Tag Archives: ps4

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PS4/Vita)

Title: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

Systems: PS4/Vita

Series: Ys

Adol Christin is an adventurer, but he isn’t planning to embark on his next one quite so soon. When the ship he’s on sinks, he and the rest of the castaways must survive on a deserted island. Only this island has far more in store for them—Adol’s dreams connect him to a mysterious girl, Dana, whose story has great importance for their own . . .

I have never played a Ys game before this one, but this has little enough to do with its surrounding series that it wasn’t a problem. Adol’s adventure is pretty self-contained, with only minor references to what I presume are series staples or callbacks.

The game was excellent. I loved exploring every corner of the island, unlocking its secrets one by one. The gameplay is action-based, and fights generally go very quickly, so there isn’t much grinding required (even if you’re like me and have to horde healing items for longer dungeons, the fruit regrows pretty quickly, and the ingredients for potions are easy enough to gather).

I liked how there isn’t any money in this game–you’re on a deserted island, with only fellow castaways, so what use would it be? Instead there’s a trading system that allows you to trade up or down for various materials.

And I wish the journal was something all RPGs implemented. It keeps track of the expected basics, like a plot summary and the tutorial screens that you’ve seen so far, but it also keeps track of every fish, monster, and material, which makes figuring out how to craft anything a breeze. And the menus are cross-linked, so you can start with a material, pick a monster that drops it, and go right to the screen with details about that monster. It’s such a little convenience, but one missing from pretty much every other game I’ve played.

Because of features like this, you don’t actually need a guide to get 100%. Just keep an eye on the quests in the village after every major story event and things will take care of themselves.

The graphics are admittedly dated, showing the game’s Vita origins. Still, I like the bright, colorful world, and the tropical locations are beautiful. The setting is the ancient Mediterranean very thinly disguised (Greek is the name of the country? Really? I suppose they speak Greece there).

The characters are mostly good as well. I was never fond of Laxia, who has the unfortunate distinction of being humiliated for fanservice right at the beginning of the game. It’s things like this that make it really hard for me to get non-anime fans into these games. They see a dropping-the-towel scene like that and figure the game will be smut, especially since this comes barely an hour into the game. And it makes no sense for her to even have a towel at that point in the game, much less feel safe enough to take a bath, given that she’s just washed ashore from a shipwreck and the local wildlife is decidedly unfriendly.

However, others, like Sahad, Ricotta, and Dana, were much better. Hummel is just kind of there to be comic relief.

I should probably mention the localization is getting an update, though as of my playthrough I only saw the original. It would be nice to get a few of the place names updated to something with less awkwardness in English (the Archeozoic Big Hole is probably the worst offender), but I didn’t find it a game-ruining experience.

Overall, I am very glad I picked this up (would also like to get the soundtrack, and if there is an artbook I want it, because the monster designs are awesome). I beat it in 77 hours, but that was with a lot of exploration, the final boss, true ending, postgame dungeon, and various points early on trying to subvert the need for double jump to get some chests (hint: the characters have different jump distances, and this can also be altered somewhat with moves. So Sahad, if you can get him to do his 4-swing attack in the air, has a lot of horizontal distance, or Laxia has a charge attack that can move her forward). I only missed the platinum because I decided to play on Normal and not Nightmare. I rate this game Recommended.


Toukiden 2 (PS4/PC)

Monsters known as Oni are invading the real world from the Otherworld. Ten years ago in Yokohama, the Oni broke through—and threw you through a gate ten years in the future. Now you are tasked with defending the village of Mahoroba from the Oni as a Slayer.

There isn’t much to talk about plot-wise for this game. It proceeds mostly as you might expect (although I was pleasantly surprised by both Benizuki and Kuyo). I like that there is a story mode, though, which helps add some variety and meaning to otherwise randomly going out and killing monsters. The Professor was easily my favorite character, for her snarky attitude and rather dangerous inventions.

Toukiden 2 boasts a world map in addition to missions that can be taken through the base town. I would’ve liked the world map a LOT better if you could warp to any of the portal stones (you can use any stone to go back to HQ, but you can only transfer from HQ to your bases, which makes getting to certain points on the map a trek every time). Also, I was frustrated by the fact that you get a grappling claw that lets you vault over cliffs…. but you still often need to walk around relatively minor barriers, which made some maps (Age of Grace in particular) more like mazes. I am also not fond of the “miasma exposure limit” still being a thing even after you purify an area. It feels like a way to artificially limit how much you can explore without going back to some kind of base.

That said, it was still nice to have actual environments to explore. The game provides both shiny object pickups, various crests, and wooden markers with some backstory as an incentive to poke around every corner.

Your teammates are good at dispatching the Oni, so picking companions for me usually involved picking whomever I needed to max out relationships with. You don’t get any control over their skills, and you have limited ability to direct them in battle (which I never used because I forgot the button combination).

I didn’t play too much with all the weapon types, but there is a good amount of variety. I mostly stuck with knives because I like fast-hitting weapons, although a major downside is that they offer no defensive capabilities. Tutorials are available for every weapon type, and every skill type, and these can be repeated as desired, so it’s easy to sample the various weapons and choose a favorite.

Skills are handled through Mitama, which are spirits that choose to help you. They range from historical figures to literary figures to a few gods and goddesses. Each one gets a nice portrait and a little voice clip, and has a number of skills that can be learned and equipped. These can be earned through the story, sidequests, or by slaying Oni. It can be a big job to collect them all, but just going through the story and doing a little extra will get plenty for a more casual run.

I didn’t care for most of the Oni designs, sadly, with Drakwing (a more traditional western dragon) being a major exception. They do offer a good challenge, though, and fighting them feels more interesting because of a tendency to transform at about half health, which can completely change attack patterns. If KO’d, you get a limited amount of time to be revived, and if KO’d again, your revival time picks up where the last time left off, so whether or not you can even come back depends on how quickly your teammates can get to you, even the first time. This likely isn’t as much a problem for more skilled players but I die enough to find it annoying, especially when certain fights include multiple Oni and it’s easy to get slammed by the one you weren’t attacking.

On the plus side, the auto save functionality, plus the ability to manually save anywhere except inside a fight, means you probably won’t lose too much progress if wiped out, even if you were exploring the Otherworld at the time.

Overall, I had fun with this, although God Eater is definitely my hunter game of choice due to several different mechanics (ranged and defensive included on all weapons, a less arbitrary revival system, the ability to earn unlimited tickets for material crafting, more colorful monsters which are more visually interesting, better story, epic music). That said, I’m still poking around in postgame trying to collect more Mitama, craft a better weapon, finish collecting crests, and so on. I have no idea what my hour count was because the save files only indicate the last time you saved, not the total hour count, and it’s been pretty fun for the most part. I rate this game Recommended.

Tales of Berseria (PS4/Steam)

Title: Tales of Berseria

Platforms: PS4, Steam

Demons roam the land, spreading terror and death in their wake. Even Velvet Crowe, who lives in the small village of Aball, has lost family to their attacks. But her brother-in-law Arthur is an exorcist, and he’s protected them . . . until the Scarlet Night when everything she thought she knew is torn apart. Now Velvet herself is a demon, out for revenge against Arthur, the man who stole everything she had left.

This is a much more solid Tales entry than the last several. It’s connected to Zestiria, but as a distant prequel, so no knowledge of Zestiria is necessary to enjoy this game (although certain nods are often given). However, playing both games does help expand the world.

The plot stays compelling throughout. Tales games have a tendency to lose focus along the way, surviving more on the character interactions than the main plot, but this one stays strong. And the cast is generally very good too. I was fairly sure going in that Eizen would be a favorite, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed everything he’s in—he’s even more fun to play than Velvet against trash mobs, where he can go into full shadow-dragon fury. And his dour outlook, Reaper’s Curse (basically Murphy hates him), and nerdy interests kept him fun from a story perspective too. Pretty much every favorite skit I have involves Eizen in some major way. (See the skit Two Headed Coin for a great example).

Gameplay was generally solid, but the new Souls system led to a rather unbalanced feel overall for me. This is the only Tales game I played the majority on Hard from the beginning (moving up to Chaos by the final dungeon) because the enemies died too fast otherwise. On the other hand, especially with bosses, getting stunned/statused down to one soul means a really not-fun time trying to get it back when you can only do one attack at a time. I liked the equipment mastering system, but overall I preferred Zestiria’s system. I got the 30 hour menu achievement NORMALLY playing through this game because I was micromanaging my equipment so much. At least with Zestiria it was possible to both create a build, and feel no need to upgrade it until you had a better one in mind.

The game also contains a number of minigames (the card one is especially fun), a decent number of in-game costumes, some optional areas, and the usual postgame dungeon. So there’s a lot of content, and what isn’t fun is usually skippable.

The New Game+ option unfortunately doesn’t let you carry forward some of the more useful items, like the geoboard, which doesn’t come in until late in the story, or any of your equipment (although you can choose to carry forward mastered skills). But you can carry over various gameplay features, and the usual bonuses to grade/exp/gald.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with this game. I beat the main story in about 112 hours, but mostly because I’m slow, I micromanage equipment, I let the card game distract me for way too long, and I had to keep redoing sections of the final dungeon. It does make me sad that Zestiria couldn’t get the same attention to detail as this game. Despite being set in the same world, Berseria got the depth it feels like Zestiria failed to reach—little things like how Eizen will talk about Edna here, but Edna basically never mentioned Eizen in Zestiria. On a personal level I think I enjoyed Zestiria more, because I like happy-go-lucky stories better than the grimness of a revenge-focused narrative, but objectively Berseria does a lot of things better. I rate this game Highly Recommended.

God Eater Resurrection (PS4/Vita/Steam)

Earth has been overrun by a new lifeform dubbed Aragami. These creatures will eat anything, and in a short period of time have devastated the earth. An organization called Fenrir has succeeded in creating artificial Aragami as weapons, and the so-called God Eaters who wield them are the only force capable of standing against the remnants of humanity and total destruction.

I can see why people think the plot of the first game is better than the second, although to my mind the anime actually did a better job of fleshing out the earliest story arc. Lindow doesn’t have much time to make an impression before things go haywire, and the aftermath feels a little strong for someone the player will hardly know. It’s almost more fun in the second arc piecing together who he really was, and what he’d been doing, and why he got into such a mess. And I like Ren, who is hugely critical of Lindow to the point where you can’t really tell if he thinks anything much of the guy everyone else admires. (And Ren pretty much requires rewatching a few of his cutscenes later on in the game to notice something that isn’t spelled out until later.)

Character-wise Soma, Ren, and Shio were the only ones who really made an impression. Soma has a very interesting backstory, although the game never gets really deep into it, but it’s interesting how he struggles between doing what his father commands and hating him for it (and then trying to deal with all the fallout from his father’s actions), along with the unusual circumstances of his birth.

The gameplay for this remains strong, although I struggled a lot in the beginning until figuring out ways to compensate for lower-damaging moves. Thankfully the Aragami can all be killed with melee only, although once you progress far enough to unlock the best sniper gun line (level 4) and the best blast gun (level 10), guns offer a handy alternative to those monsters you just aren’t in the mood to fight again. New type God Eaters are still a rare thing, so you don’t get more than a handful of characters who can both shield themselves and shoot you a healing bullet, which makes HP management a bit more of an issue here.

Resurrection, since it takes place before Rage Burst, doesn’t offer some of the enhancements found in the later game, but it does have its own unique gameplay in the Predator Styles. Basically, the devour function that allows you to steal enemy bullets and a bit of a power-up was revamped to allow for different moves, such as a dash-and-devour, arial devours, etc. In addition, the five different devour actions allow you to equip bonuses (basically free skills) that will apply once that form of devour is used and remain until that particular burst bar runs out (or in the case of melee/gun boosting, until your next melee/gun attack).

The menus have also gotten a welcome revamp. Now each weapon type has its own page, so you can more easily find just the recipes you’re interested in crafting. I was a little frustrated that it was harder to keep a non-elemental weapon early to mid-game (at least for Spears), but the crafting system in other ways is less frustrating because you have more missions featuring only a single Aragami, so it’s much easier to go after the particular ingredients or tickets you’re missing.

Overall this is a great bonus to have bundled into the God Eater 2: Rage Burst game, which is how I would recommend buying it, as you can get both games for a reasonable price. I beat all the plot missions around 55 hours, but am still working on missions I missed completing and trying to platinum the game. I rate this game Recommended.

God Eater 2: Rage Burst (PS4/Vita)

The modern world has crumbled under the onslaught of a new life form, dubbed Aragami. These creatures rise and eat everything, and cannot be stopped except by artificially-created Aragami modified to be weapons. These God Arcs are wielded by humans synced to them, the God Eaters. You play a user-defined protagonist who just tested positive for compatibility for your own God Arc.

I bought this game almost by accident. I hadn’t really heard of it, and all the comparisons to Monster Hunter left me doubtful if I would enjoy it. But it had some Tales crossover appeal (some God Eater costumes and monsters appeared in Zestiria, and some Zestiria costumes were a day one bonus for God Eater), and the combat didn’t look too bad. I ended up getting the game and quickly fell in love.

The gameplay is really fast-paced. You have a home base where you can talk to other characters, craft or buy things, or accept missions. Once you’ve chosen a mission, you can leave, and you’ll be deposited on the field. The Aragami aren’t trying to hide from you, and will show up on your map, so it’s generally very quick to get into the action. And for about the first half of the plot, the individual missions are pretty fast to complete. Later in the game, partially due to the increased number of enemies, it started taking longer, but an average mission could still be 10-15 minutes.

If multiplayer is more your thing, then the game does have a multiplayer mode. I don’t really care for multiplayer and never tried it, but it does give the option of doing the more difficult missions with real people instead of the NPCs. That said, those NPCs are really good at staying alive (although the ones with shields tend to be better than the ones with only guns, as those characters can’t block). They may not melee half as well as you, but they can resurrect you and heal you, and it was very rare for them to die more often than I did.

The God Arcs have spoiled me for weapons from other games. Your single weapon transforms between shield, gun, and melee weapon of choice. You have three types of shield, four types of gun, and six types of melee weapon. Although you can’t switch equipment mid-mission, you can switch between missions. I really enjoy the ability to switch between short range and long range attacks on the fly. Your melee attacks charge an energy meter used to fire your gun, so battles are generally an initial volley (or for the blast gun, you can stockpile the meter) followed by some melee where you can drop a bullet or three every time you’ve got enough for another shot.

The game provides a number of bullets but you can also customize your own. This isn’t well explained in the game, but plenty of recipes exist online, or you can modify the bullets provided by the game and test them in the bullet editor before bringing them out on the field.

Although bullets tend to deal more overall damage, melee has its own tricks in the form of Blood Arts, which can modify various aspects of your attack to be more powerful. A well-aimed Blood Art can easily do as much damage as most bullets.

It’s also trivial to switch between weapon types, as you can craft an appropriate level of equipment and the Blood Arts (or Blood Bullets, for a gun) will level more rapidly against powerful enemies. So it only takes a small number of missions to get to a comparable level with at least one Blood Art on a new weapon type.

The crafting system has a good amount of depth, but also some shortcuts. You have a list of craftable weapons, and anything less than rank 15 can be upgraded to an eventual rank 15 form. Many of the upgrades aren’t available to craft directly, but upgrading will allow you to carry over the previous form’s skills, and it’s generally cheaper than crafting directly. So old weapons can be made useful again for less than the cost of a new one. If you don’t have a certain material required to craft or upgrade, every mission has some form of Ticket in its reward list. These tickets can be crafted into just about any material, which drastically cuts down on the requirement to farm. At worst, you’ll just have to redo a mission with the appropriate ticket reward instead of worrying about getting a rare drop. (Now, the menus could absolutely stand to be broken up better so you don’t have to scroll so far, but if that’s the worst I can say about it I’m still very happy.)

Clothing can also be crafted. Thankfully, this is cosmetic only, so you can dress your protagonist however you please. And although I hated a lot of the female outfits, I could still find a large number of combinations I liked. (Some NPCs have additional outfits, but sadly will only wear them during missions.)

The plot has good moments. I love the setting: a post-apocalypse world full of broken buildings haunted by monsters. I liked the plot, as generally the story comes in pretty small portions between missions. So even the slower or more generic parts tended to go quickly. Although one twist in particular left me torn between admiring that they went there and irritated at what it meant for my mission teams. There’s also the ability to watch any previous cutscene via the big monitor in Fenrir or the terminal in your room in the Far East.

Gilbert is my favorite character. He’s not as childish or enthusiastic as Nana or Romeo, but his reserve tends to break down in battles (he has some amusing lines on the field. Just try passing him a bullet or pay attention when the Aragami runs away). Out of battle, he’s highly conscious of the responsibility and danger of being a God Eater; his experiences in his former unit earned him the nickname Fragging Gil. He’s also not easy to fool–I particularly liked what he did in a confrontation in chapter 14. I also liked Julius and Tatsumi (I like responsible leader-types).

The music is generally excellent as well. They range from sweeping orchestral themes to quiet piano melodies to more of a rock style. Missions often allow you to choose background music (sometimes the plot missions won’t, but if you replay them you can pick whatever you want). As a nice bonus, once you reach rank 15, the jukebox unlocks, so the out-of-battle music can be entirely your choice (including no music).

I have very few criticisms of the game. This was originally designed for the Vita and it shows in a few ways. The battle arenas are a good size, but can get repetitive since new fields are few and far between until the end, but the glut of new fields there tends to be recolors of the same layout. And the out of battle areas are a few tiny rooms in your headquarters. I wish some of the menus (especially material crafting) had a better layout to avoid the enormous amount of scrolling required when you have the full list of endgame craftable items. And I wish certain monsters showed more in individual missions so I don’t have to keep playing a string of survival missions just to fight them.

Overall, this is the kind of game that exactly suits me as someone who likes anime-styled action games with some deep RPG mechanics (which is obvious when I consider that the only other game that even comes close in playtime for me is Tales of Graces and that was with multiple playthroughs). I don’t remember what my hour count was when I first beat the plot, but I’ve been taking it slowly and although I’ve run out of story, I still have the various extra missions and challenge missions I’m working through. Currently I’m around 175 hours in and still having a blast. I’ve changed weapon types a few times and am still working on mastering all the skills, building an ultimate set of equipment, and so on. It is more than possible to beat this game in a fraction of that time, if you’re just looking to rush to the end. If you like the Tales games, or are simply looking for a fast-paced action game, I would highly recommend checking this out. I would also suggest getting the Day One edition, as it includes God Eater Resurrection (a remake of the first game with some updated mechanics) for free.

Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth (PS4/Vita)

Virtual reality has progressed to the point where the virtual world of Eden is as important to people as the real world. Your player-created character receives a special invitation for a prize, but things go horribly wrong, leaving you trapped inside a virtual body that’s somehow in the real world. Now a detective, your job is to take up various cases, with the ultimate goal of solving the mystery of what happened to you.

Story: Cyber Sleuth takes the Digimon franchise and wraps it up in a nice RPG. For the most part, the big-picture story is pretty good, if a little predictable to anyone who knows much about Digimon. I like Arata the best, mostly for his quips, like suggesting poison and a dagger is a romantic gift because it’s reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet.

Some bits of the required story would be better off as sidequests, though. For instance, the occult club adds nothing to the narrative but they have several quests that you can’t skip. And the timing of some of the really minor quests can interrupt some major happening, so they can introduce bad pacing to the narrative.

One other thing that really trips up the story is the translation. There are multiple instances of badly-formatted text, quiz answers that where the correct answer flags as wrong, and “Bakemon” shows up in the text (this is probably meant to be “bakemono” in Japanese, aka “monster”… there is no digimon named Bakemon so the text ends up confusing). I’m not sure how much the patches may have fixed as I only went through the game once, but there were definitely rough spots. The overall story was mostly okay, but those places tended to stand out.

Gameplay: This is a turn-based RPG whose main strategy revolves around which digimon you’re fielding and what abilities they have. As someone who never played any of the previous Digimon games, I found it very accessible, although I had to keep accessing the tutorial for type/affinity weaknesses to confirm what types/elements beat what.

Digimon is similar to Pokemon in that you can collect just about every monster you run across in the dungeons, but one of the key differences is that evolution is more flexible. Given enough time to go up and down evolution trees, anything can become virtually anything. This gives you a huge amount of freedom early-game to get a wide range of digimon. And two of the uglier and more useless digimon lines have really good passive abilities, like boosting EXP, money, or item drops. This can be compounded by items. I spent a fair amount of time save scumming early game to get Tactician USBs to ease the level-up process, but once I had them I was able to fill out most of the Field Guide very quickly (some of the highest-level digimon in particular are locked behind story events or later-game quests). This cuts down the grind tremendously, and there’s something addictive about putting in an hour or two of grinding when you can get multiple level 99 Megas out of it, starting from the lowest level Rookie.

That said, the game itself is pretty forgiving on Normal, and biased in favor of those digimon with defense/int-ignoring attacks, as those will typically do at least double the damage of another digimon who does have the correct type and element and is getting triple damage on its attacks. But if you have a favorite, the system is flexible enough that it will probably work for most fights, if it has the right abilities.

In terms of aesthetics, it’s more of a mixed bag. The graphics generally look good, although on the PS4 especially there are a lot of clues this was originally a Vita game. All the digital dungeons look like the same ramps copy/pasted into different configurations, and both dungeons and towns only offer a very limited area to wander.

The soundtrack is also generally good. A few of the tracks are used so often I got a bit tired of them, but for the most part I enjoyed the soundtrack.

Also, although I didn’t play it, there is an online versus mode for players who would rather pit their teams against other people (there are also AI opponents provided if the system has trouble finding a match).

Overall: If you like RPGs or monster-collecting games, this is a good one to check out. It’s much easier to collect them all than Pokemon (although the medals exist to drive completionists insane). I finished all quests and had a full Field Guide at 83 hours, although the real number is probably a bit higher given the amount of save scumming I did for a few farm goods. I’m not sure this one has as much replayability as other RPGs I’ve enjoyed, but the ability to carry forward the most important things means a New Game+ would go a lot faster if I did. And the online battling could be a draw for players looking for something to do after the main story. I rate this game Recommended.

Tales of Zestiria (PS3/PS4/Steam)

STORY: The world is in an era of chaos. Long ago, legends tell, in such times one known as the Shepherd would rise up to drive back the darkness. But the darkness closes in, and no Shepherd has yet appeared . . .

Sorey is a rare young man: raised in a village of seraphim, he’s never met another human. Seraphim are a race invisible to the eyes of most humanity, but humans like Sorey with a high enough resonance can see them. When a chance encounter with an injured knight draws him outside to the world, he takes up the mantle of the Shepherd and struggles to bring peace for humans and seraphim alike.

I greatly enjoyed the story, although it isn’t without its flaws. The humans-can’t-see-seraphim dilemma is played up more than once for laughs—or showing how other people outright fear Sorey for the incredible forces that protect him. I also liked the way Sorey’s new Shepherd powers initially grant him nothing but sickness as his body tries to adjust. Or how learning to use techniques such as armitization leaves him asking “How do I turn this off?”

I also liked the focus on one major villain throughout. Most recent Tales games have suffered from wandering plots but this one stays pretty focused. Sorey is told as soon as he gets his power that his duty will be to stand against the Lord of Calamity, but he’s encouraged to explore and grow stronger before that confrontation. And when repeated encounters leave him unable to best that individual, he diverts himself with gaining more strength and finding out more of the real story. And the Lord of Calamity seems more bent on destroying Sorey personally than with destroying the world (although he’s not opposed to that), which leads to some really nasty tricks.

Character-wise, I liked all of the characters. Sorey’s ruin mania (often exacerbated by a friendly competition with Mikleo) helps paint him as a mostly ordinary kid who got sidetracked into this whole heroing business. And it’s not unusual for him to geek out at some historical discovery (the skit with the bust you find in the museum is particularly funny, as it contrasts what the girls think of it with what the guys think). Mikleo, having a similar interest in ruins, is a good counterpoint since the two of them often butt heads about minutiae no one else cares about (and there’s a great skit where Rose is trying to contribute to their argument and failing miserably).

Unfortunately, the other characters suffer from not having a ton of depth. Edna’s teasing really grated on me at first when she was picking on Alisha, who wouldn’t fight back, but later on she had a lot of funny moments. (Not so much when she picks on Mikleo, since he won’t just sit there and take it like Alisha does.) But Edna’s main plot thread, introduced when you meet her, is cleared up via a sidequest that’s easy to skip, and it’s relatively little content for such a big personal issue for her. Similarly, Dezel had a lot of potential, but most of his story gets crammed into a set of cutscenes between back-to-back fights, and it took me reading some outside materials to really get a good picture of what actually happened with him. Zaveid could have fleshed out both himself and Edna if his relationship with Edna’s brother had gotten more than a passing mention. Alisha actually had a plot, but it’s barebones, rushed, and a lot of it happens offscreen (oddly, despite at one point being held for questioning, she never remarks on this incident, making me wonder if she actually had been detained or if that was just a lie told to Sorey). And so on.

The most puzzling offender is Rose. I liked her (well, until the Alisha DLC, which paints Rose in a really bad way in the beginning), but I don’t find her to be internally consistent. She’s mostly the feelings-not-thoughts character. But she’s involved in professions that favor thoughts over feelings, such as her job as a merchant, and she’s supposed to be a really good merchant. Frankly I thought Eguille should’ve been the head of the Sparrowfeathers. He seemed more suited to the role. On the other hand, she seems to be a vigilante, but you don’t see a lot of the passionate drive that would give such a role a context. Why is she set on taking out bad guys? That’s not explained.

Still, even with that, I had a lot of fun with the plot. The end is mostly satisfying, though a few points are frustratingly vague (I prefer to think the figure in shadow at the end is human, not seraph, but it’s basically up to you).

GAMEPLAY: This is the first attempt at an “open-world” Tales. The world map is now fully explorable at a detailed level. After Xillia’s ugly corridor layout and profusion of brown and gray, I really appreciate all the bright colors and beautiful visuals. I got the PS4 version entirely because of the cleaned up graphics. The plot isn’t too long, but I spent a lot of time just poking around maps looking at things or looking for surprises.

The battle system is a more or less seamless transition on the world map. You’re still bounded by a circular area you can’t leave without escaping the battle, but the field objects around you when you fight are now part of the fight. This is good and bad. The battle camera is generally okay for single player, but even there it tends to get stuck on rocks or behind enemies. I was disappointed in the after-battle victory quotes, as only one or two of them was genuinely funny and most of them were more boring stock quotes. Earlier games in the series had a great selection of victory quotes.

Also, the AI will die. A lot. On the flip side, the seraphim’s ability to auto-revive in the back row, or auto-revive humans on armitization, meant that I made it through the entire game without using a single life bottle.

Artes have been broken into a rock-paper-scissors system, which I personally disliked due to how insane this made enemy spellcasters (Yes, I party-wiped multiple times against the Wraiths. Nothing like ten of the buggers constantly casting tiny spells that keep you pinned in place until dead). It can be hard to distinguish if the enemy is using martial or hidden artes against you, and since they generally know how to screw up whatever you’re doing, this can get problematic.

More positively, most of the characters have enough uniqueness that they’re fun to control. Lailah takes some getting used to for her slow attacks, but her AOE spells cheese giant mobs if used correctly. Mikleo, though, I don’t really like until armitized, as his spells are outclassed by everyone else and his melee is only average. Zaveid actually has a funny quirk where if the enemy is half-human-female, he’ll change from attack cries to start catcalling them.

I also liked the new enemy designs and enemy types. Especially elephants. Because beating up woolly mammoths is awesome.

The skills/fusion system is far too dependent on randomness, even though there are a few methods provided to make it somewhat less random. Getting a good skill build is going to take a bit of luck or a lot of patience. On the other hand, I completed a Normal/Moderate playthrough without needing to focus too heavily on skills (the Medusa fights are one notable exception, because if you can’t get the stack-6 bonus skill to prevent petrification, you’re going to have a bad time. On the other hand, you get Dezel, who automatically has this skill on all his titles, for the required one, and the other three are optional fights). Getting the skills in the first place is hard, but once you have them it’s not too bad to keep upgrading your weapon through strategic fusion.

But, if you have the time and the inclination, it’s perfectly possible to set up a character with, say, 80% casting time reduction plus absurd boosts to elemental damage plus the ability to ignore enemy resistance to that element. Or set them up to ignore 300 damage from every hit, plus the first 8000 damage total in a fight, plus 10 seconds invincibility at the start of a fight. And if you use the NG+ option to apply double/triple skills 2/3x to the skill board, that only gets more overpowered. The options are wide open and “best” build depends more on how you like to play.

OVERALL: The complaints about the game are valid, but I still found it a great time and really enjoyed playing my way through it. The story is my favorite Tales so far, though I would still say Tales of Graces has better mechanics. I spent 80 hours on the main game and am working my way through the postgame dungeon and Alisha’s DLC (which was originally free but now costs money, unless you get the Collector’s Edition which has it included). A pure plot run would be a lot shorter, but I spent a good amount of time in the optional dungeons, exploring the field, and so on. I spent almost no time grinding, as the only time I needed to get extra skills for a boss fight the normin drops were sufficient to get what I needed relatively quickly.
I would add that the Alisha DLC chapter may turn a mostly satisfying ending into a somewhat frustrating one based on what I’ve seen so far. You do get the option to play as Alisha with a better moveset and the opportunity to use her Mystic Artes, but she can’t armitize, which leaves her outside the most useful mechanics (especially revive-on-armitize), which especially hurts during bosses. That said, it has its own content that can be carried back to the main game if you play from a clear save file.

I played the first game in English but plan to do another run in Japanese. The English voices are generally solid, but the dual audio ensures that those who prefer the original language can enjoy it. In addition, the music is excellent. The Collector’s Edition sadly only includes twelve tracks, but they include Rising Up and Journey’s End, two of the best in the game (none of the elemental temple themes, though). So if you like the music, importing the OST is a better option than buying the Collector’s Edition.

I will add the Prima guide is mostly useless, though the maps can help. But the text spoils cutscenes rather than give actual strategy, the data section is missing a ton of information, sidequests are all bunched together in the back and not indicated in the main walkthrough (and those aren’t even 100% complete either), and so on. So buy at your own risk, and in the meantime the free online guides are starting to catch up.
All in all, this is one I certainly plan to replay. I rate this game Highly Recommended.