Weapons of mass destruction are always trouble. In the world of Tales of Xillia there is one weapon, the lance of Kresnik, that is upsetting the balance of the kingdoms. It is a weapon that channels spirit energy in ways that are too dangerous for mankind to be meddling with. To put an end to the super weapon the Lord of Spirits takes form as Milla Maxwell, a determined young woman having trouble fitting in with humanity. Players can choose from Milla or the younger male medical student Jude Mathis as their protagonist. The story begins when the two encounter one another by chance while Milla infiltrates a military research facility. Milla’s weapon is a sword and Jude is a martial artist. The story won’t be affected greatly based on who you choose, but when the two are apart you will of course be treated to what your chosen character is up to while the other is doing their thing.
Things don’t exactly go as planned for Miss Maxwell and Jude finds himself having to tag along for an increasingly dangerous quest that will pull a diverse cast together and push them all to extremes that require rapid growth and adaptation to changing conditions which constantly threaten disaster.
The meta story involves political intrigue, assassination plots, aristocrats, and unexpected twists. It is above average and avoids the common pitfalls of being spoon-fed to the gamer. It isn’t the most compelling story you’ll encounter though either. It’s really more of a vehicle for the main cast to grow on you and shine in their own moments, which I think has been true for the Tales series all along. The focus is very much on your own people and what they are going through as conditions change and decisions are made about the mission and escalating national tensions. As a crew on the run you get a look at how nuanced each of the characters is beneath their obvious exterior roles. For instance Jude is, on the surface, a naïve and hopeful optimist who wishes there were a better way to win than fighting. That sounds pretty cookie-cutter, but as things progress you get to see how that attitude changes to accept unfortunate mission parameters as well as how it affects the rest of the characters. These people learn from each other and evolve, which is more than I can say about many other video game plots.
Graphically Tales of Xillia is not exactly a powerhouse. It’s a definite upgrade from Graces f but looks a bit more like an HD update of a PS2 game than a late-gen PS3 game since the textures aren’t very detailed. It’s true the game is actually a couple of years older since it debuted in Japan some time ago but nobody should be expecting anything eye-popping here. That’s actually not a big deal, what’s important about it is whether or not the game’s visuals serve their purpose well. Overall they do do that, but with a couple of caveats. There is some blatant pop-in, not of textures but entire people and set pieces like wagons. Also, even though this is a very colorful game everything appears to be drained of contrast. Most will think I’m nitpicking though; as a lifelong JRPG fan I can tell you none of these things were a significant bother, I just think you ought to know the details. Contrasting this lack of contrast is the special effects from your moves, which are bright and shiny and quite well done. Rarer cinematic cuts provide anime greatness. The audience for this game is going to be pleased with the way it looks.
You can’t have a great RPG without some great audio, and Xillia delivers all over the place. From lilting tunes for charm to orchestral pieces to the soft but powerful jams of the battle music there is a proper set of audio for every place in the world. It always fits and helps to fill out the spaces with the proper level of liveliness or loneliness. The voice acting is usually quite good though falters with a few characters. Milla offers an interesting problem, her actress is tasked with playing a character that doesn’t quite know how to relate to people. This makes her speech a little off, which tells me to give the character some leeway. However, the delivery just isn’t as spot-on as most of the other performances. Then again, she has a charming little lisp that is endearing. What you need to know is that Japanese games tend to have some spotty English acting and this game is at the upper end of that curve when it comes to talent. I’m sure we all would have loved the option of Japanese language, but what can you do?
The gameplay is just excellent, I can’t say enough good things about it. It is varied, well paced, diverse, and satisfying. The maps tend to be medium to large areas with just enough available land for hunting, gathering, and exploring. Chests, glittering objects and item sacks beckon you to burn through the enemies on your way to collect things. Exploring is made enjoyable by the hidden goodies that are usually worth your while to find, especially when they include accessories to play dress up with. There are a lot of those by the way. Sunglasses, headbands, hair pins, hats, knives, swords, all kinds of things that you can colorize, resize, relocate, and repurpose to suit your needs. Sometimes I just spend 15 or 20 minutes customizing everyone a new way as my mood dictates. The common battles are fairly short so any grinding you do doesn’t really feel like a grind at all. I think this aspect serves the exploration well.
The battle system is super slick and still packed with Tales’ patented brand of strategy. X is your basic physical attack and Square handles your block. Holding block and tapping forward or back commands quicksteps while holding L2 allows you to free run on the battle field. If you aren’t free running then tilting the stick left or right has you run toward or away from your current target, which you can change at will. If you need to pause the action to use an item, try to run, change strategies, or activate a particular Arte manually you can press Triangle. Otherwise you’ll have the use of Artes, which are special moves you assign from the menu and gain by using the leveling system. You can command a full arsenal of Artes since they are mappable to either the right stick or the the Circle button along with a tilt of the left thumb stick. Certain Artes also have two functions when mapped with the Circle+Left stick press based on whether you tap or hold the command.
You can change which character you command in battle and the AI will handle the others. There’s a great strategy tactic embedded into the battle system called the Link system which allows you to team up with one other team member to work together. You cut and establish Links with the D-pad. Each character provides particular benefits when Linked. For instance Jude will focus on healing you when you receive damage. Also each character can assist you when you use particular Artes they are friendly to. This results in combo attacks. An Arte uses TP and there is a gauge on the left that you fill up in battle which allows your combo attacks to chain so executing one Arte after another hits the enemy with a special chain of very dramatic teamwork damage. If the chain gauge has anything in it you’ll flash with a icon after executing an Arte that is compatible with your Linked partner, if you tap R2 while that icon is up you initiate the combo attack. That might all sound confusing in word form but when it’s on your screen you’ll get it, it works great. It’s actually a lot of tools at your disposal at a very fast pace, which is a bit too fast for this old time turn-based lover but Tales fans and those who have kept up with the actiony JRPG trend will love it even more than I like it. Those of you like me will do fine too since you can get by in battle without using every available option but focusing on your own strengths. If your friendly AI isn’t up to snuff you can go into their strategy basics and tweak the things they focus on. The only thing wrong is that the timing for executing combos doesn’t seem entirely consistent and can be a hair more demanding than it should be for a game that moves at such a fast pace.
The leveling system uses a Lilium orb, which is a simple but fun and effective method of getting stronger. You have a six sided web around the orb for each character and spend GP, gotten through leveling up, on nodes that increase your stats. Since you have the freedom to choose which stats to focus on you can choose the growth direction of your character. Once you’ve activated the nodes that surround a rectangle in the web whatever skill or Arte within that rectangle will activate and be earned. As the web expands you need to activate more nodes in order to open up the enclosed skill or Arte. Skills are passive abilities that you can set in the menu, they are like perks that will allow you to avoid status problems, block more efficiently, gain TP or HP, and things of that ilk. One of your stats contains points that are spent on having skills active and each skill takes up its own designated number of points so you have to choose which to have on and which to leave off. Since you’re always getting new abilities part of the fun of the gameplay is just leveling up and then reorganizing everyone to be a cohesive fighting force. The system is a micromanager’s JRPG dream. One more thing that adds to that experience is how you shop. The shops will have more things available based on your actions. You expand the inventory by donating the stuff you collect, buying things, or donating gald (money). So even the basics of buying and selling are fun to have some control over. One change that fans may disapprove of is you don’t cook the meals anymore. They do provide some great benefits though, so it’s worth donating to the food shop.
I’m seeing replay value all over the place. There are a lot of side quest in towns that are easy to miss, hidden items, and titles to gain. When you are actually done, you’re still not done. The game encourages you to play again (which you may want to as the other protagonist) with the New Game Plus. At that point you can spend the Grade Points you’ve earned for certain perks and buffs in the new game, a lot of these are geared toward inheriting items and levels from your last game so it might pay to rack these up right before you finish.
Tales of Xillia is a highly accomplished game which stands out in its field by sticking to the things that work and presenting us with alterations that keep familiar gameplay fresh. The few nitpicky flaws I found hardly affect that game at all and nobody is going to care about them. The production excels at being what it is: a highly capable JRPG that is for actual fans of the genre. It doesn’t try to twist itself into something else and that alone makes it worth a purchase. Add to that the fact that the gameplay is a veritable playground of great ideas and you get what could well be your favorite game in the genre this generation.
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 8.5/10
Gameplay/Design – 10/10
Visuals – 8/10
Sound – 8.5/10
Lasting Appeal – 9/10
Overall – 9/10
(Not an average)
Developer: Namco Tales Studio
Publisher: Namco Bandai