Following up on the Tales of 25th anniversary last year, Tales of Arise has taken some big steps to modernise the iconic series. And while this entry contains a whole stack of battle system updates and fresh presentation elements, the game still carries over those classic Tales of staples that fans know and love.
A Stellar Combat Showcase
One new combat feature is the Boost Attack; context-sensitive, cool-down abilities that grant a specific bonus depending on who’s using them. For example the fist-fighter, Law can break through armoured defences, whilst the gunner, Shionne can down flying enemies with a touch of the D-pad. Linking together with Alphen, the knight whose skills or artes (as the Tales of series calls them) are particularly effective against downed enemies, meaning the player can rack up some serious damage with some proper execution.
The Boost system adds a surprisingly deep layer of strategy to the mix, as it can even block attacks or stop enemies dead in their tracks. But it’s also extremely useful for extending combos as well, leading into another new addition called Boost Strike. After a certain combo total is achieved, two characters can perform a mini limit break of sorts which can turn the tables in battle very fast. And to further supplement this, the Over Limit status lets you spam artes for a short spell and allows you to unleash a powerful mystic arte for devastating effect.
Ultimately, the feel of combat is what’s most important, and with Tales of Arise it’s honestly spectacular. In fact, I’d say it’s arguably the best Tales of combat system we’ve seen yet. Everything is streamlined so well and each character is super simple to pick up and play. Plus, the overall pace and impact of combat are top-tier. It’s just so awesome to witness each link in the chain move together with such finesse. Best of all, gone is that annoying steal-souls-to-attack garbage from Tales of Berseria too. Instead, the artes gauge charges automatically, meaning you can focus more on party management and general combat this time around. Even better is that after a certain story point, each character can use an additional three artes on the ground and another three mid-air.
Old Tricks Die Hard With Tales of Arise
That all being said, when it comes to the boss battles – which are generally fun and challenging – there definitely are a few occasions that’ll pretty much require you to grind levels, especially on Hard mode. Even if you clear out every single side-quest and map encounter in your way, it sometimes still won’t be enough. The party can only get slapped with big numbers for so long until they’ll eventually falter. Sooner or later, you’ll start running out of items and CP, no matter how well you control your playable character. And since your AI team-mates aren’t the greatest at avoiding damage, as well as the fact that bosses on Hard mode have stupendous, smack-your-head-against-a-brick-wall amounts of health, it’ll all too often descend into a frustrating battle of attrition… Then again, this isn’t anything new for Tales of veterans, but for new players – proceed with caution.
When it comes to traversing around the map, you’ll find tonnes of branching paths and spicy treasures to be found. Additionally, the new jumping, swimming and sprinting mechanics make exploration heaps more engaging than the Tales of series has ever been before. You can even cook at campsites for temporary stat boosts, farm animals for ingredients and of course – no JRPG worth its salt could ever forget – go fishing. It’d also be an injustice not to mention how great the art design and music of this game is. I lost count of how many times I’d just stop and stare off into the distance and soak in that Unreal Engine 4. It reminds me of the first time I played Xenoblade Chronicles back on the Wii. I actually shed a gamer tear or two, not even gonna lie.
The way Tales of Arise sets up its equipment and skill tree systems both follow a similar theme of simplicity. A vast selection of artes and abilities can be unlocked from the outset, and they all payout stat bonuses once the player activates a set group of nodes. Whereas equipment is stripped back to just one weapon and armour, with an accessory slot open for resistances and buffs. As a whole, there isn’t much to tinker around with, but I don’t think this is a negative at all. It’s actually quite refreshing to have a JRPG more focused on the action, rather than messing around in menus for days. There’s definitely a time and place for those types of experiences, but this game works just fine without them.
How Tales of Arise Fumbles The Plot
Now to talk about the most unfortunate aspect of Tales of Arise, the story. The adventures of Alphen and his friends rebelling against slavery and oppression is an intriguing premise, for sure. Although the problem is that it drops the ball multiple times and even trips over it in several key areas. I’ll keep my ramblings to a minimum to avoid spoiling anything, but the way the story’s structured means that there’s very little downtime in-between the more important scenes and events, making them slap a lot less as a result.
Compare this with Tales of Berseria’s tighter, more focused setup, which slowly builds and builds to an awesome crescendo towards the end, and you can see why it becomes increasingly difficult to become invested in the plot. Then again, I’m not saying you won’t find any stand-out moments of storytelling, because there absolutely are some great scenes here. But at the same time, you’re bound to witness some really weird story moments just fly in way out of left field. The game even calls itself out on its own shenanigans! What IS this?
The good news is that the characters are just as likeable as any other Tales of game. And it’s super easy to get attached to the core group, as they genuinely play off of each other really well, making the mediocre story much more bearable. The optional cutscenes called Skits, further develop their relationships with one another and help fill in some of the finer details. Oh, and they also provide some high-quality memes. The voice-acting across the board is great too, with some killer performances from all of the main voice actors. I was legitimately surprised how on-point the cast was, but it makes sense considering Alphen’s voiced by none other than Ray Chase, who plays Noctis in Final Fantasy XV, and Erica Lindbeck as Shionne who appears as Futaba in Persona 5.
If you’re a Tales of fan, you’re probably installing the game right now (as you’re reading this article). For everyone else, it’s going to depend on whether you can stomach a heavily story-driven game… That doesn’t have a great story. But if you can look past that, there’s a highly addictive combat system, heaps of fun open-world exploration and an excellent cast of characters that’ll make this 45+ hour narrative much easier to digest. Tales of Arise is the biggest overhaul of the series yet, and if the next entry in this long-running franchise can keep this system in check with a knock-out punch of a story… Then I think the Tales of series will become a JRPG juggernaut.
Tales of Arise is a classic case of almost is never enough. It nails nearly every open-world JRPG staple; the gameplay, exploration, characters, music and presentation are all top-notch. It’s just a pity that the story wrestles with a litany of issues that keep this entry in the Tales of series from reaching legendary status.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Bandai Namco. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.