I found a copy of Tales of Xillia at my public library, because my library lends video games and is therefore cooler than your library.
I’ve heard some pretty good things about the Tales franchise games available on the PS3. I myself have not played a Tales game since the original, Tales of Phantasia, a game released in Japan on the Super Famicon and later ported to the GBA, which was the first iteration that reached the United States. I played the hell out the GBA version on my GameBoy SP, mostly during my 100-level health lecture course in undergrad. Fond memories.
I haven’t touched the series since, though not because I wished it any ill. I really liked the active battle system of Tales of Phantasia, though the story was kind of goofy. One way or another, I simply somehow managed to never pick up another one of the games.
Until today! I’ve played about three hours so far, and I am at the moment slightly obsessed, although I have mixed feelings about the game as a whole. In brief:
Things That Are Good about Tales of Xillia
1. It’s very pretty to look at.
The game is about five years old at this point, and it’s still beautiful, with colorful, anime-inspired graphics and a world full of interesting and varied settings.
2. Battles are frenetic, fast, and fun.
The battle system takes all of the things I liked about Tales of Phantasia’s battles and adds a dash of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. I’m still getting the hang of the face buttons + joystick directional commands, but I’m liking them, and I appreciate the emphasis on proper timing to successfully guard against enemies and perform link specials. Also (and this is very important in a JRPG), battles are quick. Most monster encounters so far have taken less than 30 seconds, when you’re going to be fighting literally thousands of encounters over the course of a JRPG, having the majority of them be painlessly quick keeps up the pace.
(Unlike some JRPGs I could name. Bravely Second, I’m looking at you.)
3. The Sphere Grid…uh, I mean, the Lillium Orb is super neat.
I was always a big fan of Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid, but really any suitably complex character development system with branching paths tickles my inner fiddly bits fangirl.
4. The battle music is awesome.
Look, again, if you’re going to be fighting a thousand battles and listening to the same song a thousand times, you want that song to be really fucking rad. The battle themes in this game remind me strongly of the battle music in Star Ocean, which is not at all a bad thing.
5. I have the option to play a lady.
Still rare enough in JRPGs that it makes me excited.
6. Mercenary Alvin Svint is sexy.
Things That Annoy Me about Tales of Xillia
1. The cutscenes drag on forever.
There are a lot of cutscenes, which isn’t bad in and of itself, but there are weirdly long pauses between every line of dialogue, so the scenes are. So. Slow. It’s bad enough that I’ve taken to keeping my 3DS next to me on the couch so that I can grind in Bravely Second while I wait for the characters to finish saying whatever the hell it is they are saying.
2. The voice acting is…not great.
Mind you, it’s not terrible. It’s no Star Ocean: The Last Hope. But it’s not great. Alvin has the best voice actor of the lot so far. Milla Maxwell’s delivery is particularly wooden, and while I know she’s supposed to be still figuring out how to be a human, her lines are still weirdly unnatural.
3. The story is clearly designed to only make sense if you play through it with both characters.
While I love the option to pick a protagonist, and I understand some of the appeal of seeing “both sides of the story,” it drives me crazy when games with dual protagonists structure their cutscenes so that you often won’t know what the hell is going on unless you play the game through twice. Case in point: early in the game, when Milla heads to the city of Fennmont to infiltrate a military base, Jude just shows up out of nowhere with zero explanation. I’m sure that this is clearly laid out in his cutscenes, but when I’m playing as Milla, the introduction is jarring. Also, I’m playing 31 games right now. I don’t have time to play a JRPG twice. Who has time for that?
4. The story is so far boring and predictable.
The story thus far: Once upon a time, there was a lord of all spirits named Maxwell, because when I think “Lord of All,” I think “Maxwell.” Some shit with the spirits got out of whack because irresponsible humans are doing irresponsible things with the mako energy…I mean, the spyrix, and building nukes with spirit energy or something. Now we have to go on a quest to get the spirits back and save the world. We’ve been joined on our quest by Balthier/Han Solo/Alvin, and it looks like we’re going to be picking up an irritating child character with a creepy doll pretty soon. There’s a lot of waaaacky anime banter. Isn’t it wacky? Yada yada yada, spyrix.
Time will tell if Tales of Xillia will hold my attention. It’s rare that a JRPG’s mechanics are a strong enough draw for me to ignore a story in which I have little interest. I’m certainly glad I picked it up either way. Especially because: