As I opened up the starting area in Tales of Arise, the first thing I felt was an overwhelming sense of excitement. It’s been nearly 5 years since Bandai Namco’s Tales of Berseria came out, and even back then the game - while exciting and full of a cast of wicked, enthralling characters and a phenomenal story - looked very 2011.
This is not the case for Tales of Arise at all. Quite the opposite. The moment you enter into the demo you’re met with a game that looks like it belongs on the current-gen of consoles. The trees look like they go out for miles, the skies and mountains are picturesque, and more importantly, the characters you control both in and out of combat look absolutely sublime and well designed. It’s certainly a significant step forward, graphically at least, from Berseria.
During my time with the Tales of Arise preview demo, I got to decide who you’d be first starting as. Because I’d already decided I liked the look of Lady-Knight Kisara, it didn’t take me long at all to pick her and go exploring. And boy, was there a lot of exploring to do. From picking up items as you travel throughout locations, swimming and yoinking fish from streams to listening to your party talk to one another from time to time after combat or when interacting with the environment… It felt like I was always doing something or having something about the world revealed to me without the game becoming oppressive by feeding me constant knowledge.
It isn’t too long into the starting area that I’m introduced to combat by having to fight some zeugles. I’m not entirely sure if zeugles are just another word for monsters in this game, but if so then, eh… I’m sure it’ll make sense later on, even if it doesn’t right now.
Regardless, combat has varied wildly throughout the Tales of series, and the combat in Tales of Arise is no exception to this. For one, it feels as though it’s a lot flashier. In previous Tales of games, it always felt particularly nice when you got off a Mystic Arte and witnessed an animated, combat-focused cutscene with two particular party members. It felt like an achievement of so many combos or doing a certain move right even in the heat of combat.
While there are Mystic Artes in this game, the introduction of Boost Strikes does feel like it takes away some of that ‘magic’ of a specific control input being rewarded with some incredible, slick animation. Unlike Mystic Artes, Boost Strikes one-hit kill attacks that are earned by smacking away at enemies and engaging in high-numbered combos and different 'Arte attacks' to fill up a blue, diamond-shaped meter. Once full, you press one of the four sides of the D-Pad - depending on whether you want to do an attack with Shionne or Alphen, for example - and the character who you selected will perform their Boost Attack. The three Boost Attacks that stood out were between Dohalim and Kisara, Law and Rinwell, and the two protagonists, Shionne and Alphen, but I’m almost certain that later on there will be more Boost Attacks that switch up these pairings.
Again, these Boost Attacks may feel less of a build-up than the Mystic Artes, but I quite like that Bandai Namco have taken the best thing about duo Mystic Artes and have made them a little more common to see. It feels more like you’re actively fighting together and bouncing off one another rather than just spamming buttons and doing your own thing. It also helps that, like the majority of Tales of games, you’re able to strategize your party whenever you like - making it much easier to fight with the same objective in mind, whether that be manning an all-out assault or going on the defensive.
After you get the hang of combat through a few enemies lying about, you eventually end up making your way into a much more open world on the way to Viscint City. You’re not really given more than a few lines of dialogue on why you and the rest of the party are going there, but at that time your levels are in the mid-20s, so (I assume) you aren’t too far into the game and your reasons for going there will be fleshed out later on. The only problem is that when we arrive at Viscint, we discover it’s on lockdown because there’s a particularly terrifying Zeugle that is terrorizing the area.
It’s during this talk with Drashin, the worker who informs the party about what’s happening with the Zeugle and the city that we finally get to see a bit more of the dynamic of Shionne and Alphen. Shionne is very high maintenance and isn’t too fond of doing tasks for others, even if it ultimately benefits her. Alphen on the other hand is more than happy to help, cheerfully volunteering to risk his life to help Viscint with its Zeugle problem. It’s only when Alphen convinces Shionne that she’d be much more comfortable in the city than stuck on a smelly ranch with Drashin that Shionne agrees to go along with the reckless plan. Oh, and also Drashin has to make sure she’s well-fed and looked after once the job is done too. She says all this with a glare on her face, whilst Alphen looks on with a happy smile. While it’s far too early for me to be sure of anything, I’m almost certain that I’m going to very much like the happy-go-lucky puppy dog aura that Alphen gives off and Shionne’s complimentary, stoic attitude.
This was only one example of an interaction between the two protagonists, but it seems that in Tales of Arise there will be more of a focus on bonds than ever. For one there’s a camp system that lets you cook and make meals, as well as view past skits - which I didn’t see during this preview, but it’s good to get solid confirmation that they’ll still be in the game. It’s a comfy setting for the most part and works well with the ever-changing day/night cycle. It’s also just a really nice touch to see my party members sit next to one another and bask in each other’s company. Feels good, feels organic.
Even crafting has improved in this game. Instead of having to go into major cities to find a vendor to specifically craft you new weapons and armour, you now can find travelling vendors that'll sell you healing items, crafting materials, weapons, armour, etc. Now you'll just also have the option to craft stuff from them, too.
There are some rough edges to the game though, despite mostly enjoying my time with Tales of Arise. During the start of the game, there were some places where Shionne or Alphen didn’t speak, which isn’t a dealbreaker, but I found it puzzling, particularly at seeing Alphen and Shionne move their mouths to form words but with no vocal track. I can only assume - and hope - that this will be added later on otherwise it’ll be darn jarring to look at. There was also a lot of repetitive dialogue while exploring, which does show off the great voice work from the game’s actors, but gets frustrating when you’ve already heard the same speech from Law each and every time you come across something.
Ultimately I wish we could have had a look at some of the party dynamic outside of combat and exploration, but I understand why Bandai Namco wants to keep that under wraps. So far, it looks really promising and I’m excited to see what lies in store for players when Tales of Arise officially releases on September 10th this year.