Game Reviews

Tales of Arise Review

Tales of Arise gives us the best RPG of the year.

by Adam Braunstein
Tales of Arise review

Tales of Arise is a bit of a throwback JRPG in many ways and also a harbinger of things to come. In this gaming age, the JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) seems to be a genre that sits aside the mainstream giants and while titles still get pumped out regularly, they rarely make a huge splash with exceptions to breakout hits like Persona 5 and Final Fantasy 7: Remake. The Tales series in particular has long been the little brother to the Final Fantasy’s of the world and although it’s been nearly 3 decades of titles, the big mainstream success has never happened….until now. Tales of Arise takes everything that has made the series great for a long time and combined it with a more modern feel that makes it without a doubt one of the best the series has to offer.

Quite the Tale

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We start things off in Tales of Arise with our main character Alphen aka Iron Mask enslaved and working in some sort of camp overseen by a military presence. If you’ve played Tales games in the past, generally they don’t start off with slavery as the main theme, so you know things are going to be darker than usual. Despite seeing images of the main character’s face for months now, we are introduced to him with an iron mask grafted onto his face for reasons unknown. Right there is your intrigue to push forward and from the get-go. Tales of Arise firmly places you in its grasp with an incredibly strong beginning which is pretty hard to believe in a JRPG, considering they are notorious for slow starts.

Usually, JRPGs will give you a rags to riches type of plot or the chosen one trope. Thankfully, Tales of Arise is completely against that and instead gives you a story with tons of moving parts and an incredibly endearing and likable cast that makes up one of the best JRPG parties out there. The dichotomy between Alphen and Shionne is pretty great and it’s far from some of the happy-go-lucky duos in the Tales series past. These two clash a lot and it’s interesting to watch these two argue and grow together in and out of combat and the banter never lets up the whole way through.

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When other characters join the party, that dynamic gets even more intriguing and we see certain characters take sides and have conflicts with each other throughout and it makes for very engaging dialogue. The voice acting, in particular, is great with Alphen and Shionne being the stars of the show, though every character really hits the mark for the most part here. Japanese is available as well and both languages are acted very well, which is needed because as stated before, we’re going into some heavy territory at times in Tales of Arise. Skits are a mainstay of the series as well and they are presented in a comic book kind of form here and give you tons of backstory and elaboration on the characters and events at hand. These are optional however and can be sped through if you just want to skim them.

From your beginnings in the slave camp, you’ll discover the other main character, Shionne is on the run from the evil empire of the game called the Renans, and not only that, but she’s unable to be touched by anyone because of a condition called Thorns that literally electrocutes anyone who touches her. Alphen/Iron Mask ends up crossing paths with her and reveals he can’t feel pain. So we’ve got two main characters, one can’t feel pain and the other can’t be touched. Is it on the nose? Sure, but it’s clever and intriguing and plants the seeds of a very exciting adventure and it’s all supported by a fantastic soundtrack the whole way through.

After the two meet up, you set out on a truly epic journey to help Shionne defeat the 5 Lords of the Renan nation and discover why Alphen had a mask grafted to his face to begin with. You will gather a party of up to 6 playable characters., each with an intriguing backstory and motivations, and also be assisted from time to time by guest characters as well. The story twists and turns and has some truly tragic moments that add up to make it feel like the best adventure in the franchise in a long time.

The Best Combat a JRPG has Ever Seen

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Yup, you read that right. The combat system at play in Tales of Arise is absolutely brilliant. What starts off as a bit hack and slash-like quickly becomes one of the more complex and fun combat systems in the genre.

Combat is the part of the game that has often felt a bit behind the times with the Tales series and even Tales of Berseria felt last-gen despite having some very cool innovations. That is not the case with Tales of Arise as the combat is incredibly fast-paced and challenging. Gone are the wait times in between attacking that Tales of Berseria sacked you with as now there is a basic attack to pepper enemies with in between your powerful Arte attacks. Arte attacks are basically the special moves that you can perform and there are a TON to unlock throughout the game with each character having specific ones to them. Each Arte attack takes up a certain amount of your Soul Gauge with the more powerful attacks taking up more of the gauge. When you run out of the gauge, you won’t be able to use Artes, and the way to recharge it is by using your basic attacks which can also have their combos extended via the Skill Tree.

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You can map three Arte attacks to your face buttons, with one being reserved for jumping. That button reserved for jumping is important because once you go airborne, you gain access to three completely air-specific attacks. So begins the literal juggling act you can get going with your characters. Certain Artes you can perform on the ground have an up arrow next to them and that means it ends by launching enemies into the air. When you launch enemies into the air, this is one of the best ways to start combos as chaining Artes together leads to some massive damage, although there are a few caveats. If you repeat Artes over and over, the damage will go down each time, so this encourages you to get creative with the combos you put together. This creates somewhat of a Devil May Cry feeling to the combat system that feels excellent to take part in because the attacks feel weighty and the animations are nothing short of incredible which may come as a bit of a surprise for Tales veterans. It should also be noted that the Tales series continues to be one of the only game series to have attacks supported with haptic feedback on your controller and I can’t stress enough how much this adds to making your characters feel powerful.

The Skill system is what decides what your abilities are going to be in combat and each character has a lengthy skill tree to work through. On these trees, you will find everything from new Arte attacks to increasing your resistance against elemental attacks. Maximizing your abilities through the Skill tree is key in creating a well-oiled combat machine and each character has different ways to unlock further skills, so it’s a good idea to engage in as many conversations and other events as you can accidentally unlock some cool new abilities.

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Cure Points are something new to the series as well and these govern how many times you can use a support Arte in battle. That means you can’t constantly spam a First-Aid or Resurrection Arte and instead must ration how much you use these. If you run out of Cure Points, you better hope you brought along some curing items as well as you can find yourself in a very bad situation in a big battle. This might feel cheap at first, but the Cure Point system makes it so that you can’t just spam cure spells when the going gets tough. That along with the item limit being at 15 per item means there are no shortcuts in this game. When things get tough, you have to get tougher and that’s how it should be. You’re not completely screwed if you run out of Cure Points though as the item Orange Gel recovers it as well as resting at any of the number of rest points available in the game.

Blocking is gone from the combat with Tales of Arise and in place is the dodging system. Although I was skeptical at first, the dodging system quickly became not only fun to use but incredibly crucial to coming out on top against some of the toughest foes. Dodging is timed in Tales of Arise and if you tap the dodge button (everything can be mapped in the settings) at the right time, you activate a slow-mo effect that evades all damage. This dodge move is different for each character too, and some characters will retreat further away from the action than others. Shortly into the game, you will unlock the Counter Edge which lets you use a powerful counter strike right after dodging perfectly. I didn’t think a dodging system could work this well in a JRPG, but it is the perfect complement to the considerably speedy combat here.

With a Little Help from My Friends

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It wouldn’t be a Tales game if your party members weren’t heavily involved in the combat at all times and with Tales of Arise, that fact is more apparent and effective than ever. At any time during the combat, you can switch to another party member in the group. You can have four party members in battle at once with two in the reserve, though you won’t have a full party until you get 20 hours or so into the game. Each character plays completely differently from the next and whether you enjoy the swordplay from Alphen, the brawling of Law, or the charged magic of Rinwell, everyone will find someone they love to play as here.

Switching characters is only the tip of the iceberg here as there are several systems to get familiar with involving teaming up with your party members for special attacks. First off, we’ve got Boost Attacks. These are when you’ve built up a meter through performing combos and when one of your character’s faces lights up on the bottom left of the screen, that means you can call them in to perform a special attack. These attacks have a variety of different effects to them too, so who you choose to use for the attack will greatly differ the result of it. Rinwell’s Boost attack does some basic magic damage, but the huge bonus is that she also cancels out and absorbs the attack of any enemy that is currently about to cast an Astral Arte (Magic) attack of their own. Using these at the right moment is often crucial and each character has a different effect to their Boost Attacks, making each of them valuable in different situations. A lot of games tend to give you a ton of characters and then just forget about them. Tales of Arise forces you to involve all 6 party members all the time and it creates a brilliant variety that just doesn’t get old.

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The Boost Attacks are cool, but they are low-key compared to the bombastic Boost Strikes and Mystic Artes. A Boost Strike becomes available when you have an enemy low on health and have a Boost Attack meter filled. When this happens, a glowing blue D-Pad icon will float over your enemy, and pressing the corresponding character’s direction on it will unleash a devastating dual attack that looks spectacularly over the top and finishes with either a ton of damage being done or the battle just being over outright. Each character combines for different attacks too, so it’s really fun to see what new party members add to these attacks as they mix and match to create some incredible assaults.

Going even further into the crazy attack category are the Mystic Artes. Taken from Tales games of old, Mystic Artes here are some of the most stunning and insane attacks in JRPG history. I’m talking about attacks that look like they’d split the world in two, let alone kill a little Ice Wolf. Mystic Artes are performed via charging up a meter by attacking, and when you’ve filled it enough, you will enter Overdrive mode, which lets you use your Artes as much as you want. At any point during Overdrive mode, you can press two of your Arte attack buttons at the same time to activate this attack. Choosing the right moment to use these attacks is often the difference between winning or losing battles, so it is wise to hold them for when you really need them.

The Rogues Gallery

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Of course, none of the combat systems matters if what you’re fighting isn’t interesting and challenging. As is par for the course with starting areas in a JRPG, you are going to find some pretty uninspired enemies like bees and wolves. These quickly get the boot though as soon enough you’re fighting Iron Golems, monstrous wasps, carnivorous plants that take up the entire screen along with tons of other enemies that are visually incredible and fun to fight. There are some palette-swapped enemies here and there which I didn’t love, but they at least require using different elemental attacks to expose their weaknesses.

Speaking of which, bosses in Tales of Arise have a weakness system brand new to the series. Each boss you encounter that is of the larger, creature variety will have a weak point or two that you need to target. While you can do damage the traditional way, the best way to deal out huge damage to these bosses is by destroying these weak points, causing the Break status to appear on the boss which usually is followed by it toppling over. That’s easier said than done as some characters tend to hit them easier than others. Shionne for example is great at hitting these points because she uses a gun and your bullets will hit the weak points way easier than a character like Alphen, whose wild sword slashes when performing Arte attacks can sometimes miss the mark. While a bit frustrating at points, it makes you utilize all the characters in your party once again.

When it comes to said bosses, these are the best in the series, hands down. The very first boss in the game could easily be the final boss of most games and some of these encounters add little twists to them that are sometimes very surprising and creative in the way you have to deal with them. Not only are the bosses great, but they are extremely challenging at times. I played on Moderate difficulty throughout my playthrough which is one above Normal and just below Hard and saw some considerable challenges that are sure to test even the most hardened action RPG veterans. If there is one issue with the bosses, it is their health bars. These battles take a long time to finish if you aren’t properly prepared and hitting the weak points, and it can be brutal to get near the end only to fall at the last moment.

Simply Gorgeous

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The Tales series has never been a looker. Even the most recent game in Tales of Berseria was marred with ancient-looking textures, stiff-looking characters, and boring level and architecture design that made it look like a mid-era PS3 game at times. Tales of Arise took that into account and instead delivers one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen, period. The environments are incredibly well done with little details all over the place and every area just bursts off your screen with some of the richest and most vibrant colors you can experience in a game. Along with the normal graphics, you get several anime cutscenes that are so amazing looking I would be shocked if an anime series wasn’t on the way to support the game. Character-wise, gone are the lifeless faces of the past and instead are some heavily emotive characters that make Tales of Arise look like an anime come to life. To help with this are the animations that are on point as well regardless if it is while fighting enemies or wandering around outside. The graphics really come to life in the combat though and whether you’re ripping through the air with lightning crackling behind Law or setting the battlefield on fire with Alphen’s Blazing Sword, the combat is a visual marvel to experience.

A Feast for the Fight

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Cooking has always been a feature of the Tales series and here it is more important than ever. At every rest area, you have the option to cook, and with these meals come several different effects that can help your party out. This becomes incredibly useful as some meals will increase your damage or automatically heal you after every battle. Different ingredients create different effects and it’s a ton of fun collecting them to see what new effects you can conjure up. Not only can you gather items, but you can fish as well to get new ingredients too. For those that love side activities that actually impact the main game, Tales of Arise will surely satisfy.

Quest for the Goods

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Tales of Arise not only has a lengthy story but it also has a bunch of side-quests as well. These quests vary wildly and you can end up in quests that involve some monster hunting or ones that involve collecting certain rare materials. Nothing here is going to make you recall The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but there is enough variety here to keep you coming back for more. The most important part of the side-quests though are the rewards. This will often be your source of Gald (Money) in Tales of Arise, so whether you love doing them or not, they more or less become necessary on most difficulties.

An Armory for the Ages

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An issue that often presents itself in games in the genre is the characters never changing their look throughout the course of the game. Thankfully, Tales of Arise alleviates that by having cosmetic changes with your armors on top of outfits to acquire throughout the game. Weapons change their look as well and some of the higher-level ones are incredible looking and really give off the feeling of your character progressing. Weapons and Armor are acquired through merchants and you need to collect items in order to make the better ones, which gives you another incentive to go on side quests.

Side Note: The DLC available at launch gives you a ton of items and bonuses like 100,000 Gald or the best weapons in the game from the jump. Skip these if you can as they ruin the difficulty of the game. If you must go with DLC, go for the outfits as there are plenty of cool ones to choose from.

The Verdict

It has been a long time since there was a JRPG with as much potential as Tales of Arise and although games that receive hype like this sometimes fall short of expectations, Tales of Arise manages to live up to them and then some. This is without a doubt the best game in the series and should be a landmark title for Bandai Namco Studios and a standard for all JRPGS going forward. It’s around 50-60 hours too, so you can expect to get a ton of bang for your buck. For those who thirst for the epic JRPGS of old or someone looking to try a more fantastical RPG than the gritty and realistic ones of today’s age, Tales of Arise will hit the mark in nearly every way.

"loved"
loved

Tales of Arise

  • Score: 4.5 / 5
  • Available On: PC, PlayStation, Xbox
  • Published By: Bandai Namco Entertainment
  • Developed By: Bandai Namco Studios
  • Genre: Role Playing
  • US Release Date: September 10th, 2021
  • Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
  • Quote: "For those who thirst for the epic JRPGS of old, Tales of Arise manages to live up to lofty expectations and then some."
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