Tales of Arise has been one of the best JRPGs for years
Over the weekend, I said something to a friend that kind of crystallized my thinking process around Tales of Arise, the latest entry in Namco’s 26-year-old role-playing series. I said if this was a Final Fantasy game it would probably have very high critical reception and sell ten million copies.
The statement was hyperbolic, but as is often the case, there is a razor-sharp core of truth in the center. Tales of Arise might not technically be the best in the series – it’s not quite my favorite – but it’s definitely one of the best and most accessible Japanese RPGs of recent years – although neither are the systems that make it beginner friendly. too heavy, which means there’s a lot here for series alumni to enjoy. Basically it is pitched pretty much perfectly.
In some ways, Arise is reminiscent of games from the golden age of Japanese RPGs, that is, that time at the end of the life of the Super NES and the beginning of the life of the PlayStation. I say this specifically because it happily deploys some of the same tropes that were common then but are seen as a little tired now, like an amnesic protagonist who is dragged into the revolution. But it also reminds me of those games in other more subtle ways, like how, despite starring a bunch of cute archetypal anime boys and girls, he has a surprising amount to say about some serious issues. Much of the game is devoted to thinking about topics such as government oppression, slavery, and the cost of revolution. It reminds me a bit of the golden age of the genre.
Perhaps it is because of these broad themes that Arise adopts a particular difference in his narrative from the other entries – it is more focused on the big picture than on the individuals. For this reason, I found the cast to be a bit underdeveloped compared to the show’s standard. Instead, the focus is on the machinations of the larger plot, which allows you to tackle stories in five unique regions of the world, all of which are intertwined with each other by the same general themes.
How to successfully fan the fires of the revolution? Well, it turns out it’s the same way every JRPG progresses – through a series of escalating battles against monsters and villains. When you say “Japanese RPG,” people tend to think of classic turn-based games – but Tales of Arise was actually one of the first titles in its genre to truly embrace action combat, and experienced action-packed action. in real time which was in fact inspired by fighting games at the time when Final Fantasy was satisfied with the Active Time Battle system with variable speed but always turn-based.
Arise is always making a number of smart changes to open up fights and make them even more dynamic, mainly giving the player more direct control over the character’s movements. Lots of subtle changes and improvements are added to deliver what I would say is the most powerful Tales battle system in years and one of the best action RPG battle systems in Japan, with Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
You only control one character at a time, but you can swap your party members and the controlled character on the fly as needed. The rest of the party is controlled by the AI, which can be adjusted by the player with a range of simple programming-style controls, where you can configure certain combat actions by your allies in response to specific combat conditions. There is a lot of depth here, as there are a lot of party members and you move around in a large group of six, which means you can create some interesting party compositions that give you very specific abilities.
In fact, I would say managing your allies and building a party that will do what you want, when you want is one of the most satisfying combat setups. Although, to be fair, nothing is more satisfying than triggering some of the game’s most cinematic special moves, known in this series as Artes, and watching them light up the screen and enemies. They look spectacular.
The whole game does, in fact. As with the story, the visuals seem to be a bit more focused on the “big picture,” but that’s not a bad thing. The character models are fine – expressive and evocative of who these people are – but the star of the show is the world itself. Around every corner, there’s a new, gorgeous sight to enjoy, and with every battle you’ll unleash artes that are as beautiful as they are destructive. The music, by series composer Tales Motoi Sakuraba (who also composed the Dark Souls games, by the way), is equally beautiful.
Basically, I love it. This is the best Tales game for a very long time, and the most invested I have felt in a big budget Japanese RPG for a very long time – with the exception of Dragon Quest 11 and FF7 Remake, huge games that have a lot of stuff in them. other emotional baggage that surely helped in the way I saw them. Tales of Arise doesn’t profit in the same way, because while I like Tales more, I’m far from being a fan of the series – and he’s, of course, completely out of touch with the rest of the series, like that. is tradition. At the end of the day, it’s just a hell of a good game. People who love the genre should mark this as a must-play, but inactive fans or those who have never really been in the genre might find this to be the one that appeals to them. It’s excellent.