When it comes to JRPGs, many franchises hold a certain caliber and manage a reputation in the industry. One such franchise is the Tales series, having multiple entries since the mid-90s. While I have fond memories of titles like Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Vesperia, the most recent main series game, Tales of Berseria, unfortunately didn’t capture that same magic. Fast-forward five years and the next main entry, Tales of Arise, is almost ready to release. This entry marks a departure from the previous games by being the first to use Unreal Engine. This also means a change in visual style. Despite this, after playing the demo, I have to say my interest in the series has been reinvigorated.
Tales of Arise tells the story of two protagonists, Alphen and Shionne. Both hail from different lands with opposing views, and have to work through their prejudice toward a common goal. Alphen comes from the medieval region of Dahna, which is unfortunately treated as the lower class by the people of Rena, where Shionne calls home. Rena is a much more technologically advanced civilization, having machinery and magic to work in tandem for their own convenience. Along their journey, the two will come across more party members from both regions, each with their own reason for accompanying the group.
While I don’t know the full story (I’ve kept myself in the dark), the demo drops us in an area known as Menancia. With all six characters available, we get a look at each of their fighting styles. Alphen is your sword wielding hero, with classic artes like Demon Fang and the perk to sacrifice health to damage his foes. Shionne on the other hand, is a gun-wielding magic user that works best from long range. Her perk allows her to launch explosives and detonate them with special rounds for increased power. As the main protagonists, their styles make for a good contrast for the gameplay variety.
Rinwell is the party mage, able to cast spells from a distance, much like Shionne. If you hold her attack buttons, she’ll hold onto her arte until you’re ready to release. If you choose to save it for later, you can even add it to combos. Law acts as the brawler fighter, using his bare hands to strike his enemies. Keep a steady flow of attacks without getting staggered and he’ll earn buffs to his attacks. Kisara is the knight character, wielding a mace and shield. As the one with the shield, instead of an evasive dodge, she can block attacks and improve her own artes. Finally, Dohalim wields a staff that gets longer and more powerful with successful perfect evades. The whole party displays common JRPG tropes but they play pretty differently overall.
As you explore the land, you’ll come across Zeugles, the name for the monsters in Tales of Arise. They’ll wander around the map and try to fight you, so it’s best to bring the fight to them. When a battle starts, you’ll enter the combat screen and have a battle map to maneuver in. Fans of the series should be familiar with this system by now. You’ll be able to perform basic attacks with the right shoulder button while most of the face buttons will perform artes. One of them will allow you to jump, which gives access to aerial artes as well. Each offensive arte will use the Arte Gauge, which replenishes over time. All healing and support artes, however, will pull from a new Cure Points system, which requires resting to replenish.
The overall combat is more like your traditional Tales of game with the Linear Motion Battle System. It also uses a variation of the Soul Gauge mechanic from Tales of Berseria. The big difference here comes from the new Boost Attacks and Boost Strikes. Boost Attacks are special attacks using the d-pad where you summon a party member for a quick and powerful attack that runs off a cooldown gauge. For the Boost Strikes however, these come up when you build up a Strike Gauge on an enemy, allowing you to activate a tandem attack between two party members for a finishing blow. One thing I specifically like about Tales of Arise is the combat pacing, as Berseria battles often took too long for little gain.
Outside of combat and exploring the map, you’ll have a few other things to distract you. Finding treasure chests and other materials is a big part of wandering around the map. Many of the items you’ll find will prove useful, but you’ll often find ingredients for cooking as well. Fans of the series will likely know how this works, but cooking select dishes will provide a buff for your party for a certain amount of time. Using a character that specializes in the dish will typically boost the properties as well. To cook items, you’ll have to find a campsite, where you can rest and reminisce with your party.
The skit system returns in full force, offering small scenes to help players understand the party members better. Pressing the right shoulder button when the game prompts it will give access to these. They’re fun and show the more charming sides of the characters, who are already growing on me. The characters all have great designs and while the English cast hasn’t been officially announced, many of the voices will surely sound familiar. Aside from the voice acting, the music also seems very majestic when exploring, while battles contain a great energy. Series veteran Motoi Sakuraba returns to compose the soundtrack, and he rarely disappoints.
Visually, Tales of Arise gives off a great style that feels fresh, yet familiar as well. Minoru Iwamoto, who worked on Zestiria and Berseria, returns to design the new cast as both character designer and art director, perfectly giving a level of maturity to this entry. Using Unreal Engine 4, the game definitely takes better advantage of more recent hardware, and it shows it in the environment and effects. The animation also seems to be improved as well. One thing to note is that higher end hardware will offer performance and graphics modes. While the graphics mode can look very pretty, it does hit the frame rate department, some platforms worse than others. Performance mode however runs like a dream and still looks fantastic thanks to the visual style.
Getting to the actual demo content, you’ll run around Menancia which is now overrun with Zeugles. You can take down as many as you want for practice, but the real challenge comes from fighting Gigant Zuegles. The demo has two, one that poses an optional challenge while another is the main objective. These foes pose quite a formidable threat, but can still go down with good strategy and efficient skill usage. Going to a nearby town called Viscint, a local will alert you of a lockdown due to a Zeugle. Of course, that means you’ll have to take it down to gain entry.
While the contents of the Tales of Arise demo aren’t exactly long, you can spend a lot of time playing with it. You can improve your artes, try different recipes, and even hunt down new weapons for your party. Upon beating the demo with your favorite character duo, you can unlock a special trailer too. I was personally a fan of Kisara and Dohalim’s backstory, and I’m more interested in learning more about them. Overall, my time with the demo was positive, and now I really can’t wait to jump into the full game.
It won’t be too much longer before Tales of Arise arrives. The game is coming up on its release on September 10th, 2021 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and PC. Players who pre-order can obtain customization items for Alphen and Shionne, attachment accessories, and exclusive recipes. Those that want a little more can opt for the Deluxe or Ultimate editions, providing additional costumes and items. Are you looking forward to the game? Let us know in the comments below!
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