First Impressions: Tales of Arise

Bandai Namco’s Tales séries has a long history in its home country of Japan, where it’s often seen as a somewhat distant third pillar RPG series to Square Enix’s Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Its history in the West is somewhat hit-and-miss, with titles sometimes getting completely skipped over for Western release. Things started to change a little over the last few generations though, especially in regards to the main series games – the Western release of PS3 game Tale of Xillia came nigh on two full years after its Japanese release, a wait echoed by its sequel, but as the series started to gain popularity, that wait began to shorten (Tales of Zestiria only took a few months for example). Here we are now then, in 2021, with Tales of Arise having a massive wait of… one day for its Western release.

The first mainline entry into the Tales series since 2016, Tales of Arise feels like Namco’s big attempt to truly break Tales into the Western market. The game, while still very anime-influenced in its character designs feels a little more tailored to the kinds of designs that appeal to Western tastes – the children and mascot characters, which while appealing to Japanese audiences tended to be seen as cringeworthy by Western players, have been eschewed in favour of a slightly aged-up cast, and the game’s box art feels darker and more subdued than the bright and cheery art of more typical Tales fare. This isn’t to say that Tales hasn’t dealt with heavier content before, just that the marketing is pushing it more front and centre this time around, in move that is likely to entice a few newcomers to the series.

Onto the game itself then. So far I’ve sunk about 20 hours into Arise, which, judging from previous Tales releases, suggests I’m approaching the halfway point in the story. So far, the story is a little more episodic than before, as we journey to a series of different realms of the planet Dahna to liberate them from their Renan oppressors. Each of these realms has a distinct flavour, from fiery deserts to lush green expanses, and their varying designs actually have pretty good in-universe reasons for having such drastic changes over such a small area. While the areas are not that original, their presentation is immaculate – graphics are being pushed here more than any Tales game before, and I often find myself stopping to soak in the vistas in front of me. I’m a big fan of photo mode in games, and Arise is the first time I’ve felt like I really wanted one in a Tales game. Thanks to this leap, even if the classic ice world, desert world etc is a little overplayed, it still feels fresh in terms of the series we’re in.

One of the things that Tales is most famous for is its characters and their relationships with each other. I’m happy to report that fans of the series will not be disappointed, as Arise brings together some of the most interesting characters I’ve encountered in my history with these games. Dohalim and Law are my personal favourites, while Kisara, who I didn’t expect to be a fan of given her design, is quickly growing on me too. I’d say so far that the one weak point for me is mage Rinwell – Tales is once again doing as it does and making one character act all ‘mysterious’ and have some ‘unusual’ responses to events that occur, and while I do sometimes enjoy it, with Rinwell it’s getting on my nerves a little. I’m hoping we’ll get to the bottom of it soon so I can move on. The relationship between leads Alphen and Shionme is also interesting, and it’s fun to watch their interactions change as they begin to get to know each other better. Xillia and Zestiria’s casts are difficult to beat in my book, but I think Arise might be joining them up there by the time I’m finished with it.

Tales’ action-based battle system is also back in full force and arguably better than ever. I’m a big fan of levelling up in RPGs, and it’s normally my biggest motivation to get into battles. In the early hours of Arise, levelling up requires a relatively large amount of experience points, which would, in many other games, be enough for me to tire of getting into fights. In Arise however, the battles are so fluid, so action packed, so quick that I find myself even seeking out battles that give minimal rewards simply because of how much I enjoy the systems. Regular attacks are handled with the R1 button, while R2 is used to dodge. Special moves are mapped to the face buttons and generally everything feels well placed. In previous Tales games I never really worried too much about my grade after each fight, but in Arise I try hard to fight as stylishly as possibly while aiming for high combos to push the grade up. It brings a level of excitement which means I can enjoy the battles as an experience rather than just a means to an end.

Bosses are also great fun – while JRPG bosses can sometimes end up just being health sponges, Arise feels much more interactive as you dodge incoming attacks and follow up with a critical hit. Dodging or having the bosses use certain moves will sometimes leave them open to special attacks which render them temporarily stunned, allowing for great deals of damage to be dealt in a short time with little worry about being killed. So far I’ve had maybe three ‘classic’ boss fights, but battles against a few extra large, special monsters also give the player a chance to hone their fighting skills and work on their combos.

So far, I’ve been loving my time with Tales of Arise, and while I’ve loved many other Tales games before it, I have to say that Arise might be the first game in the franchise that feels like a must-play for everyone, regardless of their genre likes and dislikes. Writing these impressions has me itching to get back into the game and explore more of the world there – there’s so many exciting and fun things to do that I haven’t even touched on here, so if you are wondering about whether to dive into the world of Tales, I’d have to say there’s no better starting point than this.

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