There’s a simple, intrinsic satisfaction that comes with savoring a delicious, filling meal. Even when one bite tastes more acidic or bitter than expected, the next one more than makes up for it, keeping the flavor balanced and engaging. Tales of Arise captures that feeling incredibly well, keeping players hooked through the highs and lows of its roughly 45-hour journey.
Like many JRPGs, Tales of Arise stars a band of misfits who have to save the world. However, by the end, you’ll find yourself caring about this family of six more than anything else. Amid all the fighting and exploring, they’ll grow on you, clearly standing out as the strongest — and best — part of the experience. Even though the game occasionally stumbles with difficulty spikes and some pacing issues, Tales of Arise stands as a triumphant return to form after the mainline franchise’s five-year absence.
The Tale of Two Worlds
Tales of Arise paints a rich picture of its universe. The story primarily unfolds in the world of Dahna, a land where its people are subjugated by the allegedly superior Renans. For 300 years, Renans erased much of Dahna’s culture and identity, even stripping its people of last names. For the most part, Dahnans have lost the will to fight back because that’s just the way their lives have always been. You lead a party that’s a mix of Dahnans and Renans, seeking to right the injustices in the world. Alphen, a former slave, leads the group, and his goal is to ensure that everyone has the right to freedom, no matter their background.
As you might expect, heavier topics like slavery, oppression, and racism play a central role. The primary cast of characters all bring different worldviews to the table, shining different lights on the game’s central themes. Tales of Arise depicts the follies of blind prejudice in a fairly nuanced, if slightly ham-fisted, way. The lessons it tries to convey aren’t necessarily profound or earth-shattering, but the themes feel eerily relevant in the year 2021.
The narrative itself takes a lot of twists and turns, with major reveals happening throughout. Things aren’t always what they seem, and the deeper you go, the more your old assumptions of the world start to unravel. Dense lore accompanies all these plot twists, creating this feeling of an ever-expanding world that slowly unveils itself rather than overwhelming you all at once. Simply put, you get time to digest this rich setting, and it’s very much needed.
You’ll travel between towns and major cities, each one feeling like a character in and of themselves. Cysloden’s frozen, snowy landscape complements its people’s cold demeanor, while the grandeur of Elde Menancia coexists with the lush greenery that surrounds it. They all feel alive with their own stories to tell, with the only distraction being the really noticeable pop-in for most NPCs and some textures. From afar, these cities can look a little lifeless, but up close, they’re brimming with energy.
Tales of Arise blends its fantasy setting with sci-fi, creating an atmosphere that feels uniquely its own. Magic spells and cutting-edge technology work together, bringing the world’s architecture to life, especially in the later towns. This juxtaposed tone is set early when you meet your first two party members. Alphen looks like your typical fantasy swordsman, clad in armor as he swings his blade coated in magical elements. However, Shionne, the next party member you meet, wields a futuristic rifle that she materializes out of thin air, thanks to Renan technology.
One Big, Happy Family of Friends
Sci-fi and fantasy mix well in Tales of Arise, but that has nothing on the camaraderie among the six party members — especially the blazing chemistry between Alphen and Shionne. Nestled in this grand narrative is a touching story of a found family. Alphen and Shionne act as the older siblings, while Rinwell and Law play the more naive, bright-eyed little brother and sister. Kisara and Dohalim round out the party, acting as the mama bear and eccentric uncle respectively.
Throughout the story, you’ll watch their bonds bloom as they look out for one another. At first, it’s simply a business transaction — they share the same goal, so they work together. But slowly, you’ll learn more about them as people; they’ll talk about their favorite foods, make fun of each other’s little quirks, and encourage each other to grow. They all learn to lean on each other, to the point where they can’t imagine a life without these newfound loved ones. By the time I rolled credits, I was more invested in their individual happiness rather than whatever the fate of the world was.
While “save the world” feels like a lofty, high-brow goal, it’s all of our heroes’ intimate ties to that mission that grounds Tales of Arise’s narrative.
The key to creating these rich characters lies in a Tales tradition: skits. As you roam the world, a prompt will show up, cuing a short, optional cutscene. For Tales of Arise, these skits have been revamped with a new style — instead of 2D character animation like in Tales of Berseria, these scenes unfold in a manga-inspired way. Each panel includes the actual character models interacting with each other, including whatever costumes you have on them. It adds a personal touch to these moments, and the comic-inspired style lends itself well to character reactions and development.
These skits are where you’ll learn about a majority of these characters’ motivations and desires. Some skits capture their shock or excitement after a major story event, while others show our heroes lamenting over Alphen’s unyielding need to cook spicy food. Some of the strongest scenes are the heart-to-heart interactions between Alphen and his teammates. Everyone’s going through their own thing, and Alphen’s always there to break down any walls they put around themselves.
Many of these hardships, while deeply personal, also have roots that tie back to the overarching narrative. While “save the world” feels like a lofty, high-brow goal, it’s all of our heroes’ intimate ties to that mission that grounds Tales of Arise’s narrative. How much you’ll enjoy the story wholly depends on whether you fall in love with these characters, and luckily, the game excels at bringing them to life.
The Arte of Combat
Our heroes constantly fight for their lives, too, meaning combat will take up a large chunk of your time in Tales of Arise. Like previous games in the franchise, combat is a real-time, action-based affair. You control only one character at a time, though you can swap to whoever at a moment’s notice. Each character gets a basic attack combo based on their weapon — Alphen swings his sword, Law punches, and so on — and they can execute artes. Artes act as skills or spells and consume a meter that refills after you finish a combo string.
You’ll quickly rack up a nearly overwhelming list of artes to choose from, but that also gives you ample opportunity to experiment. You can craft your own playstyle, discovering which set of artes works for you. Whether you like huge, destructive spells or small, quick flurries, you’ll be able to craft a versatile combo string that suits nearly every situation. Beyond that, every character has a special ability that changes their fundamental playstyle. For example, as Alphen, holding the button after an arte unleashes a devastating attack with his Blazing Sword — at the cost of HP. Meanwhile, Rinwell can bank up one charge of a spell, letting her execute a more devastating version of that attack when you cast it again.
While you can only play as one character at a time, you can call on your teammates to unleash a Boost Attack. These utility abilities go on cooldown when used, but they give you the option to counter nearly anything as long as you make the right choice. Rinwell cancels enemy spells, while Dohalim slows down fast-moving targets. Beyond that, calling on your teammates also resets your own meter, allowing you to continue your combo. By thoughtfully managing your team and reacting to the battlefield, your options are nearly limitless.
Generally speaking, your game plan will be to break the opponent’s defenses. Once that’s broken, you have a chance to execute a powerful, flashy Boost Strike that looks like it leapt straight out of your favorite shonen anime. Two party members team up, mixing their attacks to unleash a destructive finisher. These stylish attacks often kill whatever enemy it hits, and there’s something so satisfying about finishing a fight with these.
Down the line, after the kid gloves come off, combat can often get very frenetic. A frenzy of explosive spells and attacks will constantly splash your screen with a wash of color, and it’s up to you to make sense of it all without breaking your combo. That constant challenge creates the perfect condition for entering a flow state. Every second, you have to make a decision. How do I counter the enemy? Which arte will put me in the best position? When should I tag in a teammate? There are always multiple answers to these questions, making combat feel fresh and invigorating even after 40 hours.
Pacing Issues Arise
Unfortunately, there are moments where the combat feels a little unbalanced. You’ll clear dungeons easily, mowing down the basic enemies. Then the boss will take you down in one or two hits, forcing you to rely on — and deplete — your stock of healing items. This eats into your budget, and at times, it can force you to grind for money just to survive. No matter how good my armor was, I found it did little in the face of some bosses.
In some ways, this dramatic need for resources almost makes side quests essential. They often unlock abilities that can be crucial to your survival, like stat buffs or passive abilities. They also award you with Skill Points, which unlock those passive abilities, at a faster rate than grinding out random monsters. Some of these side quests are fun, with cute writing and playful moments. However, a majority of them boil down to lifeless fetch questing or monster hunting. Doing a string of side quests can feel a little mindless, despite the useful rewards.
Luckily, the fast travel system in Tales of Arise is generous enough that you won’t have to run around too much to finish most side quests. Many maps have a set fast travel point, often near camps, that you can warp to from anywhere. This significantly cuts down any time spent running around, which is helpful considering the size of some maps. While they’re gorgeous and set the mood, they can feel a little too large, with open swaths of wasteland or windingly long hallways. These really become noticeable whenever fast travel is disabled for story reasons, which often forces you to run backwards through a dungeon you just cleared. All that running around can hamper some of the pacing, especially after big story moments, but at least the silence gets filled up with the generally killer soundtrack and fun party banter.
Tales of Arise Review - The Indomitable Power of Friendship
Tales of Arise masterfully brings its starring characters to life, fleshing them out with their own motivations, desires, and flaws. It tells the story of six motley misfits fighting for a better world, with much of what they hold dear at stake. The combat, while occasionally difficult, pushes players to always experiment and find ways to keep their combos going. Despite some pacing hiccups, the overall package will likely leave many JRPG fans satisfied and craving more. If you let yourself get invested in these characters, you’ll fall in love with them through to the end — and maybe even shed some tears along the way.
TechRaptor reviewed Tales of Arise on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
- Stellar Combat Keeps You Vigilant and Engaged
- Beloved Cast Brought to Life Through Skits
- Rich World Blends Sci-Fi & Fantasy
- Inconsistent Difficulty Spikes
- Strong Side Quests Buried in a Sea of Weak Ones
- Occasional Backtracking Slightly Hampers Pacing