Console, Gaming, PlayStation, Review

Tales of Arise Review: Come for the Graphics, Stay for the Skits

Tales of Arise is one of those games you want to take your time with, which is why we’re only publishing our review of the game now. After all, if we rush through Arise, we won’t be able to watch all of the skits available in the game – more on this further down this review. Now then, let’s get to it!

When we were first introduced to the next iteration of the Tales series at E3 2019, the trailer of Tales of Arise showcased superior scale, detail, and overall graphical prowess in comparison to 2016’s Tales of Berseria. While the latter contained some of the darkest tones the series had yet to offer, the art style of Arise seemed like it would give its predecessor a run for its money.

Initially set to launch in 2020 – before the unsolicited arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic – the game was inevitably pushed back to 10 September 2021. Despite being fashionably late for the series’ 25th anniversary, the hype for Tales of Arise never truly subsided. If anything, expectations could not be higher, especially for fans of the long-running series.

Like most other games in the Tales series, Arise is a standalone entry. There is no need to play any of the previous titles in order to understand the plot or mechanics of this game. The game starts with an introduction of two neighboring planets: Dahna and Rena. Rena, the more technologically-advanced of the two, invades and pillages Dahna of its resources, robbing the Dahnans of their dignity and freedom.

After successfully enslaving Dahna, the Renans introduced five “Lords,” each representing a region that controls a specific element, to govern and keep things in check (read: rule with an iron fist). The only role of unwilling Dahnan slaves was to harvest astral energy, a source of power quantifying the rule of the Five Lords. Such has been the way for 300 hundred years – until now.

Enter Iron Mask, a Dahnan slave donning an iron mask with no recollection of his past (of course he’s conveniently amnesiac, right?) and no sense of pain. He soon meets Shionne, a gun-slinging Renan woman with a past as mysterious as his own.

What’s her quirk you ask? Well, she’s been somehow cursed with “thorns” all her life – a prickly and deadly jolt of energy that activates when she is touched. That’s right, our first two characters are a man that feels no pain and a woman that deals pain to those that touch her – how quaint.

Despite coming from two different worlds, the duo set out to defeat the five Lords in order to obtain their Master Cores – an object that harnesses astral energy and a source of power for the Lords. Shionne believes that obtaining the Master Cores will somehow lift her curse of “thorns.”

Iron Mask, on the other hand – who soon remembers he went by “Alphen” – is just happy to take down the Renan oppressors, while also finding out more about himself while he’s at it. And thus, their journey begins. The first region due for liberation is Calaglia – a fiery dominion with rocky terrain as far as the eye can see. No, really. That’s mostly what Calaglia is, rocks upon rocks.

In the months leading up to the release of Arise, teasers and gameplay of the game flaunted a more “open-world” setting. While it was then confirmed that the game would follow a more traditional, linear gameplay, the farther draw distance and detail within the environments still look plenty stunning. Playing through it myself, that certainly held true…for later parts of the game at least. Back to Calaglia for now.

The first area we’re introduced to in the game is monotonous to say the least. One can argue that that might aid in putting the players in the shoes of a petty Dahnan slave like Alphen, aka Iron Mask. But to me, it made getting through the early exposition via dialogue and talking to NPCs in the area feel like a slog.

I persevered till I arrived at the second region, only to find a similar flavor of…bland. Luckily, it’s the region that followed that I was finally given a taste of eye candy. But stunning flora and fauna aren’t the only feast for the eyes in Tales of Arise.

Character models are now incredibly detailed as well, from their different hairstyles down to the details on their outfits. Speaking of outfits, costume packs are available in the form of DLCs. Alternate outfits are a staple in Tales games to spice things up and play dress-up once in a while, but I actually prefer the default outfits for once.

It also doesn’t help when the game reminds you that DLCs are available in several of its menus and again when you’re resting at a campfire after a long day of fighting Zeugles – the monsters you face while travelling across Dahna.

Combat in Tales of Arise isn’t all that different from previous entries. Zeugles roam the map and the battle commences when you walk into them or vice versa. On the battlefield, you’re able to walk around, jump and dodge freely. In order to dish out the most damage, the goal here is to string together the longest combo of hits possible with normal attacks and special skills called Artes.

What’s unique about the combat system this time around is that each character has a very specific role. Alphen, who you will likely be using most of the time, deals heavy damage while sacrificing some of his HP, while Shionne specialises in taking down aerial enemies. Other characters you meet later in the game have skills that can break enemies’ shields or ground them in place for other party members to attack.

These specialised attacks (or Boost Attacks as they’re called in-game) can be triggered once the Boost Gauge at the bottom left of the combat screen is filled all the way for that specific character. You generally want to save Boost Attacks for specific scenarios that call for such attacks; Shionne for flying enemies, for example.

However, most of the time spent in combat consists of mashing and linking together normal attacks and Artes. This can get…messy at times. In Shonen anime fashion, the characters tend to shout the names of their attacks when executing them, couple that with some motivational lines and quips that some characters express during combat. This makes the whole battle experience rowdy and convoluted.

That being said, this is still the flashiest Tales game yet, and some of these Artes are a spectacle to look at, even on the 164th time I’ve used them. But in terms of flashiness, Boost Strikes probably take the cake. Boost Strikes are tag-team finishers that can be triggered when performing a long chain of attacks that fill up a gauge or when the enemy is low on HP.

It’s a little difficult to get used to the combat system in the beginning of the game, and it doesn’t help that Arise slowly reveal more combat mechanics as you progress with the main story. Anyway, the boss battles and Gigant Zeugles – a huge Zeugle type that handsomely rewards you for beating one – are the more challenging parts of the game.

In fact, it’s almost funny how much harder these battles are compared to normal enemies. Not only is there a much, much larger HP pool to deplete, boss attacks are also ridiculously more painful. There’s almost no need to use any healing or revival items in normal encounters, but you might find yourself going through your entire inventory of supplies in boss battles.

Of course, as long as you are not under-leveled, and you have been crafting and finding good equipment, combat in Arise can be fun and fulfilling when you chain together a flurry of attacks or time a Boost Attack just right.

But the highlight of the Tales series has never been the combat mechanics, or the overarching story. The latter has always been about a world-ending threat, the main character going through a trauma brought about by their past, then overcoming said trauma and saving the world – for the most part anyway. No, the real gem in the Tales series are the characters and the interactions between them.

After Shionne, the next character to join your ragtag “Dahna-liberation squad” is Rinwell – a young Dahnan mage who possesses the ability to wield astral Artes. Then comes Law, a young man who prefers to let his fists do the talking; Dohalim, an artsy Renan aristocrat; and last but certainly not least, the fan-favourite (and wholesome “waifu”) Kisara.

One thing that stands out with the characters in Tales of Arise is how mature and believable their problems are. The internal struggles they face are relatable, and pep-talk received from other characters are also credibly motivating. These interactions mostly take place in the form of skits, which are short cutscenes of dialogue between characters that have been a staple in the Tales series.

Skits can be triggered when you reach several locations, or as you progress through the game. While you definitely do not want to miss a single one of them, it is incredibly easy to overlook them. Aside from a faint chime, only a tiny pop-up at the very bottom of the screen will let you know that a skit is available to view.

One very neat touch though is that characters will still be seen with their costumes during skits. Sure, it’s not exactly a groundbreaking feature, but it definitely helps with the overall continuity of the game, so to speak.

The aforementioned maturity presented within Arise also extends to character development as well. We naturally find out later in the story that there’s more to the Renans and Dahnans than meets the eye; characters that reacted a certain way to the opposing race change their stance accordingly too.

Mature themes that the game explores such as racism, hierarchal power, and death, are topics very much relevant to our own world – it’s quite a change of pace from typical JRPG tropes. The saying, “it’s about the journey, not the destination,” holds incredibly true for Tales of Arise as the destination….isn’t really something to write home about.

But the journey, especially with good company, is a memorable one with several twists and turns along the way.

So is the game worth picking up? If you have yet to try any of the Tales games, the “next-gen” graphics – as I only reviewed the game on the PS4 Pro – and mature themes of Tales of Arise make it likely the best one to get into right now.

If you’re after more anime-esque characters, or just want a story with more depth, previous titles like Tales of Berseria and Tales of Symphonia (though they are much older titles) are ones to try out.

Li Jin Soh contributed to this review.

Tales of Arise is now available on PS4 (played on PS4 Pro), PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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