Tales of Arise is a JPRG that released September 10th 2021, on all systems that you can realistically imagine. And not the Switch (key word is realistic!). It features main character Alphen liberating the realms of Dahna from the oppressive rule of the Renans. Ironically enough, I had just finished my first playthrough of Xillia when this released, so I decided to put off trying Arise. That was totally the reason and not my Final Fantasy XIV addiction, nope. How does this game stack up to other Tales games? How is the story? Is it worth playing?
Oh yeah. It’s worth playing. Minor spoilers ahead!
Starting a new game, you’re greeted with a long monologue worthy of Final Fantasy XII. I’m not a fan of games that spend several minutes explaining their plot to you before you even start the game. Next, you are greeted by some pretty nice visuals. The best the Tales series has seen. It may not be on par with other triple A games such as Horizon, Elden Ring, or even the new Rachet and Clank, but they’re definitely pleasant. The visuals become even more spectacular throughout the various realms you visit, especially with the minimal UI approach this game has taken.
Tales of Arise has you journeying across the five realms of Dahna, each with their own geological theme. It makes each area feel very fresh, even if the game remains very linear. I was hoping Arise would incorporate more of an open world approach, or at the very least, seamless transitions between the maps. The world however remains very linear, and it gets quite frustrating any time you hit an invisible wall. The gameplay however, remains very smooth. Definitely the smoothest in the series. You are no longer locked to running in very specific directions, and free run is a thing of the past. In fact, you could say the entire battle is free run. Artes are now shortcutted to buttons, and eventually holding down L2 (or ZL) along with those buttons when you gain more arte slots. Artes are no longer restricted to the direction you tilt your stick. It actually plays similar to most modern RPGS. This also makes dodging much easier.
My only problem with this new battle system is CP. Unlike most Tales games, this game does not have an MP system. Instead, offensive spells use AG, and can be used however many times you’d like so long as you have enough AG (which recovers). CP is consumed whenever a healing spell is cast. And the only way to recover CP is by using consumables (which are very expensive early on, and you can’t even buy them until you have reached the third realm) or staying at inns/resting at campfires. Because of this, I found myself fighting only the enemies that were necessary to progress. If I accidentally stumbled across an enemy with low CP, I would do my best to fight it, or outright flee if given the option. In dungeons, I would make a small amount of progress before teleporting out to rest at an inn and then teleporting back in, making dungeons last forever.
The CP system also made early boss fights very painful to fight. Literally for our heroes. I would actually consider the first boss to be one of the hardest bosses in the game. Resources are very limited, so you have to rely on getting perfect guards and perfect dodges. The early bosses are also very difficult, especially due to the AI. I had to mess with AI settings quite a bit because they would just not stop dying. So many times I had to solo a boss because it was easier to do that than constantly heal/rez my party back up. Granted, Tales games have historically been hard at the beginning and relatively easy at the end, which has always irked me. Halfway through the game I made the decision to main Shionne for bosses because I could not trust this AI’s healing.
But who IS Shionne? Who is anyone? That brings us to our characters. Alphen, Shionne, Rinwell, Law, Kisara, and Dohalim in that order. Alpehn is our main protagonist. He goes by the name Iron Mask early in the game. He wears a mask that prevents him from remembering his past and feeling pain. Literally. Even if he is immune to pain, he is still capable of dying.
Shionne is the second character we meet in this game. She is what is assumed to be a noble fleeing her homeworld Rena, and is eventually captured on Dahna. Shionne is under a strange curse referred to as “thorns”. Anyone who touches her is in for a sharp pain, which is why so many are interested in her. Shionne also manages to be the most annoying character in the game, if not the series, even rivaling Luke fon Fabre from Abyss. She doesn’t care about anyone or anything other than defeating the Renan lords who rule over Dahna. She’s very blunt and makes a lot of snarky comments throughout the game. She picks fights for no reason, and sometimes leads the party into danger because of her hotheadedness. Seriously, there were many times I had to take a break from this game just because of how annoying she was.
Next is Rinwell, a Dahnan capable of using astral artes (I’ll get to this in a bit). She also has a hatred for Renans after they killed her parents. I don’t have a problem with Rinwell so much as the timing of when she was introduced. Because Shionne is a Renan, Rinwell does not take kindly to her (that makes two of us!). Shionne being the ass she is, will provoke Rinwell with snarky comments, both intentionally and unintentionally. For a couple areas in the game, it’s just the two of them going back and forth each setting the other one off. Makes for a very annoying journey.
Next we have Law. Law is the son of one of Alphen’s friends. He’s a martial artist who also functions as the comic relief character. I was happy to see that they didn’t immediately shaft him after introducing him. Law never really gets any big moments in the game, and he definitely gets the least amount of screen time out of everyone, but he’s overall a very enjoyable character who evens out Shionne and Rinwell.
Next are Kisara and Dohalim, who join at almost the same time. When Kisara was introduced, she was very forgettable, but becomes one of the more prominent characters as the game continues. Dohalim is a lord of one of the realms. Unlike the other lords, he treats Renans and Dahnans relatively equal. Dohalim’s screen time tends to fluctuate more than any other character in my opinion. He starts out very strong, but once he joins your party you almost never see a lot of him until near the end of the game. Which is a shame because he is such a well written character.
In fact, all of these characters are well written. Even Shionne (to an extent). This is where things get different from other Tales games. Instead of focusing on having an over-the-top story, this game focuses on developing its characters. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But because of this, the story starts to become easily predictable and relies on a lot of tropes and cliches. Of course there are a couple of things here and there that are shocking, but for the most part, the game tends to feel like you’re going from point A, to point B, to point C, etc.
The Renans have been using the Dahnans as slaves for the past 300 years to collect something known as astral energy for their “Crown Contest.” Astral energy is what allows people to use magic. Renans are the only people capable of using astral artes (magic), with the exception of Rinwell who comes from a long line of Dahnan mages. Despite this, Dahnans are still able to collect astral energy by activities such as mining, building, working, etc. The Renan lords take part in the Crown Contest, a competition for gathering astral energy. The lord who can gather the most astral energy will be crowned the Sovereign, ruler of all of Rena. Alphen and Shionne team up to defeat the five lords of Dahna. Alphen to free the slaves, and Shionne for her own motives. This style of storytelling leads to your story becoming very predictable.
Like I said, the storytelling was toned down to focus on character development. You and Alphen discover his memories together, which lead to him feeling like a fully fleshed out character, not some generic RPG protagonist. Shionne’s blunt rudeness is also explained by her traumatic past. Rinwell’s anger is quelled when she realizes her hate leads her to be no different from the Renans who are oppressing Dahna. Law learns to cope with the mistakes of his past. Dohalim has his own skeletons in his closet, and goes from being what some might consider a coward, to a strong ruler. Kisara is a bit of a tricky one… Her development is more vague, but the story allows you to see all these different sides to her. Her motherly side to the cast, her passion for fishing, and her overcoming her weaknesses.
Tales of Arise is a very enjoyable experience, and perhaps one of the best Tales games for new fans to start with. The revamped battle system makes it easier than ever to jump in. While the story might be lackluster in some areas compared to past games, its simplicity is still enjoyable. You have a cast of characters who grow and develop on their journey, and characters you hated before are now endearing to you. All of this mixed with stunning animation and incredible music makes this journey a must.