When I was a younger lad, in my mid to late teens, I was something of what the kids call a weeb. Anything coming out of Japan was something I had to have. Games, animation, movies…you name it. However, the older I’ve gotten, the less interested in anime and JRPGs I’ve become. I can’t pinpoint when it started or why but these days, I have less than zero interest in any anime or JRPGs.
It might be that I simply don’t have the time anymore. As a 16/17 year old who’d quit highschool and spent my days living on Centrelink, drinking Red Bears and Woodstocks and playing Gamecube. Back then, I had infinite time to sink into a Tales of or a Final Fantasy.
In 2021, I’m 36, work full time (from home during the pandemic), raise a 3-year old son, manage this website and try to squeeze in gaming for fun at some point. Let me tell you, it doesn’t work.
So, when Tales of Arise arrived this was my reaction.
However, being the consummate professional I am, I pushed on. Lucky I did too because so far, Tales of Arise is winning me over.
Not A Tales of Arise Review
As the title says, this isn’t a review, not in the proper sense, as I’ve yet to finish Tales of Arise. It’s a JRPG, with a capital ‘J’, so it undoubtedly takes dozens of hours to finish. That pesky job and child I mentioned earlier, those are the kinds of things that prevent a person from burning through a game like this before embargo. So while I’ve played a decent chunk of Tales of Arise, I know I’m quite far from the end at this point.
I won’t be giving the game a score, that wouldn’t be fair. I will comment on what I’ve seen and played so far and my opinion of Tales of Arise as a lapsed anime and JRPG fan. That eye roll above, that didn’t stop once I’d started playing. When I learned my character’s name was Iron Mask (before becoming Alphen) and that he had amnesia, well, I think I severed my optic nerve. Is there any more generic trope for a JRPG than the amnesiac hero?
I think not.
However, Iron Mask/Alphen had a hook, his inability to feel pain. I hadn’t completely written him off, so Tales of Arise had essentially gotten to first-base with me. As is standard in these kinds of games, I spent the first few hours mostly watching cutscenes and occasionally moving or engaging in tutorialised combat.
The combat was another surprise. A good one. If I do play an RPG, I’m a fan of turn-based combat and have found most real-time systems (FF7 Remake excluded) terrible. I can never seem to find the right balance between control, camera angles and navigating menus. Thankfully, Tales of Arise doesn’t have this issue. The realtime combat is fast and free-flowing but also quite simple which is a real boon because it’s depth comes from its simplicity. Each of the playable characters fits a specific archteype or role and they each play quite differently from one another despite utilising the same basic mechanics.
By pressing R1 you can unleash a basic 3-hit combo. If you’re Alphen, you’ll use a sword, Shionne fires her gun, Rinwell uses magic and so on. What changes things up is the addition of Artes. Artes are abilities or spells that can be used in combat and cost a set number of points. In the beginning you have three points to spend and Artes are cheap so you can usually cast three before waiting for them to recharge. Alphen has Artes which can send an enemy skyward and in doing so, reset his three-hit combo. By timing things correctly, you can get three hits it on the ground, using a launching Arte, get three hits in the air then use an aerial Arte before starting the sequence all over again. It’s a system the encourages experimentation which means you’re always enjoying yourself while you try to figure out the best possible combo.
While we’re at it, what’s with Tales of Arise’s willful misspelling of common words. Artes? Gald? GALD? It’s gold damnit!
When it comes to JRPGs and anime, it’s the characters that usually put me off the most. They’re either overly stoic, aloof and cool or goofy as fuck, over-the-top and just plain annoying. Rarely do they fall between these two extremes, in my opinion, but Tales of Arise doesn’t seem to fall into this trap. The characters I’ve met thus far, while being cartoonish representations of real people, have seemed rounded and genuine in their goals and ideals. They feel less like archetypes saying what they’re supposed mean to and more like actual people with thoughts and feelings of their own.
They’re still anime characters so they’re still exaggerated caricatures, just less so. Which is actually really fortunate as you spend a lot of time listening to their conversations as they bond and journey together. Much of the storytelling comes from these animated comic book cutscenes in which two or more characters have a quick chat. I much prefer it over the usual 16-hour cutscene that shows off a lot of colours and spell effects but very little dialogue. Or conversely, the cutscene in which one character’s entire dialogue is exposition for 10-minutes, laying out the entire plot. God, there’s not subtly or middle-ground in anime is there?
Don’t @ me.
Regardless, the parts of JRPGs and animes I usually have the most trouble with were quietly enjoyable in Tales of Arise, or at least they are so far. In the remaining 1,000 hours left of the campaign it could take a sharp dive, though judging from reviews I’ve read, that’s not the case.
Basically, if a crusty, bitter old man like me, who swore of anime and JRPGs years ago can freely admit to liking Tales of Arise, well that means one of two things. Either, it’s really, really good or, it’s terrible by JRPG standards and the “true” fans will think it stinks like an elepant’s butt.
I think it has a good stink about it. You know, apple pie, pizza, cookies; the good stuff. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to jump back in and see if I can push through to the end. Provided I don’t suffer a bout of explosive amnesia first.
Tales of Arise was (NOT) reviewed on PS5 using a code provide by Bandai Namco.