Tales Of Arise – A New Dawn Rises
PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
When you’ve released 17 games in 21 years, it’s hard to truly redefine yourself with the next release looming so imminently. The Tales Of franchise has been producing truly excellent titles for those first 21 years but criticisms were being levelled at the lack of evolution in the franchise. So, when the franchise is suddenly dormant, new expectations naturally start to form, and with Tales of Arise emerging in time for the franchise’s 25th Anniversary in the West, the deck is stacked for a tilt at making Arise the most celebrated title in franchise history. With several years to assemble the deck, it’s time to play the cards; so can Tales Of Arise be the ace up the sleeve that breathes new life into the franchise?
The Tale of Tales is perhaps it’s largest in scale thus far, exploring the story between two warring worlds, the oppressed in Dahna, and the aggressors from Rena. The Renan have long occupied Dahna, and in most regions of the world the locals have had to work as slaves, but when one day, a Renan goes rogue and takes the fight to her own kind, the catalyst for a sensational narrative has been sparked. Shionne, a Renan with dangerous magical thorns, desperate to find a way to unbind herself from her curse encounters Alphen, a Dahnan who quite literally feels no pain, yet knows nothing of his past, and it’s this pairing that becomes the spark for wider rebellion. As the pair travel the world they come across four fantastic allies to join the party, each with their own motivations for overthrowing Renan rule, each with their own baggage, and each that do enough to break the mould as character archetypes. Each of Dahna’s five regions (plus some other places you’ll visit!) themselves have engaging stories to tell. The Lords of each region need to be overthrown in order to best the Renans but the ways with which you do that in each region are fascinating and distinct from one another. It will be hard not to be completely hooked by the plot lines of each region, but where things do begin to labour a bit is as you approach endgame, and the lore dump and excessive exposition begins. Arise does a superb job of keeping out of its own way until this point, and it was such a shame that so many ideas were tossed at us so late, or that they weren’t told in a tighter way, because the temptation to mash through dialogue becomes incredibly tempting as you approach the game’s climax. It’s buttressed by the early story delivery and the attachment you’ve formed with the party but had it not been for that, the conclusion would have been a much more painful slog.
The Tales titles have long followed a pretty clear formula, one that has served them well over the years, but it’s with Arise that Bandai-Namco has opted to shake things up a bit. Across the board, a number of changes have been made to give the franchise a modern makeover. From storytelling to visuals, and of course the gameplay, everything has received a once-over, but it’s with the gameplay where we see the most impactful changes. Despite being a JRPG through and through, Tales titles have long been drawing on fighting games for inspiration. Stringing combos together has always been a key facet of combat, but that focus has sometimes served as a detracting factor for prospective players. Arise takes a more accessible approach to combat, and while combos exist, and strategies are still important, executing is a much simpler, and flashier task. The initially jarring decision to map standard attacks to your R1/RB button feels counterintuitive at first until you build up some proficiency with the basic combat. R1 attacks, paired with your combat artes which are mapped to the face buttons build up a gauge that will be familiar to all who’ve played with the Stagger systems from recent Final Fantasy entries. Each character (and you can only control one at each moment, the rest are AI-controlled NPCs in that time) has three artes mapped to the face buttons and the jump button, so rapidly swinging your weapon with the shoulder button and then quickly bashing an Arte actually feels quite logical/natural after a brief adjustment period. While fighting, characters are building up their own personal gauges, and the special attacks they can unleash when filled can be played strategically or unleashed in a flurry to inflict massive hurt. Each ability has a different function, from halting a fast-moving enemy, to taking down flying targets or simply knocking an opponent over, so players can take advantage of these to exploit the enemies weaknesses and get the upper hand temporarily.
The world structure itself is fairly by the books with a core narrative playing out with a litter of side quests always available for players to explore and to build their level. Not a lot of level grinding was necessary to keep at a competitive level outside or when you’re gearing up for some post-credits encounters, but Bandai-Namco does frustratingly push additional transactions in your face that on a basic level can be cosmetic but others offer EXP boosts, and others just straight-up level boosts. The game itself already offers a story mode of difficulty, so for any player who wants the narrative without the challenge has no need to pony up extra cash. The skill system, layered atop of standard levelling is fairly straight-forward and gifts the player some scope to advance their characters in the ways they see fit, but it slowly doles out opportunities to advance, so some players may feel somewhat restricted in what they can do at points.
While there have been significant changes to the storytelling and gameplay, the thing that will most likely catch eyes is the massive change in the games visual style. While there were few detractors to the existing artistic flair, it’s hard to deny the impressive looks of Arise. The new style leans more heavily than ever on realism, appealing to a western audience, but still speaks to the Japanese audience too with its anime cutscenes, vibrant and sometimes exaggerated character and Zeugle designs, and more. The voiceover cast has done an exceptional job to keep things more grounded than ever before, and keeping much of the anime hysteria out. It’s not totally absent but it’s excellently balanced, a credit to the voice talent but also the writers. The musical accompaniment is sweeping, haunting and somber at all the appropriate times, with the team clearly connecting well with the withers to understand what feelings should be conveyed in all the key moments to ensure the musical backing helps these moments hit you deep in your soul. One point of disappointment however is the lack of Photo Mode. When you’ve created a world this beautiful, be sure to show it off!
Despite the finale being bloated, Tales Of Arise is a treat for fans of the franchise, but also an excellent jumping-on point for franchise newcomers. Accessibility to new audiences, and audiences of varying levels of ability has been a clear focus in Arise, but those adjustments haven’t come at the expense of the hardcore. Arise can be as hard or as easy as you want it to be, offers up a powerful narrative, tight, stylish combat, presents itself incredibly well, and is a charming ride throughout. After 25 years in this world, Tales has reinvented itself yet again.