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Review: Tales of Xillia

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Teepo approved.

The Tales of series has been a rather odd one for me to dip into. From Symphonia to Vesperia, and to some extent the Abyss as well, these games have reeled me in with their gorgeous artwork, interesting premise and quirky battle systems. For a short time, at least.

Even though these games were plenty fun, none of them managed to keep my attention long enough to develop much of an interest the series. This is definitely down to how easily distracted I can get, whether it’s a new game or a shiny car to chase, there’s usually something that will block me from getting further in a game than I might have liked.

So this was a genuine worry of mine as I popped Tales of Xillia into my PS3. Praise had been pouring in ever since the Japanese release (if you can even remember that far back,) so of course I had to put some of my time into it. Xillia became the shiny new toy that distracted me from a hundred more runs through Rogue Legacy, for better or worse, and had all my attention over the past couple of weeks.

But did it last?

Tales of Xillia (PS3)
Developer: Namco Tales Studio
Publisher:
Namco Bandai Games
Release date: September 8, 2011 (JP), August 6, 2013 (US), August 9, 2013 (EU)
Price: $59.99

The game begins with the chance meeting of our twin protagonists; Jude, a young but intelligent medical student, and Milla, a great spirit who has taken a human form in order to destroy a great weapon. After a little bit of drama including the loss of Milla's abilities and Jude not understanding what trouble looks like, they find themselves being pursued by the Rashugal forces, and so their quest begins.

If all the cutscenes and conversational dialogue don't offer enough story for your liking, there are plenty of interesting little skits to be seen as your travel around the world. They occur between the characters currently in your party, and are indicated by a small notification asking you to press select to view them. This has been done before in previous Tales of games, but they continue to be a great way of passing on bonus dialogue, which really isn't important to the main story, if you want to hear it. It means I get to see more scenes with Teepo in them, and those of you that don't want to be bogged down in text can just forget about them. The best of both worlds, for sure.

Joining Jude and Milla for the ride are a nice, small selection of rather colourful characters. There's Alvin, a cocky but somewhat kind-hearted guy who provides the early party with some much needed muscle. Elize, a young girl with a troubling childhood, functions as an efficient group healer, while her crazy doll Teepo gives her some reasonable damage potential.  Then there's Rowen, a butler-come-military tactician who serves as the primary magic user of the group. The final character is Leia, a childhood friend of Jude with a bubbly personality, which contrasts well with the other, gloomier members of the troupe. She is a very mixed character in battle, being able to heal single targets, use buffs and mess with elements. All in all, a nicely varied cast of characters. 

Unfortunately, there are more than a few times where our heroes are let down by some sub-par voice work. For the most part, and I'm talking a good 95% of the time, the voicing is fine. The actors chosen for each character are rather good, each one sounding like a believable representation of their respective personas. However, there are some unfortunate patches of the game where voice actors seem to be excel at reading their lines with no emotion whatsoever. Or, better yet, word by word. I'll reiterate, it's not a problem for the whole game, but it is noticeable, and it is disappointing. 

Combat is initiated by walking into enemies out in the field, which in turn takes you to a battlefield with several monsters to dispatch. While battles look 3D, they are, for the most part, taking place on a 2D plane. Your character will target and lock into a particular enemy (which can be changed by pressing R1,) making it easier to guard and dodge attacks from that particular enemy. You can also hold down L2 to be able to move around without being constrained to the 2D plane, allowing you to gang up on another enemy or take advantage by attacking from a blind spot. You can point the left analogue stick in one of four directions and press square to perform different basic attacks, which will also replenish your MP. You can then use the analogue stick and the circle button to launch special attacks, which deplete your MP. It's a good system to ensure you aren't mashing just one attack.

An interesting feature of the battle system is the ability to link up with another character in your party. When you do this, they will automatically move to the opposite side of the enemy your are currently fighting, and as you're usually the character providing all of the aggro, your partner will be in a prime position to score bonus damage by attacking them from behind. You also gain access to particular skills only accessible while linking, as well as special abilities and buffs that the linked character can pass on. It is always worth being linked to someone else, and you can change the character you are linked to mid-battle, allowing you to better formulate strategies.

If you look to the left of the image above, you'll see a pretty interesting sword-shaped gauge. This is the Overlimit Meter, which builds up as you land combos on enemies. When you hit one of the notches in the meter, you can perform a Link Chain, allowing you to use a stronger attack off the back of a regular arte. If you pull that off, the gauge won't drop below that particular notch on the gauge. If you get that bar all the way to the top (and you can carry this between battles) you'll be able to use your Overlimit, which allows you to Link Chain over and over again until the Overlimit Meter fully depletes, providing you don't repeat the same artes in a single combo. It's a very efficient way to deal out a lot of damage in one go, so it's worth building it up before boss battles.

Another mechanic used during battles to prevent attack spam is the TP gauge, which is represented by the purple sword next to the character you're currently controlling, in the battle screen. Every attack you perform will deplete this number, and if it's at zero you won't be able to perform any actions. This will replenish quite quickly so you'll never have to worry about having nothing to do for extended periods of time, as you'll be back in the action quick enough. This, really, is my biggest problem with the battle system.

All of these anti-spam measures are ultimately pointless, as this is such an easy game to breeze through with a basic button mashing. Hit square a few times, throw in a few circles for good measure. If you're not willing to pay attention and play as intended, it's very easy for battles to become a Dynasty Warriors-esque experience. Now, don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore the battle system. It's great fun, but there's absolutely no strategy required until you reach certain bosses and the end game. On the flip side, this'll be good for those of you who are coming to Xillia primarily for the story, as you really wont need to fret being stuck on difficult battles. A lot of players have recommended starting on a harder difficulty for this reason, so consider this your warning if you want your ordinary field encounters to feel more meaningful. 

There are a few different ways of boosting the stats of your characters. There's your typical level-up system, so you'll want to be making the most of enemy encounters so you can keep on top of hoarding experience points. You can upgrade equipment, but to do so you must first upgrade the shops themselves by donating materials, which are found after fighting monsters and in particular spots in the field. In fact, it's a rather clever way of giving you plenty of incentives to keep battling away, as it largely keeps the equipment you have access to on par with your level and the enemies you're engaging with.

The third way is by utilising the Lillium Orb. Upon levelling up, you'll gain a few GP to spend in that particular characters' Lillium Orb. You can purchase nodes on this spider web grid to gain even more stat bonuses, giving you even more advantages in battle. There are even new techniques and skills to be had if you manage to surround them with purchased nodes. It's a system very similar to the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X, just without any of that sphere-item nonsense. The bonuses offered here are rather notable, and most times you can tell immediately what kind of a difference they're making. 

The equipment shops aren't the only thing you can upgrade with materials, as there are a few other shops that can also be improved. You have your typical potion store that sells restoratives and cures for specific ailments, which you may find yourself in need of when in a pinch. However, the most interesting shop to upgrade is the food vendor, which sells you meals that pass on temporary buffs when consumed. For instance, there's a cheap rice dish that offers a bonus 30% experience for a few encounters. The catch is that you can only carry one of each dish at a time, but it's never much trouble to swing by the vendor when you see one. You'll definitely want to be taking advantage of the EXP and Gald boosting items as soon as you can.

All of the major locations in Tales of Xillia look stunning, it's as simple as that. There is a wide range of different aesthetics strewn about the world, but it's really the watercolour wash that really makes primary locales such a joy to be looking at. Areas outside of towns don't quite get the same level of love and attention, but even so, they never look notably terrible or grainy. The characters use their cel-shading to stand out from the scenery, and effectively so. You'd certainly expect it from a JRPG, but Xillia doesn't have to resort to odd hair colours to make their characters stand out from the background.

The majority of the music in this game works well, adding to the overall atmosphere and particular moods of the characters and scenes at hand. The ambient music achieves this the best, as it makes exploring the world just that much more enjoyable. Unfortunately, it lets itself down on what I believe to be the most important feature of any encounter-oriented RPG; the battle theme. To its credit, there are two different themes, but I found myself pretty sick of this particular song after a fair few battles (which, it seems, only plays if you choose Milla as your primary character.) It's really uninspiring, and the sudden start and end of the song when you enter/exit a battle doesn't do it any favours. It's a shame, because Jude's music is really quite good.

Tales of Xillia sets a high bar for other JRPGs entering the western market, as its combination of likeable characters, rich worlds and an enjoyable battle system prove that there's life in this genre yet. Sure, there are some unfortunate blemishes here and there, but if you want to dive into a good old swords 'n' stats JRPG, this should definitely be one to consider. Hopefully the sequel builds upon the successes of the original, so you can colour me excited for the eventual 2014 release. In the meantime, be sure to dig into this gem in preparation.

8.0 -- Great (A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.)


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Tales of Xillia reviewed by Chris Walden

8

GREAT

Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide

 
 
 

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Chris Walden
Chris WaldenContributor   gamer profile

Some say that he can breathe Some say that he can jump over a All we know is that he's Brittanian, and that we are all He's on Twitter though: more + disclosures


 



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