Jude is a medical student who stumbles into a mess bigger than he ever imagined when he encounters Milla one evening after classes. Milla Maxwell, Lord of Spirits, has come to Fenmont on a mission of utmost importance. Jude’s decision to accompany her will have far-reaching consequences, as what they discover sets them on a journey to destroy a weapon that could ruin their world.
Tales of Xillia allows you the choice to play as either Jude or Milla, and this choice will affect the beginning cutscenes, a few places throughout the game, and a brief clip at the end. There are some explanations and events for both sides that the other side will miss, so to get the full story it would be recommended to play both sides, although by and large the majority of the content will be the same (new game bonuses would allow the second playthrough to be considerably faster, however). I chose Jude for my initial playthrough.
Jude and Milla both hold fairly strong roles in the plot. While Jude’s character arc is more of an ignorant kid dragged into a world-changing crisis, Milla is someone who knows almost everything from the beginning, and her powerful personality provides most of the drive. True to the Tales games in general, the plot takes a more or less predictable course for the beginning portion of the game and then everything gets turned on its head. It’s hard to say too much about the plot without major spoilers, but it is fast-paced for the most part and very character-driven.
I found the story mostly engaging, but bogged down by a few persistent frustrations. Alvin, mostly. Perhaps this is less aggravating on Milla’s side, but after the third betrayal no one should’ve kept giving him more opportunities to sell them out. This is capped off by a weak ending which is presumably part of the reason a sequel even exists. But there are a few strong scenes as well that stand out to me, most notably one midway through where Milla’s refusal to give up her mission confronts the ugly reality that continuing is going to be next to impossible (after Fort Gandala).
The fighting engine is where Tales games shine, and Xillia introduces the concept of linked combat. Special bonuses, both active and passive, are available to linked partners (eg, new moves and a “partner skill” for things like stealing or guard breaking); and given that linking is basically how to hit overdrive and perform the biggest attacks in your arsenal, it’s key in using the combat system to its fullest potential. Unfortunately, the linking AI is not really that smart. If a melee character links to a mage, rather than the mage sit in the back blasting enemies as usual, the mage will run up behind the enemy in an attempt to pincer it with you. This is wonderful for two melee characters but usually death for mages. If you have two mages linked they’ll stay in the back where they belong and harass the enemy from a distance. Which is a shame, because someone like Alvin with his terrible magic defense could use Rowen’s Auto Magic Guard. And Milla, who’s got a rather large collection of expensive spells, would benefit from Elize’s ability to restore TP. Despite these shortcomings, it does add a good layer to combat.
The difficulty felt about right, though I was prone to wandering off into advanced areas simply for the challenge of defeating monsters 40 levels higher than I was, which left me somewhat overleveled for the actual story bosses. Fighting the Devil Beasts (optional bosses) as early as possible were the most challenging fights of the game due to low stats and less than ideal equipment (nothing like fighting a beast that inflicts Confuse before you have equipment to prevent it….).
Environments started out beautiful and unique, but quickly devolved into “another large area surrounded by high cliffs.” It would have been nice if the areas had a bit more variety, such as blocking you off with a river or thick forest instead of always being cliffs. That said, the general lack of puzzles (particularly moving-block environment mazes) can be seen as a refreshing thing, as it’s possible to navigate any environment without needing more than the provided maps. The music was generally nice although I don’t recall any specific pieces. If you have certain pieces of DLC, you can also get additional battle themes.
Titles have changed from previous Tales games. Now you have to actually do certain things to earn them, which means if you aren’t very good at certain aspects it’s hard to get them (Jude in particular was hard to trigger not just his ability but also his partner skill, since that required you to get knocked over while he wasn’t knocked over, because if you both go down he won’t help).