This probably comes as no surprise after the excellent Scarlet Nexus, but it’s nice to be able to dive into a JRPG as massive as Tales of Arise without having to worry about 70 different interlocking relationship, combat and movement mechanics.
Bandai Namco’s high-fantasy adventure, the 17th in the long running series, officially launched on PC and consoles last week. It’s pretty much par for the course when it comes Bandai’s save-the-world anime adventures: about 45-ish hours to knock off the “main” story, and maybe 100 more if you feel like floating around the world being a good Samaritan to everything with a pulse.
That’s not to say that Tales can’t be confusing in that typically iconic JRPG way. Why are Boost Attacks and Strikes both a thing? Could Bandai really not have found an acronym better than CP? And it’s not new for Tales games, but do we really want to be encouraging games that include pretty massive stat boosts and in-game merchant discounts as DLC items?
But they’re relatively minor quibbles that don’t fundamentally detract from what’s comfortably the best entrance into the Tales series, and a great first JRPG for those who have avoided the genre to date.
Let me provide a caveat with all of this: I’m not done with Arise so far. I’m still chipping away at the dungeons and its wider areas. And even though this is a standalone game that’s well suited for newcomers to the series, Tales of Arise is still a Tales game. You will hit a point where you think, right, that’s it, the story should be over now.
Except it’s not. Of course it’s not.
The comic-book style interactions (called ‘Skits’) — which aren’t the major cut-scenes, but ones you can manually trigger when resting or when you’re out on the road — work a lot better here than they did in Scarlet Nexus. There’s less going on in the background, which makes it a bit easier to focus on what’s actually happening in the panels. Also, you don’t have to watch all the skits — you can rewatch any of them any time you go to rest at an inn or a campfire,
I think the combat system works a little more smoothly here, too. It’s a bit weird to compare Scarlet Nexus with Arise, but for people who only have the time (or courage) to invest into one sizeable JRPG this year, it’s definitely worthy of consideration. Scarlet focused more on building up the power of your main character, using bonding episodes to strengthen the powers of the party members that followed you. Arise gives you a full party to play with that you can choose to main — or swap between — at any given time.
The best part? It acts as a natural counterbalance to one of the biggest problems of JRPGs: pointless, repetitive enemy encounters.
Apart from the variety in being able to start fights all the time as Kisara or Law, you can also just spend a minute to force the AI to play the other characters exactly how you want.
And it’s worth the time. Characters’ special attacks in Arise are called artes, which are mapped to the face buttons by default. Each character has a certain amount of artes they can cast in a fight, indicated by the blue diamonds above their health bar. But in the menu you’ll see that every single arte will level up when used a certain amount of times. You’ll want characters to focus on particular artes to unlock stronger powers. You’ll control one character during a fight, and unless you swap over, but the AI determines their moves based on a preset strategy. That might be to focus on healing (stay back, use curing spells when appropriate) or to save cure points where possible (favouring consumable items instead).
What you can also do, however, is tell the AI to ignore some of their artes. Apart from the joy of that automated optimisation, it also means you can just concentrate on a single character and their best synergies. You don’t have to spend time thinking about whether you’re ruining the experience by not min-maxing every single fight. You also don’t have to feel like you need to chase down every trash mob either just to farm XP for certain characters. That’s taken care of, if you want.
It’s also not really an open-world game, but a series of larger semi-linear levels. I think that helps newcomers a lot, even though Arise does the supremely annoying thing of opening up fast travel points only to immediately lock them off. Combined with the refinements the Tales series has made to its real-time battle system — and the fact that systems like this are more common post-Final Fantasy 15 and Final Fantasy 7 Remake — it just makes Arise super easy to play.
Sure, it’s still a slog. It’s still full of characters screaming their moves like it’s a shonen anime. But that’s also part of the fun, especially when it runs as buttery smooth in performance mode, on the PS5 at least.