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Tales of Xillia 2 Review: A love letter to Tales fans

on 18 August 2014

Hideo Baba and Bandai Namco have brought the fifteenth Tales of title to the West with the localization of Tales of Xillia 2. With the world of gaming changing profusely around it, the Tales of series takes the slow-and-steady route with each new Tales outing, always bringing subtle additions to a fan-loved formula that creates an even better overall experience every time. Still, there's a lot of competition in the pool of games, but after spending nearly 50 hours divulging in the world of Xillia 2, there's plenty of room for Tales.

Events from Tales of Xillia resulted in the Great Schism that divided the human and the spirit worlds being broken down by Milla Maxwell, the ruler of the Four Great Spirits of the spirit world Rieze Maxia. A year later, a bridge between the two worlds exists, connecting the natural spirit world with the technological human world. The ideologies from these two worlds aren’t meshing, however, as those from Elympios use the spirits as power sources for their technology. A young man of few words named Ludger Kresnik, inhabitant of Elympios, stumbles upon a little girl named Elle who holds a pocket watch that grants Ludger access to his chromatus transformation. Shortly after meeting Elle, Ludger finds himself in the wake of his older brother Julius’ mistakes, and Ludger has placed upon him the stockpiling of debt that Julius has amassed from his time working for Spirius Corporation. Once Spirius Corporation catches wind of Ludger’s abilities, the company hires him under the sheer weight of his copious debt, forcing him to use his special abilities in order to normalize the dimensional fracturing caused by the destruction of the Great Schism.

Ludger’s debt ultimately feels like a plot mover rather than an element of the game. Instead of constantly upgrading weapons and armor, players end up spending all their gald on payments rather than development; and each chapter requires a fulfilled loan payment in order for new areas of the map to be accessible at all. Spirius Corporation keeps a “Big Brotherly” eye on Ludger while he’s indebted to the company, and the end result is a constant feeling of being broke. Players don’t have to make payments immediately when prompted, but the story won’t move until a payment is made. This does yield an opportunity to complete character-specific quests for money and experience.

Character quests are side stories dedicated to each character, and completing each character’s quest increases Ludger’s affinity with that respective character. Benefits are aplenty for taking on these quests. As affinity grows with each character, Ludger gains skills specific to each character, making Ludger almost like an open book in the long run. Bonus scenes are unlocked in the main storyline as well as character affinity increases, which elongates and personalizes the experience later on in the complex story that mimics a great deal of real-life scenarios taking place in the word today.

Apart from one or two-word statements, Ludger doesn’t speak very often, and the only way he expresses himself is through choice events that take place during cutscenes. These choices are very clear in their intentions, and one usually favors the scenario while the other contradicts it to a relative extent. Often, these choices will reflect on a party member, and making the right choice will increase the affinity with that character. This leaves Ludger more like an avatar than a character, as player responses and party members’ reactions to those responses leaves him more as an extension of the player rather than a unique character. At the same time, Ludger has a feeling much like Isaac from Golden Sun or any other popular, voiceless character from other role-playing games. Overall though, the rest of the cast steals the show as Ludger becomes more of a plot device.

Presentation is key in Tales of Xillia 2 as the anime focus takes the stage. One of the make-or-break aspects to anime is the voice acting. More often than not, voice work tends to be more on the dry side when compared to most video game performances. At the same time, the work never gets too overzealous or rambunctious, even with some crazy characters, and each character feels unique and fully realized. Both native and new players will take in the characterization with equal appreciation, even though native players will have more hindsight. As well, the soundtrack accentuates the events perfectly, and no track feels disjointed or out of place. Visuals also feature an anime focus, and though Tales of Xillia 2 won’t compete with the graphical powerhouses on the PlayStation 3, its clean, colorful, and vibrant aesthetic holds its own wonderfully—even with the rare frame rate drops in high-populated areas.

The Cross Dual Raid Linear Motion Battle System features the link-based combat from Tales of Xillia and increases it on all fronts. Using L2, characters can free roam around the battlefield, allowing easier navigation. Now that the player has this freedom, enemies also have similar freedoms, making combat much harder, more taxing, and more engaging than ever before. The use of artes in combat is usually limited by the amount of button and joystick bindings available in each Tales game, but Xillia 2 ups the ante by doubling the available bindings. Players now have access to four arte bindings on each joystick as well as in combination with L1 and both joysticks, resulting in sixteen accessible slots for both ally and controlled player artes.