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Tales of Arise

Tales of Arise

The five-year long break has come to an end, and Tales of Arise rewards patient fans and newcomers alike with what might be the best game of the series.

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The Tales series has never received the same popularity as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, but Bandai Namco's JRPG contender has served some pretty good titles over the years, such as Tales of Vesperia and Tales of Xillia. At the turn of the last console generation, though, it became clear that the series was stuck in a rut, with too many similar-looking games released within too short a time span. Sure, Tales of Berseria was a slight improvement to its predecessors when it came to story and characters, but it also showed how the JRPG series was falling behind when it came to technical performance and keeping things fresh.

Bandai Namco must have realised this themselves, and for the last five years they have taken the series back to the drawing board, adjusted the formula and made changes to make sure the next game can bring the Tales series into the next generation. The work has paid off, because Tales of Arise truly revitalises the series and feels like a great vision of what JRPGs can offer in this new console generation.

Tales of Arise

Our story takes place in the world of Dahna, a tranquil and peaceful planet. That peace is brutally ended when Dahna's technically more advanced twin world Rena invades Dahna and enslaves its population. Being a society that respects power above all else, the Renan lords initiate a Crown Contest where the lord who harvests most elemental resources from their Dahnan territory is crowned sovereign of Rena. When our story begins three hundred years after the invasion, we follow the amnesiac Alphen, a man who wears an iron mask and can't feel pain. Alphen's life as a slave changes forever when he meets Shionne, a Renan who is persecuted by the local lord and unwillingly sends an electrocuting shock through anyone who touches her. Shionne wishes to topple the Renan lords, and though being diametrically opposed characters in almost every single way, Alphen and Shionne join forces to liberate Dahna and end the oppression once and for all.

What makes the story in Tales of Arise so captivating isn't its premise, but its execution. The core elements of the story are mostly familiar material for JRPG fans, whether that be an amnesiac protagonist, a tsundere companion, a freedom fight against tyrants, or twin worlds whose fates are intertwined. Despite these tried-and-true elements, the story is told in an engaging manner with plenty of twists and turns along the way. The last game in the series, Tales of Berseria, did not shy away from telling a darker tale, and this is also the case of Tales of Arise, where the story can get quite chilling and brutal at times. The result is a game where the story will always keep you moving forward, looking ahead to seeing where the tale will go from here, and even after tens of hours into the game you will still crave more. It truly feels like an epic JRPG tale of old, and narratively, Tales of Arise could possibly be considered one of the best games in the series.

The story is of course reinforced by the characters, which are a delightful bunch. Gone are annoying sidekicks with whiny voices and cringy jokes. Instead, we are served six main characters who are extremely likeable and interesting in their own ways. All of them have burdens from their past and dark stories to tell, and as the story unfolds you will see some great character development along the way. Skits (optional dialogue between characters) are presented as a digital comic book with new squares gradually appearing during the conversation. Some players may long for full cutscenes, but these scenes actually work out pretty well, and certainly better than the boring dialogues in Scarlet Nexus, which didn't have any sort of interactivity. The Tales series has always been about the cast and characters first and everything else second, and Tales of Arise lives up to its heritage. When seen as a whole this might even be the best cast in a Tales game ever, even giving fan favourites like Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Vesperia a run for their money.

Tales of AriseTales of Arise

What helps you bond with the characters even further is their design, which in turn also reflects the game in general. If there's one thing that truly makes Tales of Arise stand out, it's the gorgeous visual design. In a genre plagued by skimpy outfits and too much focus on fan service, Tales of Arise stands out like a breath of fresh air. Just looking at the characters, their visual design and how they are brought to life never ceases to amaze. You still have plenty of alternative outfits you can play around with to make them look goofy or ready for the beach (it is a JRPG, after all), but their default design really deserves credit. The great visuals are thankfully not just reserved for the main characters, but also the areas you visit and the enemies you fight.

After seeing several Tales games that more or less looked the same, the visual facelift is a welcome sight. Gone is Bandai Namco's in-house engine, which they used in too many Tales titles, and the implementation of Unreal Engine 4 really makes this game shine. The art style is still Tales in its core, but the presentation gives a great experience that can make the game stand up against competitors like Persona 5 Royal or Dragon Quest XI with its head held high. The areas you visit are varied and beautiful, whether you are walking in bustling cities, deep jungles, or snowcapped mountains.

Tales of AriseTales of Arise

If you play the game on a base PlayStation 4, you will get a game that runs at 1080p with an uncapped framerate that mostly runs at 30 frames per second. It works well enough, despite the occasional stutter along the way. If you're playing on a next-gen console you can choose between a quality mode or a performance mode. The performance mode runs the game at 60 frames per second, a target it mostly keeps on a PlayStation 5 even during the most intense battles. There are certain dips here and there, but nothing too jarring. The quality mode scales the game up to 4K, but this comes at the cost of an extremely unstable refresh rate which feels really unpleasant after trying the game in performance mode. On the top of it, the visual improvements in quality mode are barely noticeable. No matter which mode you choose, you will see some slight issues here and there with shadow rendering, draw distance and textures that pop in slightly later than intended, and switching to performance mode doesn't do much to improve this. When the visual improvements are so marginal and the game already looks stunning in 1620p anyway, playing this game in performance mode is the way to go.

The main reason you want to play this game in performance mode are the battles, which you will have plenty of in this game. When fighting monsters or enemies, you will enter an action JPRG battle, which feels familiar to Tales veterans, but things are more accessible this time. You control one character at the time, but you can switch between them whenever you want and set the AI to act according to any strategic preferences you wish (think Final Fantasy XII, but less intricate). You move around freely within a circular battlefield and attack the enemy by using a standard attack or one of your Artes, which is the Tales term for special or magical attacks. Different enemies will have different weaknesses, which you can use to your advantage by attacking with a specific character. The rifle woman Shionne will be strong against flying enemies, while the martial artist Law can break through any armour. Though you can only have four active party members in battle, you can still call on the reserve members to utilise their special moves when these are ready, which is a nice touch that makes you feel like the whole team is participating, and you can also call on them to perform powerful finishers called Strikes. It may all sound complicated, but it's actually pretty easy to learn and certainly more intuitive than previous Tales games. What makes the battles even more impressive is how well the game performs even at the most intense and chaotic moments, and once you get into the flow it will feel truly rewarding to see all the chaos and mayhem play out according to your design. To experience this flow at its best, performance mode and 60 frames per second is strongly recommended.

Tales of Arise

The battles, narrative and visual design all make for a great JRPG experience, and it's easy to see the work Bandai Namco has put into these elements. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the side quests in the game. The main attraction in Tales of Arise is the main story, and though there are side quests here they don't display the same amount of renewal and inspiration as the rest of the game. Most of them are either fetch quests or monster slaying quests, and though some of them come with a fun little narrative on the side they are still far away from the quality of games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. You also need to play quite a while before the side quests really start to pop up, but they can certainly be useful when you need more cash.

The music could also have used a little more polish to lift it up to the next level, though it certainly has plenty of pleasant tunes along the way. Series veteran Motoi Sakuraba (probably best known for his work on Dark Souls) is back once again with a wide range of genres, from his characteristic prog rock battle themes (this time with some Latino flare to it) to male choruses that would not be misplaced in the Mines of Moria. The game offers plenty of good music; it just lacks the little extra to really make it stand out against the best scores in the genre.

Tales of Arise

Tales fans have waited patiently for the next game in the series, but Tales of Arise is truly worth the wait. No matter if you are a veteran or first-timer to the series, this game will offer you a great experience, which blends the old and the new in the best way. Tales of Arise may not reinvent the series nor the genre, and the game uses several familiar elements along the way, but its execution and end result is nothing short of impressive and captivating. This will probably stand as one of the best JRPGs of the year, and Tales fans will hopefully look fondly back on this game for years to come.

09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
Gorgeous visual design and technical performance, engaging story with a great cast of characters, intense battles with an improved battle system.
The side activities feel somewhat lacking, the score lacks the little extra from becoming truly memorable, quality mode doesn't add much to the experience.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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Tales of Arise

REVIEW. Written by Ingar Takanobu Hauge

The five-year long break has come to an end, and Tales of Arise rewards patient fans and newcomers alike with what might be the best game of the series.

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