Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
After waiting nearly two years more than our Japanese friends, we Western gamers have finally got our hands on one of the most eagerly awaited RPGs of recent memory. But was it worth the wait?
Tales of Xillia takes you on a journey with Milla Maxwell, a spirit deity in human form, and Jude Mathis, a young student, as they try to stop a corrupt king using a deadly weapon in a war he's desperately trying to start.
As with any RPG worth its salt, more party members are added to your group throughout the adventure. There's Alvin the mercenary, Rowen the old and wise, Elize the child with strong magical abilities and Leia who specialises in staff combat and crushing hard on Jude. The story takes an age to get going and sometimes the dialogue is winceworthy cheesey, but over the course of time, all of the characters become more nuanced and interesting.
At the start of the game, you choose to play as Jude or Milla, apparently giving you the story from different perspectives. Actual differences are minimal though and you can swap between characters in battle at will anyway.
While the merry group of travellers tick all the RPG boxes, there's just no excuse for Milla's hair. It's just a nightmare, looking like a collision between a paintshop and a tornado, with that scene from There's Something About Mary thrown into the mix too.
The voice-over work is a little over-enthusiastic at times as you just wish some of them would dial it down a little. Well, except for Milla, who for most of the story comes off as quite dull thanks to her deity status. She doesn't show much emotion, if she had a penis she'd be Keanu Reeves. There's no option to use the original Japanese track, but that means you can enjoy the frankly hilarious lisp that Milla has on every ‘S’ sound. It doesn't sound intentional; it's just so bizarre that you'll listen for it constantly. You'll definitely laugh more than you should about it.
Visually, the game is bright and colourful throughout, although it can feel a little plain. It's not quite the full-on anime style of Ni No Kuni and is a long way off the gorgeous-looking Final Fantasy XIII games. It took 17 hours for the game to show me an anime cutscene, so they’re not exactly abundant. But for what it lacks in presentation and unimpeded voice actors, it makes up for everywhere else in the game, although you'll need a bit of patience to get into the groove of things.
Before battle, enemies are visible in the world (no random encounters here) and can easily be avoided if you're just passing through. Approach from behind and they'll be dazed at the start, approach silently and they'll start with less HP.
Combat is initially quite baffling for anyone who hasn't played any of the recent Tales game. Fights take place in real time, with full movement around the circled zone allowed. You have a number of AC (Assault Counter) turns to attack with at once. They replenish quickly though, you can keep combos going quite freely.
Basic melee attacks are dished out with the X button, but it’s the Artes skills that will test your abilities and memory. Artes involve everything from casting offensive / defensive spells to extended melee combos and other special moves. Artes cost TP, which replenish in battle with the use of standard attack moves. It's a fair system that allows you to use Artes with reckless abandon. Or fun, as we like to call it.
The Artes themselves are initially activated with the circle button and a directional push on the left stick. Holding circle during the input gives you a variation of the spell too. Artes can also be assinged to the right stick for a quick flick in battle, although you lose the secondary ability choice without the circle button. Later in the game, you can assign even more choices by holding L1 while pushing an analogue stick.
It sounds complicated and it often is. Analogue inputs aren't as reliable as you'd wish as I often cast the wrong Arte by being slightly off with a push of the stick. Frankly, I think assiging them to the face buttons would have been better.
However, you do get used to it and the points needed to cast Artes replenish so quickly it's not a big issue using the wrong one every now and then. Hell, they're all working towards knocking numbers off an enemy’s health bar.
Remembering where you've assigned these Artes is a tough ask though, especially when you have 16 loaded at once. There's no on-screen representation of what's where. Tiny icons in the corner or something similar like we've seen in other action RPGs or console dungeon crawlers would have made life easier. But the combat has such a smooth flow to it (although you can just waggle the sticks to win) that it's constantly engaging.
Linking is a new feature to the Tales series. In battle, a push of the d-pad tethers you to an ally, unlocking special Linked Artes moves when using certain Artes. Like the others Artes, it's a nightmare trying to remember what moves link with whom, especially when you're constantly unlocking new ones. Just keep an eye out for the button prompt.
You can control any of your teammates directly, although swapping between them is a seriously clunky affair, tying your fingers up in knots. Some characters are melee focused while others specialise in spells or supporting from the back. Spellcasters feel a bit stiff, so you may get more satisfaction from melee types like Jude, Milla and Alvin. The AI’s tactics can be tweaked to provide a reliable and balanced team.
Earning EXP in Tales of Xillia is seriosuly addictive thanks to the constant rewards. With each level passed you can spend points in a character’s Lilliam Orb, a web of unlocks that will remind many of you of Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid.
This is better though becuase you're not forced to unlock parts you don't want to get the good stuff. Each point buys an orb on the web-like chart. These points build up individual stats like strength, inteligence, HP and so on. Get all the orbs in a segment of the web and you'll unlock the orb in the middle of it. These are usually Artes moves or a skill like combat buffs, extra XP and so on. There are so many of them, you're frequently spoiled for choice.
Characters earn generous amounts of EXP even when not in battle (you can add them to the party mid-battle by the way) so nobody gets left behind as you progress. With six people in your group, it can be time consuming sorting out their unlocks, but it's compelling and really helps you get a feel for how the characters are growing.
Replaying areas never really feels like grinding and this is in large thanks to the items scattered everywhere. Item sacks regenerate when you leave an area and many of these items can be donated to the shops to level them up for discounts and unlock more items to buy. In each town, specific item groups may have double EXP rewards for donating. It just goes to show, stick an EXP bar on something and we'll level it up. Seriously though, RPG fans, collectors, completionists, magpies - you're all going to love this game.
The excellent fast-travel system and abundance of side-missions are fantastic for fleshing out the game. Sure, they're generic fetch/kill quests for the most part, but they give you better incentives and context than regular grinding. Some missions are multi-parters though, with a later-unlocked location eventually allowing you to continue. There's a strong community of followers on the web though if you're looking for a certain item or info.
Speaking of other players, you can play the game with a friend locally, but not online. There's quite a lot going on for one screen, but having a friend drop in for a bit can be fun.
After watching Final Fantasy consistently fail this generation, Tales of Xillia has come in and reminded me why RPGs can be so absorbing. It's ended the summer drought in style and should be picked up immediately. Even more so if late August's busy release schedule has you struggling to decide what to buy. By the time you've finished this, the other games will be at least a tenner cheaper.
- So much to do
- Levelling up is consistantly rewarding
- Fun combat...
- ...Although the analogue inputs can misfire
- Not much of a looker
- Story and characters are a bit generic
The Short Version: Tales of Xillia was well worth the wait. Despite the more action-orientated combat, the game feels like a true JRPG experience. Packed with environments, hidden items, side-missions and moreish levelling up systems, you'll be hooked for at least 50 hours.