The JRPG space is filled with a host of popular and prominent series. Games like Final Fantasy, Persona, and Dragon Quest are always in the limelight, making it easy to overlook other great titles. The Tales series has, admittedly, been one that I’ve personally neglected a fair amount but Tales of Arise intrigued me enough to give it a go. And I’m glad that I did. With an elaborate combat system and engaging story filled with memorable characters, I’ve been put back on the straight and narrow with the Tales games.
Odd Couple Anime Fantasy Edition
The setting of Arise is a dark and dismal world. The less remarkable race known as the Dahnans has been enduring long-lasting enslavement at the hands of the more powerful Renans. The latter are beings with mystical powers that have been pillaging and exploiting the world of the Dahnans for their own gain. More specifically, the Renans force the enslaved race to work tirelessly to collect resources for the purposes of running the Crown Contests. These decade-long affairs are how the high-tech race decides who becomes the Sovereign among them.
Early on, we’re introduced to one of the slaves, Alphen, a man donning an iron mask who feels no pain and has little memory of his past. During an operation involving a train, he finds himself in the middle of an altercation between his Renan taskmasters and a group of resistance fighters. They discover onboard the train a seemingly captive Renan named Shionne, a woman with a body that emits lightning thorns anytime someone touches her. On top of that, within her body lies a mighty sword made of fire which only Alphen can use due to his inability to feel pain. The two become an “odd couple” of sorts who are after different things but have a common enemy: the Renans.
The game has tons of other great characters and side stories but the dysfunctional partnership of Shionne and Alphen was the highlight for me. As a team, their unique characteristics make them perfect for each other. Their personalities, though, are complete opposites which leads to both hilarious and dramatic moments. There’s a lot of tension and intrigued that builds up the more we learn about both of their pasts. The fact that deep down they’re supposed to be enemies by virtue of them being of different races only lends more to the drama of Tales of Arise’s story.
The heart and soul of Arise’s gameplay lie in its intricate combat, which, I dare say, is one of the best ones I’ve played in a JRPG. Every character in your group has their own fighting style that is highly stylish and is capable of spectacular combos. For example, Alphen can begin a ground assault that leads to a launcher into an air combo. Your choices for finishers range from using one of your Artes – the game’s version of abilities – to buddying up with another party member to unleash a spectacular team attack. Tales of Arise spares no expense when it comes to how flashy its combat can become. With tons of different types of Artes and a wide range of skills you can unlock, there’s plenty of ways you can customize the way you dispatch enemies. If this is all sounding a bit too complicated, you can rest assured that Arise’s combat is quite easy to grasp. I admittedly found some of the boss fights a bit frustrating as they posed a significant difference in the way you approach them compared to regular enemies.
Besides beating up enemies, Tales of Arise has a pseudo-open world filled with a variety of zones for you to explore. Throughout your venturing, you complete quests for rewards and discover hidden treasure that you can then use to craft items to enhance your party members. As with most JRPGs, you can expect the best items to often require a fair amount of grinding. The results, however, are well worth the effort.
More Time in the Oven
Tales of Arise isn’t without its blemishes, which unfortunately come primarily in the audio-visual department. From a design standpoint, every character looks absolutely stunning as though they’ve been taken from a fantasy anime series. Where things get hairy is during cutscenes. Character models will start moving stiffly and awkwardly, as if the animators weren’t sure how they should move, particularly during dialogue scenes. It’s a stark contrast from the gameplay beats and combat during which characters move a lot more fluidly.
What’s worse is Arise’s mismatched scoring. There are scenes in this game where the music just flat-out doesn’t match what is going on, which makes me wonder if the project had any musical budget at all. Don’t get me wrong. The music that exists within the game is quite good. When the epic march you’re hearing in the background as you roam the land, though, continues to play during a gag scene or a sad moment, all sense of immersion is lost. I’d be happy to admit this as a nitpick if it wasn’t occurring as prominently as it did.
Despite a few small issues, Tales of Arise is one of the best JRPGs to come out in 2021. The epic tale of an odd fantasy couple that must work together contains a lot of powerful moments and gives every single character a fair amount of development. The combat system is highly customizable and absolutely addictive. And a bit of mild grinding aside, there wasn’t a dull moment in sight. Whether you’re a Tales fan or are just diving in for the first time, Tales of Arise is a must-buy for all JRPG fans.