Tales of Xillia (PS3)
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.
There is also the ability to hot-swap characters into battle, which is a good step forward. If a certain boss turns out to need the skills of a character not in the party, or if someone in the party is simply not well suited for the fight, you can swap in characters from reserve. You can also hot-swap which character is player-controlled.
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….).
The leveling now uses a system which gives you some control over how you want to spend some points towards various stats. Unfortunately, since you have to unlock “key” areas in order to expand the grid, it really doesn’t offer as much flexibility as it first appears. It is nice to prioritize favorite artes or skills but since the key areas are usually on opposite ends of the grid you’ll end up spending points on less useful skills just to get to the next level.
The shops also level, using materials. This is more flexible than the character leveling in that you can choose which shops to develop and which to skip (my Food shop always took lowest priority, whereas Weapons were first). You get bonuses for turning in certain materials to certain shops, and these bonuses change periodically, so although it’s most efficient to wait for a bonus to turn in that type, you aren’t restricted to only giving items with bonuses.
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.
The environments also greatly expanded the search/sparkle points of earlier Tales games to the point where it feels a little crazy. Environments are liberally littered with bags and shiny spots, which are respawnable points for an extra bit of gald or materials. It makes farming for some materials remarkably easy, as you don’t need to fight the enemies in a given location to get most of what they’re going to drop. It also means that a lot of what you will pick up is piddly gald amounts and less useful junk, but the rare finds can make it worthwhile.
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).
Food has also changed. Instead of cooking, you buy meals and consume them from the menu, which will then apply effects to your upcoming battles, such as restoring HP at the end or increasing defense throughout. The big irritation here is that you are limited to buying one of any given type of food item. This makes it hard to stockpile when running through dungeons, and more desirable effects (EXP/Gald increases, at least by the end of the game) are prone to either needing restocks way too frequently or else using less-than-ideal combinations just because you’re allowed to stock both the 30% EXP increase and the 100% EXP increase but not multiple 100%, and the effect wears off after 5 battles or less.
Another change from previous Tales games is the general lack of costumes. The costume system is largely replaced by an “attachment” system, where you can pick up various articles of clothing, like glasses or wings, and equip them to any character to change his looks. Most actual costume changes are DLC, although you do get one for Jude or Milla for beating the game on their respective stories. I liked attachments, but most of them are rather silly, and I personally prefer the full costumes.
Other random thoughts: Coliseum is harder than it needs to be because you can fall off the edge of the round ring which is an auto-loss. With characters like Jude, who may pop around the back of an enemy, or Leia, who has a lot of lunging artes, this is even more annoying. But single-player Coliseum is also the sole reason I have to play as most of these characters, so it’s always a challenge to figure out how to win using someone I haven’t directly controlled all game.
Overall, I did enjoy the game, though it will be a while before I go back to play Milla’s side. It isn’t my favorite Tales game, but the battle system was fun. Each of the characters has a unique playstyle and none of them was awkward. I am excited to play the sequel (Ludgar looks to have a very interesting moveset). I rate this Recommended.