Comfy slippers. That’s the saying I need for Tales of Xillia, ‘like a pair of comfy slippers’, only I’m going to have to expand on that a bit; ‘Like a pair of comfy slippers you stumbled across in the loft, wore for five minutes, then remembered why you stopped wearing them’.
Oh yes, there’s a lavish animé intro. Oh indeed, the city architecture is massive and almost impressive. Oh aye, the voice acting is dreadful. During my recent hour-ish with Xillia the only thing my mind kept landing on was wondering when the Tales series become so RPG by numbers?
I’m not even going to mention anything mechanical yet, just look at the squad. The vanilla hero, the wise old one, the cute diffident Mage, the tomboy, the cocky rogue and the ultra cute ‘shouldn’t you be in school?’ character (complete with cute sidekick). In the name of Sakaguchi, aren’t we past this? The lack of originality in Xillia’s cast is almost abhorrent.
And it’s not like this lineup is new to Tales, or even being sent up by Xillia. I played Tales of the Abyss recently and returned to Symphonia not so long ago, these are painfully trite character archetypes that don’t elicit warm feelings of nostalgia in me so much as eye-rolls and groans.
And yet that was far from the worst foible I encountered in the preview build of this remnant. Upon loading the game I took a wander around the cities of Shatilton and Fennmont and was shocked by the appalling pop-in of characters. Everyone mysteriously seeped into the world as if the place was filled with ghosts. I can almost deal with my character’s roller skate controls – the map hardly calls for precision – and the twinkly map objects almost seem like a quaint throwback, but the city really lacked a sense of place due to the weak NPC presence made all the more spooky through said constant pop-in. It’s not even that complex a game, visually speaking, and it comes across as lazy.
Not that it’s all bad. Tales of Xillia’s combat retains the trademark Tales style, and it remains the one redeeming element of the series. Based as much on action and player input as it is stats, Tales of Xillia lets you target characters and move around an arena during combat rather than stand stock and choose abilities, you use the moves you unlock to land combos of your own design.
It’s thrilling, and the boss fights were tough calls. It still feels great to avoid attacks in a JRPG environment and Xillia feels nicely lenient in this regard. Move smart and you can do a lot to negate a lot of the potential damage. This isn’t a full bloodied action game mind you, there are still times when an enemy will bust out an un-blockable attack (the final boss of my preview wiped out my entire squad with one fire-y sky lance), but Tales’ slight action slant is still most welcome and the combat ran at a buttery smooth 60 fps even with the magic flying.
New to Xillia is the act of ‘linking’. You can join two characters in combat by a visual umbilical cord and this gives the pair of them a joint buff. The A.I. of your linked buddy will also focus on helping you in combat, surrounding your current foe. It’s a nice feature and post combat hurrahs tend to focus on these pairings, building inter character relations with quaint sparks of dialogue.
Everything else I encountered in this preview build was ‘classic’ Tales. The ‘skits’ are still told through barely animated picture boxes. The architecture still lacks a certain clarity in its design, coming across as low budget. The world map, from what I saw, was at least a step up from the Kaiju style of huge characters in a tiny world that managed to persist until Vesperia – this world was more properly proportioned more akin to the likes of Blue Dragon.
Tales of Xillia feels like a relic. Joyfully ignorant of the strides made in JRPG design by the likes of Xenoblade and completely lacking in the retrospective respect and homage that defined Ni No Kuni, Xillia appears to continue the minuscule iterative design that has kept the Tales series so barely relevant for far too many years. If you’re a Tales fan then this preview will have likely set your teeth on edge and, for you, Xillia will be fine; another pair of comfy slippers. For anyone else Tales of Xillia appears to be a cliché controlled jaunt into painful 90’s design embarrassments, and that’s not as comfy a proposal as it used to be.