Saturday, April 13, 2024

Tales of Arise hands-on preview – An evolution of a beloved RPG series

It’s been a long five years since we were graced by a brand new Tales game, but the drought is almost over as the long-awaited Tales of Arise is set to arrive in September. Yet a half-decade on from fan-favourite entry Tales of Berseria, Arise is shaping up to be one of the riskiest entries in the series to date, with updates to everything from combat to party structure to even the traditional anime aesthetic.

However, having recently had access to an early preview of the game, we’re cautiously optimistic for the direction the classic JRPG franchise appears to be going in. The build was a combat-heavy ‘vertical slice’ of a section of the game, but gave us a solid taste of the varied characters players will meet in the full game, their unique approaches to combat, and even a hint of their personalities.

Funnily enough, it’s our first time in Tales of Arise. It’s a small world after all… (Image ©Bandai-Namco)

While Alphen, a mask-wearing, sword-wielding warrior, and Shionne, a magic-using rifle bearer, appear to be the two ‘main’ protagonists of Arise, players can select any of the six core heroes – mage Rinwell, brawler Law, knight Kisara, or staff user Dohalim. For the preview build, this didn’t seem to have too much impact on the few story moments that occured, with narrative cutscenes defaulting back to Alphen and Shionne, but it did allow for individual perspectives in combat dialogue or intra-party chatter as you roamed the map.

While some characters, like Kisara, already have fans – and Gayming’s own Aimee Hart – thirsty, the whole roster offers a wide variety of talents and attributes, tailored to different combat specialisations. We ultimatelys selected Dohalim for our playthrough, partly because his staff-based combat style reminded us of SoulCalibur’s Kilik, with a good mix of mid-range and aerial attacks, and partly because he keeps referring to his “rod”, and we are very mature.

The preview dropped us into Elde Menancia, a verdant valley filled with strange creatures and deep canyons. The party is en route to a city but – in true JRPG fashion – its gates are closed to outsiders until a monster rampaging nearby is quelled. As the party were all level 25, and the boss monster only level 26, we tried tackling it straight off – a mistake. Tales of Arise’s monsters actually provide a real challenge, and we soon realised we’d need to do a spot of levelling up first.

This creep is not to be trifled with – until you’ve levelled up a bit, of course (Image ©Bandai-Namco)

Luckily, there were plenty of grunt monsters scattered around to train up on. For anyone returning from past Tales games, Arise’s battle system will feel instantly familiar but evolved. You’ll tap out regular attacks by hammering the right shoulder button, and unleash Artes – the Tales series’ answer to magic and skills – using the X, Y, and A buttons (on an Xbox controller; equivalent button positions on other formats). You’ll be able to assign two Artes to each button, totalling three attacks for use on the ground and three for aerial attacks, activated if you jump first with a tap of the B button.

However, teamwork feels more integral to battles in Arise than ever before. Of the six characters, four will be active in combat at any time, with the remaining two supporting from the sides. You’ll be able to switch between who you’re directly controlling at any point, with the other three continuing to attack on their own, with varying degrees of autonomy depending on how you set up your party mechanics. As each combatant builds a charge through regular attacks, you’ll be able to call on any of them via a press of the D-Pad to unleash a powerful special move. Deliver enough damage to a foe, and you’ll get a brief prompt to unleash a Boost Strike, a one-hit kill team-up attack. Determining who to call on and when, or when to switch active characters is the heart of Tales of Arise’s combat.

Kisara’s doing the hard work, while Dohalim waves his rod around… (Image ©Bandai-Namco)

It’s all blindingly fast, too – something that’s both blessing and curse. It means random encounters can be over in a flash, which makes grinding less of a chore while always delivering some dazzling spectacle as your party unleashes fierce moves. This is something veterans of the series will be accustomed to, but newcomers may find a bit overwhelming – until the nuance of unleashing Artes clicks, regular battles can feel very button-mashy. Dodging enemy attacks also feels clunky, having to move the left thumbstick and pull the right trigger simultaneously to avoid incoming damage. At the speed of Tales battles, just a trigger pull would feel far more intuitive.

Outside of battle, we’re pleased to see series staples such as cooking return. When you find a campsite, you’ll be able to cook a meal based on the ingredients and recipes you’ve found around the world. Not only will this restore the party’s health and magic points, you’ll also get a specific status boost depending on the food – one offers an increase to Experience Points, for instance, which made racking up levels that bit easier – with the effect lasting for a certain period of time after your party has eaten. Each member will have their own favourite foods too, and having them serve as chef will improve its effects. The more you have a character cook, the higher their chef level becomes, which in turn unlocks better bonuses for meals. The whole system feels more streamlined than it has in the past, and its benefits are far easier to understand.

Law favours martial arts – or rather, Martial Artes – to deliver brutal melee attacks in battle (Image ©Bandai-Namco)

Missing from the preview though was any sign of skits, although Bandai Namco says the quirky interactions between party members will be included in the final release. There will also be a chance to ‘reminisce’ at campsites, allowing players to replay and previous skits – a good idea in principle, especially if you accidentally gloss over parts of one, as has happened too many times in the past. We’ll be particularly interested in seeing how skits look in-game though – in past Tales games, they’ve been semi-static dialogue scenes anchored on the characters anime visuals. With Arise stepping away from that visual approach, there’s potential for them to be quite different.

Which brings us to Tales of Arise’s biggest, and perhaps most controversial, change – its aesthetic. While there’s no denying the game is still rooted in anime visuals – character designer Minoru Iwamoto even returns from Berseria – the shift from a more traditional 2D animated approach to a 3D cel-shaded one is one of the bigger departures in the series’ history.

Kisara may already be the breakout fan-favourite character of Tales of Arise (Image ©Bandai-Namco)

Luckily, for the most part it works. Tales of Arise has a slightly more mature, arguably ‘darker’ feel to it in places, but its characters all look fantastic, especially in motion. As the preview build took place remotely via streaming service Shadow – due to ongoing COVID safety concerns – we can’t say for certain how good it will look when running on local hardware, but it’s already shaping up to be a treat for the eyes, despite the artefacting that streaming can cause.

Overall though, this first taste of Tales of Arise has done a lot to calm any nascent concerns we may have had over the direction the series was going in. Arise is shaping up to be a solid instalment in a beloved series, with tweaks and improvements to its core combat and cooking systems without abandoning what’s gone before. We’re eager to play the full game when it arrives on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC on 10 September.

Matt Kamen

[He/Him] Matt Kamen is a veteran media writer based in the UK, specialising in video games, film, and comics. If found, return to nearest coffee shop.

Comments are closed.