The Tales series has a storied place in the JRPG genre, though they’ve never managed to match the popularity of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. Bandai Namco are hoping to change that with Tales of Arise, the first new game in the series for half a decade.
Tales of oppression and liberation
Tales of Arise sets out its stall early as a serious piece of RPG fiction. It tells a tale of oppression and liberation, as the people of the planet Dahna are enslaved and divided by more advanced conquerors of the neighbouring planet Rena.
Tales of Arise takes place in the country of Calaglia, the local people kept in their place and forces to mine the dark, despoiled land, but it turns out that they’re not simply keeping the Dahnans busy for the sake of it. The Dahnans are mockingly called ‘The Embedded’ as they’re controlled by a master core stone embedded in their hands. The Renans can use these stones to siphon natural energy that’s released as they mine the land. The astral energy is collected by a master core, and the Renan lord with the most energy becomes their leader.
This sort of thing can’t be allowed to stand, of course. What kind of RPG would it be otherwise? You take control of Iron Mask – an amnesiac fighter who can’t feel pain – who falls in with rebel leader Zephyr and his group of freedom fighters as they go up against the imposing figure of Lord Balseph. We eventually discover that his name is Alphen, his face revealed as his iron mask is shattered.
Let’s start at the beginning
We were able to go hands on with the game from the very beginning of the game for this preview, letting us get a taste for everything that Tales of Arise has in store.
Jumping straight into the dark, despoiled land of Dahna, it’s a setting that feels quite unlike many other JRPGs. There’s lots of muted browns and oranges, with fires smouldering in every corner and ruined buildings dotted around the landscape. It’s far from the bright, vibrant world’s we often set out with in a JRPG and makes for a nice change of pace.
You’re joined on your quest, somewhat reluctantly, by Shionne, a Renan who’s being chased down by Balseph’s soldiers when you intervene. The pairing isn’t without some friction at first, but even early in the game you start to see their relationship change and grow as they experience first-hand the death and destruction wrought by the Renans.
Fighting for freedom
Combat follows the classic Tales formula with an action-heavy approach that keeps you swinging your sword with reckless abandon. You can chain regular combos together with your blade, or start unleashing a series of powerful Artes that not only look spectacular, but also remove a healthy chunk of your foes health bar. As with other Tales games, the difficulty is relatively low at the start of the game, but it’ll soon start to push you to think about where you are, how quickly you do things and in which order.
Shionne and Alphen’s relationship forms a key part of that, and we get to see the hidden power of Shionne’s Master Core given physical form by manifesting The Blazing Sword. This mystical blade can only be held by Alphen thanks to the fact he feel’s no pain, which is handy. There’s obviously more to be discovered about his backstory and abilities through the game.
As you progress, you’ll level up your character – this is an RPG after all – and you can unlock new skills on the Skill Panel, giving access to increased damage or powerful counterattacks. It’s the kind of thing that we’ve seen plenty of times elsewhere, but Arise makes it straightforward and approachable which is more than can be said for many other role-playing games.
How the tale is told
There’s a pleasing focus on storytelling, made stronger by Tales’ Skits; short cutscenes or conversations that add detail and depth to the world and the characters. Besides that, both the English and the Japanese voice acting sound great, and there’s an epic orchestral score that highlights the drama at just the right moments. It feels quite serious, at odds with some of the tone of earlier Tales games, but I enjoyed the more adult setup.
It’s a fantastic looking game. The bold graphic art style sits closer to the recent Dragon Quest titles than its predecessors like Tales of Zestiria, but I am hoping to see some more vibrant locations as the game progresses. The main character designs are cool and distinctive though, and all in all I really like the art direction.
Tales of Arise looks set to provide a serious JRPG experience while staying true to the Tales series’ legacy. I can’t wait to find out where this particular tale goes when it comes out in September.