Role playing games are about offering an immersive experience, and the ability to get lost in an exotic world with strange, amusing and memorable characters. Japanese RPGs have lost some of that luster from the PlayStation 1/2 heyday, but there is always the chance that one of these games will pull you in with an immersive world, good characters and plenty to do. And Tales of Xillia does just that, reminding gamers why RPGs are such a great experience.
Tales of Xillia is Namco’s latest entry into the Tales franchise and the first to feature two protagonists to choose from. Selecting Jude, a do-gooder med school student, or Millia, the physical manifestation of the spirit lord, changes the gameplay in a subtle way and players can fill in the gaps, or gain new insights, by switching between these characters. The very first encounter between Jude and Millia is a perfect moment for this system as it lets players learn about each character.
The game follows a standard formula for RPGs, a larger unexplained evil wrapped in several layers of mystery and new characters, like the rogue yet charming mercenary Alvin or Elize, the cute girl with a doll that comes to life, joining the party along the way.
Luckily Tales of Xillia is not burdened with a gloomy and passive protagonist that has become a bit of the norm of late. Instead, Jude is a kid who wants to do well, and make the right and good choice. The shades of doubt or brooding serve to flesh out the character; not be the character, and are buoyed by interactions with characters who have the exact opposite demeanor.
Tales of Xillia is an easy game to get into as a fan of RPGs. The game’s designers have put a lot into the world-building aspect of the game, it feels organic, lived-in but still clearly in the realm of fantasy. The escapism is not found in the grandiose it is in the small, the little details that pull together to create something much larger. It’s as simple as getting a boring title screen with little adornment when you first turn on the game that soon becomes fleshed out with a cutscene that occurs in the beginning of the game. With the game’s main protagonists fully introduced, Rieze Maxia welcomes you into its world.
As for the game itself, Tales of Xillia picks up many other aspects of the RPG genre and combines them in well-balanced way. The game is a finely-tuned machine that knows what it wants, there are few aspects of that ever fall flat, mostly due to preference rather than the application itself.
The battle system is in real time, with standard attacks and artes, the spirit-divined magic of the world of Rieze Maxia. The fight system is fun but also a bit hectic and can result in a lot of button smashing, and the linking system helps add some strategy to the proceedings. Linked Artes will be of massive importance when it comes to larger boss battles and who you choose to link up with will also alter the strategy of the fight.
The web of skills slowly grows, expanding to include new skills and artes that you can equip your characters with. With every action there is a reward and Tales of Xillia certainly goes out of its way to give players something in return for their hard-earned time.
To quote The Talking Heads, “Never for money, always for love” and that’s where this world will take you. You’ll sit for hours whittling away the ever-increasing amount of experience you need to gain a level, or the random job you need to complete for a villager or a city dweller you just met, not the measly amount of Gald you get in return.
The characters are, naturally, the stars of the game, and you soon learn plenty about them, almost too much at times. There are also little interactions throughout the game that create a world that feels populated and with character you come to care about. Many times, the game’s little narrative breaks from the action, will put a smile on your face as your main party joke about some misunderstanding, usually of a sexual kind. In surprisingly quick fashion, these characters become ones you care about.
Tales of Xillia is a great fantasy game that unifies human experience and emotion with something outlandish and otherworldly. Despite the monsters, aliens, magic and the mythology of a world totally unlike your own, the main draw in this game is finding within all of that chaos, something relatable and totally human. Tales of Xillia succeeds in this way by creating a game that reminds you why you chose to play video games in the first place. Tales of Xillia for PS3 retails for $59.
The Good: A rich world with many great characters. A fun battle system that provides enough strategy to never become stale. Plenty of side-quests that never become too tedious. Fun mini-interactions during gameplay help break up the monotony of traveling through various fields and dungeons.
The Bad: At times gameplay is a little too simple, and overall, Tales of Xillia can serve to be a bit more challenging. Rewards are nice but at times can serve no real purpose. The battle system can be a bit busy while the Lillium Orb system never forces you to make difficult decisions when it comes to leveling up your character.