JRPG fans often get left in the dark when it comes to game releases. Unlike shooters, sports and adventure games, JRPGs don’t have those annual releases to look forward to. Instead, these games grace our lives every now and then and we can only hope and pray they are going to be good. The last masterpiece JRPG I played was Dragon Quest XI back in 2017 and nothing has come close to its superb storytelling and incredible gameplay until now. Tales of Arise is fantastic and brought back the love I have for the genre. Sure, there are some rough moments and some mechanics aren’t as fully realized as others but as a package, this is one of the best JRPGs around.
If you are not familiar with the Tales series, it has been around for a long time. The series has seen releases on GameCube, PS2, PS3, DS and other platforms. If anything, the last generation of consoles didn’t come close to the number of games that were released during my childhood. Thankfully, Tales of Arise has brought the series back to life. It is most likely the best place to jump into the series too but they don’t tie together so don’t stress about missing out on the story.
The Tales of series has also always featured a very different combat system than other JPRGs on the market. Instead of a slow, turn-based fight, players are thrown into battle and have to perform combos while attacking and listening to their party members scream every move’s name from the top of their lungs. It is a lot to deal with at times. The story in the Tales series has mostly held up throughout each game while delivering deep characters and rich plotlines.
Tales of Arise brings the best of the series to the fight while also refining a lot of the other elements including the combat. Best of all, the story and characters are lovable and carry the game right until the end. These characters grow through every chapter, learn new ways of life and slowly became like a family I visited every day as I turned on my PS5 and jumped into the world. These layered personalities make a world of difference in Tales of Arise. Each character truly brought something unique to the party not only in combat but from a narrative point of view too. I cared. I felt for them and I smiled throughout the game.
The story in Tales of Arise is a rollercoaster. For the most part, it focuses on Alphen, a slave who can’t remember his past but one day gets roped into the action as he meets the hot-headed Shionne. Shionne, who has escaped the grasp of her captors sets off to take down each of the lords that reside over the realms in Dahna. You see, the world of Dahna was invaded by the Renans three hundred years ago. These invaders came from a sister planet called Rena and fought for dominance on the planet. Fast forward a few hundred years and the Renan now rule over the land which is divided into five realms. Each realm is owned and run by a lord who controls an element and the Dehnan slaves in the region. At the same time, these lords put the Dahnan people to work and harvest Astral Energy from them in order to become more powerful.
There’s a lot more to it but discovering the story as it unravels in Tales of Arise is part of the fun. The plot goes to some extreme places but never felt overly complicated by any means. It is about people rising up and taking back their world. Hence the “Arise” in the title. Each of the lead characters also makes for an enjoyable experience as their pasts are tied to the game’s narrative and you take on quests that help them out. Mostly everything in Tales of Arise is also fully voiced and the voice work is fantastic. Tales of Arise doesn’t shy away from its high production costs. There are even over 300 skits to listen to that focus on the party chatting to each other about something. Be it how Alphen can’t cook or battle strategies before a boss.
Speaking of production costs, Tales of Arise is stunning. The game’s cel-shaded world is a beauty to explore even while running through the same underground tunnel over and over again. The sheer detail in every city made exploring the game a wonderful experience. I remember standing in the middle of a market in Viscint and watching as the hanging plants swayed in the wind, the people spoke to each other and every alley had these bright cloth banners strung from building to building. I never felt as if any environment was reused or asset was copied and pasted in another area. You truly get this feeling of fantasy in every shot.
I did a lot of fighting in Tales of Arise. The game time said I spent over 10 hours just fighting stuff. One thing I have to mention is that if you played the Tales of Arise demo, don’t think the combat in that portion represents the full game. While it gets to that point eventually, it is hard to wrap your head around a combat system when you’re dropped right into the deep end with every skill unlocked and character available. This is what happened in the demo for me. The main game slowly eased me into combat as I got new party members, learned new skills and mastered each enemy’s weakness. Thank goodness for that too. As I mentioned, you spend a lot of time fighting baddies in the game.
Combat is fast and flashy. It is also very loud. So much so that I often had to turn down the game volume when playing at night due to this. You can control any of the characters in the game and use skills assigned to specific buttons. You can also move about, jump and perform basic attacks. However, the big feature in Tales of Arise comes from each party member’s traits and how they tie into combat. Alphen is a heavy damage dealer that can stun enemies with his flaming sword. Shionne uses a rifle and can shoot flying enemies out of the air stunning them. Rinwell can absorb an enemy’s Astral Art stunning them and turning the attack onto them. Law breaks shields. Kisara defends with her shield. Lastly, Dohalim slows enemies down by entangling them in vines.
What I have mentioned above simply relates to the game’s trait system. While each of the party members also gets skills that heal, attack, buff and build up combos with, the traits is where the mechanics come into play. These special abilities greatly help with combat and knowing which party member to call in goes a long way. For example, fighting flying enemies, I knew using Shionne’s ability will knock them out of the air. Rinwell could steal a magic attack from a boss and use it against them. Law always helped to knock an enemy’s shield down. You get what I am saying. So combat would be a combination of attacking, using skill and abilities and these traits whenever possible.
There is more to it though. Parties learn to combine flashy attacks into even flashier attacks and the game relies on a perfect dodge system too. Before I knew it I was jumping around the screen slicing and dicing enemies and calling out all the attacks and traits possible to win the fights. Given how much time you spend fighting in Tales of Arise, it had to be enjoyable and I found myself running towards fights more than away from them.
You also spend a lot of time exploring throughout the game and it is just as fantastic. Each realm spans multiple areas and they include items to collect, treasures to find, materials to mine and hidden bosses to take on. I never felt like the exploration in Tales of Arise was ever a chore. There is the perfect amount of things to do as I ran from enemy to enemy while collecting rice along the way. Cooking ingredients are then used to make food at camps and inns. These meals grant buffs to attack, item drop rates and more. Different party members also have a “favourite meal” so getting them to cook grants extra perks.
There are also side quests to take on which include running errands for people and even hunting down massive bosses that I had to return back to later in the game. The gear crafting is simple and let me make new weapons for my party using resources I found from killing enemies and looting ore. It was not until the late game where these resources became tough to find but the reward for the best gear was worth it.
Tales of Arise also includes some horrible in-game purchase where you can actually spend real money to buy Gald. Gald is used for mostly everything. Some of these in-game purchases also include resource packs with healing items and materials. There are also costume packs that are fun. Do you need these purchases? Not really. There is an abundance of things to collect in the game and various ways to make money. Sure, a 100k Gald deposit will help speed things up but you should be okay. You can also actively turn up and down the difficulty so if you’re struggling, don’t buy the resource pack that includes stat increases. Just toggle the settings.
I spent most of my waking hours playing Tales of Arise in the past few weeks and it was time well spent. The game offers so much to enjoy from the incredible story and characters to the side missions, crafting, exploration and even fishing. Other than the in-game purchases, I can’t complain about this JRPG much. It ticked all the boxes and I honestly expected it to be average.
Tales of Arise Review
Tales of Arise tells a compelling story while being extremely fun to play too. The fully realized world and lore forced me to invest in it all and I couldn’t pull myself away. It is the most accessible Tales game in the series and is one of the best games of the year.
This Tales of Arise review is based on a code sent to us by Bandai Namco
Available On: PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC | Reviewed On: PS5 | Release Date: 10 September 2021 | Price: R1,080