Tales of Xillia 2 (PS3)

One year after the events in Tales of Xillia, the worlds of Rieze Maxia and Elympios are still moving slowly towards reconciliation. Ludger is a young man from Elympios who gets caught up in a trainjacking and a young girl named Elle who is trying to get to the mythical land of Canaan, and from there stumbles into a much larger plot involving alternate dimensions and the fate of both worlds.

It’s hard to say too much without spoiling something or other about the plot. I personally loved the story (despite some interesting plot holes), and a sequel is the perfect chance to explore alternate dimensions. Many of the alternate dimensions will make more sense for players who have gone through the first game, but the game does provide an in-game reference dictionary for terms and events. The overall plot is much more tightly focused on Ludger and Elle than the returning cast, whom I thought actually made better supporting characters than main characters. Ludger’s issues feel more personal. After failing to land the job he wanted (and failing to stay employed at the second one) he’s saddled with a massive debt, he’s trying to look after an eight-year-old girl who doesn’t know where her family is, his brother is involved in suspicious activity and may or may not be evil, and he’s trying to eliminate various fractured dimensions that keep springing up. It was a lot easier to root for him than the original Xillia cast in the first game, as he can’t help but be personally involved in everything that’s going on.

For the other characters, it’s an interesting look at how happily ever after actually worked out. The tone overall is a lot darker than the first game, and this is reflected in the various situations: Jude’s spyrite research isn’t going as well as he hoped even though he’s sunk every last penny into it, and Alvin’s business ventures are struggling to take off in the hotly competitive Elympion environment. Some did improve: Elize is now enrolled in a school and more outgoing, and Leia is enthusiastically pursing her job as a reporter. Some are more or less what you would expect from the first game: Rowen and Gaius are navigating the diplomatic process with Elympios and Milla is still off in spirit-land. Muzet actually stabilized enough to mostly serve as comedic relief, which was a shame since I think she might have been funnier with a little of the old drive. It is extremely funny to see how everyone from Rieze Maxia has adjusted to Elympios technology. Everyone now has cell phones, which means fun with ringtones, texting, and in Gaius’s case, power.

My biggest regret is that the story never fleshes out quite enough of Ludger, Julius, and Bisley. There is supplemental material which fills in the gaps, but some of that is information that the plot could have used: the reason Ludger and Julius live alone together, Julius’s backstory, more about Bisley’s character and motivations (he’s certainly a complex enough character in the supplemental materials, but he never gets much of a chance to show that in-game). Elle, thankfully, gets plenty of time, and is one of the best child characters I have seen in a game. She’s endearing and annoying, immovably stubborn but also powerless to do what she needs alone. The game never forgets she’s only eight.

Ludger’s story, being the main one, is the only required one to follow. Everyone else has optional character episodes that can be completed at various points along the main storyline, and completing them will usually grant a bonus scene somewhere else down the line. I liked that format, though I think the stories themselves were a mixed bag. Gaius, Muzet, and Alvin had boring stories—Alvin is actually a lot better in Leia’s character episodes, as his sense of humor slips right by her most of the time (and his two conversations with her are my favorite skits in the game). Alvin’s story is also a bit nonsensical at first. If he’s turning to honest business practices, why is the first thing you do for him a scam?

Ludger is a silent protagonist, for the most part. Player choices determine most of his spoken lines. The odd thing is, his voice is available to say those choices on a second playthrough, so it’s a little curious why the option isn’t available from the start.

The battle system evolves from Xillia’s in natural ways, particularly with the linking concept. Ludger has affinity ratings with each of his teammates, and building affinity will grant additional skills, special items, and eventually a dual Mystic Arte for each character. Affinity can be built through conversation choices, doing character episodes, staying linked in battle, and performing linked artes with that person. I was also extremely happy to see linking got its own strategy option, so characters can be commanded to act with you or act independently, which is the only sane way to link a mage and a melee character. Ludger additionally introduces a weapon-swapping ability which allows him to switch between fast and agile swords, a slower and more sweeping sledgehammer, and ranged dual pistols (which ironically lower agility to the point where it’s very hard to free run away). The weapon swapping was a bit much to get used to at first since Ludger has so many different artes for each one it took longer than usual to get used to his moveset, but his versatility is a very good thing since you’re required to use him throughout the main story. Xillia 2 also provides an insane amount of Mystic Artes, as Ludger can gain a dual mystic arte with every single playable character once his affinity is high enough. So Ludger alone has 2 Chromatus Mystic Artes, his normal Mystic Arte, and eight dual Mystic Artes. Jude and Milla also retain their Tiger Blade Sigma dual Mystic Arte, and Jude can get a special Mystic Arte with Maxwell if you complete all their character episodes and the subsequent bonus episode.

The difficulty does seem unbalanced. The enemies in the normal world hardly take any effort at all on Normal (such that I was switching it up to Hard to stay interested), but the fractured dimensions will adjust to your level, which means the foes are more what they should be.

On the less-positive side, the hot-swapping characters in battle from Xillia was removed, although I can sort of see why, as you not only have more characters than buttons, you also have certain characters locked in place. I was more frustrated by the fact that you can’t swap characters in your party unless you’re in a town, as this makes changing people out before you get the ability to teleport back to towns a royal pain. Food was nerfed (both in how many battles it lasts, and effectiveness—no more EXP+100%, and any EXP-increasing food isn’t available until postgame), which is even more aggravating because the restrictions from the previous game are still in effect, where you can only own one of any type of food item. And at least for the main storyline, when you’re under debt payments, it’s too expensive to be practical, though this is somewhat offset by the fact that you can pick up food on the field fairly frequently if you go after the bags.

Other changes were more neutral. I liked the Allium Orb system better than the Lillium Orbs from the first game because it was a lot easier to get skills and abilities. By mid-60s level I had everything learned except level-based skills higher than that (whereas getting to level 100 on first playthrough of Xillia was so tedious I quit in the 80s, so I never did get all the skills). The Coliseum no longer has a solo mode; it was replaced by a tag-team mode in which two characters go through at a time (party mode is still available as well). The job board mechanic pays enough that the debt isn’t as big an issue as it could have been, particularly if you save a few elite monsters for every debt repayment; jobs themselves could stand to refresh a little more often, though, as after a while the only jobs I wanted to do were the item-fulfillment ones my cats could run for me, and the monster-hunting ones tended not to go away unless I actually did a few of them (not sure how much this changes in postgame as I mostly ignored the job board once I got the Master Medal and paid off the debt). Custom items can be a nice way to get certain items cheaper by using materials to build them, but by postgame I was just wishing they would let me buy the status-preventing accessories rather than craft them, particularly because so many other custom recipes involved using one or more of them. Also, postgame gets ridiculous in crafting requirements, which means a long grind to get the best armor and weapons (because you have to have craftable components as well as the postgame dungeon material drops).

Ludger brings his cat everywhere. This amuses me. A running gag with the Kitty Dispatch sidequest is how Rollo is king of cats. Rollo also participates in many of the skits, and I love how expressive his voice actor can get while still sounding exactly like a cat. Kitty Dispatch also lets you send out any cats you have currently collected to fetch items for you from areas where you have already found cats. It’s a nice way to fill item-request jobs without doing actual work, as long as you keep a stockpile of the various rare items.

Costumes are back! Unlike the first game’s measly selection of free costumes, here there is a fair assortment, ranging from the Xillia 1 costumes and color variations to Gaius’s final boss costume (yes!) to “no jacket” versions of the new costumes and a few extras. Additionally, the attachments from Xillia are back, with a few new additions. There is still plenty of DLC costumes for those who want to go that route, but for those who can’t, at least there is now a decent selection.

I have seen many reviews complaining about the lack of new areas and the amount of backtracking that takes place. To which I say, most of the backtracking is optional. If you want to revisit all the areas from the previous game (to collect cats, if not the treasure) then feel free. If not, you can happily avoid many of the dungeons. The recycled boss fights are okay; those can be a fun challenge.

I would recommend a guide, since there are a number of things that will be easier with some help, like figuring out which dialogue options give affinity. The last dungeon particularly can be a headache without a map, as there are disappearing floor tiles that will change every time you enter the dungeon, meaning the path through will be different. I have the Prima guide and it is useful, though I wish the monster listings offered drop/steal information (weakness information is present). This may be available online as I did not peruse the site too closely.

Overall this was a very fun game, and one of the few I’ve managed to nearly platinum as of this writing. It is definitely better coming after the somewhat bland Xillia, but contains enough context to be playable alone if the first game put you off or isn’t available. I rate this game Recommended.

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