Well, this is going to be the most challenging review I have written to date. See, long term fans of the series are going to see right through my not standing beside them in that fact, while people completely unaware of it are going to wonder whether I’m making it up entirely. I’m fairly certain that, if nothing else, we can all admit that Japan have an odd way of going about these things. It works for some (of which I am definitely on side of), but not for others. If you fall into the latter camp, now would be a good time to give up hope and perhaps check out one of our many other reviews. Diablo III perhaps. For now, Tales Of Xillia 2. Developed and published by Bandai Namco Games, Tales Of Xillia 2 is a JRPG (I hate that term) set within the vast and branching Tales Of Universe. Centred, primarily, around two characters named Ludger Kresnik and Elle Mel Marta, it has an immensely gratifying action oriented combat system and, at least from my perspective, an incredibly complex narrative. Will you like it? Should you buy it?
Well, those questions can most likely be answered with what I’ve said already – folk tend to quickly fall to one side or the other when it comes to RPGs of the Eastern variety, and Tales is about as far East as I personally have wandered in my time as a gamer. The story starts with Ludger, a young – twenty something – unemployed orphan with a knack in the kitchen, taking an exam to become an agent of the Spirius Corporation. A career his brother has been in for some time, long enough to be the person overseeing his brothers examination (conflict of interest anyone?). Ludger fails the exam and, somewhat crestfallen, finds a job working in a cafeteria at Trigleph train station to tide him over until such a time when he can take the exam again. However, on his first day on the job he arrives at the station and discovers that a terrorist group, known as Exodus, has hijacked the train and plan to set it on a collision course for the Oscore Plant. It’s here that Ludger meets Elle, a young girl – of eight – who has been sent by her father to the land of Canaan, an island where peoples wishes are made true… which is largely considered a myth. Ludger boards the train in hopes of protecting this seemingly lone child, fighting his way through swathes of the terrorist groups members before meeting scientist Jude Mathis as well as the head of the Spirius Corporation, Bisley Bakur. A plan is quickly formed to thwart the terrorist attack and upon arrival at the head of the train, Ludger discovers that his own brother – albeit remarkably different – is leading the attack.
Honestly, I can’t keep going on about the story because it’s there to be experienced and not told to you right here. Suffice it to say that it’s a lot more complex than it’s opening, as is usually the case when it comes to this type of game. The group of differently abled individuals grows with time, each with their own motivations, desires and hang ups. The story ultimately centres around Ludger’s ability to enter what is called fractured dimensions, alternate versions of the primary dimension, but with events having played out different somewhere in the past, present or future which are to be eradicated for the good of the prime dimension. The story is great, the characters are extremely well developed and all of that is done in spite of the fact that they all talk like absolute morons. I won’t say that it’s poorly written because it just plain isn’t, but the dialog is often unbearable. Cheesy and cliche lines spew at every given opportunity, there’s one character in particular that you encounter in the early stages of the game who speaks almost exclusively in cat puns that had me grinding my teeth so fervently I feared for the people within blast radius. However, it grows on you, and even makes you smile that the sheer level of naivety of these people still doesn’t stop them from being people. Elle, for instance, a child that even other children would find tedious, still manages to be somewhat tragic in the experience she has had, and continues to have, over the course of the game. A game with which the emotional truth is family: some have, some don’t, some find it, some won’t, but it’s out there.
The game operates in a semi open world. You have the two countries, Elympios and Reize Maxia, and the cities, towns and the like found within them; as well as the open and combat infested areas, valleys and dungeons. I’ve heard a lot of complaint online that the landscape has largely been recycled from the previous game but, lacking the time, I never actually managed to play through that one, so it doesn’t really affect me. To keep the player from trudging mercilessly on through the storyline while adding length to the overall experience – which it isn’t necessarily in need of – is a rather ingenious idea, at least as far as I’m concerned. You see, after the events on the train, Ludger and co needed medical attention. Sadly, they were found by the wrong person who saw that as an opportunity to exploit money out of somebody. As a result, Ludger found himself plunged fairly deep in debt. This means two things: the high tech society has rendered his debt like a neon sign over his head, stopping him from being able to travel a certain distance away from the his home without first paying back a certain amount of this debt; and to pay this debt, he’s to do jobs found on the bulletin board found in towns. Here you can find fetch and kill quests, as well as little storylines, elite monster information – basically wilderness boss encounters – and more. I honestly thought this was a pretty cool way of gating the content in a story motivated way.
The soundtrack is equal parts whimsy and gloom and fits with the tone of the game at every turn. Fans of Japanese role playing games should have no qualms with this area and, despite lacking real dynamic alterations based on situation, it serves its purpose very well. The combat system and everything it depends on is… going to take a while to explain. Buckle up. OK, so, I’m fairly certain I’ve made reference to this before, but here’s another great example of RPGs turning away from the traditional turn based – you go/they go system, while still relying on the things that make them so satisfactory. Status effects, attack types, group composition and strategy. Much more like chess than aim for the face and fire.
Firstly, the combat itself relies on three primary resources. HP (Health Points), TP (Technical Points) and CP (Combo Points). Combat takes place within a ring and, while my preview of the game stated that it occurs on a single line, I quickly came to realize how wrong I was about that once given more time to experiment. In fact, you do have free control of the area and it’s a strong recommended to use that freedom, only that you have to hold a button to be able to on the third dimension. To flank your enemy, for instance, you must first be able to get behind them. HP, naturally, needs no explanation. TP, is essentially mana, the “you’re going to need this if you want to do anything other than basic attack” resource. And finally, combo points are a finite number – six, by default – that allows you to perform a combo only up to that number, which refreshes after a moment of inactivity. This makes it a matter of how much power you can fit into one combo before you need to refresh. Everything relies on combo points, basic attack, special attacks – known as Artes – and even every attempt at dodging beyond the first. Artes, however, also drain your TP. No TP = you only have your basic attack. Then here’s where it gets interesting.
You see, unlike mana, TP doesn’t slowly regenerate during combat (admittedly, it only does in a few games) and, while there are potions – of a sort, here they’re called Gels, apple for health, orange for TP – you’re unable to buy them in mass quantities. TP is actually gained through basic attacking and various other means, often boosted by party members. Which ultimately means that your combos have to incorporate resource management as well as damage output. If you go balls to the wall damage, damage, damage, you’re only stopping yourself from being able to do it later. Artes are your beyond basic attacks. Ludger is a fighter, not a mage. Across the length of the game he acquires weapons beyond his default dual blades, such as a hammer and dual guns, but he doesn’t often cast a spell that isn’t some kind of buff, debuff of elemental attack. So Artes are more like different types of attacks at an elevated damage output. Rolling Thunder, for instance, is a dual pistol arte that has Ludger roll to the side and then fire, offering not only an attack, but a change in position. Rapid Disintegration, being a dual sword attack, is a suddenly flurry of sword swings that doesn’t, but has a good amount of damage behind it.
These Artes are… plentiful, to say the very least. There is a rich catalogue of them to choose from as you progress through the game and level your characters up. There’s also the link system. As you get into the swing of the game, you have four active members in your team. At any given time you can, and generally should, be linked to one of them. This offers a bevy of tactical advantages, such as working in unison and dual abilities known as linked Artes. There’s so much more to go over, but there just isn’t enough space on this page.
The game is complex, in every sense of the word. I’m sure there are many out there that would deny that fact in some elitist “you’re just not a real gamer” way, to which I say “I guess I’m not then, moving on”. What I will say about Tales Of Xillia 2 is that I love it. I love being challenged by a game and this has been one of the biggest to date. I used to wonder why people complained about the simplistic route the Final Fantasy series has been taking in recent years and, while I still don’t quite agree with it being a detriment to the series, I get where the distaste comes from now. That being said, this definitely isn’t for everyone. As much can be seen pretty quickly. In closing of this long and far from complete analysis of the game, it’s true strength is, if not in it’s technical depth, is in its design. It looks great; primary and supporting character models are typically anime but nicely varied; the landscapes are beautiful; and there’s colour. How rare and satisfying it is to see so much colour in a game these days.
A review copy of Tales of Xillia 2 was provided by the Bandai Namco Games UK PR team, and the game is available now on PlayStation 3.