Tales of Arise is a bold vision of the future for the franchise, but there’s a lot of history tied to the game’s design. While Tales of Arise, of course, has plenty of elements from the rest of the series, it also bears a striking resemblance to another prominent JRPG franchise: Star Ocean.
Warning: This piece has minor spoilers for Tales of Arise.
The Tales series was first created by Telenet Japan’s Wolf Team, which signed a contract with Namco to publish Tales of Phantasia. Core members of Wolf Team then left because of conflicts over what Namco wanted, such as tri-Ace President Yoshiharu Gotanda, who worked as a programmer on Tales of Phantasia. Because so many members of Wolf Team moved over, Star Ocean has always found its roots in the Tales series, and the two franchises have had similar trajectories over the years.
Tales games have toyed around with a lot of sci-fi elements over the years, but by and large, they stick to more standard fantasy themes and anime tropes. Tales of Arise, on the other hand, isn’t afraid to jump right into the sci-fi side of things. The story setup in the first few minutes illustrates a conflict between worlds, as the Rehnans land on Dahna in starships and enslave its inhabitants. By contrast, Star Ocean has always blended sci-fi with high fantasy, having its characters explore “underdeveloped” planets. In Star Ocean: Till the End of Time the man character, Fayt Leingod, crash lands on the planet of Vanguard III, having to hide his futuristic technology from the underdeveloped inhabitants that are still in the Dark Ages.
Tales of Arise embraces the idea of two separate planetary cultures, but its themes of racism and subjugation push things in a different direction than the typical Star Ocean. Still, the blend of sci-fi and fantasy is strikingly similar to tri-Ace’s series, and that’s especially true as Tales of Arise’s story starts introducing some major twists near the end. Even the look and feel of the sci-fi elements feel closer to Star Ocean than anything the Tales series has seen before; just look at the design of the starship the party gets late in the game in Arise and compare that to the Calnus from Star Ocean: The Last Hope.
Even the basic story structure of Tales of Arise draws comparisons to Star Ocean, as Alphen and the party take down the lords to free Dahna then make their way off the planet and learn about the bigger picture. Nearly every Star Ocean game features a section on a “starting” planet, before expanding the scope of the story and universe as the main cast moves off planet.
Of course, the similarities between the two series apply to more than simply aesthetics and story designs. Star Ocean and Tales have always sported similar combat systems, again going back to the connection between the studios, but that’s never been more true than with Arise. Both games put a heavy emphasis on skill use and linking combos together. The dodge system also heavily encourages perfect timing, similar to the Blindside system in Star Ocean: The Last Hope, which would reward players with powerful back attacks for perfect dodges.
One of the more interesting similarities comes down to the soundtrack. Motoi Sakuraba has been the longtime composer for both series, but he’s had a distinctive style in each. Tales of Arise, however, takes a much more orchestral approach to music than past games in the series, and it ends up making the soundtrack feel closer to Star Ocean than Tales. It’s the combination of orchestra, electric guitar, and keyboard that has for years defined Star Ocean. Just listen to the sixth battle theme from Tales of Arise, and it sounds like something ripped right out of any Star Ocean game. That’s not to criticize, of course, as Tales of Arise’s soundtrack is brilliant and evolves the sound of the series in meaningful ways.
That sentiment applies to everything really, as Tales of Arise’s numerous similarities to Star Ocean aren't a bad thing by any means. Star Ocean fell into obscurity because the later entries didn’t recognize the need to modernize and change some of their archaic design. Tales of Arise does recognize the need for Bandai Namco’s franchise to change and evolve, and it’s taken liberal steps to do just that. The elements that feel similar to Star Ocean help Tales of Arise feel like something new and fresh. It’s hard to say if Star Ocean will ever make a comeback, especially after the dismal reception of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. But if that is the case, a new sci-fi focus from Tales could help fill that niche that fans have been craving. You can bet I was surprised to find that Tales of Arise wasn’t just the Tales game I always wanted, but the Star Ocean game I always wanted as well.