The lights are on
Few RPG franchises have stuck around this generation, but Tales hasn’t lost its steam. The series entered this generation with Tales of Vesperia, and more recently saw Tales of Graces f for the PlayStation 3. Tales fans have long been frustrated with the entries that haven’t come to our shores, but with Namco Bandai announcing Tales of Xillia for North America, the Tales fervor lives on for another game.
[This preview originally appeared in Game Informer issue #236]
Xillia released in Japan to commemorate the series’ 15th anniversary. But Xillia isn’t all nostalgia; it’s a game that takes risks while building off the series’ strengths. For the first time, players choose one of two main characters. The storyline doesn’t change much based on your pick, but your choice alters the perspective through which you see story events, particularly in the opening. You decide between a male medical student, Jude Mathis, and a female spirit summoner, Milla Maxwell. Their paths cross when a significant accident occurs, and they both investigate the location. In true RPG fashion, what they find is anything but ordinary. Events are complicated by the fact that their world, Rise Maxia, is in shambles and two nations are currently in conflict over the use of monsters and spirits that lurk in the world for protection.
Xillia also returns with the great action gameplay that earned the series praise in the past. Though Tales of Graces f received kudos for its combat, Xillia shakes things up by meshing aspects from previous entries in the series into a new, more fluid battle system. Combat still operates in real time, but this time it combines aspects from two past games. From Tales of Vesperia, Xillia borrows the technical points (TP) system, in which artes cost points, but regular attacks refill the meter. Additionally, it includes Tales of Graces’ Combo Chain system, where the total combo is limited by the number of CC points, except now it’s called the Assault Counter. These two systems, while initially appearing contradictory, provide great balance and require careful planning for both attack and defense.
Since battles play out somewhat like a fighting game, it’s understandable that characters are initially limited to a 2D plane. However, hold the L2 button and free run mode is enabled, allowing evasion of area-based magic spells and better positioning. You also have the ability to link your character to any of the other three party members. By doing this, the linked party member becomes best buds with your character, attacking the same target and assisting you if wounded.
Outside of battle, Milla, Jude, and company progress like most RPG characters, earning experience that levels them up. What separates Xillia is its Lilial Orb system. Not unlike Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid, each character has a spiderweb-shaped lattice with nodes on the corners. Fill up a rectangular segment, and that character acquires a passive ability on top of those unlocked by the individual nodes. This might include a static boost to HP or TP, or other similar perks. This system gives you a lot of control over how your characters evolve, which is refreshing for a genre that tends to have linear character progression.
Diehard fans are sure to notice that the design of Xillia is more mature; characters are now in more realistic proportion as well, so you feel the magnitude of the world. Also, each main character was designed by a different Tales team. This provides a great diversity of character design and meshes well with the gameplay elements.
Xillia has plenty of refinements to make the series feel fresh, but still taps into what fans love: burgeoning character bonds. The battle system modifications all feel significantly improved, and the new Lilial Orb system promises new depth for character growth. Xillia hits in 2013, and if you’re hankering for a new console RPG, it’s definitely worth keeping on your radar.
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I wish you could play this on Vita.