The latest North American entry in Namco Bandai's beloved Tales series of role-playing games has arrived for the PlayStation 3, and the urge to dive right in is strong, but it's dangerous to go it alone -- take these tips.
First thing's first -- if you are new to the Tales series, do not worry. Tales of Xillia is a standalone story for now, the sequel not due out in North America until sometime next year. You don't have to play any of the other Tales games to appreciate this one.
That having been said, play all of the Tales games. Then...
Watch the Opening Movie
This one's pretty easy, just pop the disc in and don't do anything. It'll cycle between the opening and the splash screen forever, if you let it. This doesn't help your game, but I really love the song and wanted us to appreciate it collectively before getting down to business.
Choose Your Character Wisely
Tales of Xillia begins with a difficult choice -- who is the main character of the story? Players can choose between medical student martial Jude Mathis, or the crazy-haired spirit master Milla Maxwell.
The general consensus seems to be that, while the plot remains largely unchanged between the two, the few elements and plot points that are unique to Jude's play-through make for a better story. Milla, on the other hand, has better battle music.
Micro-Manage Or Auto-Pilot?
One of the best features of Tales of Xillia is the ability to tailor the experience to your preferences, particularly when it comes to how many numbers you'll be juggling. You can opt to assign every single growth point for each character individually, or hit the SELECT button and let the game do the work for you. Whichever you choose, choose early, because it's really tough to ratchet up the complexity in mid-game.
That's largely due to the Lilium Orb levelling system. It's a web of powers and skills. Unlock the four abilities on the corners of a box, and the one in the center is yours. It's a very deep, very satisfying system -- as long as you stick with it the whole game. Letting the game do the work for 20 levels and then deciding to take control leads to much staring at dots and wondering where to begin.
Learn To Run In Circles
Standard enemies in Tales of Xillia appear on the screen as you explore a level. Once you get within range they will charge, resulting in a yellow clash -- both sides start even. Should they hit you from behind, that's a red clash, and you start at a disadvantage. No, what you really want is a Blue Clash, in which you take the enemy by surprise. That can be done by holding down the sneak button and inching forward, which is boring, or like this:
I've played the game for nearly 30 hours, and at no point did I encounter a map enemy faster than my party. That makes it easy to run in a circle, which confuses the enemy and gives you an opportunity to wipe them out fast.
The technique also works rather well for grinding. Find a spot with higher-level creatures, and take them roughly from behind.
Tweak Those Strategy Settings
Even if you're going the easy route and letting the game handle levelling, you don't want to let the game handle the AI characters -- at least not completely. Early on it might not matter if one of them is constantly blowing through your healing potions, or holding back the big skills in order to conserve power. It gets tougher as you go, however, so you'll want to get used to monitoring what your AI party members are doing in any given situation.
Find Three Friends To Play With
Tales of Xillia allows for up to four players controlling party members in battle. Why bitch and moan at AI when you can bitch and moan at your pals?
There will come a time, later in the game, when the story starts to really pick up and you realise you can outpace any creature. You will be tempted to just run through the plains, ignoring the shining resource spots, burlap sacks, wooden trunks and tiny caves. Do not do this. If you don't cover every inch of every map in Tales of Xillia, you are selling yourself short.
You're missing pieces of equipment. You are missing rare resources, important for levelling up the game's weapon, armour, food, accessory and item shops so that they stock more powerful items at lower prices. You're missing out on snippets of dialogue, or the odd quest item.
They made the maps sprawling for a reason, kids.
Never Stop Eating
Food in Tales of Xillia provides special bonuses in battle -- extra experience, more cash, increased power, hit point regeneration -- which only last for a certain number of turns. If you're not fighting with the benefit of food, you aren't fighting to your fullest.
Do All Of The Sidequests. All Of Them.
Seriously, if you see a character with a tiny green arrow over their heads, they are your new best friend.
Not only are there important plot points lurking in some of the games' many side quests, they are also the key to unlocking one of the Tales series most wonderful features -- cosmetic items.
There is nothing that enhances a dramatic cutscene quite like the main character whereing "emo glasses", horns and rabbit ears.
Sit back, relax, and have a wonderful adventure. Oh, and try not to stab your own ear drums when a certain character speaks. Picture a happy place.
Have Tales of Xillia tips of your own? Share them below.