The Tales series has always held on to its traditions, and in doing so, their games radiate a certain sense of nostalgia for JRPGs. Don’t worry, we’ll skip the usual banter about how JRPGs are dying and being overtaken by WRPGs while this series continues to stand strong as a great example of what JRPGs are. It’s all been said and done before. This isn’t about the war of the RPGs, it’s about how Tales of Xillia doesn’t disappoint the fans who have so loyally stuck to this series while still welcoming newcomers with big open arms.
The game starts with you picking the main character you wish to play as: Jude Mathias or Milla Maxwell. This isn’t as big of a deal as you’d think. There are only a couple of moments when the two characters separate that would give different insight on the plot. It doesn’t affect combat in any way since you can switch to whatever character you wish to fight with anyways. It’s simply more personalization the game grants you by allowing you to choose which character you wish to play as. However, it does give reason to play the game twice and you’ll probably want to anyways.
Jude is young med-student that stumbles upon a dangerous weapon in a laboratory. He’s a typical do-gooder honor student that never has done anything wrong in his life, and so this new direction his life is taking is quite severe. Milla – on the other hand – is vastly different from Jude. So different, in fact, she’s not even human. She’s a spirit that can control the Great Spirits and is on a mission to stop the enormous weapon Jude stumbled upon. The two team up with little other choice, and thus the great adventure begins.
The setting of this story is absolutely remarkable with a great musical score to really deepen the experience. Many games create a setting, but few envelop the game’s ideas so intricately into the created world. The entire world has spirits that everyone can access to perform what a normal person would call magic. Xillia goes as far as explaining how people have mana lobes and access spirits in the world to use their power. They explain how the climate works and how different climates connecting cause the world’s terrain to act accordingly. And you can actually see two different Spirit Climes (what they call climates) connecting. The place you start is perpetually night with a beautiful dark starry sky. Once you leave that area, you can see the sky split almost in half with the two different Spirit Climes. The game is incredibly creative in the way it incorporates its own ideals to remain consistent throughout the game instead of leaving it up to your imagination.
The story is pretty good with rather interesting characters and concepts. It isn’t amazing however, as one would usually hope a Tales game would be. Do not be mistaken, it’s not bad, and it is certainly entertaining, but it’s lacking in the way that you hope you will be sucked into the game never wanting to stop playing it. It does have some great political and moral notions that will make you pause and reflect comparing them to the real world. In truth, the game excels at what all JRPGs incorporate. The game is heavily influenced by the characters and their development throughout the game. Each character has their own charms and annoyances as well as carrying a certain mystery to keep you intrigued in what they’re hiding. They are all voiced extremely well except for Milla, and considering she’s a main character there’s nothing you can do but deal with it. They can definitely be annoying when they act incredibly naïve even if something tragic happens to them. For example: they are betrayed in a serious way and they call the person a “big fat liar” but that’s all. It’s a little too childish at times, even though the game carries some heavy themes. That being said, there are many moments you’ll be laughing listening to the characters banter about life and how they interact so naturally with one another.
What Xillia does exceptionally well is its ability to make fun of itself. Too often games like this can stumble into the pitfalls of being cliché or unoriginal. For example, Milla is wearing practically no clothing; not too shocking for a female protagonist in a JRPG. However, the game constantly makes fun of it as characters ask if the skirt needs to be that short. Likewise, Jude is a classic good-guy protagonist, and that stereotype gets rather old, but all the characters make fun of the “honor-student do-gooder” to breathe some fresh air into what could’ve been the usual derivative of JRPGs.
Sadly, the graphics are nothing to brag about. There is nothing wrong with anime cut-scenes, since it’s a particular style the developers choose and it is still a fan-favorite to see. The in-game graphics are the disappointing elements in the graphical department. With the PS3’s life coming to an end, the graphics should be far better than what they are. The immediate landscapes can be fairly boring and rehashed from previous locations already seen in the game, but there may be snow on the ground this time. They aren’t an eye-sore or horrible, but it is expected now-a-days that the graphics will be above a certain standard, and that isn’t the case this time.
The game doesn’t have to look pretty to be fun to play and Tales of Xillia is certainly fun to play. The combat is Xillia’s greatest feature and it may start out a bit slow, but by the end of the game you’ll want to skip the dialog to get back into the action as fast as possible. There are two main screens: the field map and the combat screen. The field map is where you run around and interact with the world; including monsters. Touching a monster enters the combat screen, and then the real fun begins. The fighting is done in real-time with you controlling one character, but the other three are A.I. controlled. Don’t worry, the A.I. is smart and you can set their tactics, which they follow pretty faithfully.
The actual gameplay setup is basic, which is a good thing, because it allows newcomers to pick up the combat easily. There is an Assault Counter (AC) that allows a character a certain amount of moves before recharging. Then, there is the Technical Points (TP). Primarily, there are two types of attacks: A. Artes and S. Artes. Both will consume AC but only S. Artes will use up TP. The AC and TP gauge refill pretty quickly to keep combat fast and fluent instead of having a dull period waiting around for them to fill up again. There are also skills that you assign outside of the fighting to help you in battle. Things like 30% increase resistance to water, strength + 10%, can’t be stunned, so on and so forth. It sounds complex, and it technically is, but the game introduces each concept so well that you will never feel buried in the intricacy.
The reason the combat is so extraordinary is how many combos there are to experience. When the combat starts, the game switches to what even could be considered a beat ‘em up style. This is not the typical turn-based combat seen in most JRPGs, this is fast and constant. Some battles will last only a couple of seconds, not because you hit the enemy with a powerful move, but because you landed a skilled devastating, combo along with your A.I. partners. Xillia is smart in their combat system, because you do not need a giant move list to accomplish great combos. Your simple A. Artes can create combos from the very beginning; admittedly they aren’t nearly as powerful as they can be later in the game.
You won’t truly experience the massive amount of combos until you get deeper into the game and level your character up enough. Leveling is done through a Lilium Orb, otherwise known as a sphere grid system as seen in a couple other games, but most famously associated with Final Fantasy 10. However, it’s a little more personal in this game, instead of a linear path, you are allowed to level up the character as you see fit, with the game only forcing you to upgrade one specific thing now and again to help guide you more-or-less. It can’t be overstated how well-done their leveling system is to give you full range of how you want your character to develop.
The unique touch for this Tales game is the linking system. At anytime you have the ability to link with another character on the battlefield. This causes a couple positives that you would do well to take advantage of. The character you’re linked with will flank the enemy, defend you against back-attacks, and even help you recover if you get stunned from a powerful attack. When you’re linked with a character, doing actions together will raise a link bar. As it fills, there are certain periods that it allows you to perform a powerful unified attack with your link partner. Once this bar becomes completely filled, you can do multiple link attacks in a row with different characters. These are immensely fun to pull off and will completely obliterate the enemy. This also is how you perform your mystic arts later in the game, and these are the characters’ super move that show a pretty spectacular animation before annihilating an opponent.
The linking system adds another depth to the already deep combat experience that Xillia encompasses. You can’t think of the linking system as a bonus to utilize every so often. It’s integrated into the combat and must be taken advantage off constantly. The fighting is fast paced and fun with basic concepts, but still unbelievably deep with complex strategy to really keep you entertained for endless hour. Before you know it, you’ll be unleashing heavy combos that reach into the 20’s.
As any Tales fan knows there is much more than the combat to experience. Everything outside of the fighting is also extremely well done. There are countless side-quests to discover and partake in. All the shops have a leveling system that makes you donate materials or money. The higher the level shop, the better items they have to sell. They also give discounts when donating so you take that into consideration as well. It’s a nice touch to not have everything revolve around money. You may not care about accessories so you put most of your materials towards leveling the armor or weapon shops. It’s more personalization to an already expansive game.
Tales of Xillia took me a little over 30 hours to beat, but there are dozens and dozens of side-quests to experience that would undoubtedly add countless more hours to the game. There is also a new game plus mode after you beat the game, but with a twist. Throughout the game you can collect titles by doing certain tasks: steal a certain amount of items, perform a high combo, etc. These titles give you points that are used when you begin a new game plus. Everything doesn’t automatically carry over, you need to spend the points you earned from your cleared game to be granted the rewards and bonuses you wish to use. It’s a refreshing take on the new game plus mode that will force you to strive for excellence on your first playthrough.
Even with subpar graphics and rehashed environments, those are only a few flaws in an otherwise fun game. The story may not be the most amazing, but it certainly isn’t bad. The characters are all endearing in their own ways and the dialog is spectacular. You’ll easily try and find every conversation this game includes to hear the characters interact as much as possible. By far, the best part of this game is the combat. It never gets old or feels repetitive. From start to finish the fighting in this game is a blast and it’s wonderful to experience. Trying to beat your highest combo has nothing to do with the game, yet you’ll constantly try and outdo yourself. The simple setup, yet intricate strategies, really give the gamer exactly what they want. This game has some flaws and isn’t the best Tales game ever made, but it is certainly fun and not something you should miss out on.
This review is based off a retail copy of the Playstation 3 version of Tales of Xillia developed by Namco Tales Studio and published by Namco Bandai Games.
- Great Characters
- Fun Combat
- Subpar Graphics
- Rehashed Environments