The Tales series has become one of Japan’s biggest RPG franchises, even giving titans like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest a run for their money. Tales of Xillia is the latest title to get translated for Western fans, and to put it simply, it is delightful.
The franchise has been around since the SNES with Tales of Phantasia, and at the time, Phantasia was a revelation. Gone were the typical turn-based battles that were common in all 16-bit RPG titles, replaced by a unique and refreshing real-time battle system taking place on a 2D playing field. Other staple aspects of the series include a gripping storyline, a colorful cast of main characters with detailed personalities and backstories, and an endearing anime-inspired art style.
Tales of Xillia was released in Japan as part of the Tales series’ 15th anniversary celebrations in 2011, making Xillia’s Western release “just” a couple of years late; Japanese gamers have already had Tales of Xillia 2 since last year! But I digress.
You play as either Milla Maxwell, the human incarnation of Maxwell, The Lord of Spirits, or Jude Mathis, a student at a Medical School who gets swept along with Maxwell’s mission. Both characters are fun to play as, and if you ever get bored of using one, you can easily switch to the other at almost any time.
Tales of Xillia takes a few cues from Final Fantasy XIII, the exploration is stuck to a fairly linear path filled with enemy monsters and items to collect. It’s hardly groundbreaking, but the backdrops look beautiful, and environments include sunny beaches, sprawling fields, a snowy mountain pass, and futuristic industrial environments. The range of environments ensure that you never become bored, and despite the likeness to Final Fantasy XIII, it’s most definitely more expansive, and there are hidden items almost everywhere, meaning the sense of exploration isn’t entirely lost.
All of these grand and beautiful vistas are accompanied by a stellar soundtrack, most of which is included on a CD for purchasers of the Day One Edition. The scores are mostly orchestral and grand in scope, and although they’re not the most catchy songs to grace a JRPG, they’re more than sufficient, and you may even find a few of them stuck in your head when you’re not playing.
One of the main things that’s separated the Tales series from other JRPGs is the combat system, and Tales of Xillia is no exception. The combat in Xillia is real-time, fluid and, at times, intensely frantic. With more in common with a fighting game than an actual JRPG, Xillia’s combat simple enough to pick up, but incredibly difficult to master, but having said that, Xillia’s battles tend to feel a bit easy and unchallenging until about 20 hours into the game. Even though it is very easy at first, the difficulty definitely picks up, and it shouldn’t be enough to make you want to stop playing, as Xillia has much to keep you interested.
A nice addition unseen in the Tales series previously is the Event List, a nice comprehensive list of all your quests, and your progress in them. This is an addition older Tales titles have sorely been lacking, and Xillia is definitely better for it. Returning elements from older Tales titles include Artes, which are basically the attacks you use in combat, and Skills, which are equippable perks, including everything from stat boosts to extra abilities.
Something which fans of the series find endearing are Skits, which are optional conversations you can witness whilst playing the game. Some of the Skits are informative, and help flesh out the backstories of some of your companions, whilst others are purely for the sake of comedy, some of which may have been lost in the transition from Japanese to other languages. Skits are organised into Main, Sub and Etc., Main involves characters conversing about the main storyline, whilst Sub Skits can help let you know when certain side-quests are available, and Etc. is something a bit more random, usually that being one of the characters displaying their interesting sense of humour.
Despite its flaws, concluding this Tales of Xillia review I must clearly state that this is a strong entry in the Tales series, and one of the best JRPG titles to be released this year. If you dislike typical JRPG storylines and characters, then this title might not be for you, but if you’re the type of gamer who enjoys frantic real-time combat and doesn’t mind the anime-inspired art style and characters, then there is plenty here for you to enjoy.
Tales of Xillia takes around 35 hours to play through the first time, but there is more than enough content to keep you entertained for double that amount of time, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to miss a few hidden collectibles and quests on your first play through the story.