A turbulent world. Filled with abhorrent creatures, inhumane slavery, and a class system that would put the Victorian era to shame. This is what will be waiting for you in the world of Tales of Arise. It is - stereotypically - your job to set right all the wrongs that your people have endured for hundreds of years. You alone hold the unique power capable of setting history back on the correct course, where everyone can be at peace with each other. You will go up against unknowable enemies and fight for your fellow slaves and all who have come before. Most importantly, you will meet some interesting friends along the way. And occasionally go fishing. What RPG doesn't have a fishing mechanic these days?
The 'Tales of…' series of games have usually been mostly under the radar RPG games in my opinion. Huddled up with the likes of the Ys series and Atelier series in the shadow of the giants of the land, such as Final Fantasy VII and Monster Hunter. But has Tales finally broken free of that imposing shadow with Tales of Arise? Well, if I told you straight away, I would hardly get a chance to flex my fingers now, would I?
How Does it Compare?
Let's not dilly dally around the genre bush here. Making any kind of headway in the RPG scene is incredibly hard to do these days. The likes of The Witcher 3 and Final Fantasy 645 (yes, that was a joke) roam the battlefield with all their +99 stats, stomping on the little guys without a passing thought. So, can we even compare Tales of Arise to games such as these? And the simple answer to that is no. Not really. But is the game as fun to play? And the answer to that is yes. Yes, it is.
I think the longer gaming goes as a whole, the more varied the RPG genres are going to get. There was a time when you could split the genre down the middle into JRPGs and ARPGs, but that time is becoming an increasingly distant memory. Perhaps I will write about that another time. Whatever sub-genre of RPG you decide to slot Tales of Arise into, the game holds itself up pretty damn well.
Alright, so time for the meaty part of the review. You can see from the trailers and the screenshots I have supplied that the game is pretty. But how it plays is a whole other beast to take down.
The game separates into three distinct kinds of gameplay categories. On one hand, we have the combat. I am sure you are dying to hear about this the most. A second hand holds the generic other RPG tropes. Resource collection, weapon forging, accessory making, farming, fishing, and cooking. The third (arguably grown by mutagen research) hand grasps the social aspects of the game. Like talking to your teammates at the campfire and consistently throughout the game.
The combat is incredibly well balanced in this game. You may be aware that I am not particularly a fan of turn-based combat, which is why the combat here really sings out to me. It is ARPG hack-and-slash at its sharpest. There is a slurry of moves to learn for each character, and going to town on enemies often feel dynamic and all-around formidable. Especially if you manage to pull off a combo that slams an enemy's weakness, staggering them and then finishing them off with a team combo super move.
Every character is unique to play. They all approach combat differently and have moves that are unique to themselves. Each character locks into a particular fighting style and equipable weapons. There is no changing a character's role or class in this game - which I find refreshing. I will take refined and characterised over broad and diluted any day. To top it off, each character has their own 'power' so to speak that you can call on if it is ready. For example, one character can tank enemies' charges. Another character slams through heavily defended enemies, one shoots down flying enemies, etc.
One thing I can't stand in games is excessive farming. Both for experience and for useable materials/items. Tales of Arise also manages to balance this part of the game out pretty well. There was only ever one or two moments that I progressed in the story enough that I felt that I needed to backtrack and level up some more. Whenever I progressed enough to be able to forge new weapons for my team, I found that I usually had enough materials to forge them there and then. Very late game is where that changed for me. Not to an overwhelming amount, as I did not feel that I particularly needed to get stronger equipment by that point.
You earn materials from defeating enemies, looting chests, and, of course, picking them up throughout various areas. And this is a good part to point out that this game follows suit with other 'Tales of…' games. The game presents you with a series of smaller areas, it is by no means an open-world game. But I think it would lose its charm if it were to be an open world. You can come across new cooking recipes, weapons, armour and even herbs that permanently boost certain stats when eaten, so exploring is always worth the effort.
Another trope that this game does not fall victim to is endless side quests. There are some, sure, but mostly they are there as a way to earn some gold and to flesh out the world-building and character interactions. A trope it does fall victim to is the dreaded fishing mini-game. Don't get me wrong, I love a good mini-game. But I am yet to find a fishing mini-game that isn't slow, monotonous, boring, and irritating. Tales of Arise goes above and beyond in this department by making it so that only one particular female party member can fish, and whilst she is fishing, will make the exact same struggling 'moan' every few seconds. It got to the point where I needed to mute the TV whilst fishing.
I mentioned already that you can talk to your team members at the campfire, and this is something we see a lot in RPG games. Character bonds will strengthen after spending more time with each companion, but it is always a random occurrence when you can trigger the option to spend time with someone. And you can only spend time with one party member at a time during these events, making it almost impossible to see the end of every character's development with the main character. My save file is sitting right outside the final boss of the game currently, and I have only got to see the bond progression fill out for a single character so far.
The other form of character interaction suffers from the exact opposite problem. During many, many parts of the game, there will be a little prompt for you to hit R1 which will take you into a comic-strip style communication with certain party members. I love these, as it is the primary place for each character's personality to really shine, and it is the place where you will grow to love the characters. My favourite character is Hootle. he is a little owl that accompanies the team. Whilst he (obviously) can't talk, the writers did such a fantastic job of injecting him with plenty of personality. The owls in this game are cuter than the Moogles in Final Fantasy. You can fight me after school on that one if you want.
The problem with these interactions, however, is that they are way, way, way too persistent. So many times there is a point in the game's story where it is 'we need to get over there quickly before such a person does this, or that happens' and the team will decide to have 5 ridiculously long conversations after each other, just sitting around talking about a character you just met, or what you need to be doing. They are a perfect example of how to build world history and character writing, but they become like a dangerous stalker. Constantly, constantly popping up wanting attention.
And now, it has been a while, but it is time for…
… Another Rapid-Fire RPG Checklist!
- Main characters are obviously written to be shipped together. Check.
- Story follows conventional tropes and is pretty predictable. Check.
- A conveniently placed chest behind a waterfall. Check.
- A powerful bad guy that is incredibly hard to fight becomes a party member that is nowhere near as powerful as he is when you fight him. Check.
- Characters fit generic roles such as 'fighter' 'healer' 'tank' etc. Check.
- Stupid fishing mini-game. Check.
- Main character has a rich backstory that is only revealed mid-game. Check.
- The main story is great and all, but the main reason you will want to play it is so that you can find all the Dhanan Owls who all give you cosmetic accessories that look increasingly comical on your characters, and then finding lots of them you can earn the favour of the Dhanan Owl king and queen, who will gift you in kind. Check. Wait…
It is apparent that I enjoy the game. But there are parts of it that I do not enjoy. Fishing and overbearing interactions aside, my biggest gripe with the game is the character interactions during combat. Now, I love when characters talk to each other, or comment on what each other does, but Tales of Arise goes a step far.
During combat, there are occasions where characters will talk, when they respond to what you are doing, when they respond to enemies' attacks or enemy types, when they react to taking damage, when they are close to death, close to running out of CP, and when they are shouting out every single one of their move names. And there are four characters in combat at any given time, and moves can be as short as a second long. They CONSTANTLY talk over each other, and occasionally the same character will be saying two different sentences at the same time. It can start to feel as though their actual mission is to assault your ears.
This is probably considered a spoiler but I also need to vent about the last level of the game. It is ridiculous. Not in the sense that it is hard. But it feels like a 10-minute stint that was stretched out for the sake of 'extra content'. It is a 3-4-hour slog through constant mini-bosses and overpowered enemies. Many of which I just ran past. And it still took that long. There is not even a slither of a chance you will survive through it legitimately without using every single consumable you have and without previously spending dozens of hours needlessly over levelling. Every single enemy here has skin thicker than a concrete wall, sponging up damage as if the top-tier swords are nothing more than inflatable toys.
There is much to love about Tales of Arise. I haven't even had a chance to touch on some finer points such as the mini-map displaying a faded arrow when you leave cutscenes so you know where you came from, after talking to NPCs a little tick icon appears above them so you know who you have spoken to before etc. I didn't even give this review a 'How Does it Look?' section like I usually do, because well look at the screenshots, it simply doesn't need one.
I have my small caveats with the game, many of which wouldn't bother most people, but all that aside, I do thoroughly enjoy my time in the game, and it is without a doubt, the best 'Tales of…' game that has been released so far. If this is the kind of quality that we can expect from the team in the future, then they have found themselves a new repeat customer. Check this one out for sure!