What I'm Playing - No. 164
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Have no fear, I’ve kept things spoiler-free in this post.
Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Tales of Arise (PS5)
For 300 years, the people of the planet Dahna have lived in slavery to the Renans, a race of vastly more technologically advanced people from the nearby planet Rena. You are just one more Dahnan slave, doomed to live and die in slavery. Unable to remember your real name, people call you Iron Mask due to the mask that had been permanently locked onto your head for as long as you can remember. But in a twist of fate, you encounter a Renan woman named Shionne, and join up with a small band of Dahnan rebels. Through this chance encounter, you finally have a glimmer of hope: a chance to live a life free of Renan rule. And, you finally remember your true name: Alphen.
Tales of Arise is the 17th main entry in the Tales series, and released in 2021 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. I’ve played my fair share of games in the series, but I hadn’t played an entry in the series since finishing Tales of Berseria, the previous game, back in 2018. I was really looking forward to getting into a Tales game again, so I picked up Tales of Arise on PS5 and it did not disappoint!
At the core of the game is a fantastic, fast-paced battle system. It feels like another natural evolution of the action battle system from the previous Tales game. It forgoes the old Technical Points (TP) system for using skills and spells and instead each character has an Artes Gauge (AG) they consume for special attacks that automatically regenerates over time. The battle system also has always-on free-running instead of having you hold a button to free-run around the battle arena like in the earlier games. Other new additions include the ability to jump freely in and outside of combat, making it easier than ever to start aerial combos, and a dodge button you can use to evade attacks at the last second and enter a brief slo-mo period where you have the opportunity to launch a counterattack. Also, healing spells now consume Cure Points (CP), which are shared by the entire party, and you use Orange gels and other similar items used to restore them. There are a few more kinds of attacks that help spice up battles too: Boost Attacks, where you summon one of your party members to deliver a priority attack, and each party member’s attack is especially effective against specific kinds of enemies, and Boost Strikes, which can be triggered once you’ve built up a long enough combo against an enemy at low health, instantly defeating them. All of this combines to create very enjoyable battles. Despite the number of mechanics, they never felt overwhelming, and battles have a great rhythm. It’s a blast stringing together long combos against enemies, and the new dodge roll is a nice addition too!
In addition to a great battle system, Tales of Arise also has a great cast of characters. I won’t spoil any of the story, but they all experience satisfying character development over the course of the game. Plus, the dynamics between party members in this game are really interesting. I mentioned Alphen and Shionne in the intro. They’re the first two characters you’ll get in your party, and a prime example of the interesting dynamics because as a Dahnan and Renan respectively, they hate each other. But, Alphen is the only one who can wield the Blazing Sword, the physical manifestation of the power of Shionne’s Fire Master Core, so like it or not, they’re stuck with each other. Seeing how their views of one another evolve as the story progresses was very satisfying, and the other characters in your party have similar struggles.
I love this cast of characters, they’re probably one of my favorites in the entire Tales franchise. I think part of that is that I’m familiar with some of the English voice actors from other video games, so hearing their voices again was cool. Erica Lindbeck voices Shionne, she’s voiced characters in a bunch of games I’ve played, but her roles as Magilou in Tales of Berseria and Futaba in Persona 5 come to mind first. Christine Marie Cabanos voices Rinwell, who I knew as the voice of Hapi in the Cindered Shadows DLC for Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and Chiaki in Danganronpa 2. Bryce Papenbrook voices Law, but I know him best as Makoto Naegi from Danganronpa. Lastly, there’s Ray Chase, who voices Alphen. The only video game character I knew he voiced prior to this was the Subway Announcer in Persona 5, but while researching for this video I learned that he also voiced Artorius in Tales of Berseria too. The more you know!
In classic JRPG fashion, when you’re not in battle, you’re exploring towns and overworld areas. Exploration is simple, but fun. It helps that the visuals here are gorgeous, with vibrant colors, and a sort of watercolor effect applied to distant terrain. I mentioned it briefly earlier, but you can now jump freely while exploring. Sometimes you’ll have to make a running jump over a small gap to reach an optional treasure chest, but otherwise there’s not any platforming to worry about, and the jump is mostly just a fun novelty and a fast way to get down from high places.
There’s another JRPG staple here that I really enjoyed: a fishing mini-game! You unlock it mid-way through the game, and once I had it unlocked I spent quite a while fishing. The mechanics of the mini-game are pretty simple, you choose a spot to fish, press a few buttons to lure the fish in, and once they’re hooked you have to react quickly to keep them on the line and wear down their stamina meter until its empty. When you’ve hooked a fish, this battle music starts up, it’s pretty funny. It helps give fishing this over-the-top feeling, and this is especially true when you run into what the game calls “Boss Fish,” which have 2 health bars and can be especially challenging if you’re not prepared, demanding absolute focus to reel them in.
Skits, a staple of the Tales series for many games now, return with some changes in presentation. In previous games, skits were told using 2D character portraits and illustrations, but in Tales of Arise, the 3D character models are used during skits instead. The HD models look great, of course, and they’re framed in manga style panels. The 3D models probably even allow for more range of expression than the original 2D skits did. All in all, they look good, but it’s definitely a departure from series convention, and some fans might miss the old form of skits. Personally, I was a little skeptical of them at first, but I grew to enjoy them just as much as always. If I had one critique of how skits are used in Tales of Arise, it’s that there might be a few too many of them. In some areas, you would literally watch one skit only for another one to pop up as soon as the first one was over. Most of them are optional, so you don’t have to watch them when the button prompt pops up, but I felt obligated to view them all whenever they became available.
Tales of Arise is a big game. I went out of my way to complete every side quest available to me before finishing the main story, and because of that, my final time when the credits rolled was 63 hours 8 minutes. After finishing the game, I was still keen to play a bit more, and Tales of Arise has you covered there too, offering a New Game+ mode as well as a few post-game dungeons and side quests that unlock after you load your cleared save file. I happily dove into those, and after finishing them and a few other things to unlock the platinum trophy, my final time was just over 71 hours. I really enjoyed Tales of Arise, it’s another great entry in the Tales series. If you’re a fan of JRPGs and/or action RPGs, I definitely recommend giving Tales of Arise a shot!