The Tales series has always lived in a weird JRPG limbo. The first title in this saga of Bandai Namco it was released in 1995 on Super Famicom and was confined to Japan for a few years, before arriving in the 2000s with Tales of Eternia. Its supporting pillars are three. Action combat in real time instead of in turns, focus on the characters and their evolution and a very particular use of cliche like that, focusing on them subversion and analysis rather than on their use in a more direct way. Yet he never broke through, remaining in the B series, behind Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest.
The hard core of lovers of the series has always appreciated these characteristics. If I had to sort out my favorite characters from JRPG, most of them would be drawn from the various Tales played over the years. What has always held back the series a bit has been the budget and technical development. With Tales of Arise the series takes a huge leap from this point of view and maintains the other strengths of the series unchanged, arriving at a very balanced whole, excellent for taking the series into the future.
From cliché storm to deconstruction
Tales of Arise is therefore the seventeenth main chapter, available for Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Series S / X and PC. It has already exceeded one million copies and is the most played Tales ever on all platforms, a sign that the marketing campaign and the final product have impressed players in a positive way.
If I tried to give a summary, an incipit of the story, it may seem to you as generic as possible. For the past 300 years, the inhabitants of the planet Dahna have suffered the slavery of the most advanced inhabitants of Rena. Until, a young boy with his face covered with an iron mask without memory will not join forces with an extremely high-class beautiful damsel tsundere to overturn the established order, recovering along the way other anime clichés to add to the group.
The premise therefore seems already written. The bold heroes will defeat the oppressors by restoring freedom to their land. This path, however, is not at all easy. The game will not use any restraint in showing every possible facet of the relationship between different levels of slavery and oppression, analyzing multiple reasons for existence. Each event will bounce on the group of heroes based on their personality and the constant confrontation is what will allow them to grow and evolve over the course of history. Not even very strong judgments are forced, but introspection and asking the right questions are encouraged, remaining steadfast in one's ideals but aware that it takes effort to see them implemented in order to work.
Lots of words
And the Tales make this much easier thanks to their “skits” narrative technique. In virtually all other producers' JRPGs, characters express themselves during dialogue scenes. Scenes that in addition to being written must also be programmed, consuming resources for the game. Hence, the creative team has the arduous task of selecting the highlights to reveal the personality and character of each character. The Tales have always combined the classic solutions with low-cost scenes, simply composed of an artwork and lots of text.
In Tales of Arise we observe the general technical leap, with these scenes that go to fish the 3D models of the game and appear as a sort of dynamic cartoon, but the resulting effect is the same: increases the empathy effect with the protagonists of the adventure. Does anything happen in the main story? The characters will have to think about. A strange side quest? Other reflections. Are you simply traveling from one point to another? Time to chat about various things. This is also a bit of what changes between a friend with whom we hear every day, with whom we talk about everything and compare us often, compared to someone we only hear sporadically online. Both can be valid friendships, but one is deeper than the other. And the result is a more complex, integrated, connected world.
To this is added the usual desire of the team to go and touch horror, human situations on the verge of despair, to see where cruelty can be pushed and put our heroes in front of selfish choices or not really a "good legal champion. ”, All seasoned with twists able to overturn the entire narrative perspective. In Tales of Arise, however, there is a glimmer of hope. A kind of more positive view, a bit in contrast to their latest titles which were tending towards a much more pessimistic view of the classic story arc.
Those who have played many titles in the series will find many references, many themes that are re-proposed and reworked in a different perspective. A sort of "summary" chapter, as if it were a celebration of the series to restart and move forward full of energy. Those who approach the series for the first time will find one good mature and modern anime story great cast brought to life by valid dubbing in both Japanese and English.
Beatings and explosions
A JRPG is not just story and characters, but combat as well. The Tales have always stood out with their real-time action system and Tales of Arise is no exception. Each chapter has improved the feel and the showmanship, but Arise is a truly remarkable step forward. The main credit goes to the technical platform used. The Unreal Engine 4 allows you to launch a large amount of particles and special effects on the screen, as well as manage much more complex and fluid animations and support much higher framerates.
Here then is that fight at 144fps with responsive controls for the genre, explosions everywhere, souls screams of the attacks carried out is a total pleasure and in itself never tires, it is always galvanizing. Four characters are brought into battle, three of which are entrusted to artificial intelligence and one under the direct command of the player, but it is also possible to leave him to the AI and just watch what happened, intervening only when needed. Each character has their own fighting style and you can find their own preferences, but the basic mechanics are shared among all.
Each has a limited number of basic attacks available that serve as a forerunner and conjunction to the execution of special techniques, both melee and magic. These consume a resource that regenerates quickly in battle. Having to have mana recovery potions for your attackers is now an element destined to exist in the past. Tales of Arise is a constant offensive with a few moments of pause. Only healing spells are limited by a restorable pool of energy only with very expensive specific rests or items. The system try to fight intelligently giving the ability to dodge, an interaction between ground and air attacks and taking advantage of super moves that charge over time to counter the enemy's special and telegraphed attacks.
This is combined with the ultimate goal of creating an "infinite" combo using these techniques to switch from one character to another to reset the counters and continue. The main flaw is the constant chaos on the battlefield which defeats many of these clever gambling attempts. This is joined by the extremely "spongy" nature of the enemies, which have a significant amount of life points.
This leads to continuing the adventure or trying to complete the game at maximum difficulty to a kind of boredom that takes over when the expected duration of the battle is exceeded. I am of the opinion that a better numerical balance would have greatly facilitated some sections of the game and its pleasantness throughout its duration.
Spongebob is only good as a cartoon
To stay above the difficulty curve you need to manage the growth of the party well. The secondary missions, almost all fetch and kill quests unfortunately, are used to accumulate money and skill points. The former are used to buy healing items for battles and together with the materials collected around to forge new weapons. Armor can be found around the world exploring alternate dungeon paths. And the experience to level up and learn devastating new techniques comes from downed monsters. They are all systems that fit together and contribute to the pace of the game, which is not always so well balanced.
The point where perhaps it is possible to meet a few different opinions is on the realization of the world. We are not faced with an open world, nor to a world map system, but to a series of embellished corridors in a masterly way from the detail put on display thanks to the use of the Unreal Engine. The result is certainly extremely pleasing to the eye, but the size of the world is extremely compromised, at least from my point of view. In theory we travel vast distances between one area of the plot and another, but this feeling of vastness is lost. This sadly is also reflected in the dungeon design, where the more intricate and puzzle-filled layouts of the old Tales don't return, in favor of much easier to crack systems. This design, however, goes very well with the general simplicity of use and practicality of the whole product. Fast travel, GUI clarity, quest tracking convenience. We are in the present.
Really few defects can be attributed to the presentation jump by Tales of Arise. Graphically it is nothing exceptional considering the other contemporary productions, but it is modern and does not look bad in front of any other JRPG. Support for framerates up to 144fps is great for PC gamers, but there are a couple of issues to report. The first is the far too close render distance. The NPCs and lots of details appear at very close distances. Attempts to modify this through modding have resulted in huge performance drops. The other negative point is the absence of 21: 9 support on PC. I understand that they are Japanese games, but come on, we are in 2021.
But I haven't found any bugs. It seems like a miracle such a thing, but the game is spotless.
However, I would say that the strengths of this production are now clear. It's a JRPG that narratively hits all the right spots explosive combat system and galvanizing that tires a bit going towards the end game and in the end offers an excellent single player experience, with a strong focus, without getting lost in bullshit, capable of keeping you busy for about forty hours with a respectable audiovisual sector . He deserves the success he is experiencing and aspires to the podium of the series without problems.
But we haven't talked about the most important thing of all. The fluff mascot. That cute little animal that more or less Japanese productions love to take with them in one way or another. And I believe that Tales of Arise has made such a total center to please EVERYONE. Hootle is the coolest thing ever. 12/10, would game again.