Since Scarlet Nexus I’ve been itching for another mature skewing, darker JRPG story to sink my teeth into. I’ve always been a fan of the Tales series and all signs pointed toward Tales of Arise hitting everything on my checklist. Older characters that align closer to my age demographic. A story that explores the grey areas of war, slavery, and revenge. All of this wrapped up in that familiar Tales packaging I’ve loved for the past twenty something plus years.
Spoiler and Content Warning:
While I promise to do my best not to ruin important plot points, there will most likely be spoilers or information some readers may consider spoiler-like in this review. If you do not wish to encounter any such discussion I suggest you turn back now. Just know that Tales of Arise is not going to have as much humor and lightheartedness as I recall Tales of Symphonia having. It is going to be dark and depressing a lot of the time. Save often and take any breaks you need before diving back in.
Tales of Arise Review – Pawns in the Game
For the past 300 years, the entire planet of Dahna has been enslaved and ruled over by the people of neighboring planet, Rena. The lands divided up and Renan lords sent down to mine astral powers from the land and Dahnans alike, all so they can then use that power in a contest to see which Renan lord is supreme. In Calaglia, Alphen is one such slave. He works in this dry, sweltering land of rock, stepping in to aid those he can even though he suffers from amnesia. He knows this is no way to live; he sees those around him collapse from the work, even drop dead from it. But what can one man do?
Enter Shionne. A prisoner rescued from a Renan supply train, this mysterious woman is clearly out of place. Why would a Renan be held captive by other Renans? That doesn’t stop Alphen from doing all he can to save her. She warns him not to get too close. A curse surrounds her that manifests itself as thorns that wound anyone who touches her. Alphen cannot feel pain, which makes him the best person—maybe the only person—who can help her. This mutually beneficial partnership may very well be the key to liberating Dahna.
Each of the five lands suffers at the hands of its Renan ruler in different ways. In some regions, they are literal slaves, toiling away with little food, shelter, or sleep. Some spy and cheat to survive. Others live under the façade of equality only to have something extremely sinister lurking below the surface. People die. It is an undeniable truth living in a world such as this. Some of those deaths hurt more than others, and damn did some of them break my heart. As Alphen, Shionne, and the allies they make along the way traverse each land in search of answers, there will be distrust and disagreement as idealistic goals are put to the test. Tales of Arise does a fantastic job of exploring and embodying the black and white and grey in-between.
Too much humor would detract from the overall story Tales of Arise is telling. Even most of the skits skew toward more serious discussion, but not always. Skits have adopted the same new standard we saw in Scarlet Nexus; interactive manga panels play instead of the smaller talking head windowed skits of yore. They continue to serve the same function; these brief scenes between the group members give us a glimpse into the group dynamic and how the members grow over time. Although I am worried Alphen’s cooking may always be bound straight for the trash.
Tales of Arise Review – Mastering Your Artes
Time to get into the real meat of this review. Tales of Arise features a real-time battle system which can be tweaked to fit your style of play. There are two specific modes to be aware of. The first is individual character control. AI tools make it so your characters can be set to semi-auto, auto, or fully manual settings. Even if you set all of the characters to auto you can take over their actions by using your controller. I won’t lie. Auto is a great setting when you just want to grind and look for resources on a map. Especially when you pair it with the second important mode: Strategy. There are presets ready to go that align with your industry standards or you can customize them the way you like. Unless you are a hard core Tales veteran, I suggest making good use of these two functions.
Truth be told, the battle system can and will feel overwhelming at times. You’ve got basic attacks for both ground and aerial fighting, up to six attacks per. Then there’s the Boost gauge. Landing attacks fills a character’s gauge. Once ready to go it’s a simple tap of the directional button assigned to their position and a unique action takes place. Alphen’s turns the ground below him to smoldering lava rock for a brief time, while Rinwell’s can cancel any magical artes that are in the process of being cast. Boost attacks are a great way to begin a Boost Break which in turn triggers the powerful Boost Strikes. Boost Strikes are a combo arte that partners up two party members for a powerful screen filling displays. The character assigned to the direction you pushed will always be a part of the Boost Strike.
On top of all this are the over limit system and Mystic Artes. Artes don’t cost any points while over limit is active which is great and Mystic Artes require this system to be in effect to execute. With so much going on on-screen at all times I rarely managed to pull off a Mystic Arte manually. Law was the one character in my party that would regularly trigger his move via the auto setting. They’re fabulous to watch but in all honesty the only reason I would keep trying is if I need to unlock a trophy.
New skills primarily come from Emblems. Think of these as your skill trees/spheres/etc. Each emblem offers five upgrades to the character it is unlocked for. The topmost bonus is automatically given to you when a new emblem is collected. Once you’ve allocated points to the other four perks the emblem is fully unlocked and another permanent buff is acquired. I’m an artes first, buffs later kind of player. Any new attack arte that comes with an emblem is my first priority. After that I went with KO protection and artes gauge boosting skills. Since my goal is to do the most damage as quick as possible, swapping in newer, stronger artes is the way I do it. Word to the wise, do not change Alphen’s ground artes immediately. Due to a programming error, I switched the attack slotted to Triangle before a tutorial so when it came time to learn a special move it wouldn’t trigger. I had to reload a previous save (thankfully I had saved only a minute prior) and change the attack back so I could proceed.
Tales of Arise Review – Survival Skills
Do not skimp on running side quests! First off, it’s a great way to put some extra gald in your pockets. Side quests are perfect for obtaining new equipment, cooking recipes, and accessories. Some of the zeugles you battle during these also drop some important crafting materials. But most importantly, some side quests unlock new Emblems for our intrepid adventurers! There will be quests that take a while to update for you; you may need to find or craft certain items to present, or a particularly pesky zeugle is a few too many levels higher than you. (I’ve been waiting for someone to pick a darn outfit out since the very first land.) You can even manage a small farm to obtain meat. Quests are around every corner.
Exploring every nook and crevice of the map is well worth your time. Most maps have fishing spots you can eventually reel in big profits from. Fishing is not my forte, sadly. Maybe I’m just using the wrong lures or I’m simply just bad at it. My favorite thing to do is scour each new map for hidden owls. Why? Because these feathery friends reward your hide and seek wins with new accessories. There’s even bonus items to collect from owl royalty as the birds you locate head to the Owl Forest to roost. You’ll know there’s an owl on the map when Hootle does a little dance. He becomes more active when an owl is close in proximity. Keep your ears open for the hoots.
Camps still play an important role in the game. You can access any skits you may have missed or view important cutscenes via Reminisce. Resting opens up two options before getting some shuteye. First of which is Cooking. Meals can be cooked by anyone in your party, however there are bonus effects that you can take advantage of depending on who makes what. Once you’ve eaten (or not), Alphen can choose to speak with one of his companions. You’ll know there is a unique scene to view if there is a speech bubble next to their name. The benefit of this means your friendship with the person you chat with is deepened. Unfortunately, if there are three different characters to speak with you need to choose wisely as the other chat options will go away.
Tales of Arise is gorgeous. The lands are lush and vibrant, even those trapped in extreme weather patterns. Calaglia’s arid landscape makes me thirsty and trudging through Cyslodia’s tundra reminds me of long Canadian winters. Sadly this all seems to be lost when it’s time to throw in some anime. The switch from game graphics to anime cutscenes is actually rather jarring and I’m not a fan. I like the anime separately as its own entity, just not within the game itself. If the coloring matched the game, sure. But it washes out all of the hard work the level design team put into the game. Pair this with just way too much going on with the artes system and you can see how, though a fantastic game, it falls just shy of hitting a perfect ten.
Tales of Arise review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on PlayStation 5. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.