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Tales of Arise (PS5) Review

October 7, 2021 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Tales of Arise
9
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Tales of Arise (PS5) Review  

I admit I’ve not had a great love of the Tales franchise in the past. I’ve played Vesperia, Zesteria, and Berseria and bounced off of all of them to varying degrees. I think I hit the mid-way point with Vesp, probably the 75% point in Bers, and the 20% point in Zest before giving them all up. Not only did I finish Arise and quite enjoyed it, but I think it’s probably in my contention for the best JRPG of the year, at least so far.

I think the thing I really appreciate about Tales of Arise is that it’s a much more focused game than the prior entries in the series, or at least the ones that I played. That isn’t to say its missing content or anything, far from it, but it is much more of a precise game than past ones. There’s not really an overworld map, per se, but you can (generally) return to old areas, or there are side quests for you to take on, but there’s not really a “dog must pee to mark his territory” system that Vesperia had, for example.

The basic story of Arise is complicated but I’ll simplify it a bit. There are two worlds, Rena and Dahna. 300 years ago, people from Rena invaded Dahna, enslaved the population, split the planet up into five different domains and they are the lords of the domains. Now, in the present day, a mysterious character, wearing a mask and who can’t remember his past, going by “Iron Mask” (eventually Alphen) is a slave in one of the realms. He sets out to break free of his servitude and overthrow the Renans on Dahna. This, being a JRPG, doesn’t exactly go to plan.

Here’s another example of the game being concise, your entire playable party in the game is only 6 characters, same as Berseria. Compare that to Vesperia’s 10 characters and you can see how they slimmed down this experience. Or, unlike in Berseria, Arise’s levels aren’t SO massive that they give you a hoverboard to get around quicker. Also, each character in Arise has very different playstyles: one is mainly swords (Alphen), one uses a gun, one uses an extending pole, one is pure magic, and so on. You can find your own personal playstyle you like with a character and pretty much use that character exclusively, barring a few character-specific fights.

The Artes (special moves) system has been completely re-worked in this game, much to its benefit. The old Tales games always felt extremely weird to me because of the Artes system. Basically, you would slot in different moves but they would use directional input. So basically, you would slot in a move onto the Circle (or B) button, but then you could also slot in moves for “Up + Circle”, “Down + Circle” and so on. But, when you’re trying to chase down enemies in the quasi-2D/3D battle system, this would create problems. Let’s say you’re chasing down an enemy, but because of your positioning, when you run up to it, you’re pressing left, but you want to do your “Right + B” Arte attack, so you would have to move you’re the stick back, which was unnatural. Or if you didn’t, you’d just end up using the wrong Arte move.

Arise has done away with all this nonsense, or at least 95% of it. Instead, you just use X, Square and Triangle for your Artes buttons and can hold 6 at a time, 3 for ground Artes and 3 for air Artes. That’s it. Eventually, you do gain the ability to hold 6 more, swapping them with a press of L2, or you can cast specific Artes out of your battle menu, but that is all there is. There’s no weird directional input nonsense, so it makes battles actually feel natural and streamlined.

Battles themselves take place in a full 3D environment, unlike some of the past games. There’s no longer a “hold this button to run in 3D” method of movement. Locking on to enemies centers your movement around them but you can mostly swap to other targets easy enough. One of the few bones to pick is that this still doesn’t seem 100% great, especially having to pause the action to swap between targets, which is weird. There is a manual mode but it doesn’t really fix this, I kind of wish there was an option that let you just automatically target the closest enemy to you, but I don’t think there is.

Likewise, your characters don’t really have magic points to deal with anymore. Instead, everyone has Artes Gauge points which dictate your special moves. I think everyone starts off with three pips but you’ll quickly expand those as you level up. Artes generally require one or two pips but they will quickly refill when you stop attacking an enemy. There are also passive skills to reduce this as well. By the time I finished the game I had 10 AG points, and an almost limitless supply of actually doing Artes moves, due to other skills I chose.

There’s almost too much to talk about with the battle system, so I’ll go over the big points here. One thing you can do are “Boost Attacks”. You only control one character and your companions are set to automatically deal damage, heal, etc. However, there is a directional meter in the bottom left hand of the screen that fills up over time. Once a character portrait is filled, you can press the corresponding button and they will do a special attack on your target. Each Boost Attack does something different, one downs air enemies, one interrupts enemy spell casting, one breaks enemy charges, etc.

Additionally, enemies also have basically a normal health bar and, basically, a dizzy circle. Once the dizzy circle (for lack of a better term) is filled up, you’ll see “Strike” appear on the screen. If you press the dpad in any direction, two of your characters will execute a team up attack and destroy the enemy completely, regardless of their remaining health. This doesn’t work on bosses, it’s a bit more complex than that, but for regular enemies, you’ll be pulling this move off a lot.

Most big bosses will have a few different areas for you to target. There will usually be the boss itself, but also orange weak points which you can damage. If you damage the orange part enough, you can temporarily down the boss and open it up to taking more damage. Each character also has special battle moves, like Alphen being able to charge to use flaming sword attacks, or another being able to store magic attacks and bring them out later, so you can see what you like using.

Also, your characters have an Over Limit mode. This is a little more nebulous, at least to me, since it seems to happen randomly. It says it happens when you take damage or do perfect evasions, but I have my doubts a bit. When it pops off, you’ll have an infinite supply of AG points while the bar ticks down. You can also do a “Mystic Arte” which is basically a super move during the Over Limit status which deals massive damage to one foe.

The guarding/evading in this game is a little wonky. Only one character can really “Guard” and the others all have evasive rolls to dodge attacks. Unlike with Ys 9, for example, there’s no real telegraphing of enemy attacks so it can be a challenge to nail down the timing of when to evade or not. If you do pull it off, your character can then do a counterattack on the enemy who attacked you.

With no real magic points in the game, to heal you have to rely on either items or “CP”, which stands for Cure Points. Only two characters can really heal, and they use a party pool of CP points to do so. This may sound limiting but it’s really not as bad as it sounds, unlike with items that restore HP, the CP abilities are generally better and can be boosted by skills. While the pool of CP points you have initially is quite small, it can be expanded by facing difficult enemies as you play the game.

As you play also, you can use CP to do character-specific actions in the world. One character can heal others, one can break impassive rocks, one can grow vines to climb up, etc. This does deplete your CP, but you can just use an item to get more. Like with other Tales games, you are limited to 15 stock of any consumable healing item, but this can be changed with some DLC.

I keep talking about skills, and that’s where the leveling system gets a bit interesting. Basically, while you do gain levels like in normal games, it doesn’t actually mean a whole lot. Instead, after battles you accrue “Skill Points” (SP) which you use to unlock skills in the Skill Panel. The panel basically breaks down like this, there are different medium-sized circles that are surrounded by skill nodes which need to be bought with SP. The medium circles are called Titles, and are unlocked either by key story points or by fulfilling certain requirements, like finding 50% of all in-game items, or breaking the armor on 40 enemies.

Each node in the circle has its own SP, but the top part of the node will always be free once the Title is unlocked, so of the 5 nodes, you only have to complete four of them. By completing the Title circle, you’ll unlock a passive bonus like “Resistance +20” or “Attack +50”, stuff like that, so it gives you some incentive to actually plan a path of what you want to unlock. You unlock both active Artes as well as passive bonuses within the nodes, so you might unlock a new special attack or something like “Increased Critical Damage”.

Well, that’s about 1,200 words on just the battle system alone, what else is there? For starters, there’s the usual cooking system in this game. You’ll find various ingredients and can throw them together when you rest for improvements to your attack, defense, amount of SP you gain after battle, or to improving item drops.

There’s also a fishing mini-game for you to do. Initially, this is pretty hard to do, as it’s not really explained well, unless you go digging through the help guide, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes a breeze. Also, there is a simple farming mini-game which you can do to raise animal meat to either use in cooking or to sell. The big collectible in Arise is hunting down Owls, which bestow cosmetic items, and a few key items at the end of the game, upon your party.

Skits, a Tales staple, returns here and it isn’t quite as goofy as before. These are basically dialog scenes between characters or the party, that are triggered upon entering in new areas, beating a boss, or sometimes at random. You basically see the prompt in the lower part of the screen and you get a bit of chatting between your characters. This actually helps to build your interest in the characters. You can also have chats with your characters one-on-one when you camp out. It says characters get closer but I couldn’t really find a metric for that. Just, after a while, I finally had a few party members become close, unlocking another title, but it seemed a bit random to me.

Also a Tales staple, albeit a bit of a negative one, paid DLC is in this game as well. I think every Tales game since Vesperia has had this and it boils down to either cosmetic DLC (outfits and such) time-saver stuff (money/materials), or game-breaking stuff (artifacts). Now, I got the ultimate edition of the game which included a fair amount of this stuff but it’s not really required. Now, there are some very useful items like doubling your SP, or your experience points, but you can find certain items in the game world that do this as well, for free. One DLC item is just straight money, like 100,000 Gald (Gold), which you can use 5 times. Now I never, and I mean NEVER, needed to actually do this, you only ever really need money to improve your weapons and buy new armor, and once you have new armor, you sell off the old. Or, if you ever really do need money, you’ll have plenty of materials and other stuff collecting in your bag, which you can sell off.

The more questionable part of the DLC is the outfit stuff. In this game, if you unlock a DLC outfit, like the school uniforms or the beach costumes, these actually unlock titles which you can then sink Skill Points into. These titles aren’t “game-breaking”, per se, but they are better than most of the regular Titles you’ll unlock in the rest of the game. I actually do think the game is balanced fairly, unlike most games with paid DLC, so it’s not a big deal, but it’s something to note.

The last thing I’ll note is that I think the game both looks and sounds superb. Arise isn’t pushing the limits of the PS5 (or even PS4) hardware in terms of graphics, but everything has a detailed look to it, it’s extremely colorful and animates well. Except for the actual anime sequences, the costumes you can wear are integrated into the in-game cut scenes, so if Alphen is wearing an eye-patch and bunny ears, that’s what’ll show up in dialog sequences.

Tales of Arise soundtrack is amazing. The intro song alone, done by Japanese rock band Kankaku Piero is memorable and very unique. The actual orchestral soundtrack is top-notch and made me think a lot about the more heroic songs that Murray Gold did for Doctor Who. When it gets released, I’ll likely be buying this soundtrack on CD.

9.0
The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Finally a Tales game that click with me! It has an interesting story, well-rounded characters and a battle system that actually makes sense. It’s not quite as open-ended as some past Tales game but that’s honestly to the game’s credit since it mostly keeps you focused on the task at hand. It really a testament to the developers that they were able to craft a great playing JRPG and it’s one of the best ones on the platform so far.
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Tales of Arise, Marc Morrison