It took a while from the original Japanese release, but Tales of Xillia finally made its way westward last year. Boasting an innovative 'linking' twist on the action battle system and a slightly darker narrative, the game was mostly met with praise from both critics and fans.
A year later and the much lauded sequel is soon to be hitting our shores. At E3, I had a chance to go hands-on with Tales of Xillia 2. Opening up a year after the original title, the game seems to mostly take place in the technologically advanced world of Elympios, a source of major conflict in the first entry.
The demo threw me into a later portion of the game where many allies are already present in the party. Several characters from the first game make a return, some with noticeable design changes due to the 1 year timeskip.
The demo I played opened up with a cutscene, and then a prompt to choose between the characters Gaius or Muzet, two key figures present in the original game. However, Ludger was the only playable character both in battle and out for the demostration and there didn't seem to be any way to change characters. While this certainly won't be the case in the final game, I could only experiment with the one character in battle for this hands-on.
After the cutscene, the demo threw me into a dungeon area known as the Oscore Plant. The futuristic facility of chrome-colored corridors was of course filled with enemy soldiers and robot-like creatures. In typical Tales fashion, touching any on the field initiated combat.
The battle system is comparable to the original game, in that linking characters - which in turn allows the linking of artes (the series' term for special movies) - is still available. Monster weaknesses based around elemental affinitites are also still present.
A major addition, however, is the variety of weapons each character can use in battle. Unlike earlier games in the series, there are now three equipment slots that weapons can be assigned to, and these three different weapons can be toggled between during battle. This effectively opens up more space to assign various artes, as different weapons allow the use of different sets of artes.
In conjunction with the series standard feature of assigning artes to shortcuts, this gives the player a lot of options in how they can build their arte combinations.
While not as fluid as a straight action game, weapon-shifting can also be done mid-combo. This further blurs the line between ARPG and character combat action games reminiscent of Devil May Cry and other series of that ilk, even if it still represents the former more than the latter.
The demo ends with another cutscene, displaying a slight skirmish between the returning Alvin and a character that looks suspiciously like an antagonist from the original game. When the exchange ends, a boss fight begins. The enemy is a dragon-like creature by the name of Aska, which seems to have plot relevance beyond a simple lab animal getting in the way.
The combat seems to be much improved, as it not only feels faster but also more responsive. Exploration is more difficult to determine, as the generally agreed upon complaints of the first game revolved around the open and tedious fields rather than the dungeons, which seem to be just as well-paced as those in the original if not more so. Overall, it seems that fans of the first game will not be disappointed by the sequel.
Tales of Xillia 2 is scheduled to release in North America on August 19, with a European release set days later on the 22nd.