My first brush with the Tales series was decades ago, when Tales of Destiny first came out on the PS1. It was a damn cool game but sadly a bit overlooked as the Playstation 1 had a surplus of incredible RPGs already. Over the years, I’ve since played more of the Tales games (Symphonia, Berseria, Vesperia and a couple more) but none (except maybe Vesperia) was as fun as Destiny. Now, it’s Tales of Arise in the spotlight.
While I didn’t think Tales of Arise might dethrone Tales of Destiny as my favourite Tales game, I did watch its development closely due to its art style. I’m a sucker for cool looking heroes and Tales of Arise definitely had that part ticked.
Now that I’ve played the game for a while, is it as good a Tales game as it could be?
What is Tales of Arise?
Tales of Arise is a single player third person action RPG from Bandai Namco for the PC, Playstation and Xbox consoles. My review copy is courtesy of Bandai Namco Asia, who graciously gave us a review code for the Ultimate Edition.
Tales of Arise stars the Iron Mask (who you later will find out is actually called Alphen), an amnesiac slave whose head is encased in an iron mask (hence the name). Iron Mask also (most importantly) can’t feel pain. It’s a pretty cool gimmick to the main hero, which also ties in to how he uses a magical fiery weapon called the Blazing Sword.
No…not Voltron’s but a literal sword of fire. Long story short, the Blazing Sword is an immensely powerful weapon.
Tales of Arise’s quest is pretty generic but relatable. One culture dominates the other, with the dominators using the dominated as slaves. It’s a tale of oppression, of rising up against insurmountable odds. In short, it’s nothing you’ve not heard of before.
What gets you hooked in Tales of Arise are the characters. Alphen is surprisingly nuanced as a character, despite being an amnesiac. Then again, it might be the reason why he’s so relatable to the player.
On the surface, Iron Mask is nothing like the player. Most of us can feel pain, we’re not slaves or have lost our memory. But dig deeper and his amnesia is actually a very convenient plot device to place you in the game. Whatever he discovers is what you discover…like you, Iron Mask is new to the world too! He’s not your avatar, but you’re Iron Mask. That’s why his reactions resonate soundly with us as players; we’d probably be thinking and doing the same things that he does if we’re in his shoes.
It also helps matters greatly that the crew he travels with are some of the most likeable characters in an RPG since Final Fantasy X’s. Each other them fall into an anime stereotype of some sort but there are facets of their background and/or personality that’ll surprise you.
Couple with that some truly great writing and some great twists and you’ll be enjoying the game as much as the company of those in your party.
As a bonus, some of the skits (optional interactions between your party members) can be hilarious!
With all the good things that the game has going for it plot-wise, it’d be a shame if other parts of it sucked.
Thankfully, Tales of Arise has the gameplay chops to go along with its plot and characters.
Battles are fast, furious and brutal…and on the PS5, with barely any loading.
You control a single character, with the others in your party handled by the AI. Everything’s in real time, in 3D so you can run around, dodge and attack as you please. At your offensive disposal are two types of moves; regular attacks and special moves.
Comboing is the name of the game in Tales of Arise. The hits you do to an enemy, the more it builds up a special meter. Fill it completely and you’ll get a split second to hammer the D-pad, which will execute a highly damaging finisher.
The D-pad buttons are also used to execute Boost Attacks, special moves that can only be executed when the character boost meter is filled. These have special attributes (some Boost Attacks are better against aerial enemies for example) but they relatively slow Boost charge rate means they aren’t as useful as you’d think.
The game encourages you to use your special moves (called Artes) with abandon, as Arts use a recharging meter to temper your offense or defence. It’s reminiscent of the earlier Tales games and their combo heavy gameplay, except in Tales of Arise, you don’t need to worry about not having enough MP to execute skills.
Once you run out of meter, just wait a few seconds and it’ll refill back to full again, allowing you to unleash your artes again. The quick charges makes for lightning fast, flashy, over the top fights as you don’t need to hold back from using your most powerful artes.
In fact, mana is handily simplified to being a single attribute: CP.
CP is only used for magic attacks (not artes), so you’ll only draw on your reserves when you need to heal your team or whenever somebody is casting offensive magic. CP also has a role outside of battles, as you can use it to heal injured civilians you’ll encounter in your journeys (who’ll reward you with cool stuff), absorb magical effects with the Blazing Sword and more!
While initially not seen much use, by the second kingdom you visit you’ll need to learn to manage CP usage so that you’ll be able to do these actions while still have enough in reserve for heals and the like. I do like the depth and management aspects to it, though I do wish that its usage is streamlined even more.
There’s a cooking mechanic at work that can offset some of your deficiencies or boost others. For me, I prefer restoring HP after every battle, though you can also enhance your XP gain rate or a couple of other temporary boosts. That is as long as you have the food for them.
Utilizing the cooking system to your advantage is the best way to game the system.
While the characters get experience and level up, learning new skills is all done via the Title system. Each Title has multiple perks, with each perk representing a new skill, ability upgrade or other beneficial effect. Unlock all the perks associated with the Title and you also unlock the Title’s bonus perk (which is usually a stat boost).
Having the Ultimate Edition means nearly every single piece of cosmetic DLC is available, along with several artifacts that boost the game’s systems (like more experience and SP gain from battles).
While normally I’d advise you to stay clear, the fact of the matter is that these boosts help a tremendous amount. In fact, I’d recommend you get the $6 DLC that gives you 200% more experience from battles just so you don’t have to grind a ton.
The costume DLC also are heavily recommended, as all of them (save for the Collaborative Costume DLC) come with their own set of Titles, which directly translate to more gameplay benefits, including exclusive skills. It might add a bit more to the cost of the game, but these DLC are essential.
I agree, it is a bit of a slap to the face to gate gameplay benefits to Day One DLC but they’re pretty good so you might as well bite the bullet and get it.
Visually, Tales of Arise is stunning. I played on the performance mode (for 60FPS gameplay) and it still looked damn good. Loading is pretty fast as you traverse the linear areas, with battle loads being near instant. It does take a bit of time when you load a new area from Fast Travel though.
One thing that I really need to highlight is the game’s weird tendency for pop-in. It’s not a regular thing (as some wide open areas barely suffer from it) but there are times that the pop-in for NPCs is so bad that they’d fade into existence just a short distance away from you.
It’s really weird because some of the later locales are much more wide open with little to no issues with NPC pop-in. Perhaps it’s a glitch and will be patched out later, but as of right now, it’s an annoyance when you do encounter it.
The Bottom Line:
Tales of Arise is one of the year’s best RPGs. Its awesome plot, memorable characters and great battle system all synergize well with each other, making this one of the best entries in the Tales series. I also love the art design, especially as it’s realized in-game.
It’s just a shame the DLC is a must as it adds cost to the game needlessly.
Great action RPG and definitely Game of the Year contender.
- Near instant loads for battles.
- Great gameplay.
- Memorable characters.
- Decent plot.
- Awesome character art design.
- DLC is a must.
- Pop-in for characters in some areas.