The Tales series has always been known for providing excellent stories and action-based combat in an RPG, and the latest entry, Tales of Arise, delivers on both of these fronts in a phenomenal way. While older games in the Tales series can be a bit hard to get into, due to older control schemes and seemingly older graphics, this is a great way to jump into the franchise, which is what I’ve done myself. Bandai Namco has truly given their all to make this a game worth experiencing and is a great way to celebrate the series’ 25th anniversary.
The story in Tales of Arise follows the struggles of the planet Dahna as its citizens live under enslavement by the neighboring planet, Rena. Dahna lost the war over 300 years ago and has been paying the price since. The protagonist is Alphen, a Dahnan slave that has lost his memories and is incapable of feeling physical pain. A chance encounter with a Dahnan resistance group, and a mysterious Renan girl with a curse named Shionne, will take Alphen onto a path of liberating Dahna from Rena’s clutches and allowing his people to finally live a life of freedom after 300 long years of subjugation. During this journey, Alphen and Shionne will meet many new allies and dangerous enemies that seek to keep Renan control over Dahnan society, as well as discover the true reasons behind Shionne’s curse.
The story is rather simple when compared to other RPGs in the same genre, but the game successfully manages to keep the player engaged through great character interactions, some shockingly dark moments that many players may find unexpected, great worldbuilding, and a decent amount of plot twists along the way.
The pacing never feels too rushed or too drawn out, and for the majority of the game, the player should feel like everything is progressing at a steady pace. What really helps bring this together is the party itself whose members all grow dramatically as the story moves on. Shionne and Alphen, specifically, go from working together because of similar goals to genuinely having a connection with one another, and it was gratifying to see how the two slowly became closer. These two characters alone have a lot more going for them, which I shall refrain from elaborating due to spoilers, but every character has more than a few moments where you can really see how they’ve grown throughout the journey.
The party also shares this real sense of camaraderie that you can feel through the mid-battle dialogue which you’ll hear often. Combine this with the in-game “skits” which have your party talking about issues that play throughout the story or even about sillier things such as fishing, eating food, or even attempts to translate what owls are saying. The game manages to achieve the sense that these people are actually on a journey together and learning more about each other, rather than just being allies of convenience. This level of camaraderie can hardly be felt in most other games.
Tales of Arise has decided to use a new art style departing from the rest of the series in this regard, and I think it works for the better. The older Tales games used a more cartoonish or anime-inspired design with their characters and the world conveyed the vibes of a fairytale-like wonder. Arise still carries some of these design choices with the characters, but the models themselves look more realistic compared to the other Tales games.
Just like the characters themselves, the environment got a massive overhaul and takes on a more realistic hand-painted approach. The environments are beautifully designed and can instill one with a sense of awe, from the grassy plains of Elde Menancia and the peaceful city of Viscint to the fire-filled deserts of Calaglia, there are so many sights to take in and it all looks wonderful.
These changes to the visual design carry over to combat as well, and because of it, the combat looks phenomenal and feels satisfying to play. Melee attacks show clear impacts while more magic-leaning attacks are capable of covering the screen with particles that convey the power of the arte being used. It is a pure delight to see each character’s mystic arte or ultimate attack for the first time, and the boost strike system allows your party members to team up and dish out a very flashy finisher on enemies. The animations on these are amazing and will not get old no matter how many times one sees them because they are so well-designed.
The soundtrack was composed by Motoi Sakuraba, composer for other Tales games, as well as for Golden Sun and various Dark Souls games. The soundtrack in the game is great, as there is not a single song in the entire soundtrack that I can remember being awful. There are plenty of stand-out tracks such as the final boss theme, various battle themes, or even area themes that I remember fondly. The game may have a little too much “epic” sounding music in it, but even among those, there are sure to be a few standouts for any player that plays the game. The real standout songs for me personally, are the songs that play during the opening and the credits song made by Ayaka, who also made the ending theme for Crisis Core. The soundtrack does what it needs to in an excellent fashion.
The gameplay is focused on two segments: exploration and combat. While it’s still not an open world, there are more open-world elements in this game than others in the series. There are lots of wide-open areas with plenty of goodies for the player to find and gather for themselves. Whether this be new fancy armor found in chests, ingredients that can be used to cook food with for temporary stat boosts, fishing spots, owls that grant cosmetic items, ores that contain stones to forge accessories, super-tough monsters that provide both challenges and weapon materials, or sidequests, there is a lot to find on these maps. Players can spend hours exploring everything should they desire to do so. Exploring is very vital in Tales as fighting enemies, in general, does not grant money like in other RPGs. Instead, the player needs to rely on various ores, fish, and sidequests to make the majority of their money. Every part of the exploration feeds back into the combat in some way which is excellent from a gameplay standpoint.
Combat is what the player will be doing the most and is, by far, the most satisfying part of the game. The player starts as Alphen, but can switch to any party member during combat, all of which play very differently from one another. All characters feature an attack string in both the air and the ground, and numerous “artes” that they can use with the face buttons. These artes can be used to greatly extend combos once attack strings end. At first, each character will only have a maximum of six artes that they can use (three in the ground and three in the air), but this can be expanded to twelve as the game progresses.
Some characters may not even start out with six artes to use, but will gradually learn more via the Title system. This system lets the player spend SP to unlock skills of their choice, with more options unlocked as you complete various missions or challenges that will unlock more Titles for your characters. The arte list for each character is also massive, so there is a lot of experimentation and customizability for how you want to play as each character. The amount of artes the player can use is limited by the Arte Gauge, which naturally replenishes throughout a battle. The Title system will also allow players to expand their Artes gauge
To go along with all these options, the player also has access to mystic artes (which are basically a character’s ultimate ability), Over Limits which removes the Arte gauge allowing the character to use infinite artes, boost attacks, and boost strikes, all of which you’ll learn about as you go through the game. The combat itself is easy to pick up and play, but the amount of depth in it for those wishing to master the system is vast.
Combine all this with the fact that the player can swap who they are playing as at any point during combat, which character is participating in battle, the equipped artes (even in mid-combat depending on the scenario), and it makes the options nearly limitless for combo potential. There is even an artifact you can acquire that reduces all damage taken to just 1 point, so players can fully test their combos against any enemy they choose. If at any point in the game the player feels like the game is either too hard or too easy, they can just change the difficulty.
Tales of Arise on PC runs super smoothly with minimal issues. The only problem I encountered was every time I started up the game for the first time for the day, it would crash. This was easily solved by verifying my game files on Steam. Aside from this, the game had zero issues running on my PC. There were no frame rate issues, even during late game with spells being cast by the second and my screen getting flooded with elemental attacks and enemy artes; the game kept running at a solid frame rate. According to a friend, the PS5 version encountered no issues on startup and runs just as well as the PC version.
Tales of Arise had a lot to live up to, being both a celebration of the series as a whole and a way to move in a brand-new direction. As a love letter to old fans, and a gateway for new ones, I think they have managed to do both in an excellent manner. The story managed to be beautiful and stirring in its simplicity, the gameplay had everything tied back to its phenomenal combat mechanics, the visuals were absolutely stunning, the soundtrack is memorable, and the game runs as smooth as butter (past a few initial startup issues), all wrapped up in a nice 50 to 60 hour package. This game is a true gem waiting to be discovered and, in my opinion, is a top contender with games like Death Loop for Game of the Year, being held back only by minor performance issues. The game is easily a 9 out of 10.