Hideo Baba and the team strike once again! Bringing us yet another wonderful entry in the Tales series, Tales Of Xillia. Like its previous predecessors, they slightly innovate on the core mechanics of the game. Tweaking certain elements while still leaving what has made the series such a successful hit among the JRPG fans. Tales Of Xillia is definitely a fantastic entry into the Tales family, it is not however - without its flaws.
Tales Of Xillia (Playstation 3) Developer: Namco Tales Studio Publisher: Namco Bandi Released: August 6th, 2013 (NA) MSRP: $59.99
Tales Of Xillia stars an unlikely band of heroes trying to save the world from certain destruction. What is at the head of said destruction? A powerful weapon, that if left in the hands of humans can break out an out all war between two nations; or worse, the whole world. With this information at hand, our heroes team up to try and save the world.
This journey begins when a ''Do-Gooder'' named Jude Mathis who crosses paths with the Goddess, Milla Maxwell, while searching for his teacher. While exploring, Jude quickly finds out that he has bitten off more than he can chew; when he follows Milla into the laboratory. In your typical RPG manner, things don't go as planned and our unlikely hero Jude joins forces with Milla.
Before embarking on this dangerous journey, players will have the choice of which main characters story they would like to follow. While Milla and Jude's goal are one in the same, there are certain breaking points throughout the story that give you a different cut-scene or dungeon depending on who you choose to play as. This gives the player an incentive to replay the game and experience the story from a slightly different prospective.
Along this adventure, Milla and Jude come across an array of different and interesting characters. Each one with a past that comes back to haunt them one way or another. They end up joining your party under different circumstances. Course - this wouldn't be a JRPG if it didn't have its anime cliche -esk cast. From your womanizing know-it-all mercenary, to your young and cute little girl with amazing magical powers - there is no shortage of it here; and by me, that's perfectly fine.
It's with these fantastic supporting cast of characters that Tales Of Xillia delivers an extra layer of story telling. Giving you the option to dive deeper into your party members history, allowing for a better understanding of what they are truly trying to achieve; all while trying to save the world along side with you. It's these character interactions that Namco Tales Studio always nails on the head, I've always felt strong connections with the characters that they create in their Tales series; and Tales Of Xillia is no different.
Some prime examples of said characters are, Alvin. While his personalty shines through as the lying and sarcastic type, there's truly way more too it than that. In-order to find out why he acts this way, you have to work for it. By interacting with certain people in the world, or triggering side-quests at certain points in the game. While all of this is completely optional it is always rewarding to go off the beat-and-path to acquire these small titbits of information.
This wouldn't be a JRPG if our adventurer's didn't have to travel through beautiful and treacherous landscapes. Sadly, Tales Of Xilla is highly lacking when it comes to this department. Most of the outside terrain is rather dull, and feels like they copy and pasted these areas multiple times, making slight adjustments, as to make them look different. With an exception of a few areas, this problem is highly evident and is a complete turn off when exploring.
Sadly the dungeon design doesn't differ much from its outside terrain counter part. With its simple and unchallenging design choices. I felt no struggle at all getting through the games mundane dungeons, which may I add are very short - with the exception of one or two end game ones. Puzzle elements are far and few between, in fact to the point where the puzzle elements are almost non-existent. Mostly consisting of pushing a box from point A to point B.
The Tales series is known for its fun and engaging combat. With each new title, they enhance and tweak the combat system - making it so it's always slightly different from its previous predecessors. Just like the titles before it, Tales Of Xillia is no exception. This time around they've added the ''Linking'' system. At the start of battle you may choose from 3 of your current party members and Link up with them. Linking allows your partner to run behind the enemy you are targeting, therefor completely surrounding the opponent. This is just one of the many perks, others include: Art Chaining, Altering Current Arts and most importantly allowing you to perform your High Ougi (Mystic Art).
Each party member also offers a unique Linking ability, for example, Linking up with Milla gives her a chance to bind an enemy; allowing you to unleash countless attacks without enemy retaliation. Whilst Linking up with Alvin will give him the Block-Breaker ability, a fantastic skill for boss fights. They've also made switching out your party members while in combat a breeze, allowing you to link together multiple chaining arts without disrupting the flow of combat. Every battle is a blast, you may learn a new combo or chain together some interesting arts you never thought would work. This is one of the many strengths the combat system holds.
Another great assist about the combat system is that - it's never forced. Battles take place when you run up to an enemy and trigger a combat sequence, which is completely avoidable if you choose to run pass the enemy instead. You can also trigger linked encounters which can happen when you run into two enemies that are close to each other, doubling the amount of enemies, experience and gold; a great way to level up your party quickly. Enemies can also trigger back-attacks, if you are facing away from an enemy and they trigger a combat sequence - you will be at a disadvantage when combat starts, and vice-versa.
While the combat system is wicked fun, you'll find it getting a bit dull if you don't ramp up the difficulty setting. Personally I started the game on moderate difficulty setting, and while challenging for the first 25+ hours or so - it quickly started to deteriorate as I grew stronger. I found that, turning it up to Hard difficulty made for the perfect balance between the damage I was giving and receiving, making me stay at the top of my game and kept it from getting uneventful. Of course everyone is different in their play styles, so choose whatever you enjoy the best.
The second feature they've added besides Linking, is the Lilium Orb level up system. Where you get to pick and choose a path for each one of your party members. Adding an extra layer of customization to the way you want to fight. If you are not the perfectionist type and don't want to be bothered with such tasks - there's always the auto-level button which picks the best path for that character. While I don't recommend doing this, the option is always there.
This gives Tales Of Xillia a slightly more personal play-style compared to previous titles. Where you'd have to use a certain skills 400 times or more to unlock a newer, or stronger version of said skill. It's a nice way to break the mold and try something new and refreshing. The skill system has also made its way here, where you choose which passive abilities you want active in the heat of battle. The small tweak here is that passive skills become stronger when linked with a partner.
Tales Of Xillia is a fantastic and memorable experience; with its delightful cast of characters and well written story. While it never shied away from its core roots, the combat, art style and music were all well worth the 100+ hours I poured into it. The small tweaks were all a welcome addition and yet the game still feels familiar and right at home. A must have for any JRPG fan out there.