The constant battle chatter has already been highlighted, but there are also some areas where improvement would be much appreciated. For one, when you have graphically more intense games loading in an instant on the PS5, it makes little sense to have loading screens just for moving through doors in an enclosed building. Even on a larger scale, there are simply too much loading happening. At least the fast travel options are excellent, which is a fair trade-off in the end.
In terms of exploration, most areas are straightforward despite their size, with enemies and resources filling in the gaps. Aside from those that require special skills, there really are not many secrets to uncover in the many different environments available in Tales of Arise. If you are looking for more substantial secrets or optional content, the post-game does add in some nice surprises for those willing to put in the time.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Tales of Arise is an amazing game with its narrative the shining gem amongst a crown of jewels. It may not appeal to everyone, but there has not been a better hero’s journey illustrated in 2021 just yet. Couple that with the intricate and well-designed combat systems, a world brimming with life and character development, and more of those Tales’ goodness, and this is a game no JRPG fan should miss out on.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A high point for the series, Tales of Arise arrive after a long break and stakes its claim as one of the best JRPGs in recent years.
Gameplay - 9/10
Story - 9/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 10/10