Tales of Arise review
I don't have the best track record with the Tales series. I've attempted to get into the series multiple times but the gameplay of previous titles just never clicked with me at all, feeling very awkward. I was finally able to find a Tales game i enjoyed being Tales of Berseria, a game which shifted away from Tales' familiar LMBS system and into something more traditional-feeling of an ARPG. So when i saw Tales of Arise continuing this trend, i knew i'd probably enjoy it. But what i didn't expect was an improvement to this scale.
First, let's get the elephant out of the room: the visuals. Tales has never looked this good and i guess when there's a five-year gap between this installment and the last one, it makes sense that the presentation would receive a major buff. I really have to know why there isn't a photo mode yet (maybe it'll come in an update) because this game really needs it. It looks that good. The music has also received a major buff. Motoi Sakuraba is a good composer but i've always felt his potential was being held back by doing the same style of Tales music for over 20 years. So imagine my surprise when i hear Arise's battle theme and went "oh shit, this one's actually good" and it just went from there. The quality of Arise's soundtrack is comparable to that of Sakuraba's non-Tales works, particularly the Baten Kaitos games. I mean heck, the battle theme here is just The Valedictory Elegy 2.
I mentioned the gameplay at the start of this review and it's definitely my favorite combat system in the series. Of course, that isn't saying much when the only other game in the series i've been able to enjoy is Berseria but i enjoyed it so much that going back to Berseria will be really hard for me, much like how it's really hard for me to go back to Xenoblade 1 after playing Xenoblade X and 2/Torna. In fact, i can compare the streamline-ness of this game with Xenoblade 2 a bit, what with how you use normal attacks to build up your meter so you can use artes. It's not quite as rhythmic as Xenoblade 2's combat and it's obviously just a different system altogether but i got the vibes that contributed to further enjoyment of this game's combat system. That being said, there were some quirks in the battle system that prevented it from truly being great imo. Probably my least favorite mechanic of the battle system is CP. On paper, it basically serves as a universal MP gauge for your healing and support artes. Having a universal gauge for something as simple as that doesn't sound like a good idea but what really kills it is that there's no way to recover CP at all without using items or resting at campfires or inns. This becomes especially problematic since CP is required for certain progression and i had to leave some dungeons a few times because i ran out of CP. The final dungeon was particularly bad with this, given how long it is and that meant backtracking once i got back. Besides that, i felt that the bosses were kinda weird in this game. For some reason, i almost always seemed to be underleveled when i got to it. I fought enemies regularly so it's not like i was just skipping fights. But even with equipment upgrades bosses just never really felt fun to fight for me. And speaking of equipment upgrades, the entire economy in this game is super wack. Everything costs way too much and your income is practically nothing, even with sidequests. You can't buy weapons for some reason, you have to craft them instead and considering that item drops can be stingy at times, this wasn't always reliable.
As for the narrative side of this game, i must say, i do quite like Alphen and Shionne as protagonists. They bounce off each other quite well even if they're quarreling throughout the first half of the game. Compared to other Tales protagonists, i'd say these two are my favorite because of their chemistry and you can't really have one without the other. It also helps that they stand out among the series' rather samey line of protagonists. The other party members are pretty fun too and while throughout the first game of the game, i was feeling they weren't quite as good as Berseria's cast, by the game's second half, i grew to like them enough that i wasn't so sure now about which game has the better cast. I really do appreciate that this game didn't dump all the party members onto you within the first four hours like Berseria did, instead introducing each of them in pairs. This gave them time to be fleshed out and we learned more about them before the next set of party members joined. In that sense, i do like this game's cast over Berseria's but Berseria's cast did have more fun banter so who knows. Guess i'll just be flip-flopping on this.
Story-wise, it's still a Tales game so it's nothing too special. This series isn't known for it's amazing storylines and that's fine, the plot does what it needs to do. What isn't fine though are the villains. The villains in this game honestly set a new low, i haven't seen villains this bad in a long time. I'm familiar with some of the series' storylines to know that writing good villains is a damn near impossibility for this series but at least the other games tried something. Meanwhile, all but one of Arise's villains just show up to die an hour later and the one villain that's actually a recurring threat is just a crazy edgy lunatic. There's nothing inherently wrong with villains who are evil for the hell of it but Arise's single recurring villain Volhran is just the most pathetic excuse for a villain i've ever seen. Part of why the villains suck so much is that we know nothing about them. They're barely in the plot and the story has the audacity to make us feel for them a little bit long after the damage had already been done.
Despite it's flaws tho, Tales of Arise is a good game. I would in fact call it the best Tales game, even though that doesn't mean much coming from me because i only ever actually enjoyed one other Tales game.
And i know i already posted it but https://www.backloggd.com/u/Armagon/list/ranking-every-game-i-played-in-2021/
In case anybody missed.