Tales of Arise proves that good things come to those who wait.
Announced way back in 2019 and originally planned for release last year, Tales of Arise has been a long time coming. The last entry in the Tales series, the enjoyable Tales of Berseria, was released in 2016, after all. In fact, the gap between the two is the biggest between any two mainline entries in the series since it began. No doubt Coronavirus has played a role in the delay, but it’s all water under the bridge now. Because Tales of Arise is finally here, and it’s all fans could have hoped for.
The story of Tales of Arise centres around a man called Alphen, known in the early hours of the game as simply Iron Mask. Your typical JRPG amnesiac, he doesn’t remember his past, nor why his head is encased in iron. He doesn’t feel pain either, which is handy when his sense of duty to defend the slaves around him gets him into trouble. He’s also a slave, like most Dahnans. And their masters are the Renans, who come from a land that is much more technologically advanced. A chance encounter with a runaway Renan called Shionne, however, changes Alphen’s fate forever.
Teaming up with a local resistance force, intent of freeing Dahna from Renan rule, Shionne and Alphen make a promise: they’ll stay together until the five lords that control Dahna with an iron fist have been defeated. They make a perfect pair, too; Alphen’s inability to feel pain means he isn’t affected by Shionne’s electrifying touch, nor the fiery sword that dwells within her. In fact, it’s because of the latter that Shionne becomes a great source of Alphen’s power. Liberating an entire land is quite the task for just the two of them though, and so along the way they end up befriending yet more companions, all hungry to build a safer, fairer world.
With its amnesiac hero and typical premise of freeing the land from evil overlords, the story of Tales of Arise has no right to be as entertaining and enjoyable as it is. But thanks to numerous twists and turns throughout its lengthy running time, it perhaps offers the most engrossing narrative found in a Tales game yet. It’s the characters you meet and befriend on your journey that really escalate Tales of Arise to greatness though, thanks to the care put into creating them. These are far from your wafer-thin JRPG protagonists; each one of them has a surprising number of layers and depth. They all grow and transform over your travels, making you warm to them.
It helps that Tales of Arise looks so sumptuous, too. Character models are detailed, unique and colourful, truly bringing each and every one of them to life. But it’s the environments that truly impress. There’s everything from lush green plains and cold, wintery inclines, cram-packed with flora and fauna, to futuristic structures filled with mysterious equipment. What’s more, the game has a painterly art style, making every frame screenshot worthy. Throw in fluid animations and a wealth of wealth of attacks that shower the screen with a rainbow of colours during battle, and you have game that is truly a treat for the eyes.
When it comes to combat, Tales of Arise impresses yet again. Multiple changes have been made to the series’ tried-and-tested combat system, resulting in battles that are faster paced and more enjoyable than ever. Artes, for example, or special attacks to those who have never played a Tales game before, can now be used with reckless abandon; your character will only not be able to use them when their Artes Gauge (AG) has been depleted, but it recharges rather fast and can be filled by other means, too. So, while you can perform a string of standard attacks if you want, you’ll mostly be dishing out damage with the many Artes you acquire on your travels.
As usual, you’ll only ever be in direct control of one character at a time, but a new Boost Gauge system allows you to quickly call upon the unique skills of each of your teammates for a variety of effects. When a character’s Boost Gauge is full, all you have to do is press the d-pad direction that corresponds to them to call them into action, and each is best for a certain situation. Rinwell, the team’s magic caster, for example, can be called in to steal the spell an enemy is readying, and keep it in stock to use at a later date. Dohalim, on the other hand, can make vines grow around the feet of fast-moving enemies, making them easier to attack.
And there are other benefits of using Boost Attacks, too, such as restoring a small amount of the Artes Gauge, which allows for more attacks to be chained into combos. Play your cards right, and entire fights can be won in one long, continuous combo, especially when taking Boost Strikes into account – powerful team attacks that can be performed when enemies are weak and the combo counter is high. Throw in other features, such as the ability to dodge and a momentary powered-up state that allows the use of yet more powerful attacks called Mystic Artes, and you have a combat system that is chaotic yet enjoyably so.
To find fault with Tales of Arise is to nitpick, really. Side-quests are largely a menial affair, tasking you with killing certain enemies or collecting materials – the latter you can usually complete on the spot with the bits and bobs you’ve picked up along the way. Some are more meaty though, and worth sinking your teeth into. And while it’s nice that Skits return – voiced and better presented than ever – they can bring the pace of the game to a halt if you feel the need to watch each and every one of them. But on the whole, Tales of Arise is a wonderfully polished and well thought-out game that does little, if anything, to frustrate or disappoint.
With Tales of Arise, I think the Tales series is finally ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the heavy hitters of the JRPG genre – Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. This is a masterfully crafted adventure, and the best JRPG I’ve played in a very long time. Combining stunning visuals with a gripping story and the most exciting combat system found in a JRPG yet, this is a must-have for fans of the genre. Its standalone story makes this a great entry point for those looking to get into the Tales series, too. Put simply, Tales of Arise is outstanding.
Tales of Arise Review – GameSpew’s Score