Tales of Arise Review – Radiant Masters

    Title: Tales of Arise
    Developer: Bandai Namco
    Release Date: September 9, 2021
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: Bandai Namco
    Genre: Action JRPG

JRPGs have been forced to evolve over the years to meet the expectations of new gamers and old fans alike. I bring this up because I was worried about Tales of Arise in this constantly morphing gaming market. Despite my love for the franchise, I wondered if it would have an identity crisis in this new entry. However, while playing, I didn’t care much about what Tales of Arise shared or did differently from the previous titles; all I knew was that I was playing an amazing game.

Tales of Arise takes place in Dahna, an unfortunately cursed world where the land’s natives, referred to as Dahnans, are enslaved by Renans, a race of people who invaded the planet from their own home of Lenegis. While circumstances for Dahnans differ across the 5 realms, they are typically at the bottom of the social class system.

The protagonist initially referred to as Iron Mask, is one such enslaved Dahnan, living in the realm of Calaglia. His existence is a curious one indeed. In addition to not feeling any pain, he also wears an iron mask, though it isn’t worn by choice. His true name is Alphen, and he suffers from a case of amnesia, having worn this mask since the day he can remember. Alphen faces his own fair share of continual inner turmoil while being harshly treated as a slave, but those thoughts confront one another when he meets the mysterious, cold-blooded Shionne.

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Shionne happens to be a Renan but isn’t treated kindly by her own people due to possessing a curse she calls “thorns.” As a result, when someone touches her, they immediately feel intense, agonizing pain. However, since Alphen can’t feel pain himself, they team up intending to rid Dahna of the five lords, who are Renan oppressors ruling the planet’s five realms.

The narrative grows more intricate, and several other characters join the fray, each with their own plights and goals. I fell in love with every main cast member, but it wasn’t blind, surface-level appeal that drew me to them. Instead, the narrative has a way of evoking emotions towards characters that could make a player despise their actions yet agreeing that they belong in this group.

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It’s through these character predicaments and the traumatic circumstances that morphed into sympathy and respect during scenes. Of all the casts in the Tales series, I’d say the one in Arise is among the strongest. Everyone endures hell and back, and because of their backstories coupled with their eventual inner confrontations, the bonds they form together feel so undeniably real. Even when possessing quintessential Tales tropes, nobody feels remotely like a cut-out.

Law, the expected humorous member of the group lacking in conventional brains, impressed me the most. While he is sometimes teased for his antics and makes low-hanging fruit quips, he never comes across as inept or baggage. Instead, he feels like a true member of the team rather than the obligatory party member meant to stir up a quick laugh, which he also accomplishes well.

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During Skits and while performing other tasks, the cast boast togetherness rather than being unnaturally stuck with each other from beginning to end. The voice cast aided in these endeavors as well. Having played with the English dub, I was exceedingly astounded by these voice actors’ line reads and eye-widening emotion. There is a clear effort put on display here that is worth witnessing from start to end.

Unfortunately, some slight issues with the localization are found but are minor in the grand scheme of events. Still, they occurred often enough to warrant mention. First, there are typos, which is understandable, especially in a script this massive. Still, these typos more so came from characters occasionally stating lines not written in the subtitles. These odd reads were once in a blue moon but still noticeable and worth drawing attention to.

Further, this extended to at least 1 Arte, battle skills essentially, facing this dilemma. When Shionne would use the Arte ‘Revitalize,’ she would instead recite the voice line for ‘Resurrection.’ Once again, these typos did not inherently ruin the experience or take away from any emotionally impactful events. Still, this script could have used just one more editing pass before finalization to clean up these splotches.

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Like previous Tales entries, battles occur when running into an enemy on the map and take place in contained arenas. Alongside standard attacks are Artes, active battle skills that can be performed with the face buttons.

Arise has a fairly strong emphasis on aerial combat and even has its own dedicated arsenal of specific Artes. In fact, players can map up to 6 Artes at the start of the game; 3 for the ground and 3 for the air. Thankfully, the ability to map more comes later, so you aren’t needlessly restricted for later battles. I found this design choice clever since mapping more than 6 Artes from the get-go would likely break encounters.

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Artes are learned from participating in battles and spending points in the Skill Panel, a menu full of various mini-skill trees for the cast. These are the new versions of ‘Titles’ present in past entries and have far more of a continual, active impact. Stat increases and passive skills are earned here, too, with the needed Skill Points coming from winning battles and completing side quests.

Side quests are vital since they provide engaging character banter, rewards, and even Skill Panel trees. I highly advise trying to complete every side quest you encounter, even if you have to shelve some later, because the rewards are always worthwhile.

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Combat itself is smooth and responsive, and I always felt like I was in complete control of my character regardless of what last-second movements I chose to make. This was only amplified with the addition of perfectly timed dodges (or guards in Kisara’s case), which award you with a slow down effect to counter enemies.

All 6 party members are useable in combat, and each feels completely distinct from the other. I enjoyed playing as each character, from Alphen’s prowess with the sword to Rinwell’s adept magic usage. Plus, you can switch to anyone in the active party mid-battle, which is vital for constant variety.

One of the most notable mechanics is Boost Attacks, which are special, character-specific moves that utilize the D-pad. The damage these moves inflict is merely a secondhand boon, though, as the primary benefit from these moves comes from their counters to specific enemies. For instance, Shionne’s Boost Attack is ideally used for flying foes, while Rinwell’s absorbs enemies’ casting. The constant situational, on-the-fly decision-making that must be confronted alongside the player agency with approaching encounters makes battles in Arise fresh.

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Strategies can be adjusted for the AI to respond to from within the battle menu, and there is an intricate level of customization to be found here. Further, the party member’s AI is reliable without ever feeling invincible. A balance is kept to make more dangerous battles tenser with any failings being on your end and usually not the AI’s.

Other enjoyable activities like accessory forging, cooking, farming, and fishing (which comes fairly late), enhance the gameplay loop to not make battles the sole star of the show while also aiding in its outcomes.

Dungeons in Tales of Arise are, unfortunately, lacking. While they are visually stunning, the dungeons lack puzzles, only having a few side paths leading to dead ends of treasure. This sadly makes them more spectacle than substance. I would have liked to find a lite puzzle to stimulate the mind after hard-fought battles, but most exploration was kept to straightforward navigation.

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Tales of Arise also has Bonus Titles tied to costumes, offering exclusive skill trees for the Skill Panel. Again, I merely played around with the cosmetics, yet I had the option to redeem points in these skill trees for boosts that only came with the DLC, including Artes. Granted, there only seem to be 3 of these exclusive trees present per character. Still, I don’t believe full-on skills should be pay-walled, especially in a single-player title.

The soundtrack and graphical presentation of Arise are among the series’ heights. They emit ambitious majesty and serve to make the journey a grand one, only becoming ever more upscaled in grandiosity the further you progress. While occasional texture pop-in is present for certain areas, this was relatively minor and never came close to obstructing the wondrous views from field to field and dungeon to dungeon. The seamless beauty of the world only became amplified with the near-instantaneous load times on the PlayStation 5 version.

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Playtime will vary from player to player, depending on their completion of side content and such, though a ballpark estimate of 60-70 hours is what I’d provide as the expected length. Additionally, playing on Hard difficulty is more than approachable for those experienced with Tales or with action JRPGs in general.

Tales of Arise is the grand adventure we’ve been waiting for, and more, for veteran players and new fans alike. Its addictive and satisfying combat design, breathtaking narrative, gorgeous presentation, and engaging cast make it the quintessential JRPG to play. The characters met in this entry add to the growing cast of memorable personalities this series has given us, solidifying it as a true Tales title.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.