Available On: PC, PlayStation, Xbox
Played On: PlayStation 5
If you’re like me, you haven’t played a Tales RPG in nearly 20 years, and are only vaguely aware that Tales of Arise is the 17th entry. Thankfully Tales of Arise feels far fresher than derivative, with compelling characters, an interesting world, and dynamic real-time combat.
Man in the Iron Mask
Tales of Arise unfortunately suffers from the amnesiac hero trope with our main character, Alphen. Alphen is a Dahnan, humans who lack innate magic skills and have been enslaved by the more advanced Renans. Worse still, he wears a (semi-)permanent iron helmet over his entire face, and can’t remember who he is.
It’s a shaky start, but the story picks up when he meets Shionne, a blunt Renan woman who wants to overthrow her people’s tyrannical rule. The two form a delightfully Will-they, Won’t-they relationship of constant bickering as they grow closer.
In typical JRPG fashion, you’ll journey to new locations, meeting new party members and battling monsters. While I appreciate the drama of the oppressed people fighting back, the story gets a bit repetitive, at least for the first 30 or so hours. Each new location has the same goal of deposing the local Renan lord, and exploration is minimal due to small areas that are little more than pretty hallways.
Thankfully the characters remain delightful. Every party member has their own ambitions and failings, from sweet little mage Rinwell who harbors deeply-ingrained racism towards the Renan, to the responsible knight Kisara, who lifts the entire party up through her big mom energy.
Their tales are told through clever little vignettes that unlock throughout the story. These skits are displayed as optional, animated comic panels I can access at any time. I love having full control of when I want to sit back and listen to my party hash things out, whether it’s a serious conversation about Alphen’s past, or some funny banter about Shionne’s eating habits. Other times, I can happily leave them waiting and focus on the game’s main draw: the real-time combat.
Double Phoenix Cyclone
The Tales games are known for their flashy, real-time combat, which looks more like an action game than an RPG. Once we get out of the slow starting hours, and start unlocking more skills (and more importantly, more party members), combat becomes immensely fun in Tales of Arise. My party members gain increasingly bombastic abilities and unleash them with quick button presses to chain combos.
Each of the six eventual party members has a unique fighting style. Shionne’s gun and magic spells make her suitable for long-range attacking and healing, while Law’s quick fists and speed make him a dodgy, rapid-strike melee attacker. I love the ability to swap party members on the fly, though I eventually settle on my favorites.
Analyzing enemies and dodging their attacks is important, as characters can perform powerful counterattack abilities (and most enemies hit like at truck). Many enemies are vulnerable to elemental attacks, while others are vulnerable to Boost Strikes, Tales of Arise’s new combat feature.
Every party member has their own unique Boost Strike, which builds during combat and can be unleashed with the press of a button. Boost Strikes can be triggered regardless of the party member I’m currently playing as — even those who aren’t in my currently active party. Shionne’s boost can down flying enemies, while Kisara can stop a charging enemy in its tracks. They’re all excitingly flashy and help keep combat quick and engaging.
Knowing when to trigger which Boost Strikes and how best to chain combos and exploit weaknesses is critical for boss battles. Normal battles end fairly quickly, though not without some fast-paced exhalation. Boss battles are completely different, reminiscent of epic confrontations in Monster Hunter. Bosses will wreck an unprepared team, often forcing me to battle them several times before I find a working composition and strategy. Thankfully many of the most challenging bosses are side quests, and can simply be tackled later after leveling up.
Tales of Arise is rated T for Teen, with Alcohol References, Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, and Violence. There’s less egregious titillations compared to many other JRPGs (though it’s not above some skimpy female outfits, one main enemy in particular). In-game violence is more stylized and colorful, but cutscenes (including fully animated cutscenes) don’t shy away from people getting stabbed and impaled.
Tales of Arise is a wonderfully modern triumph of the series’ signature combat, while still maintaining its classic JRPG roots. A must-play for genre fans.