Tales of Xillia Review
Review by Shawn Denney
Tales of Xillia is the thirteenth main entry in the Tales of series. It is a Japanese Role Playing Game but unlike most JRPG’s, Tales of games are famous for their unique real time battle system. More on the battle system later. It is a Playstation 3 exclusive courtesy of Namco Bandai. It was first released in Japan back in 2011 but other regions are just now getting it in August of 2013.
The visuals in Tales of Xillia are one of the weaker aspects of this game. They still convey the world with all of its majestic beauty but it does not look as jaw dropping as Tales of Vesperia nor as visually striking as something like say Final Fantasy XIII. From a personal experience, while I was playing the game someone walked in the room and said “Wow! That game looks incredible for the PS2.” To which I informed him it was a PS3 game and he replied with a dejected “Oh…nevermind then”. I bring this up because it demonstrates how the game appeared to someone who had never even heard of it before. They look good and the characters in motion look convincing but it feels like more could have been done to make it really stand out visually.
The game has a diverse soundtrack with tracks ranging from instrumental rock to 1920′s jazz inspired music. Their are more traditional orchestra inspired grandiose pieces as well. The intro video features a theme song by Japanese artist Ayumi Hamasaki which is catchy and the engaging anime playing with it is enough to make you want to watch it most times you boot up the game. Their is a lot of dialogue in this game, so it is a good thing the voice acting in the game is superb. Characters voices breathe so much personality into the lines that it is hard not to be captivated by them. The voice actor for Rowen in particular is a true standout.
One of the staples of the Tales of series is Skits. skits are essentially little dialogues between characters that have no effect on the plot but instead provide deeper insight into characters, their interactions, and how they view the current situation. All of the skits are voiced which is a blessing with the wonderfully done voice acting. If you find these skits intrusive or boring you are more than welcome to skip them. A button prompt appears at the bottom of the screen whenever a skit is available. If you don’t want to listen then just don’t press the button. Its easily accessible to those that want it and easy avoided by those who don’t.
The characters that make up your party all have distinct personalities that will grow on you as the game progresses, from the duty driven Milla to the elderly Rowen offering guidance and seeking recompense, they are a memorable cast of characters. Some of the cast outside of your party are truly memorable and interesting as well though not everyone sees the same level of attention and detail. At the start of the game, you are given a choice to follow either Jude or Milla. This choice doesn’t majorly effect the game but at certain points you will experience different events depending on which character you chose.
Tales of Xillia takes place in the world of Rieze Maxia, a land where humans and spirits co-exist. Humans channel mana to use spirits to cast artes, or essentially magic. Spirits feed off of the mana that humans channel and have a symbiotic relationship. When the world is introduced to a device that kills spirits, Milla sets out on a mission to destroy it and along. Jude just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and events are set in motion. The story itself is a lengthy one that should take you between 30-40 hours if you don’t do a lot of the sidequests and extra content. Their are quite a few twists and turns in the story that keep it interesting but they aren’t always pulled off expertly.
At a point in the game where it seems like everything is coming to a close, a huge curve ball is thrown in and the game takes a completely different direction. It isn’t bad as it means you get to experience more of the game and its wonderful world but it does come as literally out of left field with no hint whatsoever. Their is another point in the game where a major event takes place that I won’t spoil here but the character reactions to that event seemed so out of place that it was a particular rough spot in the grand scheme of things.
Tales of Xillia also hits on some serious issues in its tale but never dives too deep into them. Just some examples of the severity of the issues you will encounter include child slavery, how to deal with becoming a cripple, murder, and several others. THe game had some real opportunities to dive into these and bring out some heavy hitters on the emotional front and while it occasionally does, it mostly glosses over how tragic these things really could be.
The battle system in Tales of Xillia is the best it has ever been. Battles take place in a circular area when ever you come into contact with a monster. Their are no random encounters here. Once the battle is initiated you control one character while the AI controls the other 3 teammates (or up to 3 friends can join you locally for 4 player co-op). Their is a pretty robust strategy system that lets you dictate how you want the AI to act and you can program it for each one. As mentioned earlier, battles are real time and your character as an AC meter. Each action takes up one of your AC points and to get AC points back you simply have to not attack for about 1 second. As the game progresses your AC meter grows giving you more and more versatility in how you want to attack. Want to use 12 consecutive magic spells? Go for it. Want to hit someone 3 times physically, use an arte to stun them and then hit them another 4? You can do that too. To help balance this monsters will only take so many hits before they become immune to the mini-stun effect of hits and retaliate back at you.
The other major component of this battle system is the link system. In battle, with a tap of the D-pad you can link two characters together. This allows them to possibly receive bonuses depending on how you built your character, has the linked characters surround a foe to get backattacks, use link artes, and use special link abilities. Each character has a link ability that will be triggered when linked if certain conditions are met. For example, if you are linked to Jude whenever you are knocked down he will heal you. Each character has a unique link ability. On the left side of the battle screen is a bar broken up into segments. Whenever you reach the end of a segment you may use an arte while linked to someone else (only specific artes link up but you can view a list of them at any time) and hit the R2 button to initiate a powerful link arte. When the meter is completely full you can start overlimit which allows you to chain link artes together. It may sound complicated but in practice once you get the swing of things it is very intuitive and freeflowing.
Killing monsters nets you materials and experience as well as gald. Gather enough experience and you level up. Unlike traditional level up systems where stats were allocated for you, each level up grants you points to spend in a level up web. This web is where you acquire stat buffs, skills, and artes. Essentially the system lets you build your character how you want. Skills are passive traits such as “+5% strength” or “recover 1% TP (magic points) for every 9 hits”. Their is a vast array of these skills to help tune the character you want to make. If you can’t be bothered to level up a character you can always hit auto-level and the game will take care of it for you.
Materials are used to level up shops in the game. Unlike most RPG’s where new towns offer new equipment, Tales of Xillia has the same shops in every town in the world. By donating materials or gald to a shop it will level up and acquire new goods to sell to you. You can choose to balance how you develop the 5 shops or you can throw everything at one if that is what you choose. From my experience its fairly balanced no matter how you go about it.
Tales of Xillia eschews an overworld map for a series of connected environments. Later a fast travel system is implemented where on a map screen you pick a spot you want to go and are instantly teleported to that previous location. If you have ever played through Tales of Graces or Final Fantasy X, the the system is the same here. What this means is that environments received more detail but it also means that the scope of the game doesn’t feel as vast. It is a trade off that for some will be a welcome direction while for others it will come as a disappointment.
I’ve mentioned artes a few times now but here is a more robust description. Artes are special techniques that you can use in battle. They take up TP to use which is recovered by using items, finishing a battle, killing monsters, or from cooking. Pick what artes suit your style and mix and match to your hearts content. Cooking has been completely revamped from past entries in the franchise. This time around you eat a food you own before battle and it will tell you what effect it will have and for how long such as, “gain 50% HP at the end of battle. lasts 5 battles”. Its functional but the game only allows you to carry one of each type of food so it can be tedious.
I’ve mentioned a few problems that Tales of Xillia has here and there but their is one other flaw that thankfully is easily fixed but still stands out; the difficulty. Tales of Xillia on Normal difficulty is a cake walk. You can literally breeze through the game without needing strategy and can sadly just hammer the attack button to win. From the get-go you have the option of changing the difficulty setting. Their is easy, normal, moderate, hard, and after completing the game once more difficulty settings. I fully recommend putting the game to moderate unless you like a bit of a challenge and have confidence in your abilities in which case go hard.
After you complete the game a New Game + mode becomes available. You can choose what aspects to carry over from the previous playthrough in New Game + but only if you have enough Grade. Grade in Tales of Xillia is directly tied to Titles. You get a title for doing pretty much anything. Fight enough monsters, get a title. Eat enough food, get a title. Link with a character long enough, title. Find enough treasure chests around the world, get a title. It is the games way of motivating you to go out and do pretty much everything the game has to offer. In addition to the New Game + feature, which also ties into two protagonists to choose from at the beginning of the game encouraging replay, their is also a post game dungeon with more difficult enemies.
Tales of Xillia is a game with a truly touching story that has a few missteps but is overall endlessly engaging. Its battle system is lightning fast, smooth, and a blast to play. The characters are interesting and the game encourages you to see everything it has to offer. The game is far too easy on the normal difficulty setting but a quick trip to the menu can fix that. Overall, Tales of Xillia is an experience that is highly recommended for everyone.