After a 2 year-long wait amongst most western fans, Tales of Xillia finally appears in celebration of its 15th anniversary. Surely, this is no frivolous achievement especially with all the growing pains and changes the series has made in the past, yet with Tales of Xillia (henceforth TOX or Xillia) it is a long way from being able to live up the pedigree of excellence the series wishes to set. Of course, that does not omit the fact that TOX still retains its sense of grand adventure, humor, and enticing narrative – it is just in a more subdued and hollow package with it missing some of its more noticeable features like cooking with recipes you gathered or solving brain teasing puzzles to advance through a dungeon. It is simply just missing that spark – that feeling of an artisan crafted experience that marries one part immersive story, one part riveting humor, and the other part solid gameplay . Regardless, TOX is still worth picking up if you are a long time follower of the franchise or just simply looking to add another JRPG title to your library of fun and amusement. Just expected it to be done slightly different than you imagine or remember.
In TOX, you can choose to take on the role of either two unique characters: master of spirits, Milla Maxwell or the indecisive medical student Jude Mathis that are drag into a winding gambit to save their world – Rieze Maxia from multiple threats and perverse the peace of their slowly dying planet. While there is little to no difference between the two in narrative and having access to both throughout the game, only a few choice scenes and events change. The dual protagonists anchor only seems adds to the game in length, since either character is able to flesh out the storyline and plot adequately, but just executed in a different way. So you will not be missing out on much and still cosigned to the same slow and lethargic beginnings for the first 7 to 10 hours that are nothing short of belabored boredom. The game really doesn’t start to pick until you reach the 2nd of 4 chapters, in which you are introduced to more characters and the meat of the plot that breaks up the tedium most of the first half carried due to the lengthy scenes and exposition. That being said, TOX is also very short, with one playthrough being roughly equal to 25-35 hours, but with plenty of sidequest (simple, but a tad annoying in my opinion) and trophies to earn – it easily extends that limit and always a nice excuse for 2nd playthrough. It definitely isn’t the most neat and tidy of “Tale” narratives woven together due to its poor execution and hasty writing, but not exactly terrible either.
Combat is another feature that gets a fine overhaul like other gameplay elements that allows for exciting and fluid battles, but also rather bare as well. Stripping away many elements that its last title, Graces F introduced, TOX runs on the Double Raid-Linear Motion Battle System or DR-LMBS for short, a battle system that allows the player to form “links” with various parties members to unleash powerful attacks or perform unique character actions like stealing items or breaking a foe’s guard. Much like the rest of the series, TP is still required to performed arte attacks, but also must meet the Assault Counter count or AC, an element similar to Graces that only made use of CC and not TP. With teamwork being a large part of combat to pull off special link artes and even perform them in rapid succession, you can easily get by without adhering to linking even on the hardest difficult setting, but taking full advantage of what the game has to offer will take you far and half of the fun. The Lillum Orb system is another component that provides that advantage and enjoyment, allowing the players to learn artes and skills of their choosing. Similar to the Sphere Grid of Final Fantasy 10, with points earned leveling up in combat called GP, you choose specific abilities and upgrades as you move along that path on the grid. Filling out the path will unlock various artes and skills in between as well as add the upgrades you specified. The more artes and skills learned, the more the orb will reveal more skills and even open up another orb to map with its own upgrades. Its nothing too special, but a nice touch from the normal “learn XYY” at this level element other JRPG and RPG’s have attached to their kind.
Item purchasing has also been streamlined for the better and gets rid of another aliment RPG’s present. Instead of going town to town buying new equipment and gear, all the shops in every town carry the same items. To get new equipment, you have to buy and sell items to increase the shop rank, thus increasing the items available and even getting price discounts. Donating raw items/money (Gald), however, will make the process faster and donating the right items will rapidly rank up the shops and make it possible to get fairly decent equipment early in the game – if you have the Gald on hand; since the prices rise too, despite the discounts. With five unique shop types and 99 levels to achieve for both, it will take a while to get at everything they have to offer, but fun and addictive to do and keeps the player on the lookout for material as they traverse fields and defeat foes.
Graphically speaking, TOX really does look great and gives the world of Rieze Maxia a nice atmosphere to accompany its semi-rich lore and history. The accent of warm colors in some areas and vivid shades in others does make for some nice environmental and visual changes per landscape, but ultimately, not much to write home about either, especially after a couple of hours visiting the same looking expansive fields, only swapped to plains, marshes, tundras, etc. Much like its predecessors, Xillia lacks a Japanese track for those with a phobia for English voice-overs, but luckily like its forebears, snappy localization makes the series just as affable and amiable. So not only are the skits (optional scenes that range from adding to fleshing out back-stories to humors exchanges) still entertaining and well-done, there are also small little voiced conversations you will get while strolling fields and towns. It mostly results in characters moaning about hunger, but also how you may neglect to use them in battle or some other giggle worthy things – that get recycled rather quickly. Although, it is pretty entertaining to hear what most characters will say at any given time – even if it is Leia commenting on a specific food dish or Milla asking when is the next meal coming or even the chatter Teepo carries on.
It might not be the “Tales” game that most of the crowd hoped it would be after the 2 year wait or even JRPG of the year, but TOX is far from a disappointment. Lacking some of the core elements that make it what it is and also getting rid of some tried and true elements, the “Tales” series in its own little way is trying to do what most established franchise have trouble with: change, staying relevant or breaking the mold. Whether or not it succeeds on that front is wholly up the individuals that agree to reach for it, but in my case, it is certainly a nice start, especially now with renewed interested gathered for the franchise. If nothing else, TOX is the start of a new and beautiful relationship with the “Tales” marque…or at least I hope so.
Pros: Nice improvements to combat system, later half of the storyline, excellent world-building made short through optional events, shop/item acquisition.
Cons: Story is slowing moving, most sidequest are annoying and require backtracking, dual protagonist system is pointless.