REVIEW: Tales of Xillia (PS3)

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review-line.JPGName: Tales of Xillia

Genre: JRPG

Platform: PlayStation 3

Price: £46.92 from Amazon

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The PlayStation 3 bags another top-notch JRPG in its twilight years with Tales Of Xillia, a deep and rewarding adventure with a keen visual eye and kinetic combat system. But does its story do enough to keep you hooked for the entirety of its lengthy tale? Read our full review to find out!

review-line.JPGThe reported death of the JRPG has been greatly exaggerated, with this year alone seeing the release of the fantastic Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and Fire Emblem Awakening, two games likely to feature heavily in annual “Best of” lists come the end of the year. While Tales of Xillia doesn’t quite hit the heights of either of those games, it remains a strong entry in the long-running “Tales of” series, and a worthy play for fans of the genre.

Though typically dense, Tales of Xillia’s story is an intriguing one. A potentially devastating weapon called the Lance Kresnik has put the unsteady political factions of the world of Rieze Maxia on the precipice of an apocalyptic conflict. It’s against this backdrop that the game’s two leads are introduced, a young doctor named Jude Mathis and a mysterious, supernaturally powerful girl named Milla Maxwell. As you’d expect, it’ll be up to these two unlikely companions and a gang of their pals to prevent the world’s irrevocable demise.
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Things can get a bit heavy, and the political intrigue convoluted, but Tales of Xillia’s story plays out at a breakneck speed, twisting and turning regularly, throwing the leads into one desperate situation followed by another. Even when it drops the ball (often a case of this particular reviewer losing track of a shift in allegiance or other such story detail), you’re never far away from another jaw dropping location or revelation.

From the outset, you’re given the choice of playing through the game from primarily Jude or Milla’s perspective, a choice that leads to a subtly different experience dependant on which you opt for, and adding to the game’s replay value.

With no traditional world map to explore, the game initially feels a little linear, guiding you from area to area, pushing the story along all the while. However, the game’s quick travel system lets you jump from location to location quickly, and actually proves to be a surprisingly enjoyable way to navigate the world. Rather than wondering over a bland overworld, Xillia focusses on its well-populated towns and dungeons, and gives worthy reasons to revisit each by offering fresh rewards and challenges for returned visits.
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That’s helped along by the game’s dynamic combat system. Eschewing the dated turn-based systems that have dragged the genre down in recent times, Tales of Xillia’s battles are fast-paced and frenetic. Though affected by stats and available skills, battles at times feel more like a brawler than an RPG, with players hurtling around the 3D battle fields, delivering fatal melee blows and ranged attacks all the while. Party members are AI controlled (though you can program their tactics to fill a specific role on the battlefield), and teaming up with them at key moments in battles allows you to pull off ridiculous joint combination attacks. Enemies are a well thought out challenge too, preventing players from spamming attack buttons blindly and requiring a proper battle plan to fell each time.

The combat system is well supported by the game’s smart character and equipment progression systems. Rather than using a straight levelling upgrade path, Tales of Xillia offers up points to spend on the Lilium Orb system, a giant grid from which to select powers and specialisations for each character. It’s similar in practice to Final Fantasy XII’s License Board, but far more flexible – you can mould each character more or less to your liking, allowing you to fine tune a fully-magical party if that suits your play style best.

Weapons and gear are handled equally refreshingly. Rather than relying upon merchants and shops to dig out the best stuff, you’ve got sacrifice some of the loot and gear you’ve already acquired to unlock the next tier of ace equipment. It takes away some of the need for backtracking that some JRPGs suffer from heavily (though the nifty quick travel system and speedy loading times help in this respect too) while adding an addictive collection system into the mix too.

Visually, Tales of Xillia has fantastic art direction. The anime-stylings of characters and locations chime in well with the plotline, and some fantastical locations bring life to some of the more cumbersome areas of the story. Much of the game’s story is told in-engine, and the odd time that it does fall into an animated cutscene sees the art teams transition near-seamlessly.
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However, it’s technically inconsistent. Busier towns suffer from notable pop-in, while character models lack the detail and finesse of recent JRPGs, like the stunning Ni No Kuni. The “Tales of” series has never had groundbreaking visuals, but the two year delay between Xillia’s European release and Japanese debut paints the game as unfairly aged in the graphics department.

It’s a similar situation with the game’s audio. A superb soundtrack complements the action throughout, resonating well with Xillia’s emotional highs and lows, and with a number of tunes that will stick in your head long after the final credits roll. For the most part the voice acting is great too, with Jude and the supporting core party cast being charming and believable. Their efforts are let down though by Milla’s voice acting, which is all over the place, and often feeling tonally removed from the rest of the cast. Considering she’s a major player in the story, and carries a large portion of the plot along, it’s frustratingly shoddy.

Pressed for time, I raced through the main campaign in around 40 hours, but you could easily add another 10 or 15 hours on top of that, maybe more, if you were to see every side-quest through to completion and hunt out the greatest loot. Keep in mind that there are two slightly different perspectives from which to experience the story, and you could theoretically double that, and have a superficially fresh adventure. Paced very well, that’s an undertaking we’d be more than happy to go for.

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Verdict:

Tales of Xillia has moments of brilliance, particularly in its combat system, that make it one of the most enjoyable JRPGs of recent times. It has some presentational flaws, and its protracted release hasn’t done it any favours, but they’re easy to gloss over once you lose yourself in its systems and sumptuous world.review-line.JPG

4/5

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Gerald Lynch