Tales of Arise Interview - Speaking characters, skits, exploration, and a new era for Tales with Yusuke Tomizawa
Tales of Arise is shaping up to one of this Fall's most interesting titles on the RPG front. It's been a few years since the last brand-new console entry in the long-lived franchise — Tales of Berseria released nearly five years ago now in Japan, and it was originally a PlayStation 3 title to boot. Tales of Arise looks to be a pretty substantial overhaul of the series for a new generation, both in terms of visual style and its approach to gameplay.
Ahead of launch, through an interpreter, we had a chance to chat with Bandai Namco producer Yusuke Tomizawa to talk about the latest entry. We discussed the focus on characters, the new skit system, exploration, what Cure Points are, and more. You can find our conversation in full below.
Tales of Arise is set to release worldwide on September 10 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC (Steam). A free demo is set to launch next week, and you can also read our early impressions on what we've played.
Adam Vitale, RPG Site: To start things off, I’m quite familiar with the Tales series, but I see several people who haven’t played a Tales game finding interest in Tales of Arise. How would you describe what Tales of Arise is for those new to the series?
Yusuke Tomizawa, Tales of Arise Producer: First of all, this is the first time that we have simultaneously localized and are going to be simultaneously launching a Tales game worldwide. And that has, of course, created opportunities like this for me to come and promote the game. I really wanted to create this environment where fans around the world could enjoy the game being launched at the same time.
I think a lot of overseas players will have had Tales of Symphonia as their first Tales game. However, not all the games that have come out since then have been localized to English. Only some have come out on Steam for PC. A sign of how much we want overseas audiences, overseas fans, to be playing this game is that we've got 11 languages, in terms of texts, and then the two voiceover languages, Japanese and English. Launching simultaneously - it was a struggle, but that's how much we wanted to get this game out to as many people as possible. We've also done a lot of work on the graphic design, on the visuals, and on the game design, which will make it easier for Western audiences, in particular, to come to Tales of Arise as their first entry into the Tales of series.
RPG Site: When I look at Tales of Arise, at a glance, it does seem noticeably different than what the series has looked like before. Not just in terms of not just the visual style, but also the combat gameplay and other elements like campfires scenes. Can you detail how Tales of Arise has evolved the series?
Tomizawa: The theme of our development with this game was ‘Inheritance and Evolution’. As you know, Tales has a 25-year history and there are certain elements of the series that have almost become a part of ‘Tales of’ culture. Our challenge with Tales of Arise was how to modernize some of those elements. It was a challenge, but it was something that we really wanted to achieve. You can clearly feel some of these differences once you’ve played the demo. However, at the same time, there were elements that we knew we have to keep from the Tales of franchise. For example, we still need players to be able to feel the depth of the relationships between the characters, and the way those characters grow and develop throughout the game.
RPG Site: In talking about characters, the Tales of ‘Skit’ system is pretty beloved by the fanbase. In Tales of Arise, from both the trailers and the demo, it looks new in how it is presented. Can you explain how the Skit system has changed from what it has been historically?
Tomizawa: The biggest thing that has changed with the skit system is that, whereas before they were in 2d anime style, now we use the actual 3d models from the game for the characters. They act out the skits in these comic-book-like frames, and that's just one element that we've modernized and evolved in the game. We wanted the characters to feel more uniform throughout the game, which is why we've used the same 3d models for all the kit sections. Plus, for example, if a character changes their costume, or depending on whether the skit is taking place at night or during the daytime, or where it's taking place, the skit will change accordingly and reflect what's going on immediately before the skit. That's something else that we put a lot of work into and we wanted the players to be able to experience that.
I know that a lot of fans really liked the 2d anime skit sections, but I hope that they will give the new skit system a chance, because we think that it brings a lot to the game. We hope they'll agree once they've played it.
RPG Site: Getting into weeds just a bit: can you describe what a player will be doing in the game when they are not in combat or when they are not in a story cutscene? For example, how does navigating the field areas or dungeon areas of the game come into play?
Tomizawa: In terms of exploration, which I think is what you're getting at, Tales games have largely been focused on two main aspects, which have been the character drama and then the action battles. But this time, we wanted to focus more on the exploration side - on the field. You are in this game free to wander around to explore, to look at the scenery in a way that is a part of a classic RPG game - that we wanted players to be able to enjoy with Tales of Arise. You can now jump, dash, and swim in the field. And it's much more intuitive. There are also a variety of minigames to play along the way.
There's a lot going on that isn't directly part of the story that isn't battling or dungeons or cutscenes. But I don't want any misunderstanding: Arise is not an open-world game. The exploration that you do in the field is often all about getting to know the characters better. You've got bits of voice chat that will help you to understand them. However, you can't just ignore the main story and go off and keep exploring.
RPG Site: Are there sidequests?
Tomizawa: There are lots of side quests, apart from the main story, that townspeople might give you.
RPG Site: This is a bit of a mechanics question. I saw that there's now this new Cure Point (CP) system in the demo that I was a little bit confused about, as it seems to have two different purposes. It's used to both heal your party as well as seemingly to activate different things on the field. Can you explain the Cure Point system?
Tomizawa: In the past you had TP, but now the difference with the Cure Points is that they don't simply recover with time, as they do with all the other gauges. It's partly because we don't want players just to be able to keep using those abilities in a battle scenario. While you are exploring, you will come across events where you can use your CP as you're traveling through the dungeon, and it's a choice we wanted to give the player whether to use their valuable CP to, say, break down that wall or not. If you do choose to use your CP to break down a wall, for example, it's not going to take you to the main route, it's going to take you to a sub route. There might be a really good weapon in there that you can use in battle, or there might be some kind of healing items there. So, it's a choice for the player whether you keep hold of your valuable CP and keep going on the main routes or if you use them up to see what you're going to get.
RPG Site: Is there anything else about Tales of Arise that you wanted to mention that we haven’t had a chance to touch on yet?
Tomizawa: We haven't had a chance to talk about the graphics. This is something else that has really evolved in this title compared to the rest of the series. We've changed to Unreal Engine 4, and as a result of that, the graphics are more realistic but, at the same time, we've managed to balance that with that colorful world and warm painterly quality that you expect from the Tales of series. We've managed to achieve that balance thanks to Unreal Engine 4, and we think that this is going to be a very attractive element of the game for new players around the world.
RPG Site: Good call. The game still has that anime style to it, but it’s also unique with that, like you said, that painterly look as well.
I do have one more question that you may not be able to answer. Can I give it a shot? In recent (and also not-so-recent) years, we've seen a few Tales of re-releases of games such as Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Vesperia. Do you have any future plans for more re-releases in the series?
Tomizawa: The Tales of series has some games that were either remade or remastered. We think of the Tales of series as a big family. And, yes, there is a possibility that in the future, some of the past titles may well be re-released. I haven't got any details at the moment, but it's something that we're always thinking about.
RPG Site: Thank you for your time.