Bandai Namco’s Tales series has a long and storied past. Always second fiddle to the Final Fantasies of the world, it nonetheless has a dedicated following for it’s unique approach to action combat in the JRPG genre. After the longest break in releases in the series’ history (the previous game in the series, Tales of Berseria, came out in 2016), Tales of Arise has the weight of a long wait on it’s shoulders. As someone who has only dabbled in Tales in the past but generally loves JRPGs, I found Tales of Arise to be so enjoyable that I’m questioning why I haven’t paid more attention to this series until now.
The first thing that really stands out about about Tales of Arise is the high production value. The whole production looks and sounds like it’s had a lot of care, passion and money poured into it. The game begins with a slick 2D anime introduction sequence, complete with extremely anime intro music, and the high production value continues into the game itself. Characters have interesting designs and are well animated, both in cut-scenes and in-game – some of the fight scene choreography especially was breathtaking. Music beautifully accompanies dramatic reveals, exciting exploring and high-energy battles – running the gamut from orchestral choruses to string laden metal. The pivotal dialogue between major characters is fully voiced and really adds to the energy of any scene. There is far more character pop-in than I’d expect from modern game however, which detracts a bit from an otherwise stellar presentation.
That presentation makes the story of Arise great fun to take in. We begin with a mysterious masked protagonist, without memories or even a name. He lives among a group of people called Dahnans who for three hundred years have been oppressed by a ruling class in their home of Dahna. Dahna is ruled over by the Renans, a group from another planet who have asserted themselves as rulers. He comes across a group of resistance fighters who want to fight back against the Lord that rules over their region, along with a mysterious woman who has her own reasons for wanting to remove the Lord from his perch – and thus begins a tentative alliance.
Arise’s narrative moves at a quick pace, and while you can spend as much time as you like dawdling and pursuing side quests, there is always an exciting development in the overall story just around the corner. Along the way you’ll meet new characters, many of whom play an integral part in your quest, some of whom share your goals enough to join your group for the long haul – each bringing a unique perspective to conversations and the quest overall with their varied motives and interesting backstories. While the story doesn’t explore it’s themes in huge depth, the quick pace means it’s always enticing to see what’s coming next.
The world in which you meet these characters is joyous to explore. Landscapes vary from vast green fields to snowy mountains and intricate cities. Between the safe havens of cities and towns you’ll explore more dangerous areas populated with monsters (curiously names ‘zeugles’) that must be reckoned with to progress. There are no random battles here, so generally fights can be taken at precisely the pace you desire. If you’re feeling more like exploring you can sprint past and avoid battles for the most part – and when you feel like taking on battle after battle, Arise has a smart system to make it worth your while.
Winning battles in quick succession causes you start to building a multiplier for outcomes like experience and items. This means that if you’ve been avoiding battles you can easily make up for lost time by smashing out a bunch of them in quick succession and reaping the benefits of multiplied rewards. It’s a clever system that doesn’t let you avoid battles entirely but lets you have more agency over when you want to engage in them.
And engage in them you will. The battle system is reasonably straightforward but requires some skill and understanding to take full advantage of. Battles are fast paced and have you control your party in real-time action. You directly control one character, while the AI controls the others according to your preference. You can use one of a few pre-defined useful behaviour patterns like focusing on attacking or healing – or you can go super in-depth and define more specific parameters about when you want characters to use certain abilities or items. You can even limit the pool of abilities your characters can use so they focus on exactly the ones you need in any situation.
Battles are kinetic and action-packed. Your character has a standard attack, a dodge that allows for a quick counter when timed perfectly and an array of special ‘artes’ mapped to the face buttons. Each has different effects on the enemy you’re attacking, and costs energy to use. Your other party members can be called upon to unleash a Boost Attack as well, which can turn the tide of battle by stunning an enemy or breaking it’s attack – while also recharging your artes. Using all of these abilities in concert is key to success – and it’s a winning formula for battles that are exciting to play, if more than a little chaotic when more than a few enemies are involved.
Thankfully even during the most intense of battles, performance was smooth, with nary a stutter to be found. I found the difficulty on Normal to be just right for me. Some bosses necessitated a few tries, but generally they could be overcome by changing up my equipment or taking mental notes on how to break certain attacks. Difficulty is adjustable at any time, so if you prefer an easier time in combat or extra challenge it’s just a menu away.
I came away from Tales of Arise with a new appreciation for the Tales series. I loved my time with the endearing cast of characters and the exciting, fast-paced story alongside the energetic and action-packed battles. Tales of Arise is an excellent action RPG, and a fantastic entry point into the series.