Folks, I have good news: Tales of Arise is, in fact, a Tales game.
Okay, that might sound like a stupidly obvious statement, but there has been some trepidation from the fanbase that Bandai Namco’s Tales Studio might be trying to take the series in a more “Western” direction. It’s not entirely unfounded: the trailers seemed to show a game tailored more towards an audience who might get turned off by something that’s “too anime” or “too JRPG.” Certainly, reaching out to new audiences is a good thing, but it risks alienating the current fanbase that’s stuck by Tales through good and bad times.
But after having played a preview build of the game on PC, I can assure you: this is the Tales you know and love. Even better, Tales of Arise looks like it’s going to be Tales at its very best.
Our demo session started us in mid-game with a full roster (though perhaps not the full roster, or the actual roster you’ll have at this point in the final game) of charming, chatty party members. Besides the characters introduced in previous trailers and previews – leads Alphen and Shionne, token offensive magic user Rinwell, and big-headed punch-boy Law – we also had a chance to meet and play as Kisara, a defensive, armor-clad warrior woman with a big club and an even bigger shield, and Dohalim, a soft-spoken and genial young man who hits hard with a polearm.
At the beginning, we were dropped in the middle of a craggy area, filled with lots of little nooks for treasures and collectibles and outcroppings where we could stop and admire the scenery. I’m not sure what the exact specs of the system we were playing on were – this all happened remotely via the magic of Parsec – but I assume the systems were at least fairly beefy. But I can safely say that if other console versions are of a similar visual clarity to this, you’re going to be in for a sumptuous visual treat once the full game releases.
From the mountains we ventured into the grasslands of Menancia. This wide-open area was somewhat overrun with monsters of various stripes, mostly crawling beasties and big, bulky golems. Exploring felt less railroaded than it did in the mountains, as we were free to go off the path and search for collectibles and treasure chests scattered about. After a while wandering about, we came across a shopkeeper and a camp that introduced me to two familiar Tales systems: crafting and cooking. Nothing too complex here crafting lets you make custom accessories with materials you find, while cooking… well, if you’re a Tales veteran, you likely have an idea of what to expect there.
Eventually our party reach the entrance to a city called Viscint, where they’re told that the city’s under lockdown due to a monster rampaging about. Well, we needed to progress, so we’d just have to take care of that ourselves, won’t we? So off we went to slay the threat and open our path forward.
Unlike the recent Tales of Zestiria and Tales of Berseria, you don’t fight enemies directly on the map, instead, a more traditional RPG battle-screen shift happens, and you hop straight into the action. The basics of combat are the same as they’ve always been for Tales: One character is under your direct control, with the others being controlled by the CPU based on AI instructions you set. Combat is heavily action-focused: you run around the arena and execute strikes with the push of a button, chaining them into bigger and stronger attacks called Artes, of which you can assign up to eight (four ground and four aerial) to the controller face buttons.
In some of the previous Tales games, Artes consumed TP whenever they were used. Tales of Arise’s Artes system is more akin to that of Tales of Graces: Every character has a gauge that shows how many Artes they have available to use at that time, and each one you execute consumes one tick off of the gauge. As long as you have Artes to use, you can chain them into bigger and stronger attack strings. When you’re out of Arte gauge, you simply have to wait for a while for it to fill back up. There is a separate point pool called CP, however, used for characters’ healing and support spells and shared by the whole party. (It’s always worth keeping an eye on, because in tough fights it can start draining super-fast!) Besides having unique Artes and weapons, every character has a distinct special skill they can make use of in fights. Lead character Alphen, for example, can sacrifice a small amount of HP to tack on some extra damage to some his Artes – by holding the button down, your attack will end with a firey finisher. Law’s skill, meanwhile, gives him a damage boost depending on how many hits he’s landed without getting smacked around himself, giving players an incentive to practice their dodging techniques.
While you can only have four characters in your active party, that doesn’t mean the other party members are doing nothing during fights. You can summon them temporarily to the battlefield through “Boost Attacks” that have a wide-ranging variety of effects. That’s not all — damaging enemies and landing impressive combos builds up a gauge that lets you do team-up “Boost Strike” attacks for big, bold damage with a cinematic flair.
Every Tales game tends to change up combat just enough that you have to re-learn and get used to a few things before you’re expertly slinging Artes and chaining attacks like a pro, and that was definitely the case here. Arise’s combat intricacies are a lot to take in at first, and combat did feel like something of a crash course since we were only given a limited time to play. But you do learn and improve at it. My first run-through of the demo had me getting me ass handed to me by a mantis-like boss that started to tank hard and summon helper enemies at low health, barely scraping by with a win. But by the time I faced it in my second demo playthrough, I understood the combat mechanics well enough to perform much better. (Telling everyone to target the big obvious weak point on the boss helped, too.)
Overall, I had a ton of fun playing Tales of Arise – I wouldn’t have run the demo twice if I wasn’t enjoying myself! – and I’m super stoked to check out the full game. I’d love to tell you more about some of the small things, like the funny character dialogue and quips I hear throughout, but the Powers That Be us to keep mum about these things for fear of spoiling the experience. (I can say that both the English and Japanese casts do a spectacular job from what I have heard so far). In summary, Tales of Arise feels like a Tales game that’s been polished, tweaked, and turbocharged for a new era more than a complete reimagining. And that’s exactly what I wanted.