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Dreamweaver avatar 12:21 PM on 08.27.2013  (server time)
Tales of Xillia community user review

[Note: I figured Destructoid could use another, if not even one, review for Tales of Xillia, even if I'm far from professional]

Like many of us, I've been a fan of the Tales of series ever since I played Tales of Symphonia on the Nintendo Gamecube. Being that it was the first true JRPG I ever played, it left quite an impression on me and opened me up to new ways to view my favorite hobby; plus, I even managed to snag a favorite series besides Pokemon and Super Mario. However, being a Tales of anywhere but Japan wasn't necessarily easy considering that many of the games do not get localized: I can understand games like Tales of Fandom or even the enhanced PS3 port Tales of Vesperia not making it overseas, but what about the other Radiant Mythology games or even the mothership title (fancy way of saying "main entry") Tales of Hearts?

Since the Xbox 360 version of Tales of Vesperia, we haven't seen many Tales of games lately... that is, until publisher Namco Bandai decided to localized the next two mothership games Tales of Graces F and Tales of Xillia. While I have played both games, I wanted to talk about the latter: although it was admitted to have been rushed, it still must be a good game, considering it's supposed to represent the 15th Anniversary of the series AND even managed to spawn a sequel. Heck, the sequel is even considered to be a mothership title, the first to do so ever since Tales of Destiny 2 (disclaimer: neither of which I have played)!

So with that in mind, just how is the game?

Right off the bat, Xillia throws a curve ball to the series by allowing players to choose between two protagonist right after an introductionary cut-scene: you select either magical medical student Jude Mathis or Milla Maxwell, a woman claiming to be the mystical Maxwell (thinking overseeing deity) of the world of Rieze Maxia. However, before you base your decision, do know that, since you can choose to play as either one of these characters, or even play as any one of the other party members, your choice is less about character preference and more on story perspective: the character you choose will determine whose perspective of the overall story will you be experiencing from.

That being said, while I'm not at liberty to say, since I only beat the game once as Jude, I wholly recommend playing through Jude's side of the story if you only plan on playing through the game once. Without spoiling anything, Jude will spend more time with the other party members and will be told their personal stories as well as their thoughts on current events. Plus, a couple of events that were delightfully wonderful to see (that I won't spoil because it threw me off guard) are seemingly only available to Jude since Milla is nowhere around that area when it happens. Of course, there are also some events that happens in Milla's side that doesn't get fully explained in Jude's story, but the same goes for her: plus, the game somewhat expects you to play as Jude first as some crucial events in his story is either not mentioned to Milla or is mentioned casually, despite needing to know them for the plot development.

Either way, the core story remains the same since the two characters are together for about 80% of the game anyway. Speaking of the plot, it may be the same political drama and character interactions as any other Tales of games, especially considering it uses the same plot devices, but it's still pleasantly executed and even detailed enough to spark an interest in the universe. The most important thing to note about the story is actually how it's presented: rather than having static speech bubbles in past Tales games or cut-scenes akin to most games, Xillia uses a hybrid of the two to create something unique. It's a bit awkward to watch it in motion, especially if you turn auto-text advance off, but it's better than the aforementioned static speech bubbles, even if it functions the same, sluggish way.

While there's no in-game full-motion video like Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World or Tales of Graces F, there are still anime sequences to behold, and they are definitely impressive to watch (with series regular Production I.G. replaced by Ufotable of the Fate/Stay Night animation); unfortunately, besides the opening, most of the anime sequences appear in the second half of the game. Even more disappointing, the game also starts off slow, which had me pretty much running through the story with a "meh" feeling for a good couple of hours to even a dozen before it starts to ramp up. I mean, once it ramps up it's hard to put the controller down, but until then it can be a bit unbearable to experience.

Since we're on the subject of "unbearable," I think I should mention the voice acting in this game. Now for the most part, the voice acting is fine, good even, especially with some experienced voice actors behind the microphone, but while there's still some cringe worthy lines or badly worded ones, some characters are a bit tougher than others to enjoy: namely Teepo and main character Milla Maxwell. While I personally loved Teepo, his line "slap me some face!" will forever be my catchphrase, I can definitely sense some dislike towards him from his mannerisms and tone of voice. However, Milla is even more of a mixed reception: while the emotionless speaking fits her in some melodramatic scenes, and even some humorous ones, she feels completely flat in others. Not only that, but either she has a lisp when she talks or her microphone had some quality issues because I'm hearing either a tongue "hiss" or a bit of static in her lines, and it kind of detracts from the scene. Also the audio mixer is a bit strange as the music either seems to drown out character voices during battle or is strangely too quiet (for reference, I set character voices to max while taking a notch or two down, from max, for BGM).

And now we get to the meat of the game: combat. For better or worse, Xillia's combat is far more in line with past Tales games like Vesperia than Graces F, meaning that you're be mashing the attack button, which uses AC instead of CC, in order to accrue enough TP to perform Artes, or special attacks and spells. Thankfully, the combat's as fun as it's always been, the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" being apt in this situation, but it still breathes room for innovation: a new combat mechanic called "Linking" allows two characters to "Link" up with each other to double-team enemies. While you could order teammates what to do anyway, either by telling them which Artes or items to use on who or by making up a basic behavior guideline, Linking lets you reap benefits depending on who the partner is.

For example, Linking up with Milla will have her Binding enemies in place for a quick and easy combo, or perhaps allowing enough time for a healing spell, while Linking up with Rowen allows him to instantly cast a shield around your character whenever the enemy uses a magic spell on you, meaning you don't have to take the full brunt of the attack. Of course, Linking up has some drawbacks as well, one of the more prominent ones being that when one character is hit with a status ailment then the other one is as well, but it adds a layer of depth in an already impressive pool, especially when you're able to switch out any active party members with any benched characters to suit the situation at hand; even more so when certain character have Artes that, when Linked with another, will transform the Arte into a Linked Arte, which are usually more powerful.

Of course, no matter who the character is, you're going to want to deck them out with fancy new gear, correct? Well, considering the fact that you so rarely get armor and weapons from treasure chests, most of your equipment will purchased in stores, which means I should explain the new way the store is set up: every same type of store, like those dedicated to selling weapons; armor; and items, in the world all sell the same stuff no matter where you're buying it from. While that's convenient in the sense that you don't need to go far to get the latest gear, the only way for the store to obtain the gear to sell to you in the first place is for you to level it up. Every shop type has its own level, and every purchase you make grants it EXP so when a store gets enough of it, it levels up and unlocks new items.

While this may sound awkward at first, the idea of buying lower level gear to level up a shop to stock higher level gear, you can also level up the shop by donating materials found in the world via loot bags and loot points: not only does it save you money, and levels up the shop faster than cash (which you can also donate), but since materials serve no other purpose other than occasionally being the object needed for a side quest, it feels as if the game is practically telling you to level it up that way. This does mean that grinding for shop levels can feel like a bit of a drag, especially since the store's level should be in tandem with your party's level in order to stay relevant to the bosses.

Whilst on the subject of leveling up, this is something else Xillia does differently: rather than gaining stat boosts when you level up, you now receive GP to use on the Lillium Orb, which is a web of orbs that are used to increase stat parameters and earn extra HP and TP. Inside each web segment are orbs (that unlocks more Artes and Skill) that can only be obtained when the orbs surrounding it are collected, meaning you have to choose between prioritizing different stat parameters over unlocking a desired Arte or Skill (equip-able bonus effects like being able to use items without cool down or faster healing spells). While you could get everything in the web at the max level, now 99 instead of the usual 200, you also need to decide early on between getting the already mentioned stat parameters with orb expansion: when you collect three orbs inside the web segment located at the outer rim of the orb, with one of them being a specifically designated orb, you can expand the orb to feature new Arte and Skills. You kind of need to balance this out because if you're too focused on orb expansion, you will be “under leveled" when you miss out on the stat boost while expanding too slowly will make you miss out on better Artes and Skills.

Now, there have been some complaints about this game being too easy, but that's not really the case per se... Rather, it's somewhat easy to exploit the game or unintentionally break it. Not taking the exploit into account, you could actually over level the weapons and items stores to obtain high level gear, and since there's no requirement to use them, you could have some decently leveled characters rolling around with gear over 20 levels of their actual ones. As someone who fears difficulty spikes from bosses, I accidentally did this by over leveling the shops and buying the newest gear so, as a result of me also setting the game on the default difficulty of Normal, 90% the game was a breeze to me. If you want a challenge in this game, set the game to Hard right off the bat: the game on Normal is seemingly designed for minimal grinding though, as I feared, the difficult does spike, but not a lot.

Not only that, but the new way the Food system works in this game makes breaking the game even more easy to do. Food in this game is purchased (the in-game reason being that no one knows how to cook or are willing to do so) and consumed outside of battle as a preemptive buff which ranges from just giving you a status buff in battles to giving you extra Gald or EXP at the end of the fights. While they seem minor at first, especially since only one Food buff can be active at a time, as you level up the Food Store, they start selling Food that can not only give a huge chunk of extra attack power, making grinding a bit less relevant, but can also double the amount of EXP you get at the end of the fight; if you couple these with boss fights, you either have a boss fight where you have an advantage or enough EXP to level up twice. You could just not use the Food in this game, but the temptation of the buffs really makes it hard to ignore: I've actually restarted boss fights because I had forgotten to chow down.

Not counting those restarts, this is still a pretty lengthy game, with me finishing around 50 hours on Jude's side of the story, though with a couple of hours dedicated to grinding. However, while I hadn't tackled a Milla playthrough nor the end-game dungeon Magnus Zero, I'm sure I could easily push another dozen or so hours tackling them both while attempting to unlock Titles. Unlike other games in the series, Titles are used not for stat boosts or costumes (more on that in a bit) but rather mini-milestones (like defeating a certain amount of enemies or opening treasure chests) used to earn Grade, which are now not given after battles. Grade, for those unfamiliar with the series tradition, is a point system used for New Game Plus unlocks which allows for things like money transferring playthroughs or inheriting the fabled "Fell Arms," to increase replay value.

While the game is packed with enough content to last quite a bit, signs of its rushed development are still pretty apparent: there are only 4 costumes to unlock in the game without the use of DLC (though there are over 40 attachments that can be customized in not only color but in also its placement), no cameo battles as well as no spa scene, secret island, or mini-games to play like poker or Magna Carta. While the game do retain "skits," a series staple of having character conversations shown on-screen in the form of character portraits talking to one another, there's also not as many as other games, and some of them consist of only one or two line (i.e. "Let's rest at the inn, I'm beat.") Also, a lot of areas are big, bland areas filled with enemies and loot points with almost no design to them, and the fact that the game feels like it has to put you through three of these areas just to make it to the next town (the over world evidently being discontinued with the map being interconnected to each other similar to Graces F) feels like padding.

However, they certainly didn't skimp on the sidequests, or "sub-events" though. While there are still many of those "fetch quests" you love so much, the vast majority of the sub-events are fully voiced story sequences used to flesh out characters' backstories and motivations. And the game must also want you to see them because with the fast travel system letting you warp to previously visited towns, dungeons, and areas, along with a friendly remainder on when you are able to advance to the next phase of the sub-event or give hints of new ones, you usually have a checklist of things to go through. The only downsides seems to be that, like other games in the series, it can be extremely easy to miss a sub-event for the rest of the playthrough and, even then, the game also assumes you intend to travel back to every town after every event in order to snag them all: I went back to a town just for no reason other than "just because" and managed to start an important sub-event that spans from that point to the end of the game on a pure whim.

Moving on, I should say that, graphically, the game is pretty good looking and yet pretty dated at the same time. To clarify, the art direction of the game is beautiful, especially the city of Fennmont, a lavish night town filled with lights being as pleasing to the eye as fireflies, but the actual technical aspect of them are a bit unflattering: the environments are a bit smudgy up close, and some characters don't look as sharp as they could've been. Now, I realize that this game came out a couple of years back in Japan, but when it looks only slightly better than Graces F, an enhanced port of a Wii game, it can be a bit disappointing. Plus the game also slows down during heavy combat, with a particular boss' Mystic Arte actually chugging down combat enough to warrant complaint had it not have been a scripted fight. This may not be detrimental to the experience, but still, don't go in expecting to be blown away.

At the very end of the day though, I found Xillia to be a pretty damn good game. Sure, it has a couple of drawbacks, and the slow start made me a bit nervous about my faith in this particular game (I actually found the childhood sequence of Graces F to be better paced), but soon I found myself unwilling to stop playing due to the addicting combat (upon unlocking more Artes and combos) and interesting story and characters. I loved my party members, some a bit more than others, and some of the plot twists were not only genuinely surprising, but had me thinking about it days after it happened. I also want to mention, whether you intend to play the sequel Xillia 2 or not, that Xillia 1 ends on a pretty satisfying note, which is way better than how Tales of Vesperia ended, in my opinion.

Pretty much, if you're a Tales fan, you know what to expect, though the lack of extras may turn off the more dedicated, hardcore ones. If you're looking to get into the series, this is a good entry to start with (also helps that most games are standalone) and, with all the improvements like the way story sequences are handled as well as the inclusion of fast travel, I can see this game appealing to a wider crowd. Overall though, I personally recommend this game to those with a thirst for JRPGs. (8/10)

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