Tales of Arise - Beyond The Dawn Review
When I finished Tales of Arise two years ago, I came away content. I did not think it was necessarily a top-shelf JRPG at the time, but it was a solid enough entry with great presentation, varied combat & supporting mechanics, and respectable narrative theming. I was satisfied with it, and I never really desired a follow-up to the story it told. That Bandai Namco announced an expansion to the game two years after its release was a little bit surprising.
I came to Beyond the Dawn more curious than excited. An epilogue expansion released more than two years after the original title? Just what is this? There were certainly avenues to explore as a narrative, following the world-altering events of Tales of Arise. It probably goes without saying that there will be some spoilers for the base Tales of Arise in this review, as the expansion takes place in the aftermath.
Beyond The Dawn opens up with the party planning a reunion at Viscent about a year following the events of Tales of Arise. On the way, however, Alphen and Shionne stumble across an outcast on the run - a mysterious heterochromatic girl named Nazamil. She's the orphaned daughter of a Renan lord, which as you may suspect if you recall Tales of Arise's setting, doesn't necessarily sit well with the broader Dahnan populace. On top of that, not only is Nazamil effectively Renan nobility, but she's also half Dahnan (that's why she has two different colored eyes, I suppose.)
Up to this point, Alphen and Shionne have been touring the world, sealing away mysterious "mausoleums" that have appeared as a result of the merging worlds. As they go about this task, they also handle various errands for the communities they've encountered. This is where the general scope of Beyond The Dawn comes into focus: now that Dahnans and Renans are now living together on a singular planet as equals, what hurdles are in place in this new coexistence?
In the lead-up to Beyond The Dawn's release, I was a little bit perplexed when Bandai Namco released a "Quests Trailer" to promote the expansion. I'd like to think most people in this space are already familiar with the concept of basic sidequests, and performing odd jobs for NPCs didn't necessarily seem like the best choice as the one thing to highlight. After playing through the expansion, however, that reasoning makes more sense with context and hindsight, because sidequests make up the majority of Beyond The Dawn.
There are more than 40 quests in Beyond the Dawn, and you'll spend most of the expansion's run time completing them. The quests function more or less exactly how they did in the original game: you'll talk to the marked NPC about some issue they are having, go and complete a task or two, and then return to grab a reward. Personally, I found it kind of a strange construction to have the majority of the new content for a best-selling franchise title essentially boil down to "please take out those Zeugles over there."
It's this sidequest framework in which the difficult narrative questions of the merged world are placed. What obstacles are there, now that Dahnans and Renans must live together? How does Alphen deal with his reputation as both a hero and a destroyer? How do the people of Cylosdia begin to trust each other now that the Bureau of Civil Observation is abolished? What struggles does Dohalim have as the new political leader of Pelegion? And so on.
Beyond the Dawn does touch on these sorts of topics, sure, but only in a very perfunctory fashion. It provides simple answers to the questions that arise about the state of society and lingering prejudices. It also touches on each character's new motivation in a new merged world. But it all has a very pro forma feel to it; it feels like a checklist. A subject is brought up, you perform some menial task to address it, the characters will muse a few lines about how society should improve somewhat, and then you'll quickly move on. Nothing says "discussions of complex societal concerns" quite like "please find these ingredients for me."
As one quest example, a well-meaning Dahnan tailor wants to offer a gesture of peace to a nearby Renan settlement, so he offers food at their doorstep. However, this causes Zeugles to hang out in the area, so you need to take them out. You do that, collect a reward, Alphen mentions "We have to keep moving forward one step at a time", and you're done. Its general sentiment is fine - Dahnans and Renans slowly beginning to live together - but the implementation is hollow. Having this all wrapped up under the lacking overall presentation of sidequests doesn't help matters, with the rote structure, canned animations, and often unvoiced lines. Nearly all of these quests take place in areas from the original game, too, so you are often literally retreading old ground.
Combat in Beyond the Dawn is completely unchanged from the original game. While I felt Tales of Arise's combat was one of its stronger suits (despite boss HP generally being a bit over-inflated), I was kind of hoping there would be some new wrinkle to change things up in the expansion to give it a unique feel. I was hoping there'd be some new mechanic perhaps similar to the various Xenoblade series expansions (or maybe more of an appropriate comparison - the Lineage and Legacies arc in Tales of Graces F adds the Accel Mode function to combat). But no, after getting over that initial "how do I play this again?" hump, you'll basically be approaching combat the same way you did before.
All the other gameplay mechanics from the original game return as well, including SP, Titles, and accessory crafting. You'll start the expansion at level 65 and otherwise power up your characters in the same fashion through EXP and unlocking title stat bonuses. Note there are additional incentives obtained depending on the state of your Tales of Arise clear file, which mostly comes in the form of SP and Gald.
When you aren't completing quests for townspeople (which again, makes up a significant chunk of the expansion's content overall), you'll be progressing through a new main storyline involving Nazamil. It's difficult to discuss the overall plot of Beyond The Dawn without spoiling, but I came away from it mostly disappointed. I'll stay vague on the details for the purpose of this review, but Beyond The Dawn's narrative largely centers on an overused central conflict trope that has already been done at least twice before in the Tales series, not to mention numerous times in other media. It's not inherently poorly written, I simply felt like I had seen it all before elsewhere, and it didn't offer much novel to set it apart.
That said, as someone who felt the ending of Tales of Arise fell somewhat flat, the concluding moments of Beyond The Dawn were actually a little bit more compelling to me, despite the relative conceptual unoriginality. There's a pretty cool boss fight sequence or two, and the sizable final dungeon is actually neat, at least aesthetically. When you boil it down, though, it's once again a linear path of battles, as are most dungeons in Tales of Arise. To offer an idea of the scope of the expansion overall, I completed Beyond The Dawn in just about 13 hours, which included completing all sub-quests.
If you really enjoyed Tales of Arise's cast or combat, then you may come away from Beyond The Dawn satisfied, as there are certainly more battles and banter. But stale questing, trite plotting, and thin content overall mostly left me apathetic more than anything else.