There’s something comforting about checking out a new game from a long-running, beloved series. Nintendo might catch some shade from the noisier parts of the Internet, for instance, but the billions of people who love their games are more interested in checking out the latest Mario adventure. Likewise, each new Final Fantasy finds its fans, no matter what changes or how loud other fans tend to be.
That said, the Tales series of action-RPGs always tend to find a pretty solid reception without quite so much division, and the latest entry, Tales of Arise, is a great example of Bandai Namco making the formula work all over again.
The worlds of Dahna and Rena used to be known as the Twin Worlds due to their proximity, but that was some time ago. These days, the people of Dahna find themselves under the yoke of the technologically advanced, magic-wielding Renans. Centuries of oppression have meant that most Dahnans don’t remember being anything but slaves. Our hero Alphen will find that by bridging the divide between Dahnans and Renans it just might be possible to change the status quo – even if that means working with a Renan himself. The mysterious Shionne appears with the goal of dismantling the Renan order and Alphen gets wrapped up in a scheme to determine the fate of both worlds.
If you’re familiar with the Tales series, you know that half the reason people come to these games is for the action-based combat, and Arise doesn’t disappoint. The system here primarily feels like Tales of Graces F from the PS3; characters don’t expend mana or a similar resource on attacks and can string together flashy combos for as long as they’ve got quickly-regenerating AG chips available. You’re encouraged to be on offense much of the time as a result, preventing damage by keeping the enemy too busy flying around from your onslaught.
Each character offers a different playstyle – Alphen’s your standard swordsman, for instance, while martial artist Law wants to stay up close and personal with a torrent of fists and mage Rinwell is able to steal enemy magic for her own use. When you’ve beaten an enemy up sufficiently you can activate combo attacks that immediately finish off the reeling foe. These work somewhat like the Glory Kills from the recent DOOM games, allowing for a quick finish to a battle you’d technically won or enabling a quick kill on a heavily-armored foe.
Everything else aside, it’s that damage prevention that’s the most important aspect of Arise’s combat system, though. Rather than using a limited resource on attacks, instead your ability to heal your characters is limited. Each use of a healing ability consumes CP and, outside of consumable items which are rare and expensive early in the game, it’s largely impossible to recover this in the field and you’ll need to return to town or a campfire to heal up.
Combined with your party’s very limited funds early on for healing items, this puts a time limit on your expeditions, particularly considering how CP is also used for field actions that help you obtain more treasure or reach new areas. The limited amount of healing available also rewards careful dodging and skillful defense during boss battles. There’s a level of tension in Arise’s combat that was lacking in many other games in the series. This is a fantastic addition.
Combat sees the most changes from the Tales standard, in other words, and that’s by no means a bad thing. The Tales series has always leaned heavily on strong characterization and delving deep into the world; Arise is no exception here, as you’ll come to learn more about the playable characters than you might expect. As usual, short optional “skits” are used to add a little more detail here and there, and they’re all worth checking out.
Likewise, there’s tons of sidequests to check out, from finding hidden owls to learning and cooking recipes to fishing, and you can spend hours working on non-plot content if that’s what you’re into. In fact, given the increased difficulty of the content compared to other Tales games, you might want to, just to survive the boss battles!
As one of the first Tales games to hit next-generation consoles, it should come as no surprise that Tales of Arise is one of the best-looking games in the series. Character animations are flashy and impressive and the models for monsters, NPCs and party members alike look great. Arise really shines when it comes to its environment design, with sweeping and impressive vistas to behold all over the place. Performance-wise there aren’t any issues as well, with the PC and Xbox Series X versions alike running smooth as silk.
There’s one concern worth noting – each character has skills locked behind purchasable DLC, which is kind of questionable, but it’s also the kind of thing that the industry has tacitly approved of for generations now, so…there’s not much to be done about it.
There’s no real need to sell Tales of Arise to series fans; they’ve probably picked it up already, and they’ll be pleased to find that it’s got plenty of the goodness they’ve come for. Newcomers, meanwhile, will find a solid and enjoyable action-RPG with just enough spicy combat to keep things interesting. The plot’s worth coming for as well, even if battle is the star of the show, and if you’ve got a spare 40 hours or so to throw around, there’s plenty of worse things to do with them than Tales of Arise.