Tales of Xillia is the thirteenth entry in the somewhat popular Tales franchise, a series well known for campy plots focused on character development and intricate, combo based combat. Tales of Xillia is no departure from this concept as the battle system has been expanded yet again and for the better, this time forming a system of combat that is deep enough for the unskilled as well as those who prefer a challenge.
The story of Tales of Xillia is actually quite an interesting if you’re accepting of the anime cliche of throwing around made up words, making the game an interesting character-driven affair that’s centered around a weapon of mass-destruction called the, "Lance of Kresnik." You see, the world of Tales of Xillia is set in a plane called Rieze Maxia, where the people perform physical and magical feats by providing their mana to spirits in a form of symbiosis, since the spirits likewise need mana from humans to survive. Technology like the Lance of Kresnik function like the Philosopher Stones of Rieze Maxia since they break the world’s system of equivalent exchange by using the power of spirits without providing them with any mana, essentially killing them and throwing the entire world off-kilter. While a majority of plot is delivered through cutscenes, little additional parts of story, humor and character development can happen in the form of skits – optional bits of dialogue delivered with animated portraits (rather than the full CG cutscenes commonly in the game) that a player can choose to watch by pressing the Select button.
There are two protagonists in Tales of Xillia and which one the player selects determines from whose perspective the story is told. Milla Maxwell is a greater spirit and manifests in physical form to destroy weapons that destroy the balance of the world. Jude Mathis, on the other hand, is a medical student who gets caught up in a crazy series of events mostly started by Milla and how he comes into his own. As the story progresses and the events get more and more out of hand, more characters join your ragtag group and each has his or her own unique ability that they bring to combat. For example, Jude’s Snap Pivot allows players to quickly teleport behind foes by using a well-timed backstep to dodge an enemy attack while Milla has the ability to change a good number of her techniques into spells by holding down the circle button. Each of the six playable characters gets an ability that is unique to them that helps them perform a certain role in the party.
While on the subject of combat, one of the things that the Tales games are known for, there’s a lot to love here. Tales of Xillia eschews turn-based combat in favor of a fast-paced system where you input your commands directly to attack foes. To someone who has never played a Tales game before, the combat in a lot of the games would be similar to those seen in the more recent Kingdom Hearts or Star Ocean games than the combat systems in Lost Odyssey or Eternal Sonata. Of course, that’s putting it simply, because there’s a lot that Tales does to separate itself from the competition.
Players can chain their basic attacks and special attacks to form combos by pressing the cross and circle buttons and various directions while three other members of the party will attack alongside you based upon strategy settings that you choose. Players can switch party members at any time, so those who want to focus on getting the trophy for hitting a high combo number might want to control one character after another to ensure that spells and attacks are being timed properly for the largest combo possible. Of course, the prior information should be familiar to those who might have tried Tales games before by reintroducing and refining mechanics from previous Tales combat systems. Overlimit, free run and quickstepping can be used by players in Tales of Xillia to utilize powerful Mystic Artes for high damage, improve positioning to get behind enemies and score critical hits or just to keep themselves from being surrounded.
The newest addition to the combat this time around is the Skill Link system- players can partner with an AI character who will then flank the enemy while providing specific benefits, such as keeping enemies off the player’s back, recovering you when you’re stunned and providing their own specific linked ability such as Jude recovering your health when it gets low. If the previous benefits didn’t sound good enough, when the Overlimit gauge reaches certain points, using specific artes will trigger powerful linked techniques that you can execute at the end of your combos. Filling the Overlimit gauge will let you use chains of linked attacks one after another and savvy players with good timing can change the partner to whom they’re linked to maximize the damage on a foe.
Of course, there’s still plenty to love in Tales of Xillia outside of the combat: The visuals are quite well done. Each town and dungeon has their own distinct look, whether it be the sparkling flickers throughout Fennmont or the aesthetically pleasing glow from shimmering rocks in one of the caves. The anime characters and environments look fantastic and really bring the art style to life, though the environments, once you get past the, "Ooh, shiny lighting" effect, do suffer from some muddy textures and aren’t quite as well developed. Various effects, such as snow and rain, are still quite pleasing to behold while roaming about the world maps and the character models stand at the forefront of the visual design since they are all well detailed and have plenty of amusing animations for many situations.
The music is wonderful- tunes during events give off the appropriate vibes while music during combat is a nice blend of rock pieces to keep the player engaged. The voice acting is a little off on some characters but the majority of the cast is above par or even excellent, while some characters are more give-and-take than others (Teepo, a talking doll, can be annoying by randomly shouting bazongas as a significant other enters the room…), the largest portion of the cast should keep you from wanting to puncture your eardrums with a spoon.
While the environments are bright and beautiful to look at, the dungeons you’re set to traipse through tend to be very much on the linear side. Deviating from the beaten path yields, generally, nothing but additional materials to expand shops or items for your party to use. There’s plenty of exploring to be done and rewards to be discovered, but if a player is just looking to get from point A to point B to finish up the story as quickly as possible then they may be underwhelmed by the variety of dungeon maps. Of course, each dungeon looks different, it’s just that there’s very little incentive to investigate all of what each dungeon has to offer if you’re not hurting to level up or expand your shops to unlock a new tier of equipment.
As far as the plot of Tales of Xillia goes, your mileage may vary. Those who enjoy anime may find the plot twists exhilarating, while those who don’t like such stories already are probably not going to have their heads turned or opinions changed by this game. So, for those who are already interested in this kind of story, you’ll more than likely have enough to keep you entertained though the plot is a little slow on the uptake for the first few hours.
Something that is quite new is that when characters gain levels in Tales of Xillia, they earn points that can be spent in their Lilium Orbs. Players spend a character’s points on nodes along a spiderweb-like board, with each of those nodes increasing a statistic and when enough nodes have been activated around skill orbs, you unlock the respective skill or attack.
Those who may have played the more recent Final Fantasy titles might be somewhat familiar with this concept immediately, since this system is very reminiscent of FFXII’s License Board or FFXIII’s Crystarium. To put it simply, players can choose areas they’d like to specialize their characters in and unlock abilities on the board in the order they so choose, though there is the option to just let the game auto-level your characters for you so you don’t have to spend the time obsessing over the Lilium Orb if you don’t want to.
Another manner of growth the player can control is with the shops located all throughout Rieze Maxia- by donating goods to expand shops, you gain access to higher quality wares as well as important discounts. Exploring all over the environment can help you collect the materials you need to keep your shops leveled and money to keep your party well equipped.
There’s a lot to keep RPG fans happy with Tales of Xillia- not only is there the main plot, which can last around 30 to 40 hours, but also side quests and sub events that can provide even more aspects of the plot and fill in a lot of gaps. Odds are, if while progressing through Tales of Xillia there’s something that seems like a plot hole to you or a dangling thread that was never resolved, there’s a solid chance there was a sub event that brought up that exact same thread to enlighten the player more about that subject. Searching around the world and finding additional events and story pieces can provide a lot of lore, humor or flat-out provide you with some nice rewards, like glasses or bunny ears you can put on your characters and they’ll wear during cutscenes and battle.
To summarize: Tales of Xillia is a JRPG for people who like JRPGs. People who already aren’t fans of this type of game probably won’t be too interested, while those who do enjoy campy anime plots will be right at home since that’s the audience to whom this game caters. The combat system is fast and extremely engaging, offering lots of variety and six different characters who all play differently from one another. The characters look fantastic and the environmental effects are gorgeous, even if the textures are a little less than fantastic. The game has an excellent soundtrack, with pieces for every occasion throughout the story alongside plenty of tunes to get the player going for a big battle. The linear dungeons can definitely bore some players, however, but the plot and combat are plenty addicting, especially as the player gains more and more skills to bolster what their favorite character does best.
Overall, if you’re a fan of JRPGs, Tales of Xillia is one of the better titles available right now and among the few JRPGs to come out this entire year, so it’s definitely worth a play.