Tales of Xillia - Staff Review  

A Spirited Tale
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
40-60 Hours
+ Great combat system.
+ Surprisingly real characters.
+ Shop system is addictive.
+ Teepo's face-munching habit.
- Story starts slowly.
- Two-character storytelling seems superfluous.
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   Tales of Xillia is a Tales game. That may sound redundant, but it actually says a lot about it. Like Dragon Quest or the Atelier series, Namco Bandai's Tales franchise is steeped in tradition, and even the newest entries have characteristics that harken back to the very first game. Tales of Xillia may be just another in a long line of Tales games, but it also stands apart as one of the most carefully crafted. Even though it's likely to feel familiar, even safe, to long-time fans of the series, the systemic revisions are not only the best among Tales games, but among modern JRPGs as a whole.

   The story of Xillia is unique among Tales games as it features not just one, but two protagonists. Like in Star Ocean: Second Story, players can select from two characters, either Jude Mathis, a promising medical student, or Milla Maxwell, a mysterious woman who claims to be the human incarnation of the Lord of Spirits. The pair are quickly thrust together by happenstance, and wind up as fugitives on the run from a nation with diabolical intentions. The plot begins fairly ploddingly, but it thankfully picks up speed and never lets up.

   Xillia's story ends up having both positives and negatives. The characters are all excellent, forgoing the typical Tales anime archetypes for people that feel significantly more real, and featuring a villain with an extremist but surprisingly well-portrayed motivation. Unfortunately, the two-character aspect of the game often feels like a gimmick more than a feature. There are significant differences in perspective between Jude and Milla's stories, particularly in the game's third chapter, but they don't appear in enough quantity to warrant two separate playthroughs. What's more, Milla's story often feels like an afterthought designed to fill in gaps in the plotline. There's an entire section of the game in which players lose control of Milla and have to take on the role of Jude that helps to reinforce this feeling, and the game may have been better off using shifting viewpoints in a single playthrough instead. Players wishing to only do a single playthrough would do best picking Jude, as his story is more coherent on its own than his counterpart's.

   Thankfully, multiple playthroughs are easily supported by the game's strong mechanics, particularly the combat system, which takes the best elements of previous games, most notably Tales of Graces F and Tales of Vesperia, and adds in its own twists. Like all Tales games, Xillia uses a new version of the trademark Linear Motion Battle System. Players take control of one of four active characters and fight in real time, performing combos using a variety of normal attacks and special skills. Like Graces F, each character has a limited amount of action points, and each attack or special skill uses one up. Once they are used up, it takes roughly a second to charge up again for a new combo. Certain actions in battle can convey additional action points, allowing players to keep the combo going longer. However, unlike Graces F, special skills make use of technical points, which return to the series with this latest entry. This makes battles play out similarly to previous games, making use of a mix of regular and special attacks.

The main character is a medical student. How often do you see that? The main character is a medical student. How often do you see that?

   Tales of Xillia adds a number of new features to the mix that help make battles more exciting and engaging. The most prominent is the new link system, which allows two characters to tether together and fight as a unit. While linked, characters share access to several of their passive skills, and can even activate special, character-specific link abilities when the right conditions are met. Jude, for example, can help his partners get back to their feet when they get knocked down, while Milla can bind an enemy in place so her partner can wail away unhindered. Every character has their own ability, and they're all useful in different ways. To top it off, the overdrive gauge makes a return and ties into the linked system beautifully. The gauge goes up as characters attack enemies, getting a nice bonus when characters use their link abilities. Every time it fills up a quarter-section, players can trigger a link attack, which combines two special skills into a more powerful dual skill. Once the overdrive gauge is full and activated, players can even chain multiple link attacks together, creating long chains of powerful, flashy attacks.

   Each character also has their own unique individual ability, also triggered in different ways. Jude can instantly slip behind enemies when he dodges an attack, Milla can turn her spells with longer casting times into simpler special attacks by tapping the necessary button rather than holding it, Leia can increase the length of her staff, and so on. In addition to making each character unique, it has the added bonus of making each character much more fun to manually control, particularly spell-casters like Rowen. Despite such a large number of systems at play, learning to make use of them is surprisingly easy and intuitive, and becomes second-nature after a while. Tales of Xillia's combat system is easily the most enjoyable in the series so far, even more so than last year's Tales of Graces F.

   There's a surprising amount of complexity outside of battle as well. Character development takes place in a system called the Lilium Orb. Every level, characters get a certain number of GP they can spend on the orb, which bears a resemblance to the Sphere Grid of Final Fantasy X. Each node in the orb costs one GP to activate, and grants boosts to various stats. Between them lie additional nodes containing new passive skills or attack abilities, and by activating all the surrounding nodes, those skills become available for use. Characters can also equip a variety of weapons and armor, and the new shop system is another great aspect of customization to support it. As players explore and fight, they will come across material items that can be given to shops in order to expand their inventory. Rather than providing new stores in every town, there are simply five stores, each with their own shop level. Giving them the right materials can increase the rate at which they level up, allowing players access to better equipment early on, assuming that they can afford it.

   Xillia also features a wealth of side quests, ranging from simple hunting and gathering missions to more complex, story-driven events. While in previous games it has often been difficult to discover all of these, Tales of Xillia provides hints on their occurrence via another Tales staple, its skit system. Although Tales of Xillia doesn't contain as many skits as some other Tales games, there are still well over two hundred to discover. The title system also returns, but with new functionality. In Xillia, titles function as in-game achievements, and fulfilling their requirements provides Grade, which can then be spent towards cheat codes in subsequent playthroughs. Cooking is another familiar system to return, but rather than the characters cooking the dishes, food is purchased from one of the upgradeable shops, and eating it provides a bonus for a set number of battles. It's actually much more useful this way than it has been in previous games.

The other main character is really, really angry.  Okay, that The other main character is really, really angry. Okay, that's not so different.

   One of the most surprising aspects of Tales of Xillia is its soundtrack. Series composer Motoi Sakuraba generally does an adequate but entirely forgettable job with the Tales series, but Xillia stands apart as some of his best work. While a number of tracks fall into his typical pattern (and unfortunately, the limited edition CD contains pretty much nothing but these tracks), much of the score, particularly the songs heard in the latter half of the game, are absolutely wonderful. The jazzy pieces representative of a certain aspect of the Xillia world stand out far above the rest, and makes one wonder why Sakuraba doesn't do jazz more often — he's surprisingly good at it.

   The visual design is also quite well done, particularly the environments, which have much more detail to them than the series usually boasts. Areas like the city of Fennmont and the Kijara Seafalls are particularly attractive. The character designs are well done, particularly the new designs for the four elemental spirits, but the shading techniques used are noticeably inferior to those seen in 2008's Tales of Vesperia. On the plus side, the animations have improved dramatically, especially the facial animations, which are capable of displaying much more subtlety than most anime-styled games.

   So yes, Tales of Xillia is a Tales game, which should tell most RPGamers all they need to know about it. But it's also one of the best Tales games, possibly the best. From its streamlined but not dumbed down mechanics to its fluid combat system, everything about it conforms to what RPGamers have been clamoring for in a console JRPG for years. Like all recent Tales games, the difficulty is adjustable on the fly, but the default difficulty setting shouldn't cause anyone too many problems. A single playthrough ought to take most players a little over forty hours. If you have a PS3 and have been waiting for a good console JRPG, look no further than Tales of Xillia

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