Welcome to the single most caffeinated issue of Sparky's Update yet! Why am I so wired, you didn't ask? Well, let me tell you, Imaginary Person - and might I add you look particularly handsome today? Ya see, this week, I've been almost slavishly devoted to one game and one game only, the fantastic Tales of Xillia. Now, I know mentioning a JRPG might be nigh taboo here on Giant Bomb (I'm sure minutes after posting this, my fellow mods will receive orders from Secret RPG Top Men to have me hunted down and shot on sight), but I've gotta say, this game is a terrific compliment to this year's Ni no Kuni as terrific RPGs on the PS3 that shouldn't be ignored. And so, probably in vain, I'm going to try to convince you to play this game. Hey, was that a gunshot I heard? No? Well, then, let's carry on!
Now, I'm not usually a fan of attaching my blogs to the forums, mostly because I don't really feel like advertising them, but when I'm doing up a series or talking about a game that's relevant or recently released, I'll sometimes attach it. Since this is a game that likely won't get a lot of coverage on the site, I figured I'd make this one visible so that people know there's someone out there they can contact if they have any questions or comments about the game. So hit me up if you want more details or just want to gush like school girls about this here fancy-shmancy JRPG.
A blowdart? @zombiepie, where the hell do you even get those nowadays?
Tales of Awesomepants McGlee
I've played a fair number of Tales games at this point. Last year (or was it the year before?), I worked on a small blog feature called the RPG Retrospective, which I sadly abandoned after a few games (I still promise I'm coming up with new entries - Final Fantasy IX and Lunar are on their way when I've finished with them). But one of the games I featured was the decent 3DS version of Tales of the Abyss. If you're unfamiliar with the Tales series, that might be a blog entry you'll want to read, as it goes into greater detail about how I believe the Tales series holds up for a modern generation of gamer. I've also played Symphonia and Vesperia thoroughly and enjoyed both.
The Tales series never strays far from its formula. There's a world-encompassing "save the world" storyline in each, usually with a major twist at the point when you think the game is just about to wrap up. Although there are sequels to certain entries in the games, most Tales games are set in different universes with different characters, most of which share similarities to characters in past games, particularly in their art design. Combat takes place in a breakaway screen, with enemies visible on the field. You fight in real-time, utilizing combos and magic (called "artes" in the series), all the while earning scores in each battle that will add up for some awesome New Game _ content.
Each game also features a great many "skits," which are basically miniature conversations between party members about events and the world around them. These are usually time sensitive, depending on where you're at in the game and what companions are with you at the moment. In later games (and particularly Xillia), your companions will make idle comments in-game too, without breaking to the skit screen.
The Tales games usually share some common faults. The stories are often distinctly nonsensical, overly convoluted, and full of Japanese character cliches. There's inevitably a child character (or more) that will annoy the everloving piss out of me. While the worlds continue to look better and better, it's become clear that the games are pushing the boundaries of an older engine recycled one too many times. While the characters themselves have grown deeper and better written, there are usually tons of eye-rolling moments of distinct Japanese-ness, usually involving one character's sexual naivete or overly recycled joke tropes. Seriously, Japan, stop with the cooking jokes. We've heard them all endlessly by now.
Damn it, Sweep, you can't actually kill a man by throwing ketchup at his head - at least not in the plastic bottle, anyways.
So Where Does Xillia Fit In, You Sexy Beast, You?
Let's get this out there right away - Xillia is definitely a Tales-ass Tales game. Mechanically and graphically, it sticks pretty closely to the formula of its ancestors. You're still gonna be linking regular attacks to magic artes, trying to get as high a combo count as you possibly can while trying your best to ignore the three billionth time you've heard your character yell, "Demon rush!" That right there is probably going to be the line that turns away half the rational individuals out there. This game's distinctive anime nature is by far its biggest detractor, as it's always been for the series.
I'd also be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that this game was written by three or four people with very seperate agendas. There's a slightly schizophrenic feel to the plot, as it chases after multiple themes and plotlines without ever really properly committing to any of them. Judging from the number of locked story trophies, I'm guessing I'm about three-quarters of the way through my first playthrough, and so far, watching the game's various plot points try to get mashed together can be painful at times.
However, those plot points? Some of them are really good, and not just by the series' fairly poor standards. I'm talking video games in general. There's one point in the game when everything goes to shit rapidly I particularly enjoyed. The tension of the moment was palpable, and the voice actors, who had up to that moment been given some pretty blase material, knocked it out of the park. I'm trying not to spoil anything for those of you who might play it, but this game has some genuinely terrific dark moments in it.
Several of the characters wind up with some fascinating elements despite themselves. Yes, there's an annoying twelve year old girl who has no right being involved in saving the world. Yes, she has an annoying little sidekick that makes me want to find the designer who insists on introducing shit like this to JRPGs and pummel him. But both of them are given a shockingly interesting storyline that promises not to have easy answers. And that's maybe one of the game's best characteristics besides the gameplay (which we'll get to in a sec) - it really feels like Xillia's writers are taking firm steps in the right direction of where Japanese stories need to go in general by evolving past 80's anime stories we've seen a thousand times before. One other cool story aspect is that you can choose between two main characters at the beginning, giving you more of a reason to play through the game again. I'm playing as the male lead, but I assume the New Game + will allow you to play as the other (but don't take my word for it).
Xillia's best elements are in its leveling and store systems. Taking a direct cue from Final Fantasy X, each time you level, you earn a certain number of points you can spend on new skills, artes, or stat bonuses. These are mapped out in two web-shaped orb patterns, with different branches of the webs dedicated to different types of stats and skills. You can therefore focus your character's growth mostly how you see fit, but by picking up some suggested skills, you can further expand the web outward, leading to more skills and abilities. It's a great system, one that allows you to mold your characters as you see fit while still nudging you in a suggested direction for each character. It makes leveling a real pleasure, especially once you've discovered some of the optional dungeons with their tougher, more rewarding enemies.
My other favorite element is in the game's store expansion process. Previous games had crafting or cooking elements, but Xillia does away with those. Instead, you'll be picking up what is essentially vendor loot throughout the game and trading it in to any store. You can pick and choose how you'd like to expand each type of store, so if you want to dump all your vendor loot into your weapon stores, you'll quickly gain access to newer, shinier weapons and bigger discounts on older items. The best policy, of course, is to keep things fairly level, though I'm finding it highly advantageous to dump my extra vendor loot into the food stores, as they offer up items that earn you bonus experience and money from fights. The best part is that any store upgrade you make transfers over to all stores of that particular type, so you're never having to backtrack to various vendors to pick up different types of items. Vendor loot is everywhere, too - you can find it in bags on the battlefield, dropped or stolen from enemies, and from various shining points of interest in the field. It's an awesome system that rewards exploration and makes the combat all that more enticing.
Chaser just tried to karate chop my neck, Kato-style. I suppose that's probably a sign I should start to wrap things up?
Overall, Tales of Xillia is a hell of an impressive game. It makes a lot of the JRPG standards fun again by throwing in some fun systems and further refining the Tales essence. I can't say it's for everyone, but if you're after a meaty RPG with lots to keep you occupied when you're away from its main quest, I'd highly recommend it.
-I've been playing Blackwell Unbound, which is a prequel to the first Blackwell game. I've gotta be pretty close to wrapping things up, and so far, I like it. My thoughts on this one aren't all that dissimilar from the first Blackwell game (which I wrote about a few blogs ago), so if you're interested in reading more about it, go check out that blog. Otherwise, yeah, I'm pretty stoked about the Blackwell series and Wadjet in general.
And that's pretty much it for this week's Update. Thanks for putting up with my crap blog on the forums. You're all aces!