The 13th game in a popular, long-running Japanese RPG series starring a female main character for the first time in the series’ history. Unfortunately, the game faced some issues during development resulting in some disappointment among fans. Eventually a sequel was released that fixed many of the issues in the first game while introducing a new male protagonist and a weird, somewhat bizarre plot.
Think I’m talking about Final Fantasy XIII? Nope! I’m referring to the 13th “mothership” title in the wonderfully prolific Tales of series, Tales of Xillia.
So, Tales of Xillia. What is there to say? I’ve been a huge fan of this series since 2005, so of course I had to get this game as soon as it came out. This is the ninth Tales game I’ve finished now? I’ve kind of lost count at this point. I love this series, and it’s slowly creeping up to the same level as Final Fantasy on my personal hierarchy of favorite game series.
But as mentioned earlier, Tales of Xillia is somewhat a rushed game. The North American version didn’t add anything new, so we got essentially the same game that was rushed for the Japanese 15th Tales of Anniversary in Japan. Does that make the game a bad game? No, not really. But it does mean that there are some weird pacing issues, a lack of post game content, and a lack of other features that fans of the Tales series have come to expect (such as cameo battles…)
I will confess that I went into this game expecting to dislike it. I know a few importers who had some rather strong opinions on the game. And having just finished Tales of Graces ƒ last year and being blown away by its battle system, I was rather skeptical about Tales of Xillia.
After Tales of Graces ƒ took Tales of Destiny’s PS2 remake’s excellent battle system and adjusted it to a 3D battle system, I was really disappointed to see Xillia go back to Tales of Vesperia’s battle system in what felt like a really uninspired way. A lot of games in the series since Tales of Symphonia or so have insisted on having some kind of gimmick that affects how moves and spells are used in the game.
Abyss introduced Fields of Fonons that altered moves and spells, Vesperia had the awesome Fatal Strikes that made using certain moves more than others somewhat strategic, Graces introduced A-Artes and B-Artes that split moves into two different types for different kinds of combos, and Xillia introduces Link Artes.
Remember Double Techs from Chrono Trigger? Link Artes are pretty much the Tales version of those. Two characters combine their artes (the word for any kind of move or spell used in battle) into a new, much more powerful arte with a fancier name. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat limited as Link Artes are also tied to the Overlimit meter (it’s like a Limit Break meter, if you’re familiar with that). This means that without Link Artes, you can’t go into Overlimit state and thus can’t use your characters’ Mystic Artes! Considering no past Tales game with Overlimits had this limitation, this feels like somewhat of a step back.
The Game’s World
Battle system aside, one of the most significant changes to this game was the change in how environments are designed. Tales of series games have always been relatively simple in their presentation. Every 3D game before this has featured only fixed camera angles and relatively small environments. Tales of Xillia finally breaks out of this and offers large, expansive field and dungeon environments where the player is free to rotate the camera as much as they want. Some of the towns are also rather impressive, but large town environments has never been something Tales of games have shied away from.
The best way to describe the change is to compare it to Star Ocean 3 and 4. Both of those games featured large environments where the player was free to rotate the camera. A game like Final Fantasy X, on the other hand, relied on fixed camera angles. The change in design made Tales of Xillia feel a lot like a Star Ocean game to me. This is not too surprising considering that the two series sprang out of the same development team originally. Thankfully, the map feature in the game is excellent. Exits and locations are clearly labeled, a map key can be brought up to explain icons on the map, and you can easily scroll through the map of an area to see how everything fits together. Whether you’re viewing the mini map in the top left corner of the screen or viewing the map in full, navigating is rarely an issue in this game.
This design change was accompanied by a shift to a more realistic style of character design, especially in terms of proportions. Past games in the series didn’t seem to focus as much on making their characters look realistic. It’s a relatively subtle change, and I honestly didn’t notice it until I saw the characters in costumes from past games. At which point some of the costumes looked really weird and kind of jarring at worst. (You couldn’t pay me to get Alvin’s Kratos costume, but that’s neither here nor there.) But overall, I guess I don’t really mind. Not everyone goes for the chibi-ish look.
Tales of Xillia and its sequel both seem to have been going for a change in look overall. The color palette in both games, especially Xillia 2, is significantly darker than past games in the series. The town that you start in, Fennmont, seems to really be driving this point home. Considering it’s always night time in Fennmont, the city has a very unique look and feel to it. Alongside this shift to darker color palettes is what is probably the most modern world featured in the series. I cannot really say more without spoiling key parts of the story, but some parts of the world were clearly designed based on the modern world instead of the medieval European feel that past games in the series went for.
I don’t usually comment on music much other than, “I really liked this soundtrack overall.” But the music in Tales of Xillia stuck out to me… for how generically jazzy it was in a lot of places. That really is the best way I can think of to describe it. Motoi Sakuraba is known for preferring a jazzy style in his soundtracks in general. It can change from game to game, but I found that he used that style far more in the Star Ocean series than the Tales of series. So it was weird for me to hear that style in Xillia becauseI kept thinking I was playing a Star Ocean game! I can hardly remember any tracks from the game, whereas I found the soundtracks for Vesperia and Graces to be far more memorable. Overall, I’ve always found Sakuraba to be very hit or miss, really.
Generally, this series of RPGs isn’t known for its amazing, groundbreaking stories. They tend to be pretty formulaic and they rely quite a bit on common tropes. Personally, I’ve never really minded this. First of all, I’ve always believed that tropes are more of a matter of how they’re used instead of whether or not they’re common. Tales of games tend to twist tropes around and turn them on their head, at the very least. But otherwise, the games tend to play it safe in terms of story conventions. Some think it makes the games samey. As I’ve mentioned before in my post about why I love the Tales of series, I like knowing that I can go into each new game to find a relatively familiar experience (while enjoying many new elements at the same time). These games for me really are the comfort food of Japanese RPGs.
As for the characters themselves, all of the main characters and important NPCs are voiced. This is pretty standard fare for a modern Tales of game. Skits are thankfully still fully voiced, and while there are fewer overall than in Tales of Graces (and in my opinion not as many funny ones), I enjoyed them overall. They still do a good job of fleshing out characters between main events. I found the dub of the English version to be really good. Second only to Tales of Vesperia. The male lead sounds significantly deeper than he did in the Japanese version, but this is something Namco intentionally did. Jude did sound a bit too high pitched, even for a 15 year old in the original version. So I thought Sam Riegel did a really good job voicing him. The female lead, Milla’s, voice leaves a bit to be desired in some battle voice clips. But otherwise I thought Minae Noji did a really good job voicing her.
Overall, Xillia goes for a more mature feel than past games in the series. As someone who enjoys lighthearted games, I did like this game’s more mature approach. Unfortunately, this was all marred by the fact that the game was rushed during its development. Aiming to meet the deadline of the 15th anniversary, Namco rushed the game to completion. The result is some incredibly bizarre pacing, especially in the latter half of the game. Some storylines were dropped from the game entirely. From what I understand, Tales of Xillia 2 picks up the plot points that the first game dropped. (I once saw someone refer to Xillia 2 as Tales of Xillia: Disc 2, which I found pretty amusing.)
The first two chapters of the game seem to drag on for a long time only to have the last two chapters feel as though they go by too fast. It gave me an odd feeling of whiplash as I played through the game. A lot of people give Tales of Graces flack for its childish story. But at the very least, Graces to me felt like a more complete story (and a more complete experience in general )than Xillia did. While I liked the story in Xillia better overall, I find myself wondering what could have been. Still, I found the story very engaging as is. The fact that the story was still enjoyable despite the pacing issues is why I think the overall presentation was good enough despite its flaws.
Other Game Mechanics
This also means that features that fans of the series are familiar with, such as cameo battles with past characters in the series, are absent. In fact, a lot of features that have been in the series for ages were absent from or streamlined in the game. Characters no longer cook as the player can now just buy already completed meals. Each type of food has different effects. I’d have enjoyed this if I wasn’t limited to only one piece of food per item type. After enjoying the Eleth Mixer’s mechanics from Tales of Graces, this change felt like a major step back. Recipe systems were annoying in earlier games, but the Tales of Graces made it so that you could easily cook food while keeping some of the better benefits of the system. I hope they don’t keep going this direction in future titles.
One major improvement I would like to mention is the Sub Event system. Ever since Tales of the Abyss or so, games in the series had a problem with sidequests having idiotically narrow windows of activation. You might progress from one story event to the next in a span of 5 minutes, only to later learn that you should have made a detour to another town on the other side of the world to activate some arbitrary sidequest. And due to your missing that, you miss out on some excellent item later on. This reached absurd levels in Tales of Vesperia where one subevent required that you sleep at an inn three times in a row in a very narrow window of time. This is something no sane player would do just for the heck of it as 99% of the time, one need only sleep at an inn once.
Tales of Graces already attempted to ameliorate this issue with its sub event design. Xillia takes this further by devoting an entire section of the menu to sub events. I was so intrigued by this feature that I tried going through about half of the game relying only on the sub event menu, which gives clues on how and when to continue quests, and other hints dropped in the game (skits also play a huge part in this, which I was glad to see) to see if I could avoid missing any subquests. By chapter 3, I think I’d only missed a handful of them. There are still a few that have really narrow windows, but one could theoretically activate them if they’re thorough enough. Keep in mind, though, that I also made a habit of visiting areas I’d passed through before to make sure I didn’t miss anything. For the most part, I don’t think this was actually all that necessary.
Based on my experience, I’d say that this change in how sub events work is really well done. Even if you go through the game blindly, you could probably get most of the sub events as long as you actively look for them. You may not get the Sub-event Superhero trophy, but you’d still probably be able to find most of them without a guide. This is actually one of my favorite changes to the game.
Yet another change to the game is the world map. There isn’t one! Of course, Tales of Graces had already dropped the world map before this. But one major new feature in Xillia is the ability to quick travel to any dungeon, town, or field on the map that the player has already been to. You don’t even need to unlock an airship to do so. Certain areas will be locked to the player over the course of the story (and at some points, quick travel is disabled entirely), but overall, the player is free to zoom between locations throughout the course of the game. This feature is one of the major ways in which the game has been streamlined. It reminded me a lot of Xenoblade’s quick travel. However, Xenoblade was still better in that respect because it allowed the player to go to specific landmarks on the map. Still, I really enjoyed this feature. Getting an airship isn’t all that big of a deal, so I didn’t really mind that they dropped it entirely. Being able to quickly travel between areas made doing sidequests really easy.
Overall I found Tales of Xillia to be an interesting addition to the series. It adds quite a few features and streamlines a lot of things that were annoying in past games. Unfortunately, this has its pros and cons as some features, such as cooking, seemed overly simplified (and less fun than before – but I must confess I just really liked the Eleth Mixer). The game being rushed also hurt it somewhat, as it seemed like some potentially interesting elements were just dropped entirely for time. This is probably one reason that the post game dungeon in the game seems so dull.
So it’s really a mix of good and bad. In exchange for some improvements, there are also drawbacks. The greatest drawback for me was the battle system. This goes back to a difference in approaches to battle systems between the Symphonia, Abyss, Vesperia, Xillia games and the Destiny 2, Rebirth, Tales of Destiny’s PS2 remake, and Graces games. The latter group of games tends to focus on highly experimental battle systems with unique features that present more stylized, technique-focused battle experiences that focus on looking as cool as possible. The former group, on the other hand, tends to be less experimental and features battle systems that stick to a core set of mechanics. For example, Overlimit is tied to Mystic Artes for the most part (there are a few exceptions) throughout the first group of games. The second group, on the other hand, offers various ways of accessing characters’ Mystic Artes, from Rebirth’s finishers to Graces’ Eleth Burst/Break system.
I’ll just leave my view on the battle system at that. I’m not a super skilled player of this series, and I’d probably need a whole post (and the help of some friends) to go into detail about the battle systems of the series and have my post actually make any sense.
Another thing I should mention in closing is that Namco had the animation studio ufotable do the animated cutscenes for Tales of Xillia. Up until this point, Production I.G. had always done the animated scenes. After the noticeable drop in quality in Tales of Graces’ animated scenes (Abyss and Vesperia had their subpar moments, too), this was a refreshing change. Just from the opening, it’s obvious that the animation took a significant jump in quality. The only other ufotable production that I’m familiar with is Fate/Zero, but that anime also featured a darker color palette. I’m not sure if that’s a feature of ufotable’s style, but the darker color palette of the animated scenes in Xillia fit the rest of the game perfectly.
In the end, I’d recommend Tales of Xillia to any fans of the series. One nice thing about this series is that if you liked one game, chances are you’ll like most of the other games in the series. Of course, this also means that if you hate one game, you might not like the rest of the series (Disclaimer: your mileage may vary on this). But I digress! A lot of people I know who despised Tales of Graces thoroughly enjoyed Xillia (I’ll never understand the hate for Graces, but that’s another post). For any Tales of Vesperia fans out there who still only have an Xbox 360 and feel left out and are hungry for more Japanese RPGs, I think at this point it’s worth getting a PS3. There’s already two Tales of games out in the US for it, and with Tales of Xillia 2 on the way next year, the future of the series outside of Japan is looking pretty good on the PS3.
But for any other fan of Japanese RPGs out there who isn’t sure about the series and has yet to try one, this is a pretty good game to jump in on. The streamlined gameplay mechanics make the game pretty easy to pick up and play. The story is simple enough and accessible, while being enjoyable enough, and the battle system is very easy to get into. Tales of Xillia is also one of the shorter games in recent memory, as I was able to clear it in just under 60 hours. If you know me, you’ll realize that me finishing an RPG I really enjoy in under 80 hours is fairly rare.
So go out and try out Tales of Xillia, if you weren’t sure about before. It’s worth it, I swear!