Tales of Arise is something of a reinvention for the franchise. Bandai Namco’s long-running RPG series has focused on a bright nostalgia surrounding its action-based battles, and feeling like older games has felt like something of an asset. But at this point? It definitely needed a new coat of paint. We’ve spent a few hours playing the game’s opening chapter, and you can definitely feel the dawn of a new Tales era.
Arise’s early hours, at least, are bleak and barren. The new tone feels like what we’ve seen from a lot of Japanese franchises: a pivot to a “grittier” approach in an effort to garner more global appeal. That said, it also seems to know that people come to Tales for over-the-top anime fighting, so there’s a lot of that, too. But it does feel a little different at the start.
The game uses a lot of close-up, behind-the-back camera angles and observational quips as you walk slowly by an area, like it’s Uncharted or something. Once you start feeling out-of-place, though? The music kicks in! You start yelling out names like “Swallow Blade” and “Rising Wyvern” as you attack! And you’re snapped right back into Tales’ reality.
Tales of Arise isn’t a technically impressive game by modern standards, but it’s a huge upgrade for the Tales franchise. The commitment to its stylized anime aesthetic helps, for sure. The side conversation skits, once just static headshots talking back and forth, are now presented in a manga style. Expressions, different shapes and framing really work well for these sequences, making them more engaging and worthwhile.
It also gets a lot out of its lighting, smoke and focus. We’ve seen this approach a lot lately, as it helps a game scale well to platforms’ different technical capabilities, and also lightens the load on graphical assets. For Arise, it works! After all, it’s a game about the party members, and making sure the game looks nice enough in this way lets most of the attention go to details in character models.
The first part of Tales of Arise focus on two characters: the protagonist Alphen, known at this point as Iron Mask, and the powerful elementalist Shionne. In the opening chapter, Arise introduces the main struggle: a fight against the power-siphoning Renan Lords. Freedom! Justice! Uh, amnesia! It’s classic JRPG motivation. In that way, it’s still very Tales.
We were able to play through two of the game’s dungeons, leading up to the first big boss encounter. These areas didn’t have a lot of enemy variety, though with new tutorials rolling out throughout them, that might have been an intentional choice. There’s a lot to pick up. These segments are spaced out well enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re locked into training mode for an hour, but still early in the game so you can start pulling off combos and unlocking special artes.
There’s a lot of overlaid combat systems, as players have come to expect from Tales. You need to manage stamina and spellcasting resources, and you need to build up special meters. Bigger enemies take a lot longer to fight! So the game builds custom attack animations. It also allows you to trigger them at specific times with a press of the directional pad. This allows the dev team to have some moments feel a bit more cinematic! It would, of course, be nice if the base combat allowed for this sort of fun and variety, though. But boss fights are frustratingly long, if the first one against Balseph is any indication, so anything helps.
Fundamentally, though, Tales of Arise is a game about learning and dodging enemy attack patterns. This is sort of true about a lot of games, but the stark importance of hit-and-run in Arise makes it almost feel like a Punch-Out!! title at times.
There’s definitely some new stuff in Tales of Arise, a welcome development for a franchise that has felt stagnant in recent years. But with all this change? It was still a comforting, nostalgic feeling when we unlocked Demon Fang. Some things staying the same can be quite nice.