Tales of Arise Hands-On Preview – Next-Gen Tales Approaches
With the exception of very few JRPG series, most long-running franchises play it extremely safe, offering the same familiar mechanics each and every installment to provide an experience that long-time fans have no trouble getting into, and among the biggest offenders in this regard is Bandai Namco's Tales series. With the series taking some well-deserved time off following the release of Tales of Berseria, fans of the series expect Tales of Arise to finally move beyond the usual boundaries and bring the franchise to new heights. And it seems like their expectations are going to be met in more than a few regards, as Tales of Arise feels like a proper next-gen experience that mixes together the best mechanics seen in past entries in the series.
The 1-hour long demo I had the chance to try out was set in the Elde Menancia region, which is the third area of the game. While I was unable to visit any city, I was able to roam around a couple of different fields that were filled with all sorts of items, which are used for cooking and crafting accessories by merchants, and all sorts of enemies. Exploration doesn't seem to be much different from what we have seen in Tales of Zestiria and Tales of Berseria: the fields aren't particularly interactive, but they do feel more lively than those seen in Tales of Xillia, for example, as there are a few NPCs here and there, as well as campfires, where it is possible to rest to restore HP and CP, Cure Points that are needed to use Healing Artes both in battle and outside, and make party members interact with one another. Sadly, these interactions were locked out in the preview version, so we do not know how they work exactly.
With so many monsters roaming the field, I spent the majority of time with the preview version in combat. Tales of Arise uses the same iteration of the Linear Motion Battle System featured in Tales of Graces F, Tales of Zestiria, and Tales of Berseria, although with some rather major changes. Like in Tales of Berseria, movement is free and no longer restricted on lines as it was in the other two games mentioned above, only that this time around it is not only possible to jump at will, but also to perform a directional dodge maneuver that, if timed right, leads to a powerful counterattack that will stagger the enemy. Regular weapon attacks are also back, and they are more important than ever, due to the new Break system.
While Tales of Berseria's combat was fun enough, it was entirely possible to stun lock enemies by simply using Artes over and over. In Tales of Arise, this is no longer possible, as enemies are not susceptible to knockdown or air launching attacks until they are put into the Break state. This state is triggered by repeatedly attacking the enemy, which makes regular attacks quite important to avoid wasting AG, which regulates how many Artes can be used one after the other. This system does balance the game nicely, forcing players to think about the attack type they want to use if they want to do the longest possible combo.
The fact that Tales of Arise may not end up as the button-mashing fest that Tales of Berseria can turn into at times is also highlighted by the return of aerial combat. The physics make chaining regular attacks and Artes in the air not exactly straightforward, requiring different timing to keep the enemy in the air until AG runs out. The addition of support attacks from other party members, which can be unleashed at will with the direction buttons, adds more combo options that make Tales of Arise's combat incredibly engaging. These support attacks also turn into Boost Strikes, one-hit-kill combination attacks reminiscent of the Fatal Strikes seen in Tales of Vesperia, once an enemy has been weakened enough.
Adding even more depth to the Tales of Arise combat are each character's unique perk: Alphen can use his Flaming Sword to unleash special Artes that consume HP, Shionne can control the time her bombs go off to reload her rifle seamlessly between attacks, Kisara cannot evade, but can use her shield to block attacks, just to make a couple of examples. Taking advantage of the different perks feels like it will be extremely important, due to enemy design, which feels extremely varied: some enemies, for example, cannot be staggered until their weak points are attacked repeatedly, and some characters will clearly be better at this than others.
While some changes introduced in combat, like the lack of a guard button, the low number of assignable Artes per character (3 ground Artes and 3 aerial Artes), and the complete removal of the post-battle screen will likely take some time to get used it, and are sure to be a little controversial, one area where Tales of Arise is likely not going to disappoint are the visuals. Moving away from the clean, anime-style featured in Tales of Berseria, Tales of Arise character models and locations features a very peculiar look powered by the Atmospheric Shader that makes everything look almost like a painting. Battles are also more spectacular than ever, and even the most basic Artes like Demon Fang look and feel amazing.
Having been a fan of the Tales series since Tales of Destiny, I am always eager to try out a new entry in the series, knowing well that I will find all those familiar elements that I have come to love over the years. While we still do not know how story and character interaction will develop in the game, as the preview version was rather light in this regard, the many tweaks introduced in the combat system do break this tradition somewhat. As such, Tales of Arise feels like a proper step forward for the series, even though the low number of assignable Artes and the lack of a guard button do feel a little disorienting at first. Change requires sacrifices, however, so I am even more interested than before to see if the removal of some of the series' staples will have been worth it.
Tales of Arise launches on PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and Xbox One on September 10th.
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