As promised in my 12 Days post on playing Tales of Graces f and Symphonia, I picked up another Tales of game and finished it within a few weeks. Tales of Xillia is a 2011 title that came to America in 2013 on the PS3 and, like most of the titles in the series, includes combat co-op. The story runs along a clear line, battle allows for interesting combinations, and many dated and irritating qualities of older titles are removed. Long-time fans, however, will likely knock Xillia in several fields: story, setting, combat, and missing elements that are signatures of the franchise. On the whole, I enjoyed the game and would recommend it as a possible entrance point for new players to the franchise.
Story + Characters
I am not a fan of sandbox-type games. Too much choice and lack of direction confuses me and I take no pleasure in running around “living” in a world without strong purpose. Tales of Xillia tells a simple, yet powerful, story with little distraction. While there are several side quests, they either run parallel to the preset direction, usually supplementing the main plot with additional details, or deviate without going too off course.
I was particularly struck by the themes since most of them are applicable to the present. Topics like environmental conservation, energy sustainability, and social discrimination make up the conflicts in Xillia. The comparisons between Rieze Maxia’s symbiotic relationship with the spirits and Elympios’ expenditure of its spirits to our world’s use of fossil fuels are easily drawn. Similarly, the “me first” attitude of Elympios citizens towards Rieze Maxia’s harvesting smacks close to home. The game developers’ opinions on climate change and war are clear, if not a bit too obvious.
Well-developed characters have always been important to me, whether they be in books, movies, or games. Every one of the cast members here has an interesting back story, and each visibly grows over the course of the story. At the start of the game, you are given the choice of playing either Jude or Milla as the protagonist; after much deliberation, I chose Jude. His line is recommended for a more detailed and connected story, whereas Milla’s may leave the player a bit confused over certain scenarios. Playing Jude was a welcome change after Symphonia’s Lloyd and Graces f’s Asbel. He weighs his options and examines every situation with a critical eye. Although he envies Milla her purpose and determination, I, in turn, admire his methodical approach. If rash do-ers are more your taste, you’ll still find the trait in Jude’s childhood friend and playable character Leia.
Additional party members Elize and Rowen come with complicated histories, one searching for her forgotten past and the other attempting to come to terms with his. Elize’s talking plushie, Teepo, annoyed at times with his incessant insults and complaining, but he also served to round out her shy personality. As much as I hate to admit it, I actually started to miss his quips later on in the game.
And finally, Alvin. His is an interesting inclusion, since from the beginning we are expected to suspect his intentions. We know he’s hiding something, and question his every move. Yet I can’t help but feel sorry for him when every word and kindness is met with skepticism. He deserves the suspicion, but he also deserves props for his dedication to his goal. He reminds me of that guy in school whose charisma and carefree attitude won him popularity, despite other less than desirable bad boy qualities. There is also an odd amount of fan art of Alvin with almost every one of the other main characters, except maybe Rowen.
As for the villains and supporting characters of Xillia, I’m happy to say that they all have more than one side to them. There is no blanket evil antagonist. The closest I came to hating a character was with Ivar, the handmaid to Milla and, hands down, the most annoying personality I have come across in the franchise. Ivar’s ego pushes away everyone with whom he comes into contact. Even now, I cannot think of a good reason for why he was kept in the story.
Another one of my main irritations with Xillia, as much as I enjoyed the smooth direction of the story, was the flood of instructions provided for the player. The game already provides a convenient map for main and side objectives via the “R1” button and “Underway” Event log, but it still proceeds to bash the player over the head with additional hints through skits and cut scenes. A mini skit on its own wouldn’t bother me since it typically provides fun character development, but many times a skit would follow immediately after a cut scene, with both giving the same suggestion. Sometimes I would get up to four or five skit prompts in a row. That is way too much information all at once, and I do not appreciate crutches when I have no injury to speak of.
While I am complaining, let me next cover the setting. I’ve always admired the details in Tales of world maps and dungeons, but I cannot give such praise to Xillia. The majority of the environment followed a template made up of the same elements: field, surrounding cliffs, holes hiding treasures in said cliffs, hills with climbing vines, and rocks and trees lining an obvious path. I could apply a quick color filter and, wa la, we’d have a new section! The sameness of most everything took away the wonder of exploration. This recycling also goes for the monsters. Maybe I’ve never noticed it before, but it seemed like Xillia’s monsters were just clones of one another with minor adjustments like color and elemental affinity. Somehow every dungeon included a type of lizard, or frog, or cactus-like plant.
While the diversity of monsters may have been lacking, I did find fighting them enjoyable. Coming to Xillia shortly after completing Graces f and Symphonia, I immediately noticed the differences. Xillia employs a system called the Dual Raid Linear Motion Battle System–an offshoot of the typical Tales of Linear Motion Battle System. Battles consist of four party members and you are given the option of “linking” your main fighter with one of the others. You can also switch your partners at any time during battle. Who you link with affects your link artes, artes that are a combination of you and your partner’s special attacks. Not all of the artes result in a link arte, so it’s important to read up on which ones trigger with each of your party members. Since I was playing this with my husband as Player 2, I had to avoid linking with him and turning his controls back to AI. With my main as Jude, I usually linked with Elize, who has some hilarious attacks using Teepo.
As for the controls themselves, I found them clunkier than those of Graces f. Dodging and blocking are more difficult, though not bad by any means. The possible attack combinations also seem a bit much, with the basic attacks and sixteen different arte attacks all at the player’s fingertips. It took a while for me to remember everything. What helped was setting parallel arte attacks for the two sets of eight, like air moves for both Up and L1+Up. Combat is quick with features like dashing and the overlimit gauge. I also love how fast Jude moves, which can be hastened even further by choosing specific skills.
I do need to point out another aspect of the combat, which is not necessarily a good or a bad thing. If Elize is always in your party, you will have a difficult time losing any battle. She instantly heals and resurrects before I notice anyone needs help. I played on Normal Mode, but given how easy I found all of the fights, I should have pushed the difficulty to Hard. In most Tales of games, I fail boss battles once or twice at the minimum, but that never happened in Xillia. It was comical how at the end, KWoo and I kept expecting a final fight that would actually stress us. Nope! That last boss battle we easily won was it and we felt a bit let down by the ease of it all.
A clear negative to gameplay is the lag. Every fight involving flashy artes resulted in the console struggling to keep up with the graphics. I can’t count the number of times my usually fleet-footed Jude would suddenly move in slow motion after a particularly bombastic arte attack. If Xillia pushed the PS3 this much, I’m scared to try Xillia 2 or Zestiria.
Many of the Tales of games include signature elements. Not all titles follow the patterns, but it can be fun to notice familiar faces and details. Sometimes the familiar results in nostalgia, while at other times its lack of presence sours the experience.
All of the titles I have played eventually include fast travel of some kind, like Ba’ul in Vesperia or the spaceship in Graces f. This ability is provided early on in Xillia. The instant ability to teleport to any city, dungeon, or field, even a specific entrance, makes moving around convenient. However, areas only appear on the map after you have encountered them, so you cannot travel to a place you have never visited in the past. This fast travel hastens the completion of side quests and allows the player to focus on more important matters.
One of my favorite activities, as silly as it may sound, is the ability to change the players’ appearances with clothes and other accessories. Xillia makes this even easier with multiple equipment slots dedicated to swapping out clothes, glasses, and even hairstyles. If I remember correctly, we are given fun options much earlier on than in older Tales of titles.
What first drew me to this franchise was its art style, which takes on an anime and manga look. A staple of all games are the skits, which appear like comics and are optional to view. I always, always opt to watch these. While I may have complained earlier on in this review about the sheer magnitude of skits thrown at the viewer, I still love the dialogue provided in them between the characters. This is where you get to see a level of goofiness and range of expression absent from many cut scenes.
Along with all of these fun inclusions, there was plenty missing or negatively altered. I will always prefer Japanese audio to English dubbing. Though the quality of English voice acting was decent, I still miss the original intonation. Since I have subtitles turned on regardless, I see no reason why an option for Japanese and English audio is not provided in the North American release.
Food is another Tales of staple that enhances gameplay by boosting stats in and out of combat. Several games require the player to “cook” meals themselves by combining ingredients and choosing a specific player to prepare the dish. The end quality can change depending on the chosen cook. However, the action of cooking is completely removed from Xillia. Instead, materials gathered by the player are donated to a Food Vendor, unlocking pre-made dishes. Only one of each dish is allowed in your inventory, though you can buy different levels of one dish or similar dishes affecting the number of battles and a percentage of effectiveness. I honestly forgot to eat most of the time. It was only after enough skits triggered with characters complaining about being hungry that I remembered to consume one of my food items. While I understand the convenience of the pre-made meals, I still miss the more hands-on approach of creating them.
Anyone familiar with this franchise will have their own nightmares about puzzles, from actual puzzle games to confusing dungeons. Xillia is the first title I have played completely lacking in any kind of game like a Game Center or card game. The maps are all straightforward, so there’s no getting lost aimlessly looking for a save point (the optional quick save make this concern obsolete, anyways). The closest resemblance can be found in the player occasionally moving a block to access a treasure, but that usually only entails moving a single block in one obvious direction. I may have hated some old labyrinths (I’m looking at you, Symphonia) or begged KWoo to solve a particularly difficult puzzle, but I actually missed them in Xillia.
My list of played games in this series now includes four: Symphonia, Vesperia, Graces f, and Xillia. I have three ready to go: Dawn of the New World, Xillia 2, and Abyss. As of now, Xillia ranks third on my preferred list, with Vesperia and Graces f topping it, in that order. Due to Xillia’s clear direction and friendly combat, I highly recommend it to anyone new to the franchise, or to any oldies looking for an interesting combination of old and new battle systems. Three weeks, with most of the playtime covered on the weekends, is the fastest I’ve ever finished a Tales of game, and I was left with a hunger for more.
For those of you who read through my entire review, thank you! Please let me know if you’ve played the game and your final impressions of it. Any advice for other games not listed on my to-play list would be greatly appreciated, whether they be Tales of titles or other RPGs (no MMOs) with co-op as an option.