Tales of Rebirth is one of the many Tales games still exclusive to Japan (sadly), but through the tremendous effort of certain fans, the story and game can still be enjoyed by English speakers. I went through a story walkthrough on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5C72AADE1A30A0C5
(If you follow the same walkthrough, part 39 shows up at the bottom of the list for some reason, so just scroll down once you get that far.)
Story: Tales of Rebirth follows the kingdom of Karegia, which contains the races of Humas (humans) and Gajumas (beast-people). At the beginning, Veigue is a young man living in the remote northern village of Sulz. He’s been blessed—or cursed—with the Force of Ice since the day the old king died, and because he can’t control it, he ends up freezing his friend Claire in a giant block of ice. But when outsiders show up in the village, his troubles are only beginning. Claire is freed only to be kidnapped, and Veigue vows to rescue her.
Despite obstinately being the main character, Veigue himself takes a long time to get an actual character arc. For the majority of the game, Eugene, the ex-commander who left the army to investigate the strange events surrounding the king’s death, is the driving force. Eugene’s age and experience help him guide the party through the increasingly complex situation unfolding.
So, characters. I loved nearly everyone in the party (except Annie…. she was hard to like even after she stopped embracing her grudge). Eugene is a strong, noble soldier unjustly accused but unwilling to reveal the truth that would clear his name (and he’s also a giant black panther Gajuma). Mao is the young boy with no memories that Eugene has been protecting and traveling with, and Mao is so incessantly cheerful it’s hard not to like being around him. Tytree, like Mao, is another up-beat personality, but his simple outlook and one-track-mind mean he’s generally the butt of everyone’s jokes. Annie has some ties to Eugene which she resents, and the fact that Eugene is so understanding about the matter and so concerned for her welfare only irritates her more. Hilda initially joins to get revenge on some of the same people Veigue’s party is after, but eventually finds a far more personal journey.
The interactions between the cast are a lot of what make Tales games so strong, and this one is no exception. Whether it’s Mao making up random songs or everyone teasing Tytree about his obsession with his sister, the skits have plenty of humor. Mao and Tytree help balance out the sober Eugene and the downright moody Veigue. And Veigue’s obsession with rescuing Claire is certainly a huge focus for him, but I didn’t find it terribly off-putting (this gets especially fun near the end of the game where Shaorune’s questions start driving him insane).
I also find it amusing this game has the highest number of “beat up your own party members” fights I’ve seen yet. Only Mao doesn’t turn into a boss sooner or later (it wouldn’t suit him anyhow).
The thrust of the story deals with racism, as might be expected, but in a manner more even-handed than games like Tales of Symphonia. I appreciated how both Humas and Gajumas were participating in the problems—it wasn’t a matter of one side being right and the others being wrong, but more a question of how the actions of a few might shift the perceptions of the nation, whether in the direction of conflict or peace. The plot also keeps a pretty strong pace throughout. There were several points later on where Veigue is just not getting what is going on with Claire, but the eventual payoff led to more than I could have hoped for.
I don’t actually have the game, because of the language barrier, but now that I’ve been able to see a plot walkthrough it’s going on the wishlist, because it is an excellent story and I’d like to experience the gameplay as well. If I do get it, I will repost or update this review with the gameplay details. I rate this game Highly Recommended.