Author Topic: Tales of Xillia: A Tale of Souls and Swords, eternally re-wait, wrong Namco game  (Read 3384 times)

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Offline MukiDA

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So before getting into any Tales game review, I need to start with a quick breakdown for someone who's never played one of these titles: Do you like RPGs (especially the linear Japanese type)? Do you enjoy fighting games? Do you wish someone would mix them together akin to a Reese's cup? Then pick this game up. End of review.

Tales of Xillia is 13th entry in the (1)"mothership" line of "Tales of Titles", and the 9th if you use Symphonia as the new "start" to the series. Since Symphonia, the series has built pretty steadily in an iterative pace. Sequels have had a tendency to smooth out rough edges, and the production at this point looks like a finely-tuned machine. The franchise is absurdly formulaic, but it's a good formula.

The best way to describe a Tales game is "optimized". You'll never find a more play-tested J-RPG franchise. Cinematics are split between major story points and intra-character "skits", the latter of which are 100% optional. New to Xillia (note: I haven't played Graces, the previous entry) is the ability to skip the main story points as well, along with being able to move to the title screen from any pause menu. If you've ever reloaded a save file and forgot to change armor/skills/etc. right before stepping over the "cut scene activiation line", this is pretty useful. The game still relies on save points, but litters them around the world pretty liberally. Also new to Xillia is the ability to "quick save". The feature is limited to a single save file, but can be done anywhere outside of combat.

Combat's similarly optimized. Tales games play very much like something between fighting games and brawlers. Think Smash Bros., in that holding a direction on the left analog stick will call out a different special move. As RPGs tend to have significantly more abilities/spells available than fighters, you can assign which directions call which move/spell in your "Artes" menu. Each direction on the right analog stick can also be (2)assigned. Because different abilities have different movement paterns and effects, there's a fun meta-game and putting together a nice assortment of abilities to keep your enemy juggled. It's the only RPG that has combo videos are posted online. Some fighter abilities even heal, which helps party versatulity significantly.

Xillia brings in some combat elements to limit the "attack spamming" issue that can be prevailant in RPGs of this nature with the continuation of the "Assault Counter" (AC) meter first shown in the previous Wii/PS3 entry, Tales of Graces. Each attack or special move drains one point of the counter, and when it hits 0 you have to wait a couple of seconds before attacking again. It works as a low-end stamina bar that forces you to think of combos that will fit within your window of attacks and simultaneously limit enemy retalation. A dodge mechanic somewhat similar to Wind Waker's also allows you to quickly get the drop on enemies that would otherwise be impossible to hit consistently. Finally, a loss during a battle no longer results in a "game over" screen, as you now have the option to re-start combat in this event. It's not quite as harmless as Xenoblade Chronicles, but it's a definite step up in options that previously weren't common in RPGs of any nature. Note that if this isn't your first rodeo and you decide to play a step above "normal" difficulty, you may wish to double-check your items collection before a major boss battle, as your characters will rather quickly deplete your inventory in normal combat.

Graphics are a mixed bag. I personally prefer the uncompromised cel-shaded look of previous Tales games, and Xillia opts for a fully shaded world. Water looks amazing (think Half-Life 2), but the game can take a pretty big hit to framerate and speed during some of the flashier boss battles.

That said, the in-game cinematics have definitely taken a step up. The Tales team has significantly improved their ability to "shoot" action sequences since Tales of the Abyss, and facial expressions are far removed from the "porcelain doll syndrome" present or worked around in other J-RPGs (I'm looking at you, Star Ocean 4 and Arland series). Rowen, the party's "distinguished older gentlemen", particularly shines in this regard, and the game is decidedly far less depending on (3)2D cel animation than previous Tales titles have been. Costume designs are just as outlandish and seemingly out-of-place as any Tales game (Graces especially), with a bit of lampshading for Milla and Jude thrown into the skit selection.

That last bit reminded me about another major point in the game: You start by choosing between one of the two main characters on the box: Milla Maxwell and Jude Mathis. The story is told from the character's perspective, which results im some markedly different segments whenever their storylines diverge. Sometimes the sequences even change completely, such as an arrow-dodging event on Jude's part that looks decidedly less impressive from Milla's point of view. In either event, the game is enjoyable, but please don't hold back from choosing the character you'd rather enjoy sticking with, as the story does a good job of highlighting them, especially in the events leading to the 3rd act.

Speaking of which, the characters are pretty endearing in this title. Most of the bad guys are enjoyably outlandish and quite well fleshed-out. While we probably won't see a Tales protagonist as great as Yuri Lowell anytime soon, Jude and Milla stand out well in their own right as characters who develop outside of their somewhat narrow worldviews throughout the adventure. A definite plus is that Teepo, this game's obligatory "stuffed piece of junk" character, is far more tolerable than his peers and at times quite lovable. About the only groan-inducing elment of the roster is Ivar, but eventually the story becomes pretty self-aware about it and they run his goofy anime hamminess for all its worth.

Of final note is that Xillia curbs quite a few good ideas from Xenoblade's playbook. As there's no world map, travelling throughout most of the game can be done by clicking the right analog stick in (e.g. the R3 button) and selection your destination, and often the game will reward you for re-visiting earlier areas to perform quests. Also new is that very quest system, which allows you to pick up small missions to take care of from NPCs in towns and seaports. Rather than crafting items, the materials you pick up throughout the game are used to directly upgrade your shops. These materials are present in every area via a glowy dog or a knapsack left on the ground. They replenish regularly and previously-located items are marked on the map in a predictable pattern, so collecting them regularly and enhancing the team's combat abilities is pretty easy, even if you're battle-averse.

I very much enjoyed my time with Xillia, and am about 3/4 of the way into my second playthrough via the game's "New Game+" style system. If you had a good time with previous entries, or if you fall into that "RPG/Fighter" niche, you'll probably have quite a good time with this title. Mind you, if you're sick of Tales games (9 3D entries since 2004 might do that to you), there's nothing Xillia's going to bring to the table to turn you around, but for the rest of us, it's a very solid purchase.

A-

Pros: Game's just as enjoyable as previous entries, awesome combat
Cons: No more cel-shading, gold acquisition ramp is a little rough on the first playthrough

(1)As the franchise is pretty aggressive about sequels, spin-offs, and itterations, and more importantly, as the franchise doesn't really have a numbered naming convention, Namco has created a handy label to make out which entries in the franchise are the ones you should be looking most forward to. For the sake of comparion, the Wii sequel of the Gamecube game, the PSP entries, and the newly-annouced iOS/Android "Tales of Link" are all considered spin-offs.

(2) Pro-Tip: The right analog stick can be assigned to any move that ANY member in your party has access to. If you want to quickly spam your party member's best moves, you can assign them to directions on that stick and essentially spin it around during boss battles. I personally assing left/right to attack spells and up/down to healing spells.

(3) Previously done by Production I.G. and handled this time around by Ufotable, of Mobile Suit Gundam Seed fame. Character designs were by Daigo Okumura, though in-game and in-cinema, they seem very heavily influenced by Hisashi Hirai's work (Gundam Seed, S.cry.ed), with a hint of Clamp's Code Geass designs.
« Last Edit: September 03, 2013, 05:33:09 PM by MukiDA »