Stories from Arise has a pretty foolproof plan for evolving the series: double what worked before.
It’s fair to say there’s a lot going on on Tales of Arise. It’s been five years since the last entry in the series, 2016’s Tales of Berseria, and a lot has changed in that time – much of it shaking the Japanese RPG world. Titles like Persona 5 have taken the JRPG to new heights in the west with a nifty presentation. Final Fantasy has fully embraced the full-blown action RPG combat in FF15 and FF7 Remake – albeit with concessions to keep turn-based stalwarts happy. And games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Genshin Impact have made many Japanese developers pause and rethink how they design worlds.
You get the impression that the team behind Tales of Arise is also aware of this. It’s hard to quantify, but it just feels like a game that knows it has an opportunity to move the series forward and open it up to a whole new audience – which feels like a fair admission since it’s the longest void between Tales titles follows the 26-year history of the series.
Tales of Arise carries that feeling, although it’s actually a safe bet to be honest. It has the energy of a new upstart vision of the series, but it doesn’t fix what wasn’t broken – which seems to be much of what held the series’ earlier titles together. What Arise does instead is just harder to incorporate into what Tales usually makes – resulting in a game that feels more unique to it.
In a way, that means you’ll find an unabashed clinging to the genre tropes. Alphen is the protagonist, for example, suffering from amnesia. Obviously. You will team up with a wide variety of characters spanning all the usual RPG classes – healers, mages and monks, paladins with great big shields. So far so typical.
What made Tales so unique in the past was the action-packed gameplay. While this is no longer so uncommon even with Japanese RPG titles, this is where Arise underscores its historical advantage the most, featuring loud, flashy, and attention-grabbing fights that are to some extent style over substance – but that’s fine, because it is feels damn good
Enemies are out on the field, but battles still take place in a separate game state – so there is a transition, but in the PC version I played it was almost instantaneous to go into battle as well as him to leave. Moving to Unreal Engine 4 has resulted in a beautiful game with smooth performance – and it feels like much of the battle is centered around how ridiculous it can get and how good it can look without sacrificing performance.
You control a character, but you will have full control over the entire group of characters available to you thanks to your ability to trigger abilities from other characters at will. You can also dive into menus and customize the AI to determine how much autonomy your allies will have in combat, from simply asking them to focus on healing and defending, to giving detailed information about what moves they are doing when should run automatically.
Lots of party members are scheduled for Tales of Arise, but only three will fight you at any given time – but others can wait out of sight by the sides to be called in at will.
In these and a few other ways, Tales of Arise is almost like a fighting game. Its combo-friendly combat system allows you to juggle unsuspecting enemies and keep them aloft while you trigger ally abilities to deal luscious amounts of damage. You use Artes, the first tier of powerful skills, to blast enemies down until they enter the state where you can unleash assault attacks that unleash devastating team combinations with cinematic zeal.
Many specialty moves clip on cinematic camera angles in a way that is short enough not to feel like a loss of control, but significant enough to grab attention. Anime’s inspiration is evident, and at best, Tales of Arise is a color explosion when the characters team up to blow enemies to dust.
In general, you can fight your way through the easier encounters, but once you’ve reached the bigger bosses you’ll have to approach everything much more carefully. The makeup of the party seems to matter a lot, as does your overall understanding of the noticeable mess that is filling the screen. It will be your job to enjoy that visual flair, but also analyze it in data that can be used to quickly formulate proper combat strategy.
It all looks very cool and feels very good. Of course there is a story too – but the demo I play is so short and what I say about it so limited that I don’t even scratch the surface of an undoubtedly long epic. Most of your time, however, you spend in combat – so it’s exciting to report that it feels so good.
I look forward to seeing the depth of the struggle of the final release – and how this post delivers a satisfying Tales story, powered by strong characterizations and quieter moments like the series produced earlier.
Tales of Arise is coming to PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X / S this September.
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