The Playstation 3 is well on course to becoming the essential hardware for those in the West that have a craving for Japanese role playing video-games. The latest offering comes courtesy of Namco Bandai Games. Tales of Xillia is an important title in the Tales of series since it has been over 15 years since the first title was released.
Combat in Tales of Xillia is similar to other Tales of entries that were released in the West. Basically there are fields or dungeons to explore. Within these lie all different kinds of monsters and other enemy types to fight. Starting a fight is as easy as colliding with an enemy – since enemies are always visible. There are no random encounters here that would have otherwise meant having to go through many random fights.
Instead, it is possible to simply avoid many of the fights with weaker enemies. Not that they don’t give chase but the characters are very good at evading. On a basic level, combat consists of using a character’s trademark fighting style. One of the initial characters, Jude, is able to make use of martial art style moves. Each character can only use a specific amount of moves(Assault Counter) in a row. It emphasises the fact that it’s necessary to think before attacking enemies. Try to make use of abilities such as running around the field to gain the upper hand and so on.
Each of the characters also has a mana lobe that enables them to use spirit artes. Spirit artes are stronger than normal attacks but also make use of TP(Technique Points). Fortunately in Xillia, it’s possible to regain TP by simply dealing damage with normal attacks or just using recovery items. This delicate balance means that players are encouraged to make use of both ways of fighting – since one compliments the other.
Each Tales of video-game usually has some sort of unique new idea and Xillia is no exception. Two characters can make use of their special Lilium Orbs – more on this later – to link up when fighting. Linking up makes it possible to benefit from features such as sharing HP(Hit Points) recovery and the benefits of certain skills(activated with skills points). What’s even better is that linking with each character has a different special effect. It’s a fantastic idea to ensure that characters work together to defeat enemies.
This is particularly beneficial during some of the boss battles where the linked character may for example provide a distraction. Linked characters also fill up a gauge, when dealing damage with normal attacks, that will make it possible to use linked artes. It’s necessary to fill up the gauge to a certain point before using a linked arte and pressing the trigger when an on-screen prompts appears, but it’s worth it since it deals a significant amount of damage. Fully filling the gauge will result in being able to activate the Over Limit and have access to powerful Arcane Artes.
The only downside to linked artes is how difficult it is to activate them sometimes. There are times when the gauge is sufficiently filled, but a linked arte can only be used when the next segment is filled. It’s quite difficult to perform linked artes with some characters, since the artes that activate it don’t exactly go as well together in the middle of a fight. There is also the fact that limiting the number of arts that connect to linked arts results in starting to rely on the same combos. Not that linked artes don’t work but it sometimes feel like their use is somewhat restricted.
Experience earned from defeating enemies is used towards levelling up each character. Unusually, each character’s Lilium Orb is used to boost different attributes – by linking up nodes(using points earned upon levelling up) that eventually make a spider web like shape. It gives the option to choose how a character develops based on what nodes are selected. It’s not that difficult to have most nodes active by the end of the journey, but it still makes a huge different to have the freedom to choose how a character develops until the of then.
In fact, role playing fans will feel like they are in customization heaven. There are many types of items to increase character statistics. It literally takes a good few minutes to go through getting each character’s Lilium Orb nodes and so on. However, those who do not care much about statistics can use short-cuts that will automatically make these choices.
Another new idea is the ability to upgrade shops with material or gald(in-game currency). Upgrades unlock more items and reduce prices in each shop. Perhaps the only downside to this is that it makes the concept of working hard for some of the rarer rewards somewhat redundant.
Specially since later upgrades unlock items that were rare in previous Tales of entries. Items are certainly not scarce either with dungeons and fields full of them. It’s not necessarily a bad point since it just means that players can focus more on getting to grips with the combat mechanics and explore the world of Rieze Maxi.
Exploring the world of Rieze Maxi is perhaps one of the best aspects of Xillia. Strangely enough it initially feels limited. However, an hour or so in and the delicate design that was put into place starts to reveal itself. Xillia ditches the typical colourful environments associated with Japanese role playing video-games for a more natural approach. Instead it relies on the unique climate found in each region to demonstrate the link between humans and spirits.
There are a few anime style cut-scenes, but it’s all mostly displayed in-game. Not that it’s a bad sign as the in-game visuals are just as impressive. It’s the subtle use of colour that makes characters stand out. Even in environments, such as a location consisting of several sea falls with protruding stone spikes.
It’s no surprise that the soundtrack is just as minimal as the locations. There are a few exceptions to this, but it makes sense, since music tracks are used to convey the general vibe around each location. But ultimately it’s locations where the music tracks are slower that tend to make an impression.
At times it feels like dungeons don’t take as long to complete as in previous Tales of video-games. However, some of them are far more complex in terms of layout and it proved tricky to find the correct path on a few occasions. The use of accurate sizes for everything in Xillia is an exceptionally good idea. It makes it easier to see just how big the world of Rieze Maxi really is when navigating its various fields. Those that don’t feel compelled to repeatedly move between fields to dungeons and towns can simply jump to a previously visited(depends on story) by using a map.
The story initially revolves around a lance shaped weapon that is based on Spyrix – a device that is killing spirits for their power. This goes against the principle that humans earn artes from spirits by giving them mana. This theme of a delicate balance is one that is prevalent throughout the story. The characters themselves are often conflicted about their opinions on this topic as individuals – and how it affects the group.
It’s only natural for a role playing video-game to focus this much on the story. After all, it is the primary way to make a player feel connected to the world. The characters in Xillia are particularly likeable and each makes a different contribution to the group. It’s interesting to see them develop and deal with individual flaws over the course of the story
Some optional conversations(skits) may seem pointless, but they often reveal information that will give the player a better understanding behind character actions within the story. For example, Milla(one of two initial characters) tends to react to situations in a peculiar manner, given her limited experience with humans.
The story itself has many twists but yet it never ceases to make sense. Each new chapter brings new revelations, but yet it still feels believable and like it was all part of a grander scheme. The characters are made aware of the fact that there is more at stake in this world that never ceases to amaze.
Not that it means Xillia is completely devoid of any silly interactions. The characters sometimes make jokes at the expense of each other. But deep down, there are various themes that will make the player think about the story. The fact that humanity only seems content when fighting for power – as seen throughout the story.
It certainly feels like the story is the main focus in Xillia. Perhaps this is why it feels like there are steep difficulty spikes when facing certain bosses. Fortunately the ability to change between combat difficulty at any point, means that players can still enjoy everything on offer.
The usual addition of side quests is most welcome. Players can even do this at any point since there are no time limits. In fact, there are even sub-plots and really tough monsters to tackle. There is certainly much to do and the story itself is more than enough to keep players busy for many days. There is also the fact that players can choose to play as Jude or Milla to see the story from a slightly different perspective.
Tales of Xillia demonstrates a commitment to ensure that the Tales of video-games are still relevant after so many years. Perhaps it’s because of how it manages to capture the player’s attention without resorting to typical role playing design ideas. There are a few ideas that don’t work out so well, but it’s still not enough to spoil the overall experience. It may seem too simple, but it’s this subtle approach that makes it impossible to not want to play for hours.
This is easily one of the best role playing experiences so far in 2013, and a reminder that there is still a place for Japanese role playing video-games in the West. Tales of Xillia is certainly a journey that any role playing enthusiastic won’t want to miss out on.