With one month left before its release, we had the opportunity to play another demo of Tales of Arise, and as someone who has played a number of Tales games growing up, I find myself experiencing fond nostalgia, excitement, and surprise during my three hours’ worth of gameplay. There are so many new good things in store!
Based on what I’ve tried so far, the latest mothership title from the Tales series brings us to a new universe, involving a much-improved narrative, all while retaining the themes that made Tales a one-of-a-kind role-playing game throughout the years. These include heroes who want to challenge fate within the dichotomies of clashing worlds, grim cataclysms, fruitful journeys, engaging character interactions, adorable creature sidekicks, and many more.
Beginning of Conflict
The game begins with a short explanation of its universe’s history. As the player, you get to be familiar with the role of the main protagonist, Alphen, in the destitute society that he is in. Getting acquainted with the primary controls in maneuvering the character throughout the environment lets you speak with NPCs and trigger dialogue which provide you with a solid understanding of the current lore of the game.
Following the action-packed CG cutscenes takes you to meet Shionne, the next main protagonist. You are then thrust into the first couple of fights, introducing the gameplay proper and starting your adventure.
Delving into Play
I can proudly say that the gameplay for Tales of Arise is highly remarkable–and pretty much nostalgic. Arte Usage? Check. Unlocking hidden artes? Check. Equipment allocation? Check. Custom fashion items? Double Check.
For someone who had played on console for all of my Tales experience, doing it for the first time on keyboard and mouse for the demo was a tough transition for me. However, the gameplay was so smooth, so I was able to compromise on my lack of coordination at the beginning.
You may choose between Alphen and Shionne as your main playable character in fights. However, shortcuts for immediate character change in the middle of battles have yet to be introduced in the demo, as well as Tales’ notable after-battle skits, but hopefully we will get to learn more once we play the official game release.
Alphen fights with a sword, juggling between ground and aerial moves and has dodge skills which will enable you to save HP if you timed it correctly; while Shionne shoots enemies from afar. Enemy lock-ons are nonexistent in this game, however, so you can totally be fighting dead air if you missed an enemy in the middle of your combo. Shionne is also your current party healer since she possesses skills that allow her to consume CP or Cure Points in battles.
I find CPs a new feature in this game, since they cannot be replenished by simply attacking an enemy during battle and refilling the point gauge unlike other Tales games. You may only refill your CPs via certain methods in-game. It’s quite a bummer to be drained of it in the middle of poking around; so, with this I can say: heal sparingly, dodge responsibly, and save your CPs.
Boost attacks and support attacks by a party member are also a great highlight in the gameplay. Getting in a bind? Once your boost attack gauge is filled (the diamond figures on the lower left of the screen), just press the assigned button for the character to blast them with their support attack. Pretty cool right? Imagine how it’ll be once the other playable characters have become available. But it doesn’t end there.
Tales of Arise also introduces ‘Boost Strikes’ which can be triggered once certain conditions are met in battle. These are highly powerful attacks with visually-appealing animations akin to a ‘finishing move’ of a playable character. You have to be alert when ‘STRIKE’ appears on screen or you’ll miss out the chance of debilitating your enemy.
And like most Tales games (that I’ve played), you are able to assign battle strategies and priorities for each of your party members. This time, the game has made it quite specific, very much like the Gambit system of Final Fantasy XII, allowing for fighting flexibility and better character initiatives in battle. Properly-assigned strategies may dictate the course of the battle for you. Will you need immediate healing? Consume items while in battle? Prioritize attacking? The options are laid out and they can be changed any time by accessing the gaming menu.
To improve and empower your characters, you get to unlock skill panels using skill points you acquire during battle. The more SP you have, the more skill panels you unlock, so get those fingers ready because grinding will become your best friend in the game.
Traversing the Wide, Wide, World
Moving forward in this game is pretty linear: simply complete the main quests (which helpfully appear on screen) to progress in the story. Of course, you may opt to do some side quests first and grind some levels for better enemy whoopin’.
Tales of Arise is not fully open-world, but the expansive environment enables you to explore every nook and cranny and discover a lot of things. I’m happy to report that the game includes a helpful directional mark (indicated with a star) that indicates your distance to your goal destination, so you won’t get lost should you decide to stray off the beaten path and poke around some more.
You may choose to dash or to walk, and there is more flexibility with interacting with the environment: opening treasure chests, foraging for herbs and food ingredients, and picking up stray supplies for crafting and forging weapons. You can thrust yourself off a ledge with ease (there’s no fall damage, thankfully), as compared to previous Tales games which required a button press every time you needed to climb down a ladder or a cliff edge. Of course, exploring around will have some random enemy encounters, but at least you can easily pinpoint where the monsters are and avoid them if necessary.
It is also great to note that NPCs play a vital role in this game. Chatting up with the villagers and other side characters allows you to discover more about the game lore, as well as additional information to proceed with the story. And do not worry about remembering which NPC you’ve already talked with, for their speech bubbles indicate if they’re offering a new dialogue or not.
Speaking of dialogue, character interaction skits and conversations are prevalent throughout the game, even in camping. Not only will you be able to cook food to up your status for the day, but you get to witness interesting conversations with your characters as well. Skits appear randomly–they can be triggered by story progressions and other discoveries so watch out for them. I love how Tales of Arise had improved their skits from the usual 2D sprites, to full CG animation spiels creatively rendered in comic-like panels. It’s a slight deviation from the classic, but the character skits still hit deeply right at the heart.
Tales of Arise: Initial Thoughts
The excellent storytelling, the lore, the gameplay–these only further intensified my excitement for the upcoming release of the game. Frankly, I think Tales of Arise is the culmination of the many good aspects of gameplay from existing games of the series. From graphics to smoother gameplay, they’ve improved so much. Not to mention the gorgeous character and environment designs as well, of course.
There’s so much to look forward to–so much to discover. It’s a game to fully immerse in, to take time with, to invest in. Here’s hoping that the rest of the game lives up to the small slice of it that I’ve tried.