Tales of Xillia Review

Namco debuted their Tales series on the Super Famicom back in 1995. Beginning as a turn based, very traditional JRPG affair, the series evolved nicely to the point that more latter-day instalments like Tales of Symphonia and Vesperia were highly enjoyable adventures that specialised in an innovative brand of fast-paced, real time combat. Whilst they aren’t sitting at the top table with your Final Fantasies, Dragon Quests and Personas, you can generally rely on a Tales sequel to provide a solid chunk of fantasy role-playing action.

Japanese audiences and critics adored the latest instalment in the series, Tales of Xillia, when it was released in 2011. Like many of the preceding titles, it spawned myriad tie-ins, including novelizations, anime, Special Edition packages and even a sequel. Quite why this is the case boggles the mind, as it’s a weak entry in the Tales canon with plenty of problems that we cannot be alone in picking up on. The step to localise it for the West is consistent with Namco’s past activity, yet this is one two year-old romp we could have safely gone without.

Set in the land of Reize Maxia, you play one of two main selectable characters: the wide eyed, spiky-haired and incredibly dull med student Jude, or Milla, a disappointing cookie-cutter anime lass with a moody attitude, extraordinary mane of hair and predictable air of spirit-based mystery. The pair exist in a time where humans have evolved enough to use part of their brain to employ mana and in turn access magical powers. The game opens in a suitably steam-punky medical school and research facility, where the pair uncovers an evil plot to power a devastating weapon using mana pinched from unsuspecting victims in the vicinity. Moving forward, you get to add more characters to your party, including a little girl with a talking doll. But this is a tale hewn from clichés, packed with dishwater dialogue, boring characters and unimaginative settings.

A good role player grabs your attention straight away, creates a reason to keep you interested, something to drag you into its powerful clutches and never let you go. Xillia eschews this in favour of a tedious trudge around a bland medical school setting, a murky sewer and then a seemingly endless, grey/green research building. The enemies here are lousy, which is standard, you might argue – after all, you have to learn the ropes somewhere. But even early on there are loads of them, and they can be defeated in less than three seconds. There are some treasure chests, which contain items that can be used and combined and tinkered with later on – but they are as uninspiring as the settings. Within the first eight minutes I had collected a lump of wood and some dung. Thanks! Remember how Resident Evil used to have shiny glittery indicators when there was an item? That happens here too.

The voice localisation job is a dreadful reading of a lousy script, and can be switched off so you can just listen to the decent music instead. The game doesn’t look great – starting out murky and dull and not improving significantly as you progress. There are jarring differences between the main characters – who are straight out of Anime 101 and designed by the same bloke who did character design for Sakura Wars – and the strange, haunted looking anatomically accurate NPC characters. It also suffers from pop-up that makes Dynasty Warriors come off favourably in comparison, as you wander around towns and villages and figures appear out of thin air.

There isn’t really a great deal to do in this game outside of the rigid main storyline; you travel around, speak to people, upgrade your gear, read through the endless skit conversations, or take on side quests. You pick up quests by speaking to NPCs with an exclamation mark over their heads, and are usually tasked with performing a familiar chore – find a person or item, slay some monsters. This soon becomes frustrating when your objectives are not readily indicated on the world map, which can lead to you wandering around for aeons trying to find your target. Most of the field areas have a ridiculous amount of enemies, as well as respawning items and treasures. The game is perfectly poised if you are into grinding, as you could easily run backwards and forth, slaying giant scorpion beasts and picking up money and items for ages.

What Xillia does have, though, is an absolutely cracking combat system (which is utterly wasted), and a cool Lilium Orb levelling-up matrix. Each time you level up you earn Growth Points, which allow you to enter a sub-screen and link together various orbs that grant abilities and stat boosts. It allows you to use the GP to tailor a character that best suits your playing style, and is most welcome.

Including, yet going beyond, the notion of elemental attacks and status altering poisons and magics, once the 3D battles start coming thick and fast, you realise that there are a crazy, almost overwhelming, number of combos and mechanics at your disposal. But despite a superb tutorial system which explains in supreme clarity the superlative array of tricks, guards, steps, blows and magical Artes – 99% of the time the game allows you to win simply by pressing the X button, or alternating between X and O, until you meet up with a tougher boss character who needs a bit of strategy. If you do want to pretend that everything is hunky dory, then you can use the brilliant linking system that allows you to fight in tandem with a partner, joined together by a virtual, indicative blue line. Once you link up with a buddy, they will attack the same enemy as you, and make calculated and logical moves – such as getting behind the enemy so you have it surrounded. There are awesome linked super Artes available, and between you and your partner you can juggle and combo the enemies beautifully. Characters have their own special abilities – such as Jude’s handy teleportation trick which allows him to reappear behind an enemy.

Everything whips along at 60fps, as smooth as silk, making it one of the most fluid battle systems I have seen in an rpg. It all works so well, yet still most battles are easily won without doing anything other than slamming two buttons, even if you have run out of Assault Count Points which are supposed to limit the frequency of your attacks. A wonderful way of displaying this comes little more than fifteen minutes in. When you first encounter Milla, she comes equipped with a super-badass set of Artes and abilities, and helps Jude out of a sticky situation by summoning a mighty spirit to save his hide. This cuts what was looking like a tricky battle down to a meagre couple of seconds. Soon after, Milla is stripped of her powers, but when you next fight, it is like absolutely nothing has changed, and you still win in super quick fashion nearly every time. Hell, you don’t even have to do anything in battles if you don’t want to; you can assign commands to everyone in your party and, thanks to the decent AI, that usually does the job just fine.

It is almost too easy to criticise JRPGs, such is the propensity of developers to trot out the same old clichés and retreads, over and over. It is a genre that needs something a bit special for a game to stand out. Gone are the days when Western fans would be happy enough just to get a release of an anticipated Japanese title. Earthbound, which we recently looked at, did just that, whilst poking fun at the turn based combat and aforementioned clichés at the same time.

VERDICT: This year we have been blessed with the exceptional Ni No Kuni, which married resolutely old-school adventuring with a plot and aesthetic style that made it perhaps the ultimate homage to the games we grew up adoring. Tales of Xillia doesn’t come close to its aforementioned forebears. It is the quintessential “bog standard” JRPG, a sad showing considering it’s part of a recognised and long-running franchise that has certainly hit some impressive highs in the past. It manages to make a killer combat engine redundant and boring, and comes across as a lazy, poorly-engineered mess in all other areas. With a cliché-laden story and drab characters, the personal and emotional investment remains low. Namco have a fighting engine here that deserves a better game.

6

DECENT. A 6/10 indicates that, while this game could be much better, it still has a fair amount to offer the player. It might be an interesting title sabotaged by its own ambition, or a game denied greater praise by some questionable design choices. Don’t avoid it outright, but approach it with caution.

Our Scoring Policy


  • Stealth

    I disagree with how this review is written but oh well

  • Stealth

    “It is almost too easy to criticise JRPGs, such is the propensity of developers to trot out the same old clichés and retreads, over and over. It is a genre that needs something a bit special for a game to stand out. Gone are the days when Western fans would be happy enough just to get a release of an anticipated Japanese title.”

    You can say this about any genre.

  • Sean Haulman

    The fact the reviewer loved Ni No Kuni while so many user reviews bashed it worries me

  • Zachary Karpel

    this person doesn’t know how to review a game. this much I can assure you all this game is a masterpiece… a masterpiece which i will blow 200+hours on. maybe he should play it before making a review.

  • Micah Gajewski

    Yeah im 15hrs in and this game is gorgeous for a modern JRPG. Seriously the best tales to date for me… Faaar better than graces which many adored and right up there with Vesperia and Symphonia.

    The battle system is fantastic and all the characters seem more playable than past games.

    This is a disappointing review because some people might naively trust your opinion and think less of this great game.

  • Seany

    Hey guys thanks for the comments. I stand by my review, I found the game boring and it did not hit the same heights as previous games in the series. I have not criticised the battle system – it is superb, like I said, one of the best I have come across. I just found it dull compared to other games that take the JRPG template and do something better and more original overall. As for Ni No Kuni, I don’t remember seeing it get bashed too badly. But like with any game – including this one – it is a case of each to their own. There is no way I could justify spending 200 hours with this one dudes.

  • salamandra

    Thank god they did not review shin megami tensei iv.

  • Zachary Karpel

    still don’t see you could give it such a mediocre review.

  • Nick Brown

    Another reviewer who calls a JRPG a cliche simply because it uses the tropes of the genre in its game. Shitty reviews like this with little to no insight are part of the reason people don’t buy them as much. They see the score and assume it’s a bad game. tl;dr you’re bad and you should feel bad.

  • Zachary Karpel

    my sentiments exactly.

  • Henry_Swanson

    I don’t really care about the game, I just was havin a laugh at how amateur the review is. I guess a freshmen English course and an interest in gaming is the prerequisite.

  • Micah Gajewski

    It is not made to spend 200 hours with, at least for most of us. 40-50 hrs tops with no side-questing, which there is a lot of. Then you can replay from another perspective or drag it out as many hrs as you want with near endless optional side-questing. The world map makes it streamlined and quick so it doesn’t drag out like most jrpgs.

    There is seriously so much great content in this game that your review did not even explore.

  • Micah Gajewski

    hahah i just searched for a review of that here. Can’t believe someone beat me to this

  • Glen

    @Seany

    I agree with every word of your review. I’ve completed this and – BY THE STANDARDS OF ITS OWN GENRE – it is dull, uninventive, uninspiring, interactively limited, poorly written, cut-scene saturated, by the numbers, not-even-trying, cookie-cutter cock.

    Apart from the combat, which was decent like you say. But did you notice how little effect all that tinkering in the menus actually had? Most of the customisation is an illusion. Seriously; check it out. 99% of it makes no odds.

  • Keichi Morisato

    yes you can… hell the only way I can distinguish an Elder Scrolls game from one another is the title on the box and the graphics in the game. not to say that Morrowind, Oblivion, or skyrim are bad games, but as WRPG’s go, extremely clichéd tolken-esque fantasy. honestly, I prefer it when JRPG’s keep the “traditional” story telling, it allows the characters to shine, I love turn based combat, I love every cliché element in JRPG’s, as I buy those games for those elements, like a COD player buying COD for multiplayer, one can’t deny that COD has a solid multiplayer experience. what we don’t need is innovation in JRPG’s, well anything too major, as it has ruined many a great franchise before it *couch*Final Fantasy*cough*.

  • Ouch My Head Said Dionysus

    It would have helped your review if you had done a little bit more fact-checking: Tales was never a traditional turn-based JRPG, the first entry on Super Famicom was highly lauded for its unique action-based battle system. The battle system has been constantly evolving since then.

    Example:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84zp28k8i30

  • Dalagonash

    Why is that? I ask as someone that has played a slice of Xillia and thought it was pants, but is rather interested in SMT IV.

  • Dalagonash

    Thanks for that Glen. I gave Xillia a tickle for the preview last month and came away completely underwhelmed, and consequentially agree with the words of Sean’s review. Glad to see we’re not alone!

  • Guest

    I think you not knowing where to go might have something to do with you not paying attention to the “lousy script”. The game is actually pretty linear, and there’s always the R1 button to hint you on where to go next… It’s a bit of a shame to see a world with the most depth in the series being overlooked like this, though granted, most of the world’s detail are either in character driven sidequests that are not very frequent or well, this one is perfectly understandable (or even just sad that they had to leave them out) — in Japanese guidebooks Namco made about the character backstories and the lore of the Xillia universe. There’s also the fact that some detail are hinted rather subtly in the game which may be difficult to catch if one simply couldn’t be bothered with the story or characters who undergo quite the struggle trying to come to terms to the views and flaws of the other “boring characters” that lead up to many events of the game in the first place… Even having said all that, I think everyone has a right to their opinions and I really didn’t mean to type such a long comment which I’m really quite sorry about…

  • Stealth

    Which is why its irresponsible for any reviwer to say it

  • Micah Gajewski

    SMT 4 is… well kind of just grinding with a mediocre story… I bought it, played a couple hrs and am not really looking forward to completing it. It really lacks the smt polish…

  • Dalagonash

    That’s a shame :(

  • AndresLionheart

    I guess you can’t please anyone.
    As of me, I know I’m going to clock in over 150 hours into this game, just like I did with the JP version in 2011 to get my platinum trophy. I love collecting crap around big maps while doing sidequests, and with a battle system as good as this (which btw, can be made more fun if you raise the difficulty) I can spend a lot of hours without even noticing.

  • Keichi Morisato

    yeah, just look at how everyone gushes over the Shin Megami Tensei games. they are very traditional, actually they have changed about as much as pokemon, but everyone loves those games. the only real difference being the setting of the game.

  • Lc32489

    I totally agree I did put round 60 hours into grace f. I thought it was good but don’t have the drive to 100 percent it like I did symphonia on gamecube and vesperia on 360. Xillia is great though just hit round 10 hours doing some side quests along the way love the characters setting and especially how the story is shaping up. Not sure if I am enjoying it more than symphonia or vesperia yet gotta play a lil more but like it a lot more than graces f.

  • Lc32489

    I agree. I understand everyone is entitled to their opinion but knock a game for using the same “cliches” when every genre uses the same cliches is kinda dumb.

  • Starforged

    Horrible review.

  • Micah Gajewski

    Amen. This one is better than graces f in every way for me, but story wise I still like symphonia and tota better. I was not feeling graces, id go as far as to put it a step above legendia…

  • Lc32489

    I hear what your saying but I can’t really say anything bout Legendia that is one of the few I haven’t got a chance to play but have heard it is not one of the series best entries.

  • Dave

    im waiting to see your call of duty review where you rave how great and fresh the game feels when call of duty and many other games are as stale as a week and a half old bread, you obviously did not play this game longer than 20 minutes and your review speaks volumes about how limited your time was before writing

  • Micah Gajewski

    Honestly, I think most tales games are exceptional thanks to their battle system, story line, and character development, and that game failed at all of them and more. Hopefully they redo/fix it.

  • Lc32489

    Hope your right but in the meantime I got xillia we got xillia to play.

  • Ryan

    This review sucks, it is probably the worst review for this game i’ve read so far. This guy dosen’t even know what he was talking about. This review is crap.
    The game is a must buy for any JRPG fan,

  • Crawd

    What a poor quality review…

    I like the part: “99% of the time the game allows you to win simply by pressing the X button, or alternating between X and O” How about changing the game difficulty to see that is no longer viable where blocking, using linked artes,dodging and free moving is crucial?

    Plus, in the paragraph before it talks about Earthbound, it sound like they only tried the game 1 hour before writing this review… It took me 22 hours to finish the first chapter of the game and this review speaks like they saw everything. No words about linking bonus, no words about the skill systems, the multiple side quests, the replay value for playing both characters.

    What a poor review 0/10

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