Tales of Xillia review
My first Tales experience was a good one!
I’m quite surprised that I’ve never crossed paths with a Tales game before, being the enthusiastic RPGer that I am. Part of this is due to my seemingly never ending pile of games on my to-do list, but also because of the consoles that past Tales games have called home (X-Box Shmex-Box….. yeah, I said it). The good news is; the two most recent additions, Tales of Graces F and Tales of Xillia, made the PS3 its home, which suits me just fine. I’m happy to announce that the positive reviews for Xillia were completely justified, and that for me, it goes down as one of the strongest JRPGs released over the past few years.
The story starts in the town of Fennmont, capital of Rashugal. Jude, a young, aspiring medical student, becomes curious when his professor mysteriously disappears, and decides to investigate (break in to) a military facility for answers. On his way, he encounters a mysterious girl, who has her own reasons for breaking in to the building; to destroy a weapon of mass destruction. Of course, this just doesn’t roll with the authorities, so things immediately start to pick up when they become enemies of the country and are forced to flee. This is just the tip of the ice burg in terms of plot points. Most of the time when characters say “we’ve come so far”, they really haven’t, but in Xillia so much happens (twists and turns galore) over the course of the game that it really does seem like the epic journey that it’s meant to be.
Xillia delivers in the story department, and this is enhanced by the two points of views that the story is told from. Prior to starting the game, the player can choose either Jude or Millia and this will have an impact on the narrative in terms of the scenes that you can view. While it won’t change things in the end, it will fill in some gaps and provide additional information that you will miss if you only play through once. This means that in order to get 100% out of the game, multiple play throughs are a requirement.
To compliment this engaging narrative, Xillia hosts quite a suburb bunch of characters. Yes, they may be generic archetypes seen in just about every JRPG, but they are very well fleshed out and it’s evident that developers Namco put in a great effort to do this. Firstly, there is Jude, the promising medical student with a heart of gold who is always fighting for justice. Then there’s Milla, the mysterious woman who claims to be the lord of all spirits. Then there’s my favourite; Alvin, the stereotypical badass who has more secrets than the US government. And who could forget Rowan? This old, sweet talking butler has a history that no one would expect. Elyze is also full of mystery. She’s a young girl who can’t remember her past. She also has a floating, talking doll with the immaturity of a….. floating, talking doll…. Finally, there’s Leah, who is the only character out of the main six who probably doesn’t need to be there. She’s a childhood friend of Jude’s who tags along because….. well, she has a crush on him. All in all, learning about these characters and taking the time to listen to the hundreds of optional conversations (called skits) is something that you will want to do. In the end, I was rooting these characters on the side line like a pre-teen brat at a One Direction concert.
The six main characters (left to right): Leia, Jude, Alvin, Milla, Elize, Rowan.
So, about these skits: Throughout your travels you will come across many opportunities to view a conversation between your characters by pressing the select button. These are entirely optional but I don’t see why anyone would skip them as they are excellent in fleshing out the characters and the world. To top it off, they are all voice acted at a very high quality (except for Milla, who sounds…..wrong….. for some reason). You are also given the option of going back and viewing these again at your leisure which is something that I certainly did due to the absolute hilarity of some of the skits (“TEACH ME ABOUT BOZONGAS!!!” for those who have played it already). Viewing the skits are a treat and greatly assist in making Xillia such a strong game.
What’s the point of a great group of heroes without someone trying to stop them at every turn (it’s called the 2013/2014 Ashes series)? Throughout the entire game, you don’t really know who the bad guy is. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of enemies that come and go, but they each have their own beliefs and the justifications for their actions are all entirely plausible. So much so, that if the game was written from another point of view, Jude and his party would probably be seen as the black hats. What makes things even more interesting is that most of the bad guys are just so cool that you don’t want them to die (with the CLEAR exception of Agria: whose sole purpose seems to be to annoy the player). Strong plot + well developed heroes + excellent villains = success. This is a formula that few games manage to get right.
Tales of Xillia takes place in Rieze Maxia , set in a time when tension is high between the two countries; Rashugal and Auj Oule. Within this world, there are a decent number of towns to explore that show evidence of different culture in both the way they are visually presented, and the way the citizens’ act. What I really love about the world is that it’s worthwhile to return to each town multiple times throughout the game, whether it be for new events, side quests or skits. This creates a sense of excitement and motivation to constantly explore the world in hope of finding something new.
The town of Sharilton
You’ll notice that up to this point, I have only praised the cities themselves. The rest of the world is seriously lacking in quality and polish and this is particularly evident in the five port locations that look identical to one another. In a game of such quality, certain experience-hindering aspects really stand out and this is one of them. Another is the fields that link all of the locations together. Xillia fails big time in this department. These fields are just so generic and lifeless with a complete lack of character. Running through them collecting the items is a repetitive chore when it should be an experience. In comparison to the league leader in this department; Xenoblade Chronicles, it is a train wreck.
Xillias dungeons and dull field environments are full of visible monsters and running into these beasts will initiate the battle. Most games require some level of brain power to dodge enemies, but in Xillia, you can get through every single field location without initiating a battle, simply by running in a slightly different direction that the stupid monsters. Sure they will chase you, but you’re faster, and they give up way to easily (kind of like Kevin Pietersen during the Ashes series). When you actually do get into a fight, chances are that you’ll breeze through it. You see; the difference in difficulty between the enemies and the bosses are so large, that it’s impossible to gauge where you’re at based on field encounters. Where’s the challenge?
Fortunately, a lot of the time you will want to fight enemies purely for the enjoyment of the action packed battle system. It is fast, has a load going on at once, and best of all; it’s fun! With that said, it is incredibly hard to master. You control one character at time and run around mashing X to unleash attack combos when near an enemy. Pressing the O button in combination with a direction will initiate an art (special move) at the expense of TP (technical points). In addition to this, you can link your controlled character up with allies. This will allow them to combine their power and unleash more powerful attacks, which adds a nice dimension to the battle. This system is fast and furious (RIP Paul Walker) but is let down by the ease in exploiting enemy’s elemental weakness. It is a no brainer due to the fact that the game tells you what the weakness is simply by selecting the enemy. This is like taking a multiple choice quiz with the answers written on the blackboard. If an enemy is weak against fire, you will know at the very start of the battle and you WILL employ the following strategy: Spam your one or two fire based attacks and link solely with the ally that has fire combo attacks. Exploiting weaknesses is truly the number 1 strategy that you will adopt and this makes the game very easy. Jeez Namco, we’re not idiots. Either let us work it out ourselves or don’t give every single enemy multiple weaknesses!
That hooded man is about to become a hooded woman
Moving on…..I talked a bit about the replay value in the two different points of views. In addition to this, the individual workings of each character is a huge incentive to play the game again. To elaborate; each of the six characters have their own unique special battle ability that will greatly alter the playing experience. For example, Jude is a sneaky lil’ devil who is able to pivot around enemies if a dodge is timed correctly. Alvin on the other hand is able to charge his weapon for greater attack power. You may be thinking: “I’ll just alternate everyone in a single play through.” BBBEEERRRRR! WRONG! Memorising the button combinations for arts with one character as well as their links with other characters was hard enough. After 50 hours of game time, I didn’t even come close to memorising them all and this will not be possible for most gamers. There is simply too much to remember and too little time to think. This system is a lot like memorising all the lengthy combos in Mortal Kombat. Some people can do it, some people cannot. I’m in the latter group. For this reason, I stuck with Jude through the entire game.
Building your characters for battle can be done in two ways: using the Lilium Orb system and through equipment management. The former is like a simplified version of Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid. The player can choose to allocate their Lilium orbs (earned through levelling up in battle) over six core statistics (strength, vitality etc.) The interesting thing here is that when you create a rectangle shape with your activated orbs, a new ability will be unlocked. These are either new Arts to use in battle, or skills. In the end, each character will basically end up the way that Namco wanted them to. For example, Alvin will never be good with magic, and Elize will never be a hard hitter. At least the skills provide some level of variation as equipping skills requires skill points, but again, at the end of the game you’ll be able to equip just about every skill due to having an excessive amount of these points. This system is quite basic and doesn’t require much thought. It does the job, and nothing more.
The other key factor in strengthening your characters is through equipping weapons, armour and accessories. Just as you would expect, some equipment can be found hidden in dungeons or as rewards for quests, but the majority will purchased through the shopping system, and this is a lot of fun. Each shop type (food, items, weapons, armour and accessories) will begin at level 1 and offer very simple items. The get better equipment, you’ll have to find certain items (usually achieved through running around the fields) and donate them to the shops. Each item has a different value and some will even be more valuable to certain types of shops, so managing your inventory and selling items at the right time is very important. This system works surprisingly well, and creates a good sense of achievement when you unlock new items and equipment.
Tales of Xillia is a quality JRPG that hold true to many of the genres key components. The strong twisty-turny plot, interesting characters and fast, exciting battle system (even if a little easy most of the time) all contribute in making it a well-rounded, enjoyable experience. For me, this title has been a grand introduction to the Tales series, and as a result, I’ll be checking out the others in the near future.
About the author
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