As far as anthology JRPG series go, the Tales of games had a lot of connective tissue. While they differed in art style, story details, and tweaks to the overall battle system, they were largely recognizable as a specific kind of JRPG unto itself. It may have been formulaic, but you always knew what you were getting from a Tales of title even with the changes and evolutions throughout the series. Tales of Arise, from my short time playing it, looks to confound those expectations.
The newest Tales of game was revealed at Microsoft’s 2019 E3 press conference, breaking with the series’ traditional somewhat shōnen anime art style for something a little different. Since then, however, Tales of Arise almost disappeared, going the last two years with an unexpected radio silence until very recently. While a lack of information can be frustrating, this also allowed me a unique opportunity to play Arise without knowing much about it. I expected a Tales of game like any other, what I got was a series of intentional changes to that formula.
To begin with, Tales of Arise does away with the Linear Motion Battle System (LMBS) entirely. The battle system, which has been undergoing changes over the last two decades of games, is at its core a 2D plane between the player character and the enemy they’re targeting. Special moves, or artes in the games’ parlance, were done by pressing a single button in conjunction with a direction, not unlike the Super Smash Bros. series. Arise places the camera behind the player character’s back and lets them love in all directions without needing to toggle any sort of free-movement button to tell the game you’re not trying to tilt your attacks in a specific direction or use a specific arte. Those artes are now assigned to the different face buttons while the main attack is on the shoulder button.
It’s immediately apparent by the change to the battle system that Bandai Namco has looked at the Tales of series all the way down to the roots for things that they want to evolve. It may seem strange to fans of games like Final Fantasy or other anthology series to make so much hay about a different battle system, but LMBS was core to the series identity like jumping is to Mario. A Tales of without it is a Tales of that wants to reconsider its entire being.
Part of that is a change in art style. The series has always made looking like a TV broadcast anime a selling point, even marketing character designers and art styles specifically from the anime industry. With games like Vesperia through Berseria, they went for a style that more mimicked manga and anime for the 8-13 set. Tales of Arise is going for something a bit different with more realistically-proportioned characters, less fanservice, and a graphical style more akin to a particle-heavy Mushishi than Oh! My Goddess.
Which is not to say any of this doesn’t feel like a Tales of game. It feels like a Tales of game trying to figure out what a Tales of game can be. In the past decade, Bandai Namco has seen JRPGs spread out in multiple directions and budgets and is seemingly taking its inspiration from multiple sources. Arise stitches together its connected world a bit more seamlessly now with fewer breaks between contiguous areas than previous titles. Bopping around the overworld with a jump button and watching monsters engage in animal-like behavior actually reminds me a bit of Xenoblade, another JRPG that lives in much the same market that Tales of games do.
The actual demo saw the party — swordsman Alphen, gunner Shionne, magician Rinwell, martial artist Law, shieldbearer Kisara, and bo-staff wielder Dohalim — make their way to a city on the other side of a farm-filled plain. After arriving at the city, news of a large monster terrorizing the nearby farmland is relayed to Alphen by the city guard. Alphen agrees to help before the stoic Shionne can even finish making fun of him for wanting to give aid, so the party goes to confront the monster in a boss fight.
In battle, the player character fights with regular attacks and artes, but party finishers are the real stars of the show. Under certain combo conditions, a prompt will appear to press directions on the D-Pad, which summons one of your party members to do a different kind of finisher. On regular enemies, this will usually finish them off; on larger bosses, it just does a good chunk of damage. Mastering and consistently using these finishers is key to fighting off the boss, who only got more aggressive as the battle went on.
I have not thought much about Tales of Arise since its debut, but after this demo and considering its close proximity, I’m rather excited to try it out. I have played Tales of games since Vesperia, but they’ve all felt a little rote. I think Tales of Arise is making interesting changes without necessarily compromising the comfort food aspect that fans of the series still appreciate.
We’ll know for sure when Tales of Arise releases on PS4/5, Xbox Ones and Series S|X, and PC on September 10.