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Tales of Arise Preview - A Promising, Exciting Entry in the JRPG Series After Years of Wait

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First impressions on the story, exploration, battle system of Tales of Arise (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC) after 4 hours playing through the game's intro

August 10, 2021

One month ahead the release of Tales of Arise, I had the opportunity to try out and preview the game starting from the very beginning, till the end of the first chapter, for around four hours of gameplay – Here are my first impressions.

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Tales of Arise Preview – Story, protagonists, themes

Tales of Arise, like many games in the series, features two worlds. The sci-fi-like planet Rena, whose inhabitants can use magic, and the enslaved planet of Dahna, invaded by the Renans 300 years ago.

The story follows Alphen (voiced by Takuya Satou), an iron-masked, Dahnan slave who has no memories of his past and no sense of pain. Quickly, we are introduced to Shionne (voiced by Shino Shimoji), a noble-looking girl from Rena who seemingly has a grudge against her own people, and is cursed to inflict tremendous pain on anyone touching her. Forming the perfect pair, and galvanized by the power of Revolutionary Girl Utena references – Alphen can pull a powerful magic sword out of Shionne just like Utena does with Anthy – the two join the Dahnan resistance and aim to overthrow the Renan Lords.

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As a Black person, the first time Tales of Arise revealed its story pitch, I immediately thought of slavery and fiction dealing with its history, such as Roots. I even nicknamed the game “Tales of Kunta Kinté”, borrowing the name of Root‘s protagonist. The American TV series aired several times in France, and it ended up being one of the many pieces shaping my childhood, together with anime from Dragon Ball to The Rose of Versailles.

And after playing Tales of Arise myself, the Tales of Kunta Kinté comparison is much more pertinent than what I imagined. The game doesn’t shy away from showing the atrocities committed by the Renans. The struggle of the Dahnan people is properly portrayed too. Moreover, the various themes hinted at in the first chapter, such as Alphen rediscovering his identity and even his true name, are extremely close to Black History as well.

While it’s far from being the first time Japanese media or even the Tales of series itself deals with slavery or discrimination, Tales of Arise definitely managed to hook me to its story in only a few hours. Of course, not everything is dark and grim. The game manages to mix in perfectly lighter and comedic moments, with Alphen and Shionne learning how to work together. Skits are also present, though they now directly use the characters’ 3D models. I’m eager to see how the game’s full story will ultimately pan out, and what roles the other party members and antagonists will play.

Tales of Arise – Exploration, dungeon design, and gimmicks preview

The first chapter of Tales of Arise included two dungeons. The first one is an abandoned Renan building, whose interior is similar to a spaceship. The second dungeon is a huge castle chiseled in rock, with a burning essence of energy at its center. You will also explore several fields of the arid and mountainous Calaglia region. These fields also include ingredients, treasure chests, and items you can gather for cooking and crafting. Overall, this shows how close to the roots of the series Tales of Arise is. Starting with Tales of Phantasia, the series was always keen to mix fantasy with sci-fi.

As for the dungeon exploration and dungeon map design, it’s still a bit early to tell. However, I did find both dungeons interesting in how you can tell Bandai Namco tried its best to avoid making them linear. Neither of the dungeons had any puzzle or gimmicks to solve. I didn’t see the Sorcerer’s Ring either. But perhaps it’ll make a comeback later in the game.

However, there is a certain mechanic in dungeons, in how some passageways can be blocked by pure energy, such as fire walls. Using the special sword Alphen pulls out from Shionne, you can absorb the energy and open the passage. However, doing this costs Cure Points, which are limited, and only replenish after resting at an inn, or camping at specific spots. There are also one-time use healing spots before bosses.

Cure Points, like their name suggest, are also used to heal yourself in and outside battle, along with the usual Tales of items such as Apple Gel.

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Tales of Arise‘s biggest appeal, the battle system

Last but not least, let’s talk about the battle system. This is one of the aspects I was the most skeptical about, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The battle system of Tales of Arise is incredibly well-built. I think it’s not an exaggeration to say the game will be worthwhile just thanks to it.

Just like with several JRPGs, enemies are shown on the field. Coming in contact with them triggers battles. In Tales of Arise, there is no MP. Instead, the simplest way to explain it is that you have a limited use of Normal Attack and Artes per combo. Once your combo is over, it’ll take a few seconds before you get the ability to fully use Artes again.

Depending on how you play, you can extend your combo. For example, the amount of Normal Attacks you can do resets after launching an enemy mid-air. Certain Artes are also only usable in mid-air, and will push enemies back to the ground. You can add several other modifications to the mix by learning new Skills. The better you are in battle, the faster you’ll earn Skill Points.

What makes the battle system so appealing is that I truly felt an easy to grasp, hard to master mentality behind its conception. Most notably, the game manages to push players towards experimenting with combos, and learning how to Cancel actions into one another.

You can control any party member during battle (or in exploration). And you’ll quickly realize the time Alphen stays immobile after Normal Attack chains is unusually long. And you’re vulnerable during that time. You don’t want that, so you’ll naturally adopt the habit of trying to chain into Artes, or cancelling into dodge rolls. Dodging, when timed perfectly, also allows you to swiftly counterattack and keep your offensive going.

There’s also a Break mechanic, with enemies entering a Break staggered state after receiving a certain number of hits. What’s interesting here though is that you will still deal a lot of damage if you combo properly, even without the enemies in Break state. There’s no “waiting” for the enemies to Break.

On top of all this, you have the Boost Attack system, which basically allows you, once a gauge is full, to momentarily summon a party member next to you and initiate a special attack. This is also useful when said party member is in a pinch. Lastly, you have the Boost Strike, which you can trigger when finishing enemies. It’s a cool duo attack to deal massive damage and bring a spectacular ending to battles.

I can’t wait to try out all the possibilities the battle system ultimately opens up to, with four party members, two assist members, and all the Skills and Artes you unlock.

Tales of Arise is releasing in Japan on September 9, and worldwide on September 10, on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. You can always reach me on Twitter @A_iyane07 to discuss the series.

Previews
Iyane Agossah
@A_iyane07

Living near Paris, Iyane (He/Him) is the head of Japanese content at DualShockers. He speaks Japanese, has been loving anime and Japanese games for over 25 years and plays Genshin Impact for its story and exploration. You can reach him on Twitter at @A_iyane07.

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