‘Tales of Arise’ review: a gorgeous looking JRPG that’s satisfying if tough

A JRPG that doesn't waste your time hanging around

One of the best JRPGs in years, Tales of Arise isn’t perfect and suffers from a clumsy beginning but exciting combat and plenty of features that ensure it doesn’t mess about with your free time mean you’ll barely remember its issues.

Granted, that opening is pretty clunky. Immediately, Tales of Arise takes a much darker tone than previous Tales games, placing you in the role of Alphen, a man who starts out imprisoned in multiple different ways. On the one hand, he’s an obedient slave toiling away for some fascists, and on the other, his head is encased in metal so no one can see what he looks like. One rebellion later and he’s off on an adventure with Shionne, a woman whose background is a polar opposite to his. It’s not the longest of openings by any means but it’s a checklist of predictable JRPG cliches right down to the fact that Alphen doesn’t remember anything from his past. An amnesiac hero? Ohh, boy.

Fortunately, things improve fast once the game opens up a bit more. The Tales series has never been particularly strong at storytelling that truly makes you adore its characters but with a steady stream of additions here, you’ll come to know them all and learn to appreciate their quirks. Alphen and Shionne continue to be the focus here as we watch how their relationship develops and they both learn a bit about their opposing pasts (Alphen being a Dahnan slave while Shionne is from Rena, the place responsible for the enslavement), but there’s also room for the fairly entertaining Law, a martial arts expert, and a few other personalities who you can spend lots of time getting to know. You’ll learn to love the initially cold Alphen too as you find out more about him and why he can’t feel pain.

Tales of Arise
Tales of Arise. Credit: NME.

While the general theme of Tales of Arise is far bleaker than other Tales games, focusing on far from subtle issues surrounding slavery and fascism, the tone for playing is far more action-packed than you’d expect from a JRPG. More vibrant than before, that’s even reflected in the series’ story highlights known as Skits. These always give players a bit more insight into the relationships between characters with such skits opening up as you unlock certain parts of the game. They’re optional extras but worth pursuing and this time around, they feel a bit more dynamic. Presented as stylish vignettes, it feels more lively than the bland text boxes of before. Such liveliness feels completely different to those opening minutes where everything is so bland and downcast, ably demonstrating why it was worth sticking with.

There’s more communication to be had via campfires too with players able to chat to their fellow teammates while also resting up and cooking up some food which provides you with stat benefits in combat and exploration the next day. It’s all simple to set up yet empowers you nicely. And you’re certainly going to feel empowered during combat this time around.

Combat is fantastic. Improving upon everything that worked fairly well for the Tales series before, it looks utterly gorgeous on the PlayStation 5 and is the kind of combat system that makes you happy to fight your way through trash enemies as much as possible. In part, that’s because it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Even hours into the game, new things unlock, usually with the addition of new characters, so there’s always something new to learn and master.

Tales of Arise
Tales of Arise. Credit: NME

It’s far from a complex combat system though as the basics are focused around forming combos with numerous blows followed by using artes – special abilities that can make a huge difference in a fight. It’s possible to build up some quite substantial combos, much like in a beat ’em up and it’s supremely satisfying. A Break mechanic adds to it, staggering your enemies and making them weaker with a Boost Attack system and Strike combo helping you and your party work together to inflict even more damage. It all looks quite spectacular in action.

That’s useful because combat can and often is tough. A potent boss battle can easily wipe you out but so can a group of regular enemies too if you don’t plan accordingly. Learning to dodge well and fight defensively often makes the difference here but it means the combat is consistently rewarding and enjoyable. While grinding out battles can turn monotonous elsewhere, this really isn’t the case with Tales of Arise. As you progress, your characters also unlock new titles which lead to new abilities and artes so it always feels like there’s something new for you to work towards.

Not all the titles are unlocked purely via combat either with the game encouraging you to delve into other actives such as going off the beaten track or learning to cook a new recipe. Looking gorgeous too, it’s the kind of thing that makes you fall back in love with the JRPG genre. Like the best beat ’em ups, combat is simple to learn but tricky to master. However, practice really does make perfect and the mere thought of it makes me want to go ploughing into a huge battle once more, even if the risk of being wiped out is far greater than with most other JRPGs.

To further spice things up, depending on your sense of humour, each character loves to chip in with a cheesy piece of dialogue too. Unleashing a combo that’s accompanied with ‘capital T for Trouble’ is daft and yet the right kind of cheesy for making you smile.

Tales of Arise
Tales of Arise. Credit: NME.

Where things get a little more bland is getting from A to B. There’s no world map here although there are numerous fast travel spots to move between. Instead, you wander the roaming hills and caves of the game and then realise that – actually – it’s all a bit samey after a time. It all looks lovely but for the most part, you’re collecting up resources scattered around while dodging enemies or choosing to level up a bit. None are distinctive and you’ll mostly find yourself sticking stoically to the map layout provided to you.

On the plus side, there are some interactive moments that break the monotony up. For instance, you can cure NPCs you come across, potentially unlocking new abilities or gaining items. You can also use Law’s ability to smash through obstacles, or use Alphen’s burning sword to open up passage ways. Each use Cure Points (also known as CP) which also help you heal in and outside of battle so it’s a trade-off of knowing whether you want to commit to using up CP on something that may not pay off in the long run.

So, Tales of Arise isn’t perfect then but the moment you consider that combat system, all its flaws seem less important. Little positives add up too such as how the game offers up so many fast travel points, the ability to save anywhere, and a steady stream of maps so you always know where you’re going next. Purists might complain it simplifies things too much but it doesn’t. It’s simply a game that appreciates your time is finite and doesn’t make life harder than it needs to be.

Hard it might be but Tales of Arise is an accessible JRPG too and one that rewards your persistence with a huge bundle of fun to be had. What more could you want?

Tales of Arise is available for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC. We played it on the Playstation 5.

The Verdict:

Tales of Arise is a thrilling JRPG to play. While the story takes a bit of time to get going, a complex combat system and some neat time-saving options mean you’ll always come back for more.

Pros:

  • Fantastic combat system
  • Gorgeous visuals
  • A lot of content

Cons:

  • Story is a little cliched at times
  • Often very cheesy dialogue
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