Tales of Arise hasn’t had the smoothest development. Former God Eater producer-turned Tales of Arise lead Yusuke Tomizawa knows this better than anyone. In the aftermath of 2016’s Tales of Berseria, its development team faced a simple but potentially explosive choice: keep using the same development engine, or uproot everything for a switch to Unreal Engine 4.
“The future of the Tales Of brand would never be bright if we continued to develop new titles for older generation consoles,” says Tomizawa. The development team actually went as far as breaking down individual elements of the Tales games, such as character design, story, and general game design, and reconstructing them. In an effort to usher in a new generation of players with Tales of Arise, they had to analyze what worked and what didn’t.
That’s Tomizawa’s modus operandi for Tales of Arise: an adventure that welcomes new players from outside the franchise’s storied past. Tomizawa agrees wholeheartedly that one could prescribe the “reboot” label to Tales of Arise, even casually mentioning that he personally has “great expectations” for the new game. The producer points to the unique graphical art style of Tales of Arise, as well as its party-based action battle system and colorful cast of characters, as being key to drawing in a brand new crowd for the seventeenth entry in the franchise.
Tomizawa’s hopes for Tales of Arise follow a very protracted development schedule. The producer says development on Tales of Arise had “come to the final stage” as far back as the beginning of 2020, less than a year after the game was unveiled at E3 2019 in June. Then the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, and Tomizawa isn’t shy about spelling out just how much the pandemic disrupted the development team. He says the team at Bandai Namco struggled to quickly establish a new development system that would work in the ongoing crisis.
It’s hard to overstate just how fraught the development of Tales of Arise has been, considering the game was originally due to launch in 2020. However, Tomizawa and the team weren’t resigned to their fate amidst the pandemic. It was actually during this time that they decided to develop Tales of Arise for the new console generation, launching simultaneously on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. As Tales of Arise flows and dazzles like a mountain stream in 60 frames per second gameplay with 4K visuals on the new consoles, it’s clearly quite the technical achievement.
Much has been made of Tales of Arise’s combat system. At face value, it retains plenty of core tenets of the series, taking place entirely in arenas as you and your party duke it out with multiple ferocious enemies in real-time action. While some have pointed to the celebrated Tales of Graces as inspiration for Arise’s dodging and counter attacking-based system, Tomizawa says this simply comes from the wish to have players “enjoy a more active relationship” with enemies through rapid 3D combat. It allows the player to race around the arena and get comfortable with said moves in a 3D environment.
Again, the reboot mentality is at work here. Tomizawa explains how, before settling on mechanics that Arise would adopt, the development team fundamentally reconfigured the game’s combat around the 3D action-packed arena to ensure free movement. Only then, once they had this system of free flowing movement completely locked down, did the intricacies of dodging and counter attacking enter the fray.
Throughout all this overhauling and adjustment, things inevitably get left behind. One such aspect is co-op multiplayer, present throughout the Tales series in numerous entries since the early 2000s. Tales of Arise is meant to be exhilarating in its battle arenas for the single player, so Bandai Namco decided to forgo multiplayer entirely in favor of this new vision. However, Tomizawa says the development team is well aware of the voices of those who wish for multiplayer to return, and Tales of Arise ditching the multiplayer element doesn’t rule it out of returning in future entries. In fact, the development team is currently thinking of ways to meld the new action-based battle system with the multiplayer aspect through “future innovations.”
One thing Tales of Arise isn’t shying away from is politics. The overarching narrative follows a ragtag group of warriors, fighting to free the planet Dahna from the stranglehold of Rena, a vastly superior planet whose population treat those on Dahna as slave labor. This theme of war between two planets, or two societies, has long been a staple of the Tales franchise, as Tomizawa himself even points out, but these themes actually changed over the course of Arise’s development.
“I also felt that the theme of conflict, domination, and division is becoming more and more important to us every day, even in today’s world,” says Tomizawa. “We often don’t feel that we have the upper hand in this composition.” He wants “to portray empathy” through themes like “diversity and mutual understanding,” forming a narrative message that he hopes will give players the courage to step forward and make a difference.
In dealing with these darker narrative themes, you might not be surprised to learn that Tomizawa is especially fond of Life is Strange. The producer says that, despite it not being an action game, he’s personally found Life is Strange to have a brilliant storytelling structure. It may have even influenced the developer personally, not just in a work-related mindset. It’s doubtful that we’ll see Chloe and Max galivanting around the worlds of Dahna and Rena, but if you’re looking for storytelling and narrative influences, that’s one hell of a place to start.
Tales of Arise will be released on PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S, and PC on September 9.