Tales of Arise is a jRPG developed and published by Bandai Namco and the 17th entry in the mainstream Tales series. The game is now available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC. Are you ready to experience the story of tyranny, betrayal but also hope and liberation? To rise up and challenge your destiny?
Grab your Blazing Sword, this is our Tales of Arise PlayStation 4 review.
The game begins with a short introduction to the story – with how heavily narratively-driven the game is, you need it! Three hundred years ago, the prosperous and flourishing planet Dahna was attacked by Renan invaders from a technologically advanced world. They quickly took over the entire territory of the planet and split it into five regions, enslaving the Dahnan people in the process.
The slaves are used to drain the spiritual energy used by the Renan for the Astral generators. The machines are spread across various regions and, due to their colossal power, have greatly impacted the environment. Other tools used by the invaders have exacerbated the problem: the climate is changing, never-before-seen monsters have appeared and adapted to be a part of the new ecosystem, etc. If you add the fact that Renan possess magical abilities, all of this history makes them look like evil and cruel gods in the eyes of Dahnan.
The plot and the lore of the game are presented in a structured and consistent manner. Each piece of in-game history is given in a colorful and clear way, with a ton of information provided at exactly the right time to deepen and complement your understanding of the world. Even the questions that might arise during your playthrough are answered or solved in a timely manner as you progress through the story, granting you a more complete picture of what is happening in the world and making the atmosphere holistic. Even the tiniest of details, including cooking recipes and side-quests, are shown in an extremely interesting way through various scenes and mini-comics.
Players control one of the slaves simply called the Iron Mask at the beginning of the game. He does not remember his name and works tirelessly despite being humiliated by soldiers at every turn. Later, the mask remembers his name, Alphen, and joins the mysterious Renan renegade Shionne, Dahnan mage Rinwell, Dahnan martial master Law, Renan noble Dohalim il Qaras and his Dahnan bodyguard Kisara. Each of the characters has their own place in the party and in the story.
The plot is explored through Alphen’s and Shionne’s personal relationships. The two are completely opposite one another: their races, outlook, background, etc. Through the actions of our party of misfits, the harsh and gloomy world transforms as justice is restored and people of Dahna are freed. And, as those events unfold, Alphen and Shionne grow closer.
Every character participates in cut-scenes and mini-comics that explore the relationship between the protagonists in one way or another: they pick sides according to their own alignments, likes or interpersonal relations. Those scenes allow players to glimpse at individual characters and explore their growth during the long journey of Tales of Arise.
Our heroes are forced to give up their former ways of life in order to unite with their comrades in misfortune and achieve their common goals. At the same time, some of their habits and attachments still make themselves known, and it makes characters look very human which, in turn, makes the story evoke empathy to heroes and immersity in the world. The game does all it can to keep those feelings supported by the characters’ interaction with the world.
Tales of Arise narrates its story through a mix of in-game cutscenes, dialogues stylized like manga panels and animated videos. You can choose between English and Japanese voice-over before you start the game. My advice is to pick the Japanese version, it conveys the emotions of our heroes more vividly.
When it comes to the in-game world, the main change is Tales of Arise’s transition to Unreal Engine 4. Thanks to it, all locations look beautiful and atmospheric and also have their own visual style. You will get a chance to travel through lifeless wastelands, harsh snow-covered lands and evergreen meadows that stepped right out of some paradise picture. Characters move smoothly and realistically, the special effects during combat are bright and colorful but lack the usual jRPG-like twitchiness.
Heroes’ moves during battles look impressive and dynamic but do not obstruct the overall picture of combat. Another great improvement has been done to characters’ facial expressions: they no longer look like wax dolls sporting the same dour expression. When you see Alphen’s wrath, Shionne’s happiness or other characters’ emotions, you believe them.
The game features a large semi-open world divided into many regions and states that you can move between using the system of transfer points. This allows you to accept, complete and turn in a ton of side quests. Most of them, as it usually goes, are associated with killing monsters and collecting ingredients – for example, to brew some swill for a local drunkard. There are also less common cases where Shionne gets to play a stylist or the heroes ask locals what they expect from the new government.
Each map is essentially a corridor with some branches that hide mini-bosses, chests, secrets and even just some extra information about the world. Locations have several levels and the way you traverse them is extremely interesting: somewhere you can climb a stone pedestal, elsewhere dive into a lake or use a ladder.
All of the zones are highly detailed with those little things helping to reveal more secrets about the location in question and even characters that are associated with it. Cracked tiles, spider web on the ceiling, a chipped column or a statue in an extremely deplorable state to show the desolation, that kind of stuff.
Add the weather effects that look stunning, like falling leaves, rain or snow, even sand obscuring the view – it all weaves together to better convey the atmosphere of the game.
You can easily see that designers gave it their all, making each location special and alive. Unique audio/visual effects accompany each zone and you can easily tell apart the desert Calaglia from the scorching heat of Ganath Haros islands, even if both are just “it’s very hot in there” kinds of locations. However, they are ruled by different lords that employ different elemental cores.
Of course, that also means a variety of the flora and fauna as well as structures and surroundings. Some locations feature ancient ruins, others – massive buildings, natural mountain chains and more. This works in tandem with the narrative as, generally speaking, a new region means a new story arc with its own quests, characters and mechanics.
A lot of your time in Tales of Arise will be spent fighting in real-time – against ordinary mobs, mini-bosses and more, alternating with plot-related narrative. You can see monsters traversing the locations. Thankfully, they are only aggressive at a close range which gives players an opportunity to sometimes skip unnecessary fights.
Four heroes are directly involved in battle while two more are benched. There is a little nuance, however: the two heroes that are not a part of your active group will still take part in combat when you fill your enhanced attack bar.
The characters can carry out long combinations of hits and skills, and each one will be colorful and unique-looking. The dynamic techniques look amazing, even when all of the characters use their skills at once, they don’t blend together into a mass of colors which, in turn, prevents battles from looking like a monotonous canvas that consists of a chain of identical moves.
Harder monsters, let alone bosses, will require you to select tactics and change skills during the battle, aiming to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses. You should avoid spamming the same ability over and over, the enemies will quickly adapt to it, gain resistance which will lead to them shaking off stuns faster.
Your skills are leveled up by using them, for example using the same ability 200+ times gives you an advanced version. During the battle, you directly control one hero while the other three follow the set rules of behavior.
Every character is a unique combat unit with its own abilities:
- Shionne specializes in long-range firearm attacks and astral techniques that include both healing and damaging spells
- Law deals quick agile strikes
- Dohalim can extend the length of his staff and interrupt enemies
- Rinwell can empower attacks into a more powerful spell
- Instead of dodging, Kisara blocks enemy attacks while simultaneously attacking on her own
- Alphen charges up his Blazing Sword with a special technique and does devastating damage against knocked out opponents
It is important to note that for the first time in the series you can do any casting on the move. However, in order to be able to pull this off, you must first obtain the appropriate title and learn the skill. Under certain conditions such as the perfect dodge or inflicting damage with a certain element, characters can enter the state where their superpowers are awakened. In such a state – which doesn’t last long, only about 10 seconds or so – characters can deal damage with their skills without using up the technique bar and become invulnerable. Additionally, this state deals Astral Strike – a powerful magical attack with a spectacular animation.
All enemies have their own weaknesses and strengths, bosses are completely unique and killing them is an extremely entertaining business. Defeating bosses provides you with unique items or resources, and secret bosses can give your artifacts (character enhancers).
The balance in the game is tight. You will not be able to ignore certain boss mechanics, negative status effects, elements and more even on the Easy level of difficulty. If Normal or Hard are not enough, you can always ramp it up to the max at any point of time. The difficulty can be changed in the menu accessible at all times outside of active combat.
At the same time, the game uses two different autosave files so if you lost you can just reload and try again. The game is extremely friendly to the newcomers of the series and the genre at large. It also offers bonuses for difficulty: the higher the difficulty, the more experience, resources and rewards you will receive for winning. In addition, there are also bonuses for a series of victories – if you consistently destroy enemy after enemy on the same map, it further improves the number and rarity of the prizes for victories.
In addition to combat, the game has a huge number of quests and side-quests as well as character conversations, cutscenes and manga-style comics. During the rest sequences, there will be special scenes that allow you to explore the relationship between characters, their feelings, aspirations and goals.
You can pick up cooking to increase your chars’ various characteristics, collecting resources and reagents for crafting such as ore for Artifacts. There are also such activities as farming, fishing, owl hunting and the good ol’ coliseum.
- Farming allows you to breed animals and get meat from them overtime
- With fishing, you can get various types of fish in the specially designated places in a mini-game that tasks you with choosing a fishing rod, appropriate bait and then actually catching a creature in a special way
- Owls hide in many locations, usually (not not always) somewhere higher and blending into surroundings. You can get a special reward from the owl king in the Owl Forest for capturing them
- After being left out from Tales of Berseria, the Coliseum finally returns in a grand way. In addition to the typical solo and team battles, you will also encounter some old acquaintances