Sparky's Update - Tales of Xillia

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6230 posts) -

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.

The Rest

-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!

Moderator
#1 Posted by Mento (2567 posts) -

I gotta get back to Tales. I've got so many DS/PSP RPGs right now though. Gotta figure out where Tales of the Abyss 3D fits in between Radiant Historia and Bowser's Inside Story on the schedule.

Moderator
#2 Edited by ZombiePie (5685 posts) -

I don't like, nor do I have a history of playing, JRPGs.

Moderator
#3 Posted by DonChipotle (2768 posts) -

That annoying little girl is secretly the second best character.

#4 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6230 posts) -

@mento: I still have to play through Radiant Historia too. Got it sitting on my shelf for when I'm bored with Animal Crossing, which should be sometime in... uhhhh... 2025?

@zombiepie: Hence the joy you expressed when the hit order went out. I fart in your general direction!

Moderator
#5 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11804 posts) -

Funtime question time: Based on what you know about my tolerance of Anime JRPG bullshit (not much) and my enjoyment of overly-intricate RPG mechanics should I care about any Tales games?

#6 Posted by drac96 (671 posts) -

I enjoyed Xillia, but for some reason I'm not as enthusiastic about it as many people seem to be. I just felt like there was something missing, which got me wondering if I'm just getting sick of the Tales series in general.

That prompted me to start Vesperia for the first time yesterday. I'm only a few hours into it, but I like the few hours I've played way more than I liked anything in Xillia. I think it's just that I didn't really like any of the characters. The battle system is a lot better in the newer games, but I feel like the new ones have lost some magical element that the old ones held for me.

Perhaps that magical element was an awesome overworld, which both Xillia and Graces didn't have.

#7 Posted by DonChipotle (2768 posts) -

Funtime question time: Based on what you know about my tolerance of Anime JRPG bullshit (not much) and my enjoyment of overly-intricate RPG mechanics should I care about any Tales games?

The Tales games may as well just be called "Anime Bullshit: The JRPG"

Because that's exactly what they are. Complete with anime style opening credits.

#8 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6230 posts) -

@drac96: I can see liking Vesperia's main character more, though I'm partial to this guy from Xillia as well. I do miss the overworld, but I think (at least in Xillia's case) the world exploration makes more sense on foot, especially since I have to keep an eye out for the materials for the store expansion. I love a good overworld, though. I think you could make a solid case for Vesperia versus Xillia, but I greatly prefer Xillia for its leveling and the store stuff, not to mention the character development.

@arbitrarywater: Oh damn. Hmmmm. Well, first off, Xillia's probably the most accessible of the bunch in terms of mechanics - the combat is easy peasy, so long as you're willing to go out of your way to explore. As for the anime stuff, it's far more tolerable here than in any other Tales game I've played, though I've gotta say, I think you'd get halfway in and throw the game out the window. At least it's not so saccharine as to make me sick, and the characters become surprisingly great, even the annoying ones. I'd say it's probably not your speed, but maybe give it a shot when it hits $20 or so?

Moderator
#9 Edited by ArbitraryWater (11804 posts) -

@sparky_buzzsaw: Xillia is PS3 only, so I'm not really able to play it regardless. I was more referencing... Vesperia? That's the one that's on 360, right? But I guess a lot of what you've been talking about applies to the series as a whole, so maybe I'll jump down the dark hole of JRPGs I already own or would like to own than stuff that I'm not sure I would like to begin with.

#10 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6230 posts) -

@arbitrarywater: Vesperia's pretty darned good, but it's even more anime-assed anime than Xillia.

Completely unrelated, but I'm just finishing up the last few sidequests I've found before the end of the game, and I just realized there are huge plot threads that just get completely abandoned. I'm sure some side quests deal with them, but... damn. That might be a major fault I didn't know about before writing this.

Moderator
#11 Posted by clumsyninja1 (817 posts) -

I wish they had put dual audio or at least a Japanese voice over DLC. Other than that, I love the game.

#12 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6230 posts) -

@clumsyninja1: I really don't mind the voice actors though the option would have been neat. FYI, I think the guy who voices Jude has been a VO actor for just about every Japanese game translated to America, ever.

Moderator
#13 Edited by Chop (1999 posts) -

@sparky_buzzsaw said:

@clumsyninja1: I really don't mind the voice actors though the option would have been neat. FYI, I think the guy who voices Jude has been a VO actor for just about every Japanese game translated to America, ever.

The voice actors themselves are fine but whatever studio did the recording fucked up. The actual sound quality is total garbage; Milla in particular sounds as if her lines were recorded through a phone.

Lots of polish issues like that are very apparent, not just localization wise. Plus I feel like the game is missing the absurd amount of side content I've come to expect from the series and the battle system is a significant step down from Graces.

Overall, I think it ranks pretty low on the Tales scale for me.

#14 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6230 posts) -

@chop: I couldn't agree more. Have you reached any mine areas? The sound effects sound hilariously bad, like they had newspaper for sound insulation.

Moderator
#15 Posted by Petiew (1351 posts) -

I've only played around 5 hours of the game, and I'm finding it hard to want to continue to play. I can't even really think of a particular reason, but the whole game just feels really unremarkable. Pretty much everything in the game just seems plain. The items, characters, sounds, music, voices, quests, monsters, the hits in battle etc.

It's offensively average. I don't even understand why that bugs me so much.

Online
#16 Posted by JasonR86 (9715 posts) -

I like the game so far but I wish the production values were better. It really feels like a PS2 RPG not a PS3 game. I think that Tales of Symphonia might have had better production value (not in terms of graphics obviously just the overall quality of the package). The cutscenes are rough, some of the acting is rough, some of the anime-ness of the 'funny' bits are rough. But I'm liking it as a whole despite itself. But there are some rough edges. 3/5 so far. It's a totally serviceable JRPG which is better then a lot of other retail JRPGs out there.

#17 Edited by Chop (1999 posts) -

@jasonr86: I thought the exact same thing. It could be nostalgia fucking with me but I'm pretty sure the series has always managed better production values than what are on display in Xilla. Apparently it was rushed, which could explain a lot I guess.

#18 Edited by Yummylee (21792 posts) -
@jasonr86 said:

I like the game so far but I wish the production values were better. It really feels like a PS2 RPG not a PS3 game. I think that Tales of Symphonia might have had better production value (not in terms of graphics obviously just the overall quality of the package). The cutscenes are rough, some of the acting is rough, some of the anime-ness of the 'funny' bits are rough. But I'm liking it as a whole despite itself. But there are some rough edges. 3/5 so far. It's a totally serviceable JRPG which is better then a lot of other retail JRPGs out there.

I agree.

I've been enjoying myself well enough with Xillia, but it's got a dodgy framerate, a ridiculous amount of pop-in when exploring towns, and graphically overall it's all very bland and downright ugly in spots; hearing that it's rushed definitely fits the bill here.

Fortunately the combat is a lot of fun (if still not as good as it was in Graces), and while the story still hasn't really opened up yet despite like 25 hours of game time, it's surprisingly addicting to just go around collecting materials to upgrade shops.

Though actually when I say the combat's fun, I primarily mean as Jude. I was at first excited to have Leia join us, but then ultimately disappointed, because while she at first resembles how Judith plays in Vesperia, she's kinda sluggish and slow overall from my experience. Hell, everyone is in this game, but then maybe it only feels that way because Jude is so damned fast, which I really enjoy. I at first thought I'd stick with Alvin, with him being the guy with the demon fang's and sonic thrusts, but sticking to Jude and only Jude thus far has been enough to keep engaged. I've purposely decided not to play as Milla as well, since I'd want to play as her during her variation of the story.

Pleasantly surprised by the writing, or at least the skit banter, as it's a lot wittier than what I would have expected in a Tales game. I especially liked the skit where Rowen was criticising people who like cats and people wearing dumb cat ears and the like. Pretty meta almost, if also a little hypocritical, considering Tales often usually have some sort of alternate costume revolving around dressing up as a cat or something.

I've been playing an awful lot of Vesperia lately in conjunction, and it's such a huge gap between the quality of the two games. Vesperia still to this day looks fucking gorgeous as well, and I really hope they'll go back to that sort of art style soon, as Tales of Xillia 2 looks the exact same as this one. I just wish Namco would localise Vesperia's PS3 version... I'd be fine if they only added in subtitles in fact, I just love Vesperia so much that it sucks not to be able to play the complete version.

Anywhoo with Xillia, I'm probably only a quarter in at this point so I can't exactly come to any overall judgments. Like you said, I'm enjoying it well enough, but it's incredibly rough. It's similar to Graces in that it's got a lot caveats to deal with, but fortunately Xillia's low production values are still much easier to stomach than Graces cast of characters.

#19 Posted by oldenglishC (962 posts) -

I'm only about ten hours in or so myself, but I already think the battle system and the way the titles work are both big steps backwards for the series. You add that up with all the other things that everyone has mentioned, and the game has been a bit of a disappointment so far. The sweet spot would be Vesperia's style with Graces F's systems, but this game falls short on both accounts.

#20 Edited by YI_Orange (1151 posts) -

@sparky_buzzsaw: I haven't played Xillia, but I just wanna make a case for Yuri. Remember that part where he just wasted that dude on the bridge? That NEVER happens in anime bullshit but Yuri was just all "fuck it!". That alone makes him one of the best moderately cliche anime/jrpg characters.

#21 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6230 posts) -

@yi_orange: Yuri was a cool character, no doubt about it, but I don't think his supporting cast was as great as Xillia's. And when I have to spend 50 or so hours with a bunch of crazy anime-inspired characters, having a better cast in its entirety means more to me than a better protagonist. That said, I actually do like Jude (the male protagonist) in Xillia. He plays into some anime tropes, but there's a quiet earnestness that I like about him. He's no Yuri, but he's certainly not terrible.

@oldenglishc: I think we're going to have to agree to disagree about the combat system, which I liked immensely, but as for the titles, I still don't feel like the series has quite ever done what I'd like with them. I like giving appearance items and trophies being given out for certain titles, but I wouldn't mind seeing some passive (or active) bonuses being included as well. Say, a permanent damage modifier that adds 2% once you've killed X number of enemies, or a 20% faster flee time when you've run from X number of battles. I know prior games have linked titles to the game world in a more serviceable fashion, which I liked immensely too. Some mixture of all of these ideas would be ideal, but that's asking for an awful lot, I guess.

@yummylee: @chop: @jasonr86: Hmmm. I can't really argue with you on the production values of Xillia, especially in comparison to something so well-designed as Vesperia (and to a lesser extent, I'd say Tales of the Abyss, which had a terrific art design). I did like the general design, though I would've liked to have seen more of a technologically advanced Tales of... world. I thought the character designs were about as generic as any other Tales games, though I think the voice actors did a surprisingly decent job with the material. I know we've heard some of these folks (particularly Jude and Alvin's VO actors), but I was pretty impressed with them on this.

I definitely agree that Jude's combat is a hell of a lot more fun than any other character on the field, especially when you start boosting his AC to ridiculous levels and get that wicked tornado/whirlwind combination with Leia that has a short suck-in range for all the enemies on the field. Holy hell, that attack is ridiculously overpowered (and I wouldn't have it any other way).

Moderator
#22 Posted by IrrelevantJohn (1074 posts) -

Can someone explain to me why a lot of people say the battle system in Graces F is better than every other Tales game? All I get out of it was you can basically spam the same move over and over without draining a meter.

#23 Posted by JasonR86 (9715 posts) -

@sparky_buzzsaw:

Oh My GOD the little girl and fucking stuffed animal are the fucking WORST! They improve? Do they die? I'd be up for that.

#24 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6230 posts) -

@jasonr86: They do improve, but they're still irritating, I'm afraid. It seems like every Tales game has to include at least one or two infuriatingly stupid characters. The girl and puppet-thing are Xillia's.

Moderator
#25 Edited by Mcfart (1627 posts) -

@sparky_buzzsaw said:

@yi_orange: Yuri was a cool character, no doubt about it, but I don't think his supporting cast was as great as Xillia's. And when I have to spend 50 or so hours with a bunch of crazy anime-inspired characters, having a better cast in its entirety means more to me than a better protagonist. That said, I actually do like Jude (the male protagonist) in Xillia. He plays into some anime tropes, but there's a quiet earnestness that I like about him. He's no Yuri, but he's certainly not terrible.

Just wanted to get my 2 cents in. People always praise Vesperia partially because Yuri was cool, but don't forget that the cast around him was TERRIBLE. Allow me to describe them with 1 sentence each:

Estelle - naive

Rita - nutty genius kid

Repede - for fans of furries

Karol - the dumb annoying anime kid that "grows up" through the game

Raven - creepy and comic relief

Judith - scantily-clad Elf

Also for everyone saying that the kid's (Elize's) voice is terrible, don't forget that I'm pretty sure that VA voiced Collette in Symphonia. She sounded fine there, so the distortion was probably because of a microphone taken out of a trash can.

Xillia has the same architypes, but a little toned down. Though cat lady is god damn creepy, and they never explain why she's dressed that way.

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