Tales of Xillia 2 manages to do what Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World could not – be a competent, fun sequel that maintains the spirit of the original game.
There are some reviewers out there who complained that the sequel covers too much ground we already saw in the original Xillia. The cast returns alongside three new characters. The cities and locations are largely borrowed from the first title, although Elympios is explored in greater detail. So know this going in: yes, some of this will feel familiar. But compared to the ToS:DotNW’s decision to switch things to a crappy Pokemon-esque monster system, limited access to your beloved party members, and all-around sluggish gameplay, I’ll happily take more of the same.
Xillia was the best Tales game in the series, and its sequel doesn’t quite measure up. But it’s still completely worth your time.
Anyone who played the first game will be familiar with how the majority of the systems in 2 work. The battles are nearly identical, with the ability to link up pairs of characters to gain access to joint artes and useful passive abilities. The fantastic hybrid TP/AC system encourages you to use short bursts of damage in a duck-and-weave, fluid fashion rather than just button mashing.
There are some key differences, however. First and foremost is the new main character, Ludger. Our protagonist has access to all three weapon types – swords, hammers and guns – and the ability to switch on the fly. This has the potential to unlock ridiculous combos, but it’s mostly used to get super-effective hits on pretty much any enemy you choose. He also has the power to transform and become invincible for a short time, making him by far the best character in the game.
Xillia’s fantastic Lilium Orb system undergoes a makeover as well. The Allium Orb is a more linear approach that harkens back to Tales of the Abyss’ capacity cores. You equip orbs that give a boost to a certain element or elements, and learn artes and skills as you gain points from battles. It’s not quite as open-ended as the Lilium Orb and the end result will still be the same at max level, but it’s a solid system nonetheless.
This is where Xillia 2 struggles a bit. There’s a great narrative waiting to be explored in this game – the problem is how long it takes to get there.
You start off with Ludger going through a training process with his brother. He eventually ends up on a train after being accused of kidnapping a random girl, and then some weird alternate dimension things start happening. It’s intriguing, but very poorly explained until later on. From there, you’re saddled with an enormous debt to repay and forced to take on random jobs to earn bounties. The story continues to unfold, but it’s an extremely slow process in the first 10-15 hours.
Once you get to the tried-and-true Tales staple, the mid-game twist that says “oh, you thought you knew what was happening? Well check this out!”? Then the story’s great. But getting there is a little bit of a slog, only salvaged by…
Like its predecessor (and most games in the Tales series), Xillia 2’s strength is its characters and the interactions between them. The entire party from the first game returns, and you get access to them surprisingly early. Hell, Ludger meets up with Jude less than an hour in.
In addition to the old folks and Ludger, the unlikely tag team of Gaius and Muzet join the crew as well. I’d mark this with spoiler tags, but all the art for the game and the DLC pretty much ruined the surprise already. You also get them before the 10-hour mark in a 50-hour game.
Pretty much all of the characters are fun to play, especially with some new artes introduced in the sequel. The added bonus here is that because we have all of this history between everyone, some of the skits and scenes are more entertaining than ever. There are plenty of references to events from the first game, like people tiptoeing around Gaius because they’re scared of him or Alvin’s complete lack of trustworthiness. These sequences help you get through the early part of the game.
— The characters, the mid- to late-game story, the battle system, the leveling up mechanics.
— While the job board exists as a way to pay off your colossal debt, it also has its advantages. Just about all of it is optional, and you’ll complete some of the tasks just by playing through the game, earning free rewards. If you care to take on everything, that option works great as well. The best part is the new giganto monsters, essentially bosses with lucrative rewards.
— The poker minigame from Tales of the Abyss returns and has tons of great prizes as payouts. This is almost worth listing twice, it’s so good.
— Rollo is the best character in the game. Who’s Rollo? He’s a cat. A fat cat. But in our playthrough, he’s also a an assistant CEO, a dependable fighter, and a snazzy dresser. You don’t have to choose your favorite character out of the nine party members because the correct answer is actually Rollo.
— So you get access to all of the characters in timely fashion. There’s just one problem: Ludger has to be in the party at all times until you beat the game. As an added issue, when you do the character side quests, you get certain pairs in your party as mandatory members as well (Jude/Milla, Alvin/Leia, Rowen/Elize, Gaius/Muzet). That means you only have one spot left to choose who’s in. People playing this in single player don’t have to worry about this because you can always be who you want, but multiplayer? They kinda got screwed here.
— Ludger is a silent protagonist, which is a strange situation in a game that has a ton of voice acting. There’s a story-driven reason for this, and having Ludger speak only in truncated sentences grows on you after a while. But it’s extremely jarring in the beginning.
Is Xillia 2 as good as the original? No. Some curious design choices keep it from reaching that level. But if you enjoyed the first game, you have every reason to pick this up. And if you’ve enjoyed other Tales games, the edict still stands: play the first one, then play this. You just don’t get many chances to play an RPG with a battle system this strong.