Platform: PS3 / Genre: Japanese Role Playing Game
Developer: Namco Tales Studio / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
No JRPG is completely immune to the common trappings of the genre, and Tales of Xillia is no different in that regard. Establishing its plot quickly, Xillia uses the age old “save the world from its own destruction” scenario – I can’t even begin to count how many of those stories I have played out. Yet, something special between the beginning and the end occurred that made me forgive its rather contrived plot. Critical to a JRPG’s success is its ability to tap into a player’s sense of pathos, by means of character development. And its something that Xillia does with grand fashion. Over the course of 30 or so hours, I began to care about the small group of characters that the game presented me with. Damn the improved battles system! Damn, colorful world of Rieze Maxia! Between the thoughtful characterizations and integrated storytelling design, my time with Xillia has been wonderful. To be only stymied by some framerate issues, and generic music is acceptable, if only because the sums of its parts far outweighs everything else.
While the groundwork of Xillia is indeed contrived, if not for want of trying that it is still able to garner my attention from the get go. The game takes place in the land of Rieze Maxia, a colorful and vibrant world ruled by two nations, Auj Oule and Rashugal. As would be suspected, both nations aren’t fond of each other and the latter has decided to take to arms by constructing a weapon known as the Lance of Kresnik – this not unlike any nuclear-capable weapon in our terms. Thus begins the long journey of our heroes to protect mankind from their impending doom, with a few twists here and there. I myself am partial to this type of plot device, however its not exactly easy to pull off; there has to be an emotion weight pressuring the narrative, which is there more often than not. However, when the story finally reaches its climax, I am left rather torn – and so as not to spoil any details, I will keep my reaction limited. It felt as though the writers attempted to make something incredibly stunning and yet fell just a few steps short of the goal. Like I said, no for want of trying. Its not a bad story, it just didn’t have the emotional impact . All that said, I found that it really mattered less and less as I played through the game – the characters and their interactions mattered more to me.
Tales took a different approach to presenting the main characters in this entry. Past titles had very clear main protagonists from the very early stages. From the onset, you are given the option to choose your protagonist – I chose Milla for future reference. This decision reflects throughout the game, particularly in the second half, as you are given different perspectives for the same events. Inner dialogues and secret chats are yours to have. Pivotal scenes are based around your chosen character later in the game, part of the emotional impact that I had mentioned earlier. While its execution was ultimately imperfect, its effect was well received. Small moments where Leia and Milla would share secrets away from Jude were always welcomed, but events that separated Milla and Jude were always the most interesting. My journey with Milla may have left out more interesting details about Jude, but that is why the game is worth of a second playthrough – more on this later though.
I also want to mention briefly that while both Jude and Milla are easily the most important characters in the game, Xillia does not suffer from a lack of diversity. The group rounds out at about six members a quarter of the way through, and each provides an interesting picture as to why they are involved in the affairs that lead to the games climactic result. In fact, while Milla and Jude are the most important characters, Alvin may be the most interesting – but you’ll just have to play the game to find out why.
The ability to tell a story is not always as simple as getting from point A to point B. When playing RPGs in general, we are constantly exploring, completing side quests, and getting a sense of the world we inhabit. Tales of Xillia provides all of this naturally, allowing players to partake in sub-event missions that can range between the mundane fetch quests or typical monster hunts. However, they also include several different series of cut scene sub-quests that are completely optional, yet add that extra layer of appreciation to the overarching narrative. However, none of these quests in particular are necessary to complete the game, but as you delve deeper into the world of Reize Maxia, it’s worth taking the time to search for these events and play them out.
In addition to the quests themselves, a more fleshed out world is built upon by one of Tale’s hallmark features, skits. For those who have never played a Tales game, skits are sequences in which portraits of characters appear and have a discussion mid-game. Some vary in serious discussion over what their plans in the course of the game will be; others act as hints towards objectives that need completing. However, the best are simply the candid moments – particularly one that discusses the origins of “gel” or “bazongas.”
Tales of Xillia couldn’t be what it is though without its fantastic combat system. Encounters occur by colliding with monsters on the field, and take place on a circular grid that allows the player to roam freely with one character. Built upon Tales’ tried and true linear motion battle system, combat is a mixture between normal attacks and artes, the latter being the equivalent of magic or skill attacks in any other game. Its fluid, fun and fast-paced makes you want to engage with enemies as opposed to game with more traditional systems. The link system introduced in Xillia also adds that extra layers of strategy, so its not completely mindless button fest. In addition, all characters have unique abilities tied to their links, so mixing and matching is encouraged, especially when combining artes during links.
Progression is also unique this time around through a system using “lilium orbs.” The basic principal is similar to Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid, but with more freedom and accessibility. It really felt like I could dictate the direction of my characters, and helped decide which artes I wanted, when I wanted them.
Xillia’s combat is great, but it is not without its faults. When too many particle effects appear on screen, the frame takes a nosedive, making combos nearly impossible to follow. It also hinders the excitement that comes with combat – something I didn’t experience in past Tales games. Also, while this probably amounts to a small contingent of players, battles allow for two-player co-op. However, the linking system makes in a flawed option and is not necessarily recommend. If they patch how links work in multiplayer (ie. Not break) then it could be a lot of fun! However, it stands as a small hiccup in the overall game relative to other past titles.
There were a few other problems I had with the game. I personally found the soundtrack, with the exception of a few pieces, to be rather bland. And of the titles that do stand out, it’s nothing to run home about. It was rather disappointing having to hear the same uninspired battle theme over and over again – I felt like it could have been better. Another issue is in regards to the game’s graphics. While I greatly enjoyed the beautiful colors in most of the world, particular in the Auj Oule region, graphics seemed dated in both combats and in environments. Its not pressing issue, but the long localization has definitely shown a games age. And personally, I thought Tales of Vesperia actually looked like a better game in terms of graphics. Does any of this make the game a deal breaker? Not at all – I would still recommend Xillia to any fan of the genre.
I loved my time playing Tales of Xillia; it really stood out among the JRPGs to be released this generation. Sure, there are a few things I believe could have been done better, but my appreciation for the title is strong. It featured characters I wont soon forget, and a combat system that still keeps me coming back for more. Even more, the New Game+ system uses a point system that allows you to purchase the things you want to carry over for that second go-around. Theres plenty of reason to continue diving back in. What’s better is that we are also getting the sequel next year – so hopefully most of my complaints will be put to bed. But don’t hesitate until then, because Tales of Xillia easily ranks among the top JRPGs to come out this generation.
+ Awesome cast of characters
+ Addictive combat system
+ Plenty of reason to come back for more
+ Beautiful and colorful worlds
– Story does not live up to it potential
– Music is bland
– Framerate issues during battle
– Graphics seem dated in areas