Tales of Arise Review (PS5) – I started my Tales journey with Tales of Symphonia at launch, like many people did. From there, I started moving forward, experiencing all of them as they arrived and jumping backwards to the ones I missed beforehand. Through the ups and downs of the franchise, I followed with a fan’s love, even if the likes of Tales of Zestiria tested my faith in the franchise.
For me, a good Tales game requires four key things: engaging characters, enthralling combat, engrossing narrative, and enticing stat development (most of which Zestiria lacked). Featuring a high-end visual coat of paint, the newest franchise entry has a lot to prove after this long absence. I had one hand on the fence when I wrote up my preview, but I now see this title as worthy of the franchise moniker.
Tales of Arise Review (PS5) – An Inspired Refresh Of A Beloved Franchise
In Search of Equality
The game starts from the perspective of a man named Iron Mask, aptly named due to an iron mask permanently attached to his face. The only things he knows are the servitude he finds himself in among his fellow Dahnans and that he cannot feel pain of any kind. Iron Mask lives in a world where a race of people called the Renans hold ownership over the Dahnans, forcing the Dahnans into slave labor with only crumbs to eat and rocks to sleep on.
Then enters Shionne, a Renan on the run from her own kind. She drops in on Iron Mask, and they find themselves pursued by the same armor-suited people. Reluctantly, they work together, his resolve for seeking equality and her drive to slay all of the Renan lords. Her motives for wanting the lords dead remain shrouded in mystery, but they soon begin their journey, two diametrically opposed people seeking the same outcome.
The strength of the narrative comes in how much time and effort the game devotes to its characters. Equally so, the types of characters make for an interesting motley crew makeup, composed of someone from high society, three commoners, a loner, and a soldier.
They share perspectives on the social situations of their world, and they even argue and express deep-seeded biases at times. They slowly learn from each other, and they soon transform from a random group of people into a synchronized team wholly devoted to making the world a better place for everyone.
This narrative is not original by any means, but it builds from the chance meeting between Shionne and Alphen to a thoughtful perspective on humanity and treating other people. At the same time, Arise throws in hooks and twists time and time again to keep the story compelling.
The only story choice I call into question occurs near the end, but I still find myself committing to it, even in my wishy-washy response to what the game revealed. This topic is heavy spoiler territory, so I will refrain from going any further on the subject, but maintain an open mind as you go along the final hours.
New Style, Old Heart
I cannot express how much I love the art style utilized in Tales of Arise. History shows that stylized games generally age better than others, and I firmly believe that Arise will receive the same fate.
From up close or far away, the semi-cel-shading appears more like touches of brush strokes and pencil lines added to the 3D models, giving the game more style than a simple CG delivery. Couple that with 3-second load times, and you spend very little time not immersed in visual bliss.
The cast used for Arise’s voice work takes the cake the entire time. They manage to hit every emotional note well, and they also banter well together. Writing contributes to that, and the actors deliver on that writing quality. The subtitle work mostly reflects the spoken word, but it occasionally shows a grammatical mistake or misspelling, but this most often occurs closer to the end of the game.
I tip my hat to the orchestra and director behind this game’s soundtrack. The entire tracklist compliments the game perfectly, whether the music lulls in the background of a quiet countryside or it takes command as you jump into combat. It inspires when it needs to, and it steps back when the narrative needs that. A lot of work went into this side of the game, and it reflects perfectly the overall quality of the game.
Arise also brings in a couple of extra side things you can do between fights, those being animal husbandry and fishing. Both of these contribute to cooking, another franchise staple, that gives some beneficial temporary buffs to drop rates, damage output, resistances, etc. In doing these two side jobs, you gain more and more supplies necessary to keep those food buffs going. These tasks don’t make or break the game, but they bring in a little extra variety to the game.
Inspirations from Linear Motion Battle System
Every Tales entry sought to create an action-oriented combo-based combat that kept its roots in RPG fundamentals like stat management, maintaining equipment, and customizing character stats. Arise manages to do most of this, but the spins it takes make up for the changes.
Combat is so over the top, visually, but it’s an absolute blast, even at the beginning when combat isn’t as flashy. This style is facilitated by simplistic button layouts that work exactly like fans expect: Three magic artes get pinned to face buttons, and those get strung into combos by using artes to keep the combo chain growing. These artes can still be changed when needed, even in combat, which helps a great deal when you come to a fight with the wrong arte elements.
In Arise, combo chains contribute more to compounding damage as well as building up a boost gauge, which behaves much like staggering does. This triggers a heavy finisher, called a Boost Attack, where two characters combine their skills to devastate the target. These animations are even more over the top, but they are satisfying as all hell to pull off.
Each character combination has its own animation, but they are a bit randomized. Each character is pinned to the D-Pad, with the two members not in your immediate party in an R2 submenu.
If you select Shionne, then the game randomly chooses one of the other characters to combine with her, keeping combat feeling a bit spontaneous. However, since the element changes between Boost Attacks, not having control over which you activate can affect how much damage you do.
Combat Points (CP) make a return in Arise but in a different form. Instead of one CP pool for each character, the entire party has a singular pool of CP to use. This gets balanced by only magic-based artes needing CP points, while all other skills use individual AG points. These work much like CP did in Tales of Graces F, where you can only use so many artes before you have to replenish it somehow.
I was on the fence about this singular CP pool for a long time because I could only do so much with magic artes from the start, but the further I got into the game, the deeper the AG system grew, making the CP pool complimentary to combat instead of a bottleneck.
Each party member is playable, but you have to manually switch from Iron Mask during each bout. The demo allows you to choose a character to focus on, but the core game keeps you attached to Iron Mask. Each character plays well, but the five others tend to benefit from manually controlling them only in certain scenarios. Equally so, Arise offers an arena where you can test out each character individually and earn rewards for playing them all.
Bosses–as well as larger enemies–cannot be staggered like medium enemies. Instead, they have fixed points in their health bars where they automatically trigger a Boost Attack opportunity.
This makes boss fights feel more scripted than I wish they were, but they make for good placeholders for how far along you are in the boss fight.
Evading is one other important mechanic to combat, and this side of the game doesn’t get the kind of respect it deserves. The mechanic itself works exactly as it should, and it totally benefits you with extra damage and better field maneuvering. However, attacks and spell animations soon saturate the screen, leaving even massive bosses hidden behind particle effects. I found myself spamming evade in situations like this in hopes I could trigger it randomly at the right time.
Large bosses also bring with them one other frustration: size relative to the screen. Some enemies have more than a third of their body out the top of the display, leaving much of their movement hidden. They also often jump up in the air. You can move the camera around, but with how chaotic combat is while you chain combos and command your party, managing a joystick simultaneously with the face buttons is just asking too much.
The Title of Stat Management
Outside of weapons and armor, previous Tales games used accessories to pad player stats. Arise kind of does this. While accessories do add stats — and you can even craft accessories from ore you find — most of the stats come from Titles. Each Title you earn places a star on your grid, with each point offering either a new skill, stat boost, or combat benefit of some kind.
Completing one of the grid entries also grants larger stat boosts, consisting mostly of things like defense, elemental damage, and armor penetration. This compliments accessory building, because this system focuses more on resistances and damage enhancements.
Accessories have a nice bit of depth to their development. You find different types of ore as you go, each with different rarities, ranging from 1 to 5. This rarity also reflects on the accessory’s potential development. Each rarity after 2 allows for another stat boost that is reflected on the accessory you create. In order to unlock those stat boosts, you have to use other ore to enhance the accessory by leveling it up.
One nice caveat to this system is that you can sacrifice one accessory to move a stat from that accessory to a new one. This creates the depth to what Arise offers. You can sacrifice mediocre accessories to give good stats to better accessories.
The one mistake made with accessories is being locked out of making new ones in the final points of the story. You find some amazing ore and accessories in that section, but you can’t do anything with them until afterwards when the game lets you jump into endgame dungeons. In its defense, you must utilize these materials if you decide to go into these dungeons, so they’re not wasted at all. Those bosses will destroy you if you come unprepared.
A Tall Order Met With Great Success
For a long time, the Tales franchise stuck to its guns and maintained a style deeply rooted in the PS3 generation presentation. Bandai Namco took a big risk changing the presentation style for Tales of Arise, but it paid off more than enough to forget its occasional fault.
Combat takes the spirit of the Linear Motion Battle Systems and transforms it into an even more action-oriented romp. The narrative takes you for a ride you may have seen before, but it plays out so well that you enjoy holding on with each twist and turn.
Even with its couple of oddities, Tales of Arise sticks to the franchise fundamentals while creating something both visually and mechanically enthralling from beginning to end. This is an RPG everyone needs to try.
Tales of Arise releases on PS5, PS4, PC, and Xbox One September 10, 2021.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.