HIGH An awesome battle system filled with incredible pyrotechnics.
LOW Towards the end, the pacing flows about as smoothly as granite.
WTF Kisara’s explanation for why she wears less armor on her back.
Tales of Arise begins several hundred years after a war between two planets. The Renan people have subjugated the Dahnan race through superior technology, enslaving them under the control of brutal leaders known as the Renan Lords. While these Lords are given a fair amount of autonomy to rule each land as they see fit, they’re generally unconscionable bastards who’ll happily grind their unwilling subjects into the ground in order to protect their own status and interests as they compete against each other for the role of Sovereign.
It’s in this world that players begin their adventure, taking control of an amnesiac Dahnan slave wearing an iron mask called… well, Iron Mask. He’s soon thrust from humble beginnings spending his days trying to stay alive into a continent-spanning adventure where he’s tasked with killing off the Renan Lords and liberating all Dahnans from an eternity of slavery, beatings, death and other assorted suckage.
Our hero has an advantage, however — he’s completely unable to feel pain, though this also means that he’s unable to sense when he’s about to die from his wounds. It’s a neat character quirk, and before long he teams up with a gunslinger named Shionne whose very touch brings crippling pain to anyone she comes in contact with. So, he’s the only person in the world who won’t get fried while touching her, and she can heal him to boot. How convenient! Sounds like a partnership waiting to happen.
One of the first things players will notice about Tales of Arise is that it looks absolutely stunning. The character designs are excellent, but it’s the world that really pops out – from dusty, burning canyons to icy mountains and torrential downpours in the wetlands, everything looks utterly incredible. It is a shame that with world design this strong, the environments are essentially corridors full of invisible walls and barriers instead of being truly open word, but it’s an impressive achievement regardless.
This visual splendor carries over to the real time, combo heavy battle system, leading to a crazy display of swordplay, martial arts and pyrotechnics that light up the screen while remaining easy to parse even when things get hectic. Each member of the squad brings their own specialization to the table, allowing for a wide variety of playstyles. Furthermore, every character in the party has a specific counter against enemy attacks and these can be used even when a character isn’t in the active party. It gels extremely well in practice, offering fast-paced and combo-heavy play with a multitude of approaches, tactics and counters to suit any taste.
Where Tales of Arise falls apart somewhat is in its storytelling and characterization. The cast don’t wear their hearts on their sleeve, so much as as they carry them like cudgels, relentlessly beating everything that’s ever crossed their mind into anyone unfortunate enough to wander within earshot.
Nowhere is this worse than in the last twenty percent of the campaign. After the traditional, easily-predicted shocking twist there’s an incredibly lengthy infodump that’s absurd even by JRPG standards. Despite being a fairly straightforward and hugely uninteresting topic, the characters seize this chance to talk about it to the point where they suddenly feel less like functioning human characters and more like brutal exposition factories lacking an off switch, endlessly regurgitating the exact same things their comrades just said, ad infinitum.
It’s not a thrilling way to bring the story to a close, and the length, monotonous design of the final dungeon doesn’t exactly help matters. Fortunately, the postgame content is a strong offering with more great environmental work and some decent bonus boss fights, so it still somehow ends on a high note despite its best efforts to destroy itself during endgame.
Aside from that colossal misstep, there’s not much to knock Tales of Arise for — it’s just a shame that turning the finale into a relentless, meandering slog stains the experience just as it should be firing on all cylinders. However, if I were pressed to come up with another issue, I’d probably say that the in-game economy seems a little off. The party rarely earns enough money to cover their supplies and upgrades even after doing all the sidequests they come across, but it isn’t a huge deal.
It’s not an absolute slam dunk for the return of the Tales series, but it’s a solidly-crafted JRPG with a great battle system and fabulous environments to adventure through. It’s a shame the dialogue and story don’t match the stellar work done elsewhere, but on the whole it’s still a trip well worth taking.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Bandai Namco Games. It is currently available on XBO/X/S, PS4/5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 76 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed with every side quest and post game mission finished. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Alcohol Reference, Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes and Violence. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is a role-playing game in which players lead characters on a quest to battle an evil force in the fantasy world of Dahna. From a third-person perspective, players traverse various environments, complete quests, interact with characters, and battle fantasy characters (e.g., giant insects, armored knights, feral beasts). Players use swords, firearms, and magic spells to defeat enemies; battles are accompanied by screen-shaking effects and impact sounds. Cutscenes depict additional acts of violence and blood: a woman bleeding on the ground after being impaled; a man stabbed in the back; characters impaled in the chest; a woman burned at the stake. Blood is also seen splattering players’ screen on occasion. Some female characters wear outfits that reveal large amounts of cleavage; some characters’ breasts also jiggle. A hot-springs sequence contains some innuendo and suggestive dialogue (e.g. “It’s so silky-smooth. I wanna reach out and touch it”; “Hey, hands off, remember”; “You wouldn’t deny me the chance to be a man, would you?”). In a side quest, characters engage in a prolonged conversation about an alcoholic substance called cillagin, with dialogue/text referencing alcohol (e.g., “So it’s not just a buzz you’re after”; “Not until you’re the right age, Rinwell”; “Quest Complete: Hard Liquor”); characters are also seen drinking and/or discussing alcohol in taverns (e.g., “Maybe we’ve just had to much too drink and have started to hear things.”). The word “a*shole” appears in dialogue.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. There’s little that will be lost for hard of hearing players in Tales of Arise — everything is subtitled and no gameplay elements require sound to succeed. In my view, it’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls on PC.