Tales of Xillia 2 is a JRPG developed and published by Bandai Namco for the PS3 in 2012-2014. Following the end of the Schism and the unification of Rashugal and Auj Oule, the countries of Rieze Maxia and Elympios are struggling to coexist. In the midst of this civil unrest, Ludger Kresnik follows a little girl named Elle onto a train, where he, alongside a returning Jude Mathis find themselves within a Fractured Dimension. After undoing it using Ludger's newfound strange powers, Ludger wakes up with a gigantic medical debt to his name, so he takes a job to destroy Fractured Dimensions for the Spirius corporation. While doing this, he also intends to help Elle look for the mythological land of Canaan so she can reunite with her father.
With justabout every major story thread having been dealt with in the original Xillia, Xillia 2 isn't exactly a standard sequel. Thanks to the self-insert nature of the game's protagonist, the bonding system you have with the other party members and how short (in comparison to Xillia) the main story is if you ignore the party-focused sidequests, it's more of a fanservice-laden expansion given (almost) the budget of a proper release. If you, like me, wanted to see more of the party members from Xillia and what they've gotten up to in the year following the end of that game, then this game is for you.
That's not to say that the main story doesn't have its moments, as playing as an Elympion gives the game a sort of noir feel (helped immensly by the jazzy soundtrack Elympios has) that makes it stand out. But the decision to make Ludger a (mostly) silent protagonist didn't do much for me. The intent is to help the player immerse themselves with the world and the choices they can make. But just like in Persona, outside of the choices for the ending, most dialogue choices have a correct answer that earns you bonding points with your party members, making roleplaying moot unless you value some unique responses over the upgrades you gain through bonding points.
As such, it feels a bit hollow to engage with the choices, especially when you can see flashes of Ludger's personality peek through in his skit sprites and his few voiced lines in the game. I would have preferred Ludger be more fleshed out, but even so, his relationship with Elle works. She's a bit selfish and annoying from time to time, but Ludger's detemination to help her find Canaan so she can reunite with her dad feed into to the game's best moments.
The concept of Fractured Dimensions (split timelines that must be destroyed by Ludger to preserve the prime dimension) serves a few purposes in the story. First of all, it gives new life to the theme of "everyone deserves to live" from Xillia by manufacturing a scenario where there is no good answer to the problem. The Schism being undone has lead to the the countries of Rieze Maxia and Elympios struggling to co-exist (which handles xenophobia in a better way than the sequel to Symphonia did under similar circumstances), but there's still hope for a brighter future as long as people learn to accept eachother.
But the Fractured Dimensions are exclusionary. If they aren't destroyed, the prime dimension goes. I was initially put off by this, since there are so many worlds that get destroyed throughout the story and I don't think the game commits to the gravitas of these acts. It feels like both the characters and the writers don't want to think about how many lives end over the course of the game. The game does delve into this stuff a little bit, but not as much as the idea deserves.
Still, as a narrative device, they allow the game to constantly present a variety what-if scenarios, which are then used to propagate the arcs of the various party members as they try to find their footing in the newly unified world. It's also a way to bring back people who died in the first game so that the party can deal with their regrets and engage in some fun fanservice boss fights.
The story is a bit all over the place, as the mechanics of the various dimensions, Ludger's powers and the final choices are a bit obtuse and difficult to comprehend. But in spite of that, I need to underline just how much I enjoyed my time with Xillia 2. The party dynamic is even better, as there are three more people added to the active party, giving the writer an avenue for some really good skits. The whole game is pretty laid-back. And as I said before, the Fractured Dimensions may be a cheap plot device, but they pull their weight by giving everyone something to think about as they move forward with their lives.
But I have to give special mention to the two major endings I got, which are both capped off by a rad boss each, which really left me with a good impression, no matter how terrible (but thankfully short) the last dungeon is.
The Cross Double-Raid Linear Motion Battle System (as the name implies), is merely an extension of the Double-Raid Linear Motion Battle System from the original Xillia. I say "merely", but there's a lot of new stuff here to bite your teeth into. Every party member and their unique gimmicks and link mechanics are back, plus three new ones, making it even more of a nightmare to try and master everyone's playstyles during a single playthrough.
Since I spent so much effort trying to give everyone a fair shake in Xillia, for this game, I focused almost entirely on Ludger. Which worked in my favour, as his existance basically undoes one of the issues I had with Xillia's combat.
In that game, you're incentivized to link up with your party members and perform special link artes in order to build up the Overlimit gauge, at which point you could chain link artes and finish up with a devastating mystic arte. But actually doing so as intended with multiple characters is a pain, as the artes that lead to link artes are different for everyone. So if you've set yourself up well, I'd only expect to be able to link with two other party members and even then, that's a big ask in the middle of combat.
Xillia 2 introduces generic link artes to fill in the gaps, meaning that even if you haven't set up your artes properly, you can still do one of the 4 generic link artes. As such, I found myself chaining link artes in overlimit mode a lot more in this game. But what really puts the finishing touches on the combat system is Ludger himself.
He comes equipped with 3 weapons (Dual swords, a hammer and dual pistols), which means that he can be set up with 16 artes per weapon, making for a staggering total of 48 (!!) artes. And his weapons are designed to have a lot of matching artes with certain party members. So if you set up your party so that each person matches one of his weapons, you can simply switch weapons and swap link partner to get access to their abilities, which is a lot more convenient than having to fiddle with the arte menu in the middle of combat.
It really makes the combat system feel complete to have a main character that can freely mix and match with everyone like that. In order to switch weapons, you simply hold down L1 to enter a special stance, which also let's you do an air juggle attack or a sidestep, two very welcome additions to round out everyone's moveset.
There's also some further complexity at play with the introduction of Power Combos. Simply put, a Power Combo is a combo that's set off by hitting an enemy weakness, which can then be continued by hitting them with a different element. This is key, as it not only keeps the enemy stunlocked, but also offsets the greater health enemies now have by letting you deal a lot more damage. I found this a bit tedious from time to time, as Power Combos can be difficult to set off on certain bosses, but thankfully there's one more mechanic in play to even things out.
That mechanic is Ludger's super mode, Chromatus Form, which charges up outside of freerun automatically, meaning you can use it quite often. In this form, Ludger is immortal and his attacks have no element, meaning that it's good as a panic button if you just need to kill something off very quickly. But it runs out faster the more hits you take and can't start Power Combos, so it's not just an instant-win button.
All of these mechanics bounce off eachother quite well, but as soon as you take the other characters into account it becomes rather overwhelming. But if you just stick with Ludger and try to master him you should still be satisfied coming from Xillia.
Ludger's debt is less a plot device and more of a framing device for the gameplay. Each chapter consists of the same setup: Do a single dungeon and advance the story, then do sidequests to make a payment on the debt, which will then unlock the next story chapter and expand what areas of the world you have access to. It's a neat little setup, but it really underlines how little money was put into this game.
Almost every single area and dungeon from Xillia has been recycled (some recycled twice due to the Fractured Dimension version of areas), with only a scarce few new areas in Elympios to explore. The devs must have realized how much this sucked, so now there's less incentive to explore thoroughly, as there are no longer stat-boosting items to be found in treasure chests. Instead, it's mostly monster drops, some money and the odd piece of equipment. As such, there isn't much reason to spend a lot of time in each area outside of hunting down all of the game's lost cats for side quests.
Doing it this way is the better decision, as most of the game's overworld areas are incredibly samey (almost all treasure chests are hidden in semi-obfuscated tunnels, which gets old quick, especially in the recycled areas), but hot damn does it suck to have all of these assets go to waste like this. Having to go through these areas again really shines a light on how lacking the level design was in Xillia, but at least progress is quick should you want it to be. Hell, you can even freely teleport now.
Side quests come in a few forms, but the most notable ones are the previously mentioned character quests, where each party member usually tags along to destroy a Fractured Dimension which just so happens to be relevant to what they're up to following the end of Xillia. Then you have monster extermination quests, which are basically mandatory, since they are your best source of money.
Beyond that, there are randomized "kill X enemies in Y area" quests, plus ones where you need to procure a set of items. These items are easiest to get through the game's Kitty Dispatch system, where you send the game's mascot Rollo and his legion of cats to search an area while you're playing the game normally. Since each quest tells you what area items are found in, it's not very hard to procure them as long as you've found enough cats in your travels to increase your chances. A lot of the time, I found myself already having the items needed, but a lot of them still rotted away in my inventory due to some changes I'll get to in the next section.
Lastly, I just want to point out how nice the postgame content is. Usually in this series, you're just presented with a really grindy extra dungeon with some weird gimmick (which is certainly the case here as well), but there's more at play than simply grinding your way through said dungeon slowly. You're also meant to pay off the debt, which you can do by engaging in respawned super versions of bosses, which just so happen to be a very good way to level grind, thus giving you a better chance to survive in the postgame dungeon.
But you can only bring party members with enough affection there (save for one freebie due to a special accessory), which means you need to procure a lot of friendship potions. This can either be done by getting rewards for paying off the debt or by playing cards. But if you get far enough in the postgame dungeon, you can get special items that help you cheat at the card table.
Everything just feeds into itself in some manner, which is very welcome. I still didn't get far in the postgame, since it's still rather grindy, but it's certainly better than what you usually get in these games.
Due to what I assume is an effort to even out the difficulty curve and make sure the player can't screw themselves over nor game the system, all of the character progression systems from Xillia have been removed.
Instead of the Lilium Orb, each character now has an Allium Orb, which functions completely differently. Whereas the Lilium Orb is a more competent and interesting Spehere Grid, the Allium Orb is a bit more akin to the Capacity Cores from Tales of the Abyss, only less restrictive. Each orb has to be assigned an elemental extractor, which dictates what element collected elemental ore will turn into for each party member. Once enough ore of a certain element has been collected (through combat or random treasure), a support skill or an art will be unlocked (or upgraded).
It's a fine enough system for unlocking artes and skills (stats are now gained automatically by leveling), but in comparison to the Lilium Orb I like it less. And that's for the simple reason that it's more difficult to plan character growth, since you can only see a few upcoming abilities when assigning extractors and only one character can use each extractor. So unless you know what elements lead to what abilities, it's better to just round everyone out so you gain as many abilities as possible per point of ore.
The shop leveling system has also been axed in favour of new items being unlocked as you get access to new towns like is common for the genre. So now you don't have a use for all the loot you pick up, nor can you make decisions of what types of items you want greater access to. They even went out of their to heavily restrict access to exp-boosting food, as the only way to buy it is in the postgame.
I suppose my second playthrough of Xillia where I heavily invested in exp food and basically only fought bosses wasn't their intent, but I know I enjoyed having a use for all the items clotting up my inventory. There is a crafting system in place to try and replace the shop leveling, but it's not as immediately useful, though there is some decent stuff one can make from time to time, especially in the postgame.