Tales of Arise is treading new ground in all sorts of ways. It’s the first entry in the series in five years. It’s starting a whole new story in a new world, following installments that had sequels and successors. We’re also getting it right as a new console generation is finding its footing. Fortunately, Tales of Arise handles all new challenges as they come, resulting in an entry that builds on concepts that came before, reviews their lessons, and often feels remarkable.
Two twin worlds exist, Dahna and Rena. Renans have taken over Dahna, enslaving its people for their own benefit. A young man in an iron mask suffering from amnesia and who can’t feel pain is in one of these camps, toiling for the benefit of a Renan lord named Balseph. During an ordinary work day, an opportunity arises. He encounters not only members of a resistance force he didn’t know existed, but a Renan woman named Shionne who inflicts pain on anyone who touches her. Turns out their goals align, as both want to defeat the lords for their own reasons. Not to mention she possesses a flaming sword only Alphen can wield. What follows is an adventure spanning different regions as the two get closer, make allies, and attempt to bring the lords down.
A good way to describe Tales of Arise is picturesque. It’s a gorgeous game. Environments are detailed, elaborate, and unique to each area. It’s to the point that the Lords’ different realms in Dahna feel like they are distinct just so Bandai Namco could show off. But, and this is also important, they don’t feel big for the sake of being “big.” There are actual gathering points, treasures, opponents, fishing spots, and points of interest that make the expanses worth searching. The same could be said for some of the Zeugles you’ll face. Especially if you encounter a boss or Gigant Zeugle. Since the priority is staying alive, you can’t always fully appreciate the details. But it can look amazing. And when the anime cutscenes from Ufotable come up, they always fit in well and capture the atmosphere and characters’ personalities.
Even the skits this time around feel a bit more artistic. They have something of the same spirit as the earlier installments’ talking heads. Except now, panels pop up with full character expressions and poses, to convey more of their personalities and sense of selves in the moment. On the PS4 I did notice some of the movements seemed a bit stiff in these segments. But they’re handled well, voiced, and even collected in the Tales of Arise Camp menu so you can revisit and review them (and the cutscenes) at any time.
Though, when it comes to the story, Tales of Arise doesn’t deviate from what one expects from the series. That is, a number of established traditions and tropes come up. As do the sorts of story beats and concepts we’ve seen appearing in other RPGs and JRPGs as of late. Not that it is a bad thing. Alphen is an interesting amnesiac protagonist. The mystery surrounding Shionne makes her more compelling. Not to mention that even when foreshadowing or story elements alluded to a possible twist, I still enjoyed where it was all going.
As usual, fighting is a priority in Tales of Arise, and this installment offers an outstanding battle system. It’s familiar enough to be recognizable as a Tales game, but different enough to be engaging, intuitive, and thoughtful. Four characters are active in battle at once. Players control one, while an AI whose general direction you set controls the others. You have Artes and Techniques that can be assigned to face buttons or triggered from the menu, as well as items to use. The staples you’d expect are there, except for cooperative multiplayer.
It’s the other elements of combat that can get someone thinking even further. Dodging is critically important. A basic one can get you out of harm’s way. If you do it perfectly, you will be temporarily invincible. And keeping up your dodges allow you to trigger Over Limit, which let you use Artes without AG and Mystic Artes. But, to help ensure you are extra cautious, your opponents could enter Over Limit as well.
And then there are the Tales of Arise Boost Strikes. In a pinch, a normal Boost Attack might seem like a quick bonus hit. But each one can be helpful in certain situation. Which means saving them for the right attack can help. Both Law and Shionne are capable of knocking different sorts of enemies down, which could be followed by an Alphen Boost Strike to deal additional damage. Meanwhile, Dohalim, Kisara, and Rinwell could all use their abilities to deal with certain sorts of enemies and their attacks, making them less threatening. And when you get a moment to “strike” and unleash an incredibly powerful Boost Strike, it’s a great moment.
I also got such a good feeling whenever a new Emblem would unlock for a character. These can pop up for a number of reasons. Perhaps there was a certain action undertaken in battle. A memorable moment happened in the story that revealed more about them. You cooked. And when that happens, you get additional Artes, Techniques, and passive abilities that make these characters even better. Some of them are eventually universal perks that you can buy with SP for everyone, like “Increased Max AG” that lets someone do more.
Another great thing about Tales of Arise is how it respects your time. Fast traveling is a part of the entry and unlocks in each map typically by going through an area. You can see your current mission and side quest prerogatives at any time, and there’s an on-screen icon letting you know when you’re drawing near a goal. I rarely had issues finding materials. Campsites showed up right when I needed them, offering a way to get to know people better, cook, shop, and recover. You can save anywhere. Not to mention the farm can make it easier to gather certain sorts of materials.
In short, Tales of Arise feels satisfying. It’s gorgeous to look at and the battles fun to experience. Especially since you sometimes do get that “Ah ha!” moment when the right sort of Boost Attack or Strike comes up. The story may hit some familiar sorts of JRPG notes, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.
Tales of Arise will come to the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and PC on September 9, 2021 in Japan and on September 10, 2021 worldwide. A demo is immediately available.