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.
Ludger Kresnik channels his family’s genetic prowess in combat with his chromatus transformation. Seemingly inspired by alter powers from the anime S-Cry-ed, chromatus transformation equips Ludger with dark armor as well as the Lance of Kresnik that he uses to unleash complex combos. Though this transformation is on a limited timer, it allows Ludger to attack without having to worry about Assault Counters (the number of attacks that can be chained without stopping) like in his normal form.
Allium Orbs are the new way to learn fresh abilities for each character. Now that the Great Schism has been broken, the spirit artes can no longer be used with the Lilium Orbs, so the only way that the new world can access spirit artes and abilities is to use Allium Orbs and Extractors. Allium Orbs are like a universal branching of skills categorized according to their elements, and Extractors automatically unlock skills based on the elemental branchings that each Extractor features; if an Extractor features both Light and Water, then light and water-based abilities are unlockable along the way. Characters are not limited by what Extractors can be equipped, but only one can be equipped at a time; and skill-based progress is limited only to which elements that each character’s Extractor has. “Limited” may not be the best word to use in this case, since previous Tales games have set abilities for each character beforehand, but this does leave an entire network of available skills that will only be unlocked by players who wish to do a great deal of farming in order to max out their players in all elements.
Developing characters feels different this time around, as it doesn’t completely revolve around experience and character levels. While traditional leveling is still present, characters depend on Elemental Orbs that unlock skills from the Allium Orbs. These orbs are earned after combat and are littered throughout the maps. Since abilities unlock automatically as Elemental Orbs accumulate, there’s a constant feeling of progression, even when exploring new dungeons and areas. These Elemental Orbs accompany treasure chests and random items that are strewn across the map, further entitling the need to explore.
The Allium Orbs may be the hardest part of the game to appreciate, since character growth is so very automated when compared to the first Xillia. At the same time, abilities and artes unlock constantly, yielding a flowing feeling of progression at all times, but it always seems a little out of player control, even if you can choose which Extractor to equip; preference on Allium Orbs will depend somewhat on personal preference, but the constant feeling of development is a major positive to the overall experience.
Another element of exploration refers to a new side to the Tales series: Kitty Dispatch. Early in the game, one of Ludger’s neighbors loses 100 cats—yes, 100—and she asks Ludger to search for all of them. The reason for collecting them is to use these cats to comb specific areas for rare items, and the rarity of discovered items increased as the feline count increases; the catch is that an area can only be combed if the cat from that area has been found. Combining this with the other items and orbs sprinkled across the map, Xillia 2 has plenty of reasons to go exploring. Many of the rarest items in the game can only be found by these cats. In fact, the Job Bulletin that lists gathering and kill quests offers some quests that necessitate the use of these cats in order to find specific rare items. With Ludger’s copious debt, completing jobs with these cats is an easy way to gather funds to pay it off.
Utimately, the end product is a love letter to fans of the Tales of series and fans who loved Tales of Xillia. Xillia 2 still has a great deal of farming involved in it, but the nearly automated and constant feeling of progression of the Allium Orbs as well as the forward focus of the narrative has the potential to hook newcomers to the franchise, but this may make native players stop momentarily and wonder what happened to the old ways of leveling. Apart from the avatar representation of Ludger, the overall package in Tales of Xillia 2 will appeal to any RPG lover, and the fluid combat has enough to make new players take a peek at what Hideo Baba and Bandai Namco have created.