The Tales saga has seen more-or-less a tumultuous reception chapter-after-chapter. While the series has managed to grasp a hold of many accolades, its trajectory started to slope near after its fifteenth entry in Tales of Zestiria. However, it was known that there were creative stifles that were occurring post Vesperia that were controversial in its steady decline. Sequel after sequel, it seemed the quality-of-life in each chapter was cascading, with inadequate narrative direction being the catalyst as Tales entered the eighth generation of home console gaming. A staggering departure from the establishment, Tales of Arise looks to re-invigorate the long-running JRPG franchise with a refreshed engine, that promulgates the foundations of prior entries but renews its widely renowned delivery, without the subtlety of making players reacquainted.
Don’t be fooled, this is most definitely a soft reboot to the role-player, delivering some of the most engaging gameplay in the series for quite sometime. Not since its leap to the PlayStation 2, has a Tales entry seen such an emphatic overhaul, from minor facets to major design improvements that make titles that have preceded Arise look like relics of a foregone era. Almost a true demonstration of how a series could be revitalised if shelved for a decent amount of time without the need to annualise, or rush it to shelves with hopes of keeping its namesake afloat. Tales had hit a wall, and was stagnating – if anything deteriorating exponentially and was in dire straits after Tales of Berseria. It was unknown whether Bandai Namco had slammed the door shut on Tales, without an entry since 2016. But the series lives on to fight another day, with Tales of Arise breathing new life into the esteemed, and much beloved JRPG series making its way back to the current generation.
A completely narrative driven campaign, Tales of Arise takes a slight detour from steering the player into a linear trail, rather a recourse into events that transpire and flow naturally as you interact with Non-Playable characters, and trigger proposed events and sequences. While its story is properly structured to playout like the standard JRPG action-adventure that leads you from Point A to B, its side activities will extrapolate the entirety of its escapade. The story begins with our hero known as the Iron Mask, held captive amongst his Dahnan comrade’s, tortured to work as slaves for the Renan monarchy. With no memory of his past and the inability to feel pain, he intimidating presence is only personified through the Iron Mask that remains permanently attached to his cranium. Unable to see his own face, the anti-hero’s past remains a blank canvas.
His anonymity is both a blessing and curse, given his overall circumstances yet enables the courageous and confident to rise against the oppression of his cohorts. Yielded by his mentor “Doc”, the father figure advises him to pick his moment carefully and not to act out prematurely. The Iron Mask bided his time long enough, when suddenly a scuffle between the Renan guards and the rose-maned female Shionne, known to carry the curse of thorns, attempts to make a getaway. The Iron Mask observes the situation with Shionne begging him to stay quiet and draw any attention toward her, not until the Knights rush in to take down both the slave and the Renan prisoner. In haste, Iron Mask grabs ahold of Shionne and the pair flee the swarm not until being barricaded by Zephyr, a resistance leader of the Crimson Crows.
While in good faith, Zephyr imprisons Shionne to protect both her and his troops. A simple touch to Shionne triggers an electric jolt that incapacitates and has the ability to kill – This is the curse she lives with. The Renan Guards track down the Crow’s nest, tearing apart the secret hideout looking for Shionne. Engaging in combat against the Renan’s and temporarily aligning with the Crows, the daring duo succumb to being outnumbered, only for Shionne to expel her core which manifests the once fabled Blazing Sword. Her astral energy capable of encasing the mystical weapon allows her to store it, but is dispelled for only one to use – that being The Iron Mask. With reckless intent, the concealed item is revealed to be help only in the capable hands of one that feels no pain. Scolding his arms, the Dahnan annihilates the soldiers, saving both Shionne and the Crimson Crows.
Surviving members of the resistance relocate to a small village where they plan their strike against the Renan general Balseph, the man responsible for enslaving the Dahnan. Without choice, the Iron Mask aligns with the rebel force alongside Shionne, whom more-or-less aligns with enshroud combatant in hopes of taking down the corrupt siege. The group regale an army to take on the opposed as decoys, allowing Alphen (Iron Mask) and Shionne to infiltrate the psychotic general’s quarters only to find that the fiery existence of their surroundings is caused by the Monarch’s Astral Energy, compartmentalised unto a massive demon, causing the chaos and destruction in the surrounding land.
unequivocally one of the greatest JRPG's, ever. [...] A crowning achievement in Japanese role-playing that sinks its sharp hooks in, with great appeal from beginning to end. Tales of Arise is unmissable.
Tales of Arise has heightened every sense of its pre-existing action-adventure gameplay loop, boasting a broadened array of hack-and-slash mechanics that meld with JRPG mechanics quite phenomenally. Jumping into battle can always be a chore to some, as the unforgiving nature of the role-playing genre likes to force the player to grind for experience. While Arise still carries this notion, it does advise players to avoid some encounters if deemed completely unnecessary, or above the party’s pay grade. This makes for a pleasurable excursion each time we’re on the outskirts of segregated districts, allowing our heroes to rest, eat, search or trigger alternate cutscenes that deliver clues or comical dialogue between traversal settings.
Through the Fire and Flames...
✔️A stellar example in redefining an establishment, and prolonging Tales’ legacy.
✔️Absolute eye-candy. Within its own accord, a marvellous graphical upgrade that should be the standard within its circles.
✔️Exemplary writing, enamouring and alluring exposition that never wanes. A testament to both its screenwriters and key vocal casting, with esteemed actors portraying favourites.
❌Map UI can be a little cluttered.
While exploring, stamina is expended by sprinting or battling creatures within the vicinity. This can be tracked by your food meter which is shown on-screen. While it may deplete, you may still use its respective skills but is restricted upon entering combat, and may cause your players to lose health quicker than usual. Tackling a wide range of monsters across many landmarks, you’re only able to portray the one protagonist in The Iron Mask, otherwise known as Alphen, much like Tales entries of the past assigning the one lead. However, commanding your associates while encountering a swarm is a delight that I was all for. A meter is displayed in the bottom left-hand corner, signifying your D-Pad and the avatar of each party member you have assigned. Upon each respective member filling their gauge, you can trigger their own finisher that displays a unique quirk ability, representing a theme to go along with it.
For example, Law’s “awakening” enhances his melee attacks, as the fighter likes to utilise his fists within close combat, while our co-protagonist Shionne will blast an opponent with her Sniper, while boosting the offense of her grenades. These techniques coincide with Alphen’s delivery that is mapped quite profoundly. I was at first a little befuddled by using the right shoulder button to initiate a string of offense, but as I progressed through numerous encounters it all became natural as slinging an opponent airborne ala Devil May Cry, then striking them with each action button for a gratifying combination attack. The usage of Alphen equipped sword, then hitting a final blow with the Flaming Edge exemplifies an epic turnabout and broadens the brush in terms of finality for each outlandish stoush.
Like many of its ilk, the industry standard surprises never veer you of course as your journey escaping the shackles of Renan soldiers, holding you slave brings freedom and the almighty sense of heroism as you regale and befriend a party of endearing personalities. Forming an entourage, you will unlock new pathways along with conversational and tactical traits that help when coercing Non-Playable characters in giving up the goods, or selling you merchandise. Most towns visited will have an Inn, which you may stay at free-of-charge to sleep, or speak with the local blacksmith. There, you can request new artillery specifically built for purpose, and upgrading your XP with hopes of eradicating a variety of blood thirsty behemoth’s. Along your journey, hidden chests contain collectables which can be traded for in-game currency to buy an assortment of goods.
This can include vials of health, pre-prepared food for nourishment, protective gear and ingredients. Food can be collected in the wild, and may be dropped by enemies. Raw meats can be mixed with added spices for improved performance, or an added containment to your stamina. Each map will harbour a dedicated coordinate that you may fast travel to and from. The best thing about this, is it can be activated anywhere as long as there’s no threat from an oncoming enemy ready to pounce. indicators along the screen will show if any foes are close-by with each pointer turning red, if inadvertently grasping their attention. You can make a run for it, and safely getaway from smaller enemies, but large monsters will have a range advantage and can initiate battle from afar. Each point of attack will rely on the enemy type, and their respective attributes. Air-type creatures can be quite the task to takedown, but once you get a hold of you and your party’s offensive chain, then it’s no sweat.
Boss types are quite the challenge, posing the most threat as there are dramatic spikes in strength but this is ironed out by tutorials and battles that come prior. It becomes a game of overall experience as you forge your path, towards a new range of hostiles. Your party’s skill-tree is unionised to carry everyone’s capabilities and traits, while improvements are granted through tasks and side-quests. This again alleviates the stress of grinding it out with hopes of earning points to unlock a new branch, appeasing a modernised demonstration. A welcome to those that have grown tiresome of the same old formula. Navigating the title’s inventory and Map system is made seamless, with a simple tap of the Square/X button, which brings up the current area you’re in, along with a legend and markers to aid you. This is handy for players looking to only follow the title’s campaign while avoiding any filler, or for the completionist that is hoping the take on any task an NPC may request.
Tales of Arise brings a renewed love into its overall presentation, from aesthetics to level design. The game is an absolute joy to behold. I found many moments where it left me in awe of its insurmountable craftsmanship. Terrain design is utterly awe-inspiring, from its dynamic environments to appropriation of palette’s and colour schemes. The fiery molten rock that reflects off the vested armour in our heroes, to the light particles that circle them off the lush shrubs at night, a complete endorphin rush hits when gazing on the spectacular sights of Arise. This in part with the return of series composer Motoi Sakuraba, elevating senses with an astounding compilation of Orchestrated music, fitting of an adventure of its magnitude. The Anime trope of an all-out, high octane OP (Opening) is included, with J-Rock band Kankaku Pierrot’s “HIBANA” emphasising a new direction the series is taking.
Tales of Arise is unequivocally one of the greatest JRPG’s, ever. A tantalising continuance of a once drawn out franchise, that was in steep decline but has been reborn though this triumphant reclamation. With both Ray Chase (NieR Replicant, Resident Evil) and Erica Lindbeck (Persona 5 Royal, Final Fantasy VII Remake) both leading a cavalcade of outstanding vocals, along with a passionate plot, engrossing set pieces, a beautiful arrangement that coincides with an overly emphasised improvement in gameplay and graphical display, this is a must have. While I continue to digest its lofty campaign, and reflect on the emotional rollercoaster the title jostled, it compelled me to revisit the story’s beginning almost immediately for a second playthrough. A crowning achievement in Japanese role-playing that sinks its sharp hooks in, with great appeal from beginning to end. Tales of Arise is unmissable.
Tales of Arise is an upcoming action role-playing game developed and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. The seventeenth main entry in the Tales series.