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Tales of Xillia Review

Whenever I’m asked to review one of the games in Namco-Bandai’s long-running “Tales of” series of JRPGs I feel like I’m just mentally copy pasting the same article together only with a different title suffix.

No matter how far apart each installment is in terms of years, they are all so alike that you almost have to agree with the series’ detractors who criticize its lack of growth.

Like some animal who teeters on the edge of extinction, the Tales series refuses to adapt to what we are constantly told by the gaming media are the changing tastes of the modern RPG fan.

Did that scare you away? If you’re a true Tales fan I’m sure it didn’t. After all, it’s this familiarity with the series that has drawn so many longtime JRPG fans to it in the first place. In a time when other series change so much they are effectively action games with hit-point bars tacked on, the Tales series is still the same game it was back in 1995 when Tri-Ace’s founders developed it for Namco.

The ever-present Hi Ougis (Hidden Succession Skills), the cute animal mascots, the colorful fantasy worlds, the stereotypical hot-headed teen swordsmen, the button-mashing real time combat…it returns each time in a proven formula that has stood tall against the constant waves of change that have slowly eroded the foundation of its less confident peers.

While Final Fantasy may have turned into an action game and Persona evolved into a hybrid Japanese dating sim, Namco’s Tales series has exhibited superhuman stubbornness by refusing to abandon its aging roots.

Overly zealous reviewer hyperbole aside, Tales of Xillia is a fantastic game. Granted, it doesn’t deviate much from the established Tales formula, but it truly doesn’t need to. Other than the fact that you can play through the story from either one of the two main protagonist’s point of view, there isn’t much here that separates it from its forebears. At least nothing that ruins that feeling of familiarity many Tales fans enjoy so much.

Tales of Xillia does manage to have a rather interesting setup to its story, however. Unlike most JRPGs that focus on bratty heroes or misunderstood rebels, Xillia’s two main characters are a recently weakened god named Milla and a fugitive med school student called Jude.

Milla, who claims to be the physical manifestation of Maxwell, the almighty lord of spirits himself, is spurred into action when mankind completes a weapon that uses spirits as fuel and therefore threatens to destabilize the balance of the entire planet. Jude, on the other hand, is a simple honor student who is astonishingly mature for his age but nonetheless gets labeled an enemy of the state for his role in the destruction of the lab where the two meet.

At the risk of repeating my original point, the return of the infamous JRPG trope “evil empire needs to be abolished” comes bundled with Xillia as it has with nearly every Final Fantasy game as well. Though it is freshened up a bit with the revelation about Milla’s true purpose and the strained relationship between the prerequisite “rogue” character Alvin and distrusting Jude, it doesn’t necessarily break new narrative ground within the genre.

Then again, the strength of the Tales game’s have always been their character’s personalities and how they interact with one another, not the actual storyline itself.

As one of the very rare (third behind Eternia and Graces) American-released Mutsumi Inomata Tales games, Xillia’s story centers on ascent into adulthood and the selflessness of love. Unlike Fujishima’s Vesperia and Symphonia games which were stories about a man’s duty to others and defying authority, Xillia’s two main characters go through much the same evolution as Tales of Grace’s Asbel.

As someone who prefers the Inomata Tales games (Oh Rebirth, how I long to replay you in English!) I noticed that the conviction and maturity of Jude is very reminiscent of Eternia’s own head-punching healer turned martial artist Farrah Oersted. This particularly pleased me since Tales of Eternia is my second favorite Tales game after Symphonia.

Overall, Jude is a very easy to love character and the passion he has for his friends, especially Milla, is shown very believably. One scene, towards the end of the adventure when the “big revelation” is made, actually had my lip quivering.

…but you didn’t come here to listen to me ramble on about relationships, did you? A Tales fan is a Tales fan because of one thing and one thing only: Combat. Not to sound like a broken record, but in an age where combat in RPGs is either a turn-based crawl-fest or a real time shooter, Namco’s Tales series seems to be one of the few that still knows the value of real player controlled monster bashing.

Combat is an interesting thing in Xillia. By that I mean the actual act of fighting has gone back to the “old days” of the series. No more of Grace’s regenerating technical points or titles affecting the growth of your stats.

Mostly everything is very bread-and-butter now, and while many have voiced their anger over that in forums, I enjoyed the back to basics approach. The only real innovation in this installment would be the act of “linking”, which allows you to perform different super moves and gain access to special attacks by tethering yourself to another party member.

Linking isn’t complicated and is largely self-explanatory. The super moves you gain all have another move they “link with” in another party member’s own move list, and when you perform them during the combo gauge’s blinking phase, the art transforms into a much more powerful one.

It’s a very slick system that allows for a lot of abuse too, since you can map these “Trigger moves” to the directional pad and go into a long stream of uninterrupted and laughably over-powered attacks that will make short work of nearly any boss. More than any other Tales game, Xillia has a very high combo battle system.

My only real gripe with Xillia’s combat is that your AI controlled partners very rarely take advantage of this strategy themselves. Instead, they are content to merely walk into enemies and hit them, then retreat to the edge of the battlefield. I tried countless pre-programmed strategies in the options menu, but none seemed to have any effect on them.

Even worse is that I never, in the 60+ hours I played through the game, had an AI controlled party member use a “mystic arte”. The staple of the series, the most impressive moves in the game, the one thing that kept me glued to the screen when I first accessed them in Symphonia…and not a single character would use them.

The only way I could view my other party member’s mystic artes were to manually take control of them and perform them myself. It bothered me greatly to have to do that and it took quite a bit away from my enjoyment of the combat itself.

Thankfully those mistakes don’t repeat in the rest of the game’s categories. Especially in its visuals, which are the best looking anime-styled graphics I’ve seen on a console this entire generation.

The towns are all so beautifully animated and elegantly lit that I wish the PS3 allowed screenshots so I could use them as wallpaper for my laptop. It’s no stretch to say that this is the best looking Tales game in the series.

The soundtrack is likewise just as solid. Though I was a bit peeved at the constant repetition of Xian Du’s town music throughout what seemed like half of the game’s adventure areas, the score as a whole was quite impressive.

For a good month the soundtrack CD sat in my car, blaring loudly at stop lights and drive-thrus, a sure sign that the music was up to the typical Tales series standards.

Other than the combat AI oversight though, the game is quite complete. While it doesn’t have all of the post-game content of Graces F, the “Magnus Zero” bonus dungeon that opens up after the last boss fight is similar to the kind of challenge mazes we usually get in Tri-Ace games and one of the best I’ve seen in a Namco game.

Throw in some optional bosses that drop (or should I say “wear”) each character’s ultimate weapon and you have a very solid JRPG that even were it not a Tales game would still earn my praise and my money. A very solid overall effort by the Tales studio.

So if you want a solid story, one of the better rosters the series has to offer and a true PS3 level of visual quality and are willing to put up with some broken combat, Xillia is worth your time and money. It’s just a shame that the battle system is in need of work, since the rest of the game is so strong.

Unfortunately, that’s how the Tales series seems to always be. You have one or two near fatal flaws and the rest of the game is near perfection. Regardless, Xillia stands as one of the better entries in the long running series and Jude & Milla’s relationship is a huge part of that. If you buy it for any reason, buy it for that.

Editor’s Note: We know this review is late, but as with all of our reviews – we take pride in how thorough we are in covering everything about the game. Tales of Xillia 2 is coming next year in the USA and Europe.

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Carl Batchelor

About

Carl is both a JRPG fan and a CRPG'er who especially loves European PC games. Even with more than three decades of gaming under his belt, he feels the best of the hobby is yet to come.