[While this review contains no spoilers for the Beyond the Dawn story, it does describe events following the end of Tales of Arise.]
Even as a lingering fan of the Tales franchise, I was genuinely surprised and delighted with how good Tales of Arise was when it launched back in 2021. It had everything that made the series iconic among genre fans and redeemed a few years of bang-average entries with a compelling story and characters, great combat and a truly gorgeous painterly presentation that remains one of the most wonderful-looking RPGs around.
That said I wasn’t really sure what to think when it was revealed that, over two years since the game first launched, it’d be getting a very belated expansion DLC in the Beyond the Dawn. More Tales of Arise? Yes, please. But it’s not often we see such a big gap between a game and its DLC releasing, and as anyone who’s ever put down a massive RPG and attempted to pick it up years later will attest, it can be a jarring and confusing experience. Luckily, the time I spent playing through Beyond the Dawn has been nothing short of a reminder of how much I loved Tales of Arise.
Let’s get the crucial stuff out of the way first, though. Beyond the Dawn takes place following the ending of the main game, meaning it’s pretty much a necessity that you’ve played through Tales of Arise already. You don’t have to, as the DLC is self-contained and doesn’t carry across any progress from the main game (outside of offering up bonuses for various levels of completion), but you’d be silly to skip straight to it, not to mention very lost.
It also requires that you own the game already or pick it up in a bundle with the DLC, which would have made more sense on a tighter release schedule but immediately presented me with a problem given I’d played Arise via a physical copy that was since packed away in storage. Given the time between and the fact that you’re forced to create a new save file with pre-determined character builds anyway, the option to buy and play Beyond the Dawn as standalone content definitely would’ve been welcome for some.
The expansion picks up a year after Alphen, Shionne and friends thwarted an ancient and destructive force and merged two worlds into one – uniting an authoritarian and self-superior race with an entire planet of its subjects in the process. It’s an immediately interesting premise, the idea of the band of heroes defeating evil and bringing entire worlds together at the close of a story leaving plenty of room to explore how that would actually play out in the aftermath. As it turns out, it’s not so great, with the Renan planet wiped from existence and its people completely displaced, and the native Dahnans understandably reluctant to help rehome their oppressors of 300 years.
Meanwhile, Alphen finds himself stretched thin as the hero of the hour known around the world as The Blazing Sword, now feeling pressured to keep up the work and help as many folks as possible. A chance meeting with a brand-new character, Nazamil, on the way to reunite with the rest of the main game’s party kicks off a new adventure though, and one that (without giving away anything at all) plays on similar themes to the original story while also delving into some genuinely interesting ideas around identity and the slow, dull-edged toll that masking or shrinking themselves can take on those that are “othered” within a community.
Beyond the Dawn plots this course over a roughly 10-12 hour journey that takes place in select areas of the existing world which, while not as numerous as in the main game, do a great job of revisiting familiar places in a new light. There’s plenty new to look at and discover, including some interesting dungeons integral to the plot, and it’s filled with people to chat to about their life in this new age and of course help out with their problems. As far as side quests and activities goes, the DLC does tend to follow the existing blueprint pretty closely (save for one entertaining quest line that leads up to an event we already knew about), but it’s mostly fine.
Combat, as well, doesn’t really do a whole lot to shake up the established formula aside from some added new skill lists and a new level to everyone’s Boost Attack, but when battles were already as exhilarating and visually impressive as Tales of Arise’s, that’s hardly a complaint. The only real gripe I have in that regard is that going from my main game save where everyone was level 100 and had their full suite of skills unlocked to being level 65 and having to go through the skill trees again made progression feel like more a slog than it should’ve. There’s a bunch of new equipment to chase, at least, along with some streamlining to acquiring the necessary crafting materials.
And that’s really the long and short of it. Beyond the Dawn confidently walks a lot of the same paths as the base game, but succeeds by virtue of how good all of that already was. Its gorgeous, watercolour-esque visuals continue to invoke awe, the writing and exploration of its themes is great and combat is still a thrill. All told, it’s also just a really good way to check back in on a wonderful cast of characters and a genuinely interesting world, even if I had to look up a comprehensive YouTube recap before firing it up.
Tales of Arise: Beyond the Dawn is a great way to come back to the excellent 2021 RPG, giving fans the chance to revisit familiar places and faces while also taking a good look at a side of the classic world-saving hero story we don't alway see. It treads a lot of familiar ground, and it's somewhat awkwardly implemented, but it's well worth seeking out for franchise fans and anyone that enjoyed the main game.
More of arguably the best Tales game
Still looks and plays fantastically
Genuinely interesting look at a world post "saving"
Could have been sold as a standalone experience
Slightly awkward integration with reset progression