The Tales of Series has been releasing games for 15 years and Tales of Xillia is its 15 Year Anniversary title. The game attempts to set itself apart from other JRPGs while moving forward from the designs that perhaps has plagued the industry for a long time. Utilizing a new combat system, a unique art style, a dual-perspective narrative, and an engine exclusively crafted for the PS3 unlike the two previous titles, is this game truly great?
Liese Maxia is a world full of people that rely on the power of Spirits to use every day goods. Whether it be for light or activating machinery, Spirits are needed. The two main protagonists are Jude Mathis, a 15 year-old male student aspiring to be a doctor studying in Il Fan, and Milla Maxwell, the Spirit Lord Maxwell in the form of a 20 year-old girl. While Jude is wandering the streets of Il Fan, he runs into Milla and both of them find themselves discovering a secret laboratory in the metropolis. As they journey together, Milla finds her powers and Spirit allies sealed away. Now proclaimed a traitor and a criminal, Jude runs away with Milla in hopes of finding out why her powers are sealed and the Spirits are declining.
The idea to have dual protagonists and a split narrative is quite clever but the execution is definitely not there. Most of the problems that arise in the narrative is due to Milla’s side. When progressing through the game, Milla will split up from the party a few times. During these times, Jude’s story is constantly progressing. When Milla rejoins with Jude, the story continues but it doesn't fill you in on what happened on Jude's side. As a result, this forces the you to play through Jude's side. While this doesn’t quite happen in Jude’s story, it is extremely frustrating to know that plot elements are left unanswered completely on one side of the story. It’s even more frustrating to know that the player has to play through both sides in order to understand even the basic plot. While the game attempts to craft an experience that will be unique depending on which character the player chooses, it’s not done efficiently.
The somewhat lackluster villains that have plagued the franchise for a while seems to have changed since the villains in Xillia actually have a strong motive to do what they believe is right. It is rightly so then that Xillia actually doesn’t have a binary white and black moral code like Graces or Abyss. Instead, many of Xillia’s characters actions sit on the gray side. Everyone has a motive or a level of resolve that compels them to do what they do. It is this type of development in both plot and character that truly differentiates Xillia from Graces, exceeds the thematic excellence that Vesperia accomplished, and character development that Abyss pushed for.
However, the point of linking up to a character is to use special moves called Link Artes. Once you have accrued a certain amount of meter on your Overlimit Gauge, your character can use an Arte to activate the Link Arte. Depending on the character you link up with and the move you use, different Link Artes will be performed. It doesn’t end there though. If your Overlimit Gauge fills completely, the player can perform a series of Link Artes in succession until the meter depletes. This allows for you the create a method for all your Link Artes to hit effectively since certain ones blow enemies away or draw them close. It's an interesting idea one that doesn't let players get away with mindless button mashing all the time.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that while the fights against the grunts are really fun and thrilling, the boss fights are not. Those who found the boss fights fun and enjoyable in titles previous to Xillia will quickly realize that it is not quite the case in this game. Bosses are frustratingly difficult to fight against because they can break out of combos quite easily and can normally take 10 hits before coming free. Added to the fact that certain bosses have cheap moves or will have stats that make them ridiculously strong, you have a recipe for disaster. It’s astonishingly weird that the boss fights, one of the best things about the series, has been reduced to a disaster that become a hassle instead of an enjoyable experience. Luckily the bosses are not the ones you will be fighting against for dozens and dozens of hours throughout its 40 hour story.
Unfortunately, while the customization seems very freeing, it’s not. Characters perform extremely well if they are developed the way they are supposed to. Jude and Alvin will benefit from Physical Attack stats while Milla and Rowen benefits from Magic Attack stats. The illusion of developing your character suddenly disappears once the flaws of this system is realized. Despite this, the idea of controlling the development of your characters in varied ways is interesting.
The audio of the game is great especially considering the MIDI-like track that Graces employed. The musical pieces are very enthusiastic and really drives you forward. The tracks range from a grandiose anthems to a very wonderful but exhilarating orchestra piece that is used in battle. All of these have great synergy and bring forth a feeling of truly wanting to care about the character troubles, the world’s suffering, and the trials overcome in each battle. It’s important to note that the voices of the characters actually seem average especially when considering how well done the soundtrack is. The voices fit each of the character quite well and they all exhibit excellent execution but it’s not until they are in a state of emotional extremes that the voices stand out. The audio package is definitely one of the finest that the series has ever seen.
You can also control the camera at all times, which is a first for the franchise. This means you can have a good look at each environment you comes across. Unfortunately the plains, mountains, and other lands you traverse through to go from town to town are very bland and lack personalities altogether. Often times all of the areas in-between are large, empty, and the same but with a different set of colors to make it appear like it’s different. The art direction is absolutely phenomenal and it’s too bad that it only stops a few small steps from a perfect delivery.
There is definitely a level of replayability, as with all Tales games. There are a plethora of side quests and the inclusion of a dual-protagonist means that you can clear the game twice without having to go through the same thing over again, though you need to go through each character for the full experience. There is a coliseum-esque area like previous titles in the franchise and there are many items to collect. All of this bundled together with a fun battle system makes it very enjoyable to go through the game’s extras.
Tales of Xillia is a great game, despite its flaws. It actually makes many improvements that the franchise needed to adopt in order to become more modern such as the inclusion of a movable camera, the removal of dialogue boxes, and virtually everything becoming a cutscene. These little presentation changes allow Xillia to be a great package overall and while it’s somewhat difficult to overlook the flaws it does make, the game definitely does more right than it does wrong. If you’re an avid RPG gamer looking to delve into a very interesting world with characters that are extremely well-developed and a combat system that is action packed to boot, then you should check this game out.
Disclaimer: This game is only released in Japan meaning Japanese efficiency is highly recommended. It is possible to play with translations and little Japanese but you might not receive the full experience possible. An English release will be in 2013.