Games : Tales of Arise Review

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Games : Tales of Arise Reviewby BANDAI NAMCO, BANDAI NAMCO Studios
Series: Tales of Series
on September 9, 2021
three-half-stars

Challenge the Fate That Binds You

On the planet Dahna, reverence has always been given to Rena, the planet in the sky, as a land of the righteous and divine. Stories handed down for generations became truth and masked reality for the people of Dahna. For 300 years, Rena has ruled over Dahna, pillaging the planet of its resources and stripping people of their dignity and freedom.

Our tale begins with two people, born on different worlds, each looking to change their fate and create a new future. Featuring a new cast of characters, updated combat, and classic Tales of gameplay mechanics, experience the next chapter in the world-famous Tale of series, Tales of Arise.

Tales of Arise is the long-awaited seventeenth entry in the Tales of series. The game follows main characters Alphen, a Dahnan, and Shionne, a Renan on their journey to end the centuries long oppression and slavery of Danhans at the hands of Renan. Along the way, they both grow closer, and add other party members from all different backgrounds to aid on their quest. Tales of Arise offers an interesting, but brief and poorly paced, main story, with likeable characters, a fluid battle system, and a few fun mini-games. In comparison to other Tales of games, that easily hit 100 hours of gameplay, Tales of Arise felt rushed to me, with typos in the subtitles, poorly explained features of the game underlining those feelings, and a reliance on “telling” versus “showing.” 

 

the story

 

In other Tales of games, like Tales of Berseria, players can go tens of hours into the game without obtaining a new main party member. So I was shocked that before I had even left the second area of the game, I was already up to four out of the six main party members of the game. That was a very big difference to wrap my head around. Along the way, the party members interact in the classic skits of the Tales of series, which help you get to know the characters better. Normally I love these skits, as they show off the quirky sense of humor unique to Tales of, but I quickly grew to dread them in Tales of Arise. 

 

Unfortunately, I found that these skits often derailed any urgency or tension in the game, as characters simply stand around to discuss their feelings. For instance, in one part of the game, characters are rushing after an evil lord, who has just escaped on a ship. The consequences of this Renan lord escaping could be severe, but the party members stand around and discuss their feelings in three or more skits. How do they have the time to do this when so much is at stake and they’re supposedly in a huge rush against time? 

 

To make matters worse, instead of these skits appearing sporadically throughout the game, with characters interacting with their environment and each other, I found that Tales of Arise had an extremely formulaic approach to them, which even put me to mind of Trails of Cold Steel 3. Anytime something major happened in the series, like a confrontation or a boss fight, it was immediately, without fail, followed by at least three skits of the characters telling the players what had just happened mere moments ago, how they felt about it, and reiterating how messed up their society was. Many times, I groaned, because I just wanted to proceed with the events that were going on, but had to stop and watch all of them. Sure, players don’t have to watch the skits, but not watching them feels absolutely sacrilegious to me as a Tales fan. Regardless, the fact that I even considered skipping them, is telling.

 

 

I also couldn’t help but to feel that Alphen and Shionne, who are the main protagonists of the game, were two halves of the same protagonist and couldn’t really stand on their own. Alphen doesn’t have memories for most of the game and Shionne refuses to share any information about her life, until the game is almost over, and she suddenly needs to move the plot forward. View Spoiler » Though I really enjoyed having a male and female protagonist, and always love that Tales of games allow me to play as whatever party member I want, I felt that Shionne and Alphen were the result of forced progression of other attempts in the game to diversify its protagonists. Tales of Xillia offered Jude and Milla, who each had their own path in the story (which was great in theory, but poor in execution as the two paths were laregely the same), and then Tales of Berseria offered its first female protagonist, Velvet, who was not very popular for some reason. So the next step was to just have one main storyline with two protagonists.

 

Unfortunately, I just didn’t find Alphen to be that compelling of a protagonist. In the beginning of the game, he is overdramatic about everything. He will rush in to save a life at the drop of the hat in order to save someone, completely unconcerned that he’s putting himself and his party members at risk. Shionne constantly has to tell him to settle down, as the man never stops to think that if he gets himself killed, he won’t be able to save anyone. His immaturity and inability to think of the bigger picture almost put me to mind of Luke fon Fabre at the beginning of Tales of Abyss, which we all know is not a compliment. Of course, as the game progresses, Alphen does mellow out, but there’s a few scenes where he is still over dramatically screaming and falling to his knees.

 

 

Luckily, Shionne is a more of a complex character than her counterpart, even if this capable and confident woman largely gets reduced to a damsel-in-distress later in the game. Despite what I feel is a disservice to her character, the execution of having two protagonists is still fairly good. There is one major exception, however, and that is the final boss fight, which forces players to play solely as Alphen, with Shionne delegated to the sidelines, making it clear that she’s not quite the real hero of this game. This was a disappointing turn to me, as I really felt that Shionne should have been on equal footing with Alphen throughout. I felt she should’ve had a bigger role in this last fight, instead of getting reduce to the magic healer girl who has to hold off supernatural forces while the guy fights.

 

And Shionne isn’t the only one sidelined, the rest of the party members are cut off from the fight, doomed to just spectate as well. It feels awkward, especially when one of the major themes and goals of the games is Renans and Dahnans working together for a better future where they can live in harmony. So wouldn’t it be more representative of that theme if the mixed race of characters fought together toward this end goal? 

 

Sadly, when Alphen squares off with the final villain of the game, it is apparent that Tales of Arise intended for this enemy to be his foil—someone that Alphen could have ended up as if he didn’t have his main character plot armor. But the game never really manages to drive this point home beyond outright telling us that is the case, and by the symbolism of their opposing elements. Alphen and Vholran simply don’t interact enough to make their relationship anything but a shallow confrontation.

 

 

Instead of appearing throughout the game in different parts, players really only encounter the murderous man a mere three times, and two of these times are simply in boss fights. When I think of how Duke appeared mysteriously in Tales of Vesperia throughout the entirety of the game, foreshadowing an inevitable confrontation, it’s obvious how much this villain falls flat. The same could be said for other games in the series, which easily offer iconic villains, like Tales of Berseria’s Melchior and Artorious, Tales of the Abyss’s God-Generals and Van, and so much more. In contrast, the five Renan Lords of Dahnan feel like throw away villains, defeated as soon as they’re introduced, all but one never to appear again. To make matters worse, the reappearing Vholran doesn’t seem to offer much more complexity in his role as a villain—he is simply bad because he feels like it. 

 

I wish that Tales of Arise had been longer and taken more time in almost every facet, but especially in each of the five areas of the lords. I think if the game had just slowed down a bit more, I would have felt more attached to all of the characters and the story, and that many parts of Tales of Arise would have had a greater overall impact. For example, when the main party finally sets off to Lenegis and Renan, I couldn’t help but compare to the story of Tales of Graces F’s , which also saw the main group setting off to another planet. That planet, called Fodra, was eerie, remarkedly different, filled with signs of a different lifestyle, and mysteryit was awe-inspiring and climactic as the group searched the planet to find clues of what had happened to the fallen civilization there. In contrast, Lenegis is remarkedly lackluster, and arriving on a whole new world feels bland. Plus, the group meets absolutely no resistance upon their arrival, which feels even more odd and anticlimactic, and it takes almost not time at all for them to get to the bottom of what’s going on there. We may have spent what felt like little time on Danha, but we spend even less time on Lenegis.

 

I also feel that if Tales of Arise had simply slowed down and paced itself more, it wouldn’t have relied as much on skits to “tell us” the feelings of each character and what was going on. Instead, the game would have had time to show players through their actual interactions and through flashbacks, instead of these unnatural conversations. Except for Alphen and Shionne, the game relies on outright telling us about the other party members’ pasts instead of showing us. Many of the characters, especially Rinwell and Law, have tragedies in their pasts, but we never see flashbacks to these times, meaning that the emotional payoff is diminished. The only other character beside Alphen and Shionne that really ever shows us glimpses of the pasts instead of just “telling,” is Dohalim, which is a shame. 

 

Despite the often lacking execution in the storytelling, I still really did enjoy the characters of the game, even if they didn’t feel as dynamic or as well-developed as other party members in Tales of games. By far, my favorite character was the adorable mascot of the game, Hootle. And I did really like Shionne, even if I felt her transformation from tsundere to soft, vulnerable character happened a bit too soon for my liking, as did her inevitable development of romantic feelings for Alphen. 

 

 

In contrast, I really adored the relationship between Rinwell and Law, the youngest party members of the group. The two seem to have a crush on one another, which is often used as comedic relief, to my enjoyment. Plus, Hootle is often involved with their antics, which makes it even better. Kisara and Dohalim also have a special and undefined relationship. It was a bit odd to have all the party members paired off in possibly romantic duos, but it works in Tales of Arise because each pairing represents a different and unique kind of love. And for once in the series, Tales of Arise thankfully does not shy away from bringing resolution to the main pairing of the game, which I won’t spoil here, other than to say that the ending is touching and emotional.

 

 

the gameplay

 

I was initially skeptical of any character using a gun in a Tales of game, but I found I really enjoyed playing as Shionne in Tales. Her bombs and shots were really interesting, and it was also great to have her healing artes and fire spells as well. Other than Shionne, I loved playing as Rinwell, who reminded me a lot of Rita’s playstyle in Tales of Vesperia. Other characters were also really fun to play as, with Kisara’s attack shield being really unique (though it did remind me a bit of Brigette from Overwatch), and Law as fun to play as as Tifa in the Final Fantasy VII Remake, and staff wielding Dohalim remniscent of Judith’s moves  in Tales of Vesperia. The only character I didn’t really enjoy playing as was ironically Alphen, as his moves take a huge toll on his health.

 

 

But even worse than not playing as Alphen was dealing with the AI playing as Alphen. I quickly learned that I had to take Alphen out of my active party, as the AI quickly and consistently drove the poor guy into the ground and I constantly had to resurrect him, wasting precious CP. Ironically, even out of the active party, he still manages to die just from using his Boost Strike. Other parts of the AI were better, like the healing. I could switch the battle strategy to “focus on healing,” which I customized to include spells like “Barrier” and “Regenerate” because I found characters didn’t choose to cast them otherwise, and my party members could mostly keep the others alive. This was in direct opposition to other games, like Tales of Vesperia or Tales of Graces F where I had to switch to the main healer to heal my party members myself in order to keep them alive, something the AI didn’t seem to be able to do even remotely well. 

 

On the other hand, I grew frustrated that AI-controlled characters never seemed to learn the weaknesses of mobs. If I left Rinwell controlled by AI, she sure as heck repeatedly cast elemental artes that the mobs were resistant or immune to. This really annoyed me once I figured out that I could simply hold L1 on the controller to see what elements the enemies were strong against, no Mirror Lens or analysis skill required. I kind of wished those items or abilities were a thing, so I didn’t have to watch my AI characters continually waste time casting artes that wouldn’t damage the mobs. One would think that party members would learn enemy resistances after one time casting that element and switch to another element, like in other games, but this is frustratingly not the case in Tales of Arise. 

 

What a surprise, Alphen is dead.

Another thing that frustrated me in Tales of Arise was the lack of explanation of parts of the game. As I said before, I didn’t realize I could check the elements of mobs until I beat the game itself, and was well into the post game. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember the tutorial ever explaining that. Likewise, I absolutely struggled with learning how to cast heals on other party members, and how to switch characters in battle without going to the menu. But worse than all of these lacking explanations, was the description of how to fish! I was absolutely clueless on how to fish even after completing the tutorial in the game! I had to watch several Youtube videos in order to finally figure out how to successfully get a fish on the line. What’s more, is that I was in the dark that forming a bond with my party members would unlock a second mystic arte until I finally managed to bond with Shionne—there was no explanation that this was a possible unlockable, and this was another mechanic I had to figure out through googling. 

 

I also felt that the weapon and accessory systems in the game were a little basic. There just wasn’t much to it, collect drops from monsters or items from the map, and then forge new ones. And then none of these weapons or accessories taught party members new skills or anything, they just made stats better. I wish there had been a little more complexity there, personally. The Skill Panel was nice, offering players some ability to prioritize what skill they wanted for their characters, but it seemed unfair that some skills were only unlocked by the purchasing of DLC outfits. 

 

The battle system in Tales of Arise was itself pretty different than other games in the series, making characters manage CP and not MP. It was initially hard to wrap my head around that I didn’t need to manage MP to cast artes for my characters, but instead just had to worry about draining all of my CP dry, which allows players to cast healing artes. I found this both interesting and a little annoying, and I’m still not sure how I feel about the CP. It was nice not having to constantly manage MP, a staple in many RPGS, but I absolutely hated that I was screwed if I ran out of CP.  Suddenly a fight that was completely doable, would be rendered impossible, and I would have to watch my characters slowly die as I was suddenly unable to heal them due to the lack of CP. Sure, restorative gels would take care of that CP problem, if you had any in your inventory and weren’t in the Training Grounds, where the use of items were prohibited.

 

My artes were constantly being interrupted.

 

I did think that Boost Strikes, and Combo Boost Strikes, which featured short cutscenes similar to Mystic Artes of your party members teaming up to strike down a foe were pretty cool and a fun addition to the battle system. I also loved that even non-active party members could still use their Boost Strikes in battle. My least favorite part of them though was that if I was in the middle of casting a super long spell, the cutscene of the combo boost strike (or a Mystic Arte too) would cancel my casting, even if my character wasn’t involved in said strike. This could be really painful in the middle of a boss fight and I very much wish it weren’t a thing. But dodging and countering make the battles feel very dynamic, and I enjoyed it a lot. 

 

One thing of note that I really missed in the gameplay of Tales of Arise was the couch co-op system. I have repeatedly played each Tales of game on couch co-op with boyfriend over the years, and it was a really great feature that allowed for us to play through the game together, and not having to take as many turns. I was truly sorry to see this feature go.

 

Outside of the mixed bag of the battle system, I really loved the customization of the characters. Not only could you adorn your party members in different DLC outfits, or re-colorizations unlocked in the game, but you could skin your weapons! I am a simple gal, and I really appreciated being able to match my party members’ weapons to match their outfits. If only there had been a photo mode to capture my customized characters in the beautiful scenery of the game. 

 

The Bottom Line

 

This beautiful scenery doesn’t feel quite big enough post game, however. There just isn’t a ton of content to pursue after the game. Though I’m making my way through the optional dungeon at the end, attempting to conquer the Ultimate levels in the training ground, and wrapping up any sub quests I missed, that’s all there is left to do, as I’ve already caught all the fish and owls. In a game that’s only about thirty hours, it feels disappointingly short, especially compared to both other Tales of games and other rpgs.

 

 

Though I think parts of Tales of Arise were not executed extremely well, especially the tutorials and skits, I did think this entry in the Tales of series is a fairly solid one. It especially shows that the series is able to evolve with the times and the changing nature of video games. But do I think it is deserving of the highest Metacritic score out of all the other Tales of games? Simply put, no. Though Tales of Arise did not break into my top three favorite Tales of games, what with its often lacking execution and overall rushed feel, I did enjoy the game and I believe that its ability to adapt with the times shows promise for the future of the series. 

 

three-half-stars
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Games : Tales of Arise Review

Posted September 24, 2021 in Games

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