Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Reviewed by: Bracken Lee-Rudolph
The Tales series is a series with a surprisingly long history, stretching across four separate generations of consoles back to the SNES and original PlayStation consoles, in the fourth and fifth generations respectively, and spawning 14 main series titles to date, and several smaller spin-off titles. Tales of Xillia, surprisingly, is not the newest in this long list of games, but is the most recent to be localised to EU and US regions, having released in Japan in 2011. Instead, Tales of Xillia is the thirteenth title in the franchise, and its sequel, Tales of Xillia 2 – which is due for localisation next year, is the most recent. So is Tales of Xillia a complete enough experience to warrant a purchase after a 2 year life cycle? Or is it past its prime, lamenting its lack of an earlier localised release? Let’s find out in our official Tales of Xillia Review.
The narrative follows the character of Milla Maxwell, a mysterious young woman with spiritual mastery, or Jude Mathis, a young, promising medical student in the city of Fenmont, depending on your choice at the outset of the game, as the pair discovers a military conspiracy in the kingdom of Rashugal which threatens neighbouring lands, its own people and the spirits of the world. Unfortunately, it would be very difficult to go into more detail without spoiling plot points for you, but the narrative is very well written, features a number of iconic landmarks and vibrant characters and progresses at a very well-balanced pace. This allows the player to feel the progression of time and the story to intersperse with the gameplay exceedingly well.
The characters of Tales of Xillia are varied, complex and quite interesting. Milla, undoubtedly the title’s main protagonist, is a very well written character, who steals the show in Tales of Xillia with her superb character arc and personality progression – and given that the entire narrative hinges on her, she is perfectly suited for the role. Jude, an unwitting witness at the beginning of the title, therefore could easily have fallen into a passenger’s role in Tales of Xillia, especially considering his relatively humble background and connection to the plot in comparison to Milla. However, he is another well-written character, becomes an essential travelling companion and grows into quite a full and competent individual. The other characters – voiced NPCs and other travelling companions in the party, all add to the title in their own ways and the story is really quite memorable.
Tales of Xillia manages to mix its serious, intricate plot line quite well with comic relief through the skits, available to view optionally during normal gameplay. These allow the player to see their characters in a far more human light, as the current party will joke and laugh amongst themselves, and you’ll get to learn more about the characters outside of the doom and gloom of the potential end of the world. This breaks a lot of the pervasive tension that builds up throughout the game, and also offers a window into the minds and backgrounds of the characters, which was good, considering how multifaceted the characters are.
The title’s gameplay is split into two parts – combat and exploration. The exploration is quite slow and tedious, as the environments are quite large, while your character is exceedingly slow, but this was only an issue in areas where enemies were sparse or you had to cross large areas with no plot relevance. In towns, this is not a problem as there are often lots of interactive objects, such as stores and quest-givers, and the more tedious part of trekking between locations is eliminated when a fast travel system is added for visiting previously visited locations, meaning that you no longer need to walk through miles of empty space to reach a former quest-giver or location.
The combat, on the other hand, is fast, frenetic and fun. Combat is split between basic physical attacks, which are alternated between by the direction of your analog stick during the attack, and Artes, which are your character’s special abilities and cost TP (Talent points, basically mana). Combat is initiated by running into an enemy in the exploration mode and takes place in a round arena that the player is free to roam around. Strategies may be set so that certain squad members prioritise certain abilities in combat, such as healing or ranged combat. In essence, this is all there is to the combat, minus item use, but the Linking system adds a whole extra dimension to the fighting and makes your fights significantly more tactical.
Linking allows two characters to use their abilities in tandem – allowing for synchronised attacks, protection from critical hits and easier exploitation of enemy weak points. Additionally, Linking allows players to use Linked Artes, which are timed button presses after attacking an enemy with a regular Arte while your teammate is in position, causing a joint Arte attack which inflicts significantly higher damage than normal Artes. These attacks are alternated by using different Artes to start the linked attack or having different characters Linked, and can be chained, leading to massive combos on bosses and high level enemies. Finding the right characters to link together and abilities to use can make combat a formality against even the strongest enemies, although experimenting between different abilities may take a while, as most enemies will die from one hit with a Linked Arte.
Despite the compelling system, the enemies are hilariously imbalanced in terms of their strength. Throughout the game, most average enemies will die with a single hit from a Linked Arte, and some higher level enemies will take two or three to go down. In contrast, the bosses are much more difficult, requiring the constant use of items and Linked skills to even survive and scrape a victory, and often I was woefully unprepared for these difficult characters. Added to the manual save system, an encounter with a difficult enemy can often lead to you losing a significant amount of progress – and even if it doesn’t, you may need to do a significant amount of level grinding before you are strong enough to beat a particular boss. Admittedly, even these encounters became fairly easy when played on the lower difficulties, which I eventually elected to switch down to for the sake of story progression and due to my overwhelming lack of experience in JRPG tactics.
Leveling up is a comprehensive experience which gives you “GP” points to issue to parts of a device called a Lilium Orb to enhance your stats, from Vitality (VIT) to Strength (STR) in a web like structure where each vertical away from the radial structure represents a different skill. As with a web, nodes running concurrent to one another will link and linking four in a rectangular pattern will grant you an added skill or Arte. This encourages you to level up evenly to gain certain skills or buffs, although a characters skills can still be focused to build them for a particular role in your team of characters. Leveling up is a little daunting when you first see the Lilium Orb, but it doesn’t take long to have an idea of what you’re doing and how you want to upgrade your characters and therefore works quite effectively.
Graphically, the anime-inspired art style that the title utilises helps to hide its age. That said, certain textures and set pieces do look slightly dated. However, for the most part the title looks fairly decent, and the architecture of some areas still looks visually impressive – although this is countered by some recycled environments, specifically in the sea-havens. Lastly, the animation of characters in combat and movement is very smooth and looks organic, even if the movement in the game’s non-cinematic cutscenes is quite robotic.
The voice acting on the voiced characters is well done, specifically with the protagonists and companions, and conveys the emotion and intention of the characters’ words effectively, from sarcastic jests to serious arguments. The main issue I had with the sound was the lack of voiced characters (most NPCs communicate solely through text-based conversations) and the massive pauses between character dialogue in cutscenes, which impact immersion quite severely. The soundtrack is lively and energetic and fits the title surprisingly well and the sound effects mix well into the cacophony of sounds during gameplay.
A playthrough of Tales of Xillia should last around 35 hours, with side quests included (which, unfortunately, are mostly arbitrary “Go here, kill this” or fetch quests). Ideally, a player should play two playthroughs of the title – one as Jude and one as Milla, as certain interactions only occur when playing as one or the other. 70+ hours represents a significant investment of time and there is plenty of lasting appeal to this title, from the vibrant environments and architecture to the intriguing characters and their development, to keep you occupied in the title.
Tales of Xillia is a title I wish had released in JP, EU, and US regions concurrently – simply because it is difficult to rate a 2 year old game highly in many technical aspects, least of all graphics. The narrative is excellent and the characters are very well written, especially Milla and Jude, who show visible signs of development and complex, dynamic personalities. The gameplay is quite compelling, especially the Linked combat and user-friendly level-up system, despite unbalanced enemies and an initially daunting experience.
Graphically, the title looks decent, even with 2 years of graphical development since its release. This is largely due to the stylised artistic direction, stylised art direction and intricate architecture, although certain textures and set pieces still look quite dated. The audio thrives on the voice acting, energetic soundtrack and fitting sound effects, but suffers due to a lack of voiced characters and gaps in dialogue. Nevertheless, regardless of its flaws and signs of age, Tales of Xillia is still a very good title, a worthy extension to a long and illustrious franchise and a lot of fun to play.
Lasting Appeal: 8.5/10