Tales of Xillia for PS3
Posted: June 7th, 2016, 9:33 pm
The oddly named "Tales Of" series is one of the biggest JRPG franchises in the world. While nothing can match Japan's juggernaut Final Fantasy in terms of popularity, Tales Of might come in at a pretty distant second place. Tales of Xillia isn't the debut Tales Of game for PS3, but it is the first one initially designed for the console since Tales of Graces F was originally a Wii game.
The game takes place in the world of Rieze Maxia, where the nations Rashugal and Auj Joule exist in a tenuous peace. Rieze Maxians are born with the innate ability to cast spirit arts. Put simply, it's magic. More complicatedly, people use the "mana lobes" in their brains to feed the spirits with mana, and the spirits reciprocate by casting spells for them. Milla Maxwell, the Lord of Spirits given human form, begins to sense that her ghostly subjects are being killed and sets out on a mission to save them. When brilliant medical student Jude Mathis accidentally gets caught in the crossfire, the two of them are sent on a quest to save the spirits, defeat two corrupt kings, and bring balance to the world in an adventure that spans the globe-- and further.
As with any JRPG worth its spiky hair, Tales of Xillia has an extraordinary narrative. Action packed and full of mind bending plot twists, I was held captive for the entire 75 hours it took me to beat the game... BOTH TIMES! The colorful, big eyed characters make it feel like I'm playing my way through an excellent anime, and I loved every second of it! There was not one, but THREE times when I thought the game was over, only for the plot to pull a 180 and raise the stakes even higher. If you're someone who appreciates a good story in a video game, and you don't mind the usual Japanese quirkiness, there's plenty to satisfy you in Tales of Xillia.
Tales of Xillia boasts two independent story modes, but I found that to be a bit of a falsehood. The two selectable main characters, Jude and Milla's, stories do indeed offer two unique points of view in an intertwining narrative, it's obvious from the getgo that this is primarily Jude's story. Not only do a majority of the cutscenes happen from his point of view no matter who you're playing as, a lot of important plot points are glanced over in Milla's story, as if the game expects you to already know what they're talking about. This wasn't a huge negative for me, but I definitely recommend any future players to tackle Jude's story first.
As for the gameplay... well, let's just say it's a good thing ToX has such an amazing story. Not to say that it's bad by any means, it's just excessively average. The game consists of running from one town to the next via a series of fields that all, inexplicably are in the bottoms of canyons. I understand the developers did that to keep the players on course, but it still diminishes the sense of adventure a game like this deserves, especially since there are very few things worth looking at in between towns. The maps go through the usual gamut of forest, desert, snow, and mountain, but as you progress it becomes obvious that these are all just skin swaps and offer absolutely no changes in gameplay. The paths you take are very straightforward, and even when the game offers a chance to "discover" something, there's no surprise in it because a big, wide path always marks the way there. I mean, it works at a basic level, but Skyrim this ain't.
The fighting, however, is a breath of fresh air. You view your characters from the side and can freely move right and left, but they take place in a 3D arena. That means that while you might be attacking a monster on your right, you could also be attacked by one from the lower left corner. When you bring your full party into a battle, things can get hectic pretty fast as everyone chases after a different foe and flashy area effecting spells are hurled all over the place. You have both melee and magic attacks, assigned to the X and O buttons respectively, and you can use different attacks based on which direction you're holding the thumbstick when you press the button. You're able to assign whatever attacks you want via a menu when you're not in battle, letting you tailor your fighting style however you want. It almost feels like you're playing a fighting game, which I don't think any other RPG franchise has ever pulled off.
The ability to "link" with other members of your party adds even more strategy to everything. As a medic, linking with Jude will cause him to heal you every time you get hurt. Likewise, linking with Alvin, the brawny guy, will cause him to jump in and take the hit for you against stronger enemies. Furthermore, for every successful hit you land, a meter on the left side of the screen goes up. When a section fills up, you're able to do a chain attack, meaning that if your attack corresponds to an attack your link partner can do, you'll be able to pull of an even more devastating attack. Since each attack corresponds differently to each member of your party, you have plenty of reasons to switch up your attacks and party members to see combinations you can pull off.
I just wish the game wasn't so dadgum easy. Despite having several different skill levels to play as, Tales of Xillia never seems like it's really trying to put up a fight. The enemies are more of an obstacle than a threat, and you'll only ever die if you deliberately go out of your way to fight something that is several levels above you. This is a double edged sword because one hand, it lets you continue the amazing story with very little to hold you back. On the other hand, during the times I just wanted to test myself with a tough fight and enjoy the frantic-yet-nuanced fighting system, there were none to be found. In the end I wasn't too horribly disappointed, since as I was more than satisfied by the story, but it would have been nice to be able to test my skills against a worthy opponent when I wnted to.
The lack of enemies is also a pretty jarring flaw. At first the game seems to have a wildly diverse and creative cast of monsters to fight, but then you'll go to the next area and find the same monsters waiting for you... and the next one... and the next one... and then you realize that every environment in the game features the exact same monsters, just with a different coat of paint on them. Just like the environments themselves, they only LOOK different, they don't PLAY different, which not only makes the fights monotonous, it further degrades the game's sense of adventure. There's never anything new waiting for you, just the same thing as before but a different color.
The graphics are a little hit or miss as well. As I said before, they are bright and colorful and make you feel like you're playing an anime, which is awesome. However, sometimes they fall short. The environments are one example. While the cities are nice to look at and actually feel alive, the world map between cities is plain and desolate. I already harped about this, though, so let's move on to character models. While I've got no complaints with how they look, they can at times look a little stiff during cutscenes. This is a little odd, because some of the cutscenes are amazing, with the models moving fluidly, almost like you're watching a legitimate anime. Other times, however, they look stiff and their movements aren't convincing. How is it that some of these cutscenes can be so great, but others resort to PS1 era's "waving one hand while the character stands still" technique?
You know what's awesome, though? The anime cutscenes. At key points in the game, it'll switch from its normal in-engine videos to give you a quick, full fledged anime scene. Even the best of the normal cutscenes pale in comparison to them.
There's not much else to talk about. The voice acting is above par, the side quests are mostly boring fetch quests, and the game offers New Game + to help you breeze through on your second playthrough. As much as I loved Tales of Xillia, I have a hard time recommending it like I would like to. The story is awesome, but if you don't get invested in video game stories the way I do then you're left with very little to satisfy you. It has a cool fighting system, but the lack of any real challenge takes away a lot of the appeal. Still, what Tales of Xillia does right, it does amazingly well. How much you enjoy it depends on what you're looking to get out of it. Story seekers will find hours worth of entertainment, especially since you have to play through the game twice to get the whole narrative, but adventure seekers or action-minded gamers probably won't find enough of either to satisfy them.
I give Tales of Xillia for PS3 a 6.5/10!