A woman who emits electricity when touched and a man who can't feel pain; what destiny awaits this unlikely pair? Here's Tales of Arise.
Being the first Tales game to release on PlayStation 5, I've been looking forward to the release of Tales of Arise for a long time and it's finally here. Tales of Arise stars Alphen, a man known as Iron Mask who has amnesia and the ability to not feel any pain as well as Shionne, a woman with the curse of thorns; what she calls the lightning that emits from her body whenever someone gets near.
The story begins with an enslaved Alphen who's working hard in the heat of Calaglia as he witnesses Shionne running from someone so he decides to help her when the chase culminates in an event that has Alphen touch Shionne only to discover that he's the only one with the ability to do so. What's more; Shionne possesses a crystal that Alphen has the power to use so he can wield a flaming sword that burns his hands while Shionne heals him. The pair is clearly connected but they seem to have no knowledge of each other. So, Alphen decides to follow Shionne on her quest to vanquish the Lords of the realms of Dahna in the hopes of ridding herself of her curse.
As Alphen and Shionne travel around the world of Dahna, each realm that they visit has a unique setting such as the snowy mountains of Cyslodia, the autumnal forests of Mahag Saar, and the wet and tropical lands of Ganath Haros. In each realm, the Dahnans experience varying degrees of freedom from the tyrannical rule of the Renans. Alphen and Shionne make many friends on their journey and they soon discover that the idea of liberating each realm to free its people isn't as simple as it seems. The cast is varied and each person who joins you on your quest has their own colourful back-story to justify their desire to unite with you in your cause.
Every character has their own equipment and fighting style and you can swap out characters in battle as needed in order to perform special boost attacks. I had a lot of fun changing up my party, dressing them in various costumes, and strategizing with each party member to use their abilities to the best effect such as Law's Breaker Fist ability that breaks an opponent's guard or Rinwell's Magic Cancel that allows you to stop enemies from casting a spell while also knocking them back. They all have their own traversal ability as well that allows you to take down barriers, build bridges, or grow vines. Using such abilities drains your cure points, though, which are also used in battle for healing abilities so you'll find yourself constantly making sure that you have enough orange gels to keep it filled.
I was very pleased to see the boost attack system as it plays a vital role in battles and forces you to do more than hack and slash which is often all too easy to get away with in the average Tales game. In addition to boost attacks, you can also learn and set artes of different elemental abilities or effects such as pushing an enemy into the sky, over limits that activate when you take enough damage or do perfect evasions, boost strikes that activate when you accomplish high combos, and mystic artes that do massive damage. Combat is chaotic but a ton of fun and the fact that you actually have to strategize to complete battles means you'll always be engaged.
Meanwhile, travelling around the world is a joy as you'll fight many enemies, find materials to enhance your equipment, open treasure chests for cash or special equipment, collect owls and fish, heal NPCs, and complete many side-quests for a break from the main story. The world isn't only large but it's also quite vertical; having you climb ladders, jump, and even swim to reach special items. I found myself exploring every square inch of the map before I moved on to the next area while wondering what useful item I would find.
Collecting owls is a hoot (sorry) and it's extremely cute when you unlock the Owl Forest only to witness conversations between what appears to be a king and queen owl as they grant you costumes when you collect certain thresholds of owls. The fishing mini-game that can be played on special docks is quite fun, too, and the fish can be used in cooking recipes and there are dozens of them with each having different effects on the party once eaten. Another side-task is raising livestock in a farm that you take ownership of partway through your journey where you can raise chickens, cows, sheep, and even rappigs then use their meat to cook more dishes.
Cooking isn't new for Tales of Arise but it's nice to see it be more prominent with characters often mentioning their special dishes and the option to cook being available every time you rest along with the choice to chat with party members and get to know them better.
Tales of Arise presents a fitting orchestral soundtrack that changes as you travel to the different realms. The sound effects make battles visceral while finding an owl as you explore is a treat as you listen out for the faint coos of a lost feathery friend. The voice acting is great and the writing varies from silly lighthearted moments to extremely deep conversations about civilization, race, and what it means to be free. Having said that, there are endless conversations between Shionne and Alphen that seem to devolve into a series of "Hmm..."s and "Uhh..."s, especially early in the story which on occasion, takes the strange tension between the 2 a bit too far.
Tales of Arise's graphics are simply beautiful, especially when it comes to the elaborate dungeons within Lords' castles where painstaking detail has gone into every hallway, window, and door to illustrate the extravagance that the tyrants live in. If this is the quality of Tales games that we have to look forward to then I'm in all the way! Having said that, one thing that got to me is that there is a lack of enemy variety. A lot of them are simply different colour variants of others and I even fought what was essentially the same boss more than once. If games like Dragon Quest can deliver a great variety of monsters with varying abilities and appearances then the Tales series should be able to as well. Fortunately, this is my main gripe with Tales of Arise and if that's it then you know it's an awesome game.
Tales of Arise is a masterpiece with a deep story and endearing cast that will keep you hooked as you fight for freedom from tyrants. Meanwhile, the action-intense battles are great fun as you plan your moves to take down enemies as efficiently as possible. Exploring the dungeons and overworld is a joy, too, especially with new map abilities that make traversal engaging. It's the best Tales yet!
- + Strategic battle system makes combat a joy
- + Outstandingly beautiful graphics and fantastic traversal abilities make the world immersive
- + Deep story and intriguing cast of characters
- - A bit too many duplicated enemy types
- - Some conversations are rather awkward