Tales ofThe series has been sickly big in Japan for the past 25 years, but has not yet reached a very large audience here in the western world – other than maybe big JRPG fans (who possibly understand Japanese?). Now, on its 25th anniversary, Bandai Namco is launching a major offensive Tales of Arise to all major formats. We have lost ourselves in a world that people like to stay in for a long time.
After a rather gaping jpop song to an anime video, we are taken into the fine-tuned and serious adventure. The story takes place in a galaxy (far, far away) where the planet Dahna has been invaded by the neighboring planet Rena for 300 years. The inhabitants of Dahna are enslaved by the technically superior Rena people “with the shining, blue eyes”. We take on the role of a mysterious man with an iron mask, which is called Iron Mask. He feels no pain. As an (involuntary) part of the resistance movement on Dahna, his adventures will soon put him in the company of a powerful warrior princess (from the opposition side) – Shionne – with a very special curse over him and both his real name as well as fate will soon be revealed for the world in an adventure that is much bigger than he could have first imagined.
You who have played a Japanese role-playing game before (or previous features such as Tales of Vesperia / Berseria) will quickly feel at home here. The tone is certainly a little darker at first and the set-up a little different, but very soon you are back to the group and their adventures, the annoying but cordial dialogue between them and of course that each character has its own story. The characters and their development through the story is one of them Tales or Arise big trump cards. That and the next-gen presentation on Xbox Series X (which we tested – 4K / 60fps target or 1620p / 60fps steady) where the graphics paint anime landscapes in cel-shading that really conveys an epic world, with beautiful mountains and seemingly endless horizons. As we have pointed out many times before, Japanese role-playing games are in many ways culturally different from Western ones – the dialogue is very rich and you do not have the same need to hold the players’ hand in explaining in detail the myriad of characters introduced through the game. The dialogue is (for the most part) recorded and can here be chosen between English dubbing or Japanese original sound.
Like the dialogue, the content is in Tales of Arise abundant. There are plenty of side quests, mini-games (try fishing, it’s unexpectedly fun), crafting of equipment and hunting for recipes á la Monster Hunter. Just Monster Hunter feels like a pretty good reference also for the game in general, as the battles are action-packed and very reminiscent of Capcom’s approach. There is also a scent of it Final Fantasy with the “arenas” of battle and the ability to chain massive attacks with the computer-controlled team members (and you can set the AI to focus on various things, such as attack, defense, or healing). As usual, there are also development trees to unlock new abilities in and the game does a good job of rolling out new elements peu en peu, so it does not get too complicated and overwhelming from the start.
Precis som i Final Fantasy-remaken, the battles can sometimes be a bit messy, as all the characters perform special attacks (astral artes, as they are called here) at once and the screen is filled with explosions and particles so you can hardly decide who is throwing what and against whom. Bosses naturally become extra much of that commodity. But on the whole, the battles feel fresh and fun, with a focus on blocking and dodging (which pays off!) And not least – visually satisfying with a lot of colors and porky attacks, when you get them in perfectly (the fighting can be set between manually , semi-automatic and fully automatic and also with strategy for the whole company).
What we can miss most in this part of the game series is that the co-op mode has disappeared, something that would have taken the experience to the next level. Playing with a human partner always beats the joy of playing with a computer. Tales of Arise thus does not have this, unlike previous parts. At the same time, like many other games in the genre, it is enormously long and with all the mini-games and side quests, we easily talk 50 hours to go through it. This is not a problem if you have the time or maybe buy a game a month, but if you are a multi-format owner with a limited time, there is a risk that this will be another of the games on the pile of shame also known as “games to finish playing at some point”.
Playing time also has another problem: There is also a slightly bland aftertaste of the microtransactions – which we are basically always skeptical of in full-price games (we got some boosters from the publisher for this test and they helped, undeniably). Buying new clothes and other cosmetic upgrades is perfectly OK, maybe even some resources. But with money you can – as in scolded Star Wars: Battlefront 2 – buy yourself past many hours of wear and tear, something that neither feels neat nor like good game design. Why not a “story” mode for those who are beginners or do not want / can spend time becoming the best warriors? Assassin’s Creed also have this problem but there is at least the availability of upgrades, naturally in the game, more generous.
So – summa summarum – if you’re a fan of the genre (Japanese role-playing games) then you just have to have Tales of Arise; it contains basically everything you can and should expect from a good and modern JRPG game, paired with a nice presentation on the next-gen consoles and monster PC (PS5 has haptic feedback in the hand control). The long playing time, coupled with some dubious microtransactions and the somewhat abundant dialogue and many characters may not appeal to everyone and the question is whether this will eventually be as “wide” as Bandai Namco might have hoped. Time will tell. But whatever you do, you should at least download the free demo and form your own opinion, even if you do not think you like JRPG with action elements.
We think you will be surprised.