For me to enjoy Tales of Xillia, it really needed one thing above all else – a good story and characters. For right or wrong, I’ve found that when I play games, story has become paramount to all else. The gameplay can be spectacular, but if the story is forgettable, or terrible, I won’t be invested. Half the time, I won’t finish the playthrough. A good example is the difference between Borderlands and its sequel. The first game was a chore, with a dumb story and boring characters. I’m already on my second playthrough of Borderlands 2, however, and the great characters, sharp dialogue, compelling villain, and interesting story is what drives the gameplay.
Here’s the thing with Tales games – I haven’t really enjoyed their stories. At all. Historically. To be fair, I’ve only played a handful of them (because I gave up out of boredom), and have only ever completed Vesperia, which had a couple good characters, but a plot that I couldn’t even begin to tell you about because no one cared, including the people telling the story.
That’s why I’ve been so impressed with Xillia – it features story and characters that are actually interesting, and is exploring themes and idea that haven’t been dumbed down for preteens or over exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness.
In the first ten hours, we are introduced to a spiffy cut scene, an interesting world, a looming new threat, and characters who react in realistic ways, and have personal flaws and questions that make them sympathetic, not grating. Despite all the bad things that happen to the MAIN main character, Jude, he manages to avoid bitching and moaning – at the same time, he’s not the annoying “Happy go lucky, roll with the punches” character that drives people nuts. He reacts how someone who doesn’t feel sorry for themselves 24/7 should react, and it’s a breath of fresh air.
Milla, the god in human form, is also a fascinating take on a character. The expectation is for her to slowly “learn what it means to become human,” but it hasn’t really played out that way yet. While she is fascinated by certain aspects of culture and society, she still very much maintains her aura of superiority. However, she avoids being (too) condescending, giving her some shades of grey as well.
The voice acting is great, save for one side character, and the cast of supporting characters is great as well. The skits are well written and acted, and thankfully, legitimately funny.
The one thing guaranteed going into this was the gameplay would be fantastic, like most other Tales games. Combat is active RPG, almost a mix of RPG and fighting game elements. It’s fast, frenetic, and very satisfying, once you get the hang of it. Which I finally did. I’m notoriously bad at Tales combat (and fighting games in general), but once I became more invested in the story, I had more incentive to actually try to learn the ropes of encounters. The result is mixed – I still need to learn how to block effectively – but the important thing is, it’s fun. There are a lot of different ways to approach encounters, and the party has a variety of long distance attacks and melee options to decimate their opponents. This is, in part, due to the incredible new leveling system, the Lilium Orbs.
Think the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X – as characters level up, they will receive points to invest in a grid…filled with different spheres (sphere grid). These spheres are composed in a web-shape. As you unlock stats and abilities, more tiers will become available. It’s a great system that allows you to build the character in the way you want, and ensure that everyone’s playthrough will be customized for their style of play.
It’s still early on in the game, but the sheer level of options, customization, and gameplay tactics, combined with a emotionally investing plot and characters, have already made this my favorite Tales game ever. I’m looking forward to getting deeper into the game, for the first time in Tales history. The plot is just starting to ramp up, and we have yet to actually obtain all of the characters yet.
Visit At The Buzzer throughout the coming weeks for more impressions and reviews on Tales of Xillia!