Many, many years ago, I had a bit of a falling-out with RPGs. They just all seemed so samey and unengaging to me. Of course, nowadays I always seem to have at least one on the go at any given time, be it a new game, a classic that I’m revisiting, or something that I had overlooked along the way. I think that I’d have gone down this path one way or another, but I think a lot of the credit to getting me back on the RPG train goes to Tales of Symphonia.
Symphonia was the best of both worlds: on the RPG hand, you got a giant world to explore and plenty of dungeons to lose yourself in, all while a rich story was unfolding around you. On the… not-RPG hand, the battle system traded in menus for action, giving you the ability to move a character around a battlefield and attack enemies with combos and special moves. It actually felt a little bit like Super Smash Bros, and that was more than enough to win me over. In fact, I liked Tales of Symphonia so much that I ranked it my favourite video game of 2004. Not too shabby!
I’ve played a few other “Tales of” games since then -not all of them by any means- and they’ve run the gamut from “Maybe better than Symphonia?” to “Well that was a bust.” And of course, what I’m leading into here is that I’ve been playing the most recent game in the series, Tales of Arise. I’m only about halfway through at this point, but I’m not gonna lie: it’s looking like it might be a contender.
Since we’re at least ten games out from Symphonia, the battle system is quite a bit different than it was back then. Arise still has a very active battle system, which might even be the most chaotic one yet. Rather than being locked to a 2D plane, you’re now able to run around in three-dimensional space, and there are so many new things you can do besides attack, special attacks, jump and block. Perfect dodges are now a thing (because it’s 2021 and there are perfect dodges in every game). Each character has a unique special move that will negate a certain type of enemy’s advantage. All six of your party members are technically active in every battle, even if only four can be on the battlefield at a time. Magic/Technique points don’t exist! Probably other things, too. There’s a lot going on! Fortunately, Arise unlocks pieces of the combat system over time so that you have a little time to get used to one thing before you learn another.
The other thing I’ve been really excited about is the fishing minigame. What a surprise! Tales of Arise has one of the most satisfying fishing minigames in all of video games. It’s not overly deep and complicated (like Final Fantasy XV), but it’s also not completely opaque (NieR) or too simple to really enjoy (Animal Crossing). You basically just keep your rod in the same direction the fish is moving, and then hit a corresponding button if it kicks or lunges. Keep at it until the fish’s HP is depleted and bam! Big catch! There are a total of 77 different types of fish to catch in Tales of Arise, and as you catch more, you’re given new fishing equipment to help land the rest. You can bet that I’m absolutely going to be going for the full set!
If you’re a fan of getting to know your JRPG characters, then Tales of Arise has you covered. One of the franchise’s hallmarks are skits: short, optional cutscenes where your party chats among themselves about each other, the place they’re in, what just happened in the plot, or something completely different. Just about every game in the series has these, but it seems like Arise has twice as many as any before it. The little R1 symbol of the corner that tells you a skit is available is almost always there, and more often than not, multiple skits will queue up at the same time. And that’s fine! The characters in Arise are fairly complex and I’ve been enjoying letting them tell me about themselves and the world. But there sure are a lot!
Some random things I haven’t liked so much: I was sick of hearing the words “Dahnan” “Renan” and “Zeugle” within the first 30 minutes or so. The world is big and beautiful, but is very much made up of gussied-up hallways. The collectible owls are sometimes difficult to interact with for unclear reasons. Too many repetitive voice lines (“I hate camping out.”).
I’m currently 25 hours into this 40-ish hour adventure (mind you, at least 2 of those were spent fishing), and I’m very excited to see how the story unfolds and what other surprises are still in store for me. I’m a little too far for there to be a huge halfway-point twist like in Symphonia, though Arise hasn’t even really been structured in a way where it needs a big plot twist. It’s actually a little bit like a Dragon Quest game, where every place you go has its own little plot for you to resolve, and then there’s a finale that more or less ties it all together. Anyway! It’s been really good so far! I can’t imagine that the back half will let me down, but I’ll let you know either way.