Tales of Xillia 2
The original Tales of Xillia won me over with the mature issues it tackled and the enhancements to the series' real-time battle system and overall structure. This sequel continues to build on its interesting characters while adding some new gameplay features, but Tales of Xillia 2 stumbles compared to its predecessor.
Tales of Xillia 2's issues first appear in the pacing; the plot starts slow, taking about 10 hours to get interesting. Part of this is due to a debt-paying mechanic introduced early to get players to engage with the side content and to better prepare for the challenging battles. The debt plays into the story and begins as a great way to get acquainted with the world, but later it becomes an annoying roadblock since you can't progress unless you pay off a portion. The frustration mounts quickly, since the side quests rely heavily on fetching objects and hunting monsters, which is not engaging. The only worthwhile extra content is the side chapters for the returning characters.
The narrative improves as it progresses, and held my interest more than its predecessor. Set a year after the events from the first game, Xillia 2 has interesting beats (like exploring alternative timelines), but its shining stars are the character relationships. The new protagonists, Ludger and Elle, have a growing, heartfelt bond that's fun to watch. Elle stands out as a child dealing with the hardships of losing a family member and finding her place in the world, quickly becoming my favorite character. The returning cast is also redeeming. I thought Leia was dead weight in the last entry, but Tales of Xillia 2 makes her much more interesting as she strives to become a successful journalist. Moments like these make me recommend playing the first game before entering Xillia 2. It's not required, but one of the highlights is seeing how the old cast has grown.
Tales' action battle system, which plays out like a fighting game, continues to improve, and is more fun than ever. Battles are fast-paced and frantic, and you're equipped with a wide variety of skills to handle the baddies. You can swap weapons this time around, taking down enemies with dual blades, a sledgehammer, or guns akimbo. Each weapon plays differently and works better for certain enemy types. In addition, a transformation skill also provides more powerful attacks for a short period, saving you from jams during tough boss battles.
Bandai Namco also brings back the wonderful link system, which pairs up two characters for bonuses as they flank enemies. The longer Ludger links up with another character, the more his affinity increases. Affinity also increases based on your responses in dialogue, giving you a reason to choose your words carefully. The affinity system is an excellent addition, as building relationships nets you new combat skills.
Learning special attacks and skills has changed. Instead of Xillia's sphere grid-like upgrade system, which I enjoyed immensely, this entry's progression system focuses on elemental properties. You equip orbs, each with a number of the six elements, to learn and upgrade attacks and skills. Some orbs contain overlapping skills, so if a character already knows an ability, the new orb improves it. I didn't enjoy this as much as the previous streamlined system, but it's solid nonetheless.
Tales of Xillia 2's biggest crime is how much it reuses content. You visit new places in Elympios, but the Rieze Maxia environments are ripped from the first game. On top of that, you visit dungeons, towns, and fields multiple times, and it's even worse if you factor in the side content. Many of these places aren't anything to write home about, as the majority of dungeons are linear affairs devoid of puzzles. At least fields are cluttered with collectibles that help for customization and upgrades, but the lack of new environments is disappointing.
Tales of Xillia 2 has its flaws, but it also has plenty of what fans of the series love: Challenging battles, great character interactions, and a story full of twists. I'm still continually lured in by the series, I just wish this entry felt like more than a sideways step.
How does this sequel compare to the first game? Find out in our review.