Namco Bandai’s Tales series is stubborn. It has a formula, which has its fans, and generally sticks to it. That said, while Tales of Xillia isn’t going to revolutionize jRPGs (much less the Tales franchise), it has enough meaningful additions to make it one of the most interesting entries in the franchise to date.
Right out of the gate Xillia is confident enough to ostensibly split the game in two, offering a choice between Jude and Milla, the two protagonists. The narrative is cleverly designed around this as it finds ways to split the two up, encouraging two runs through the game to get the full picture. More interesting than that, however, are the characters themselves. There’s a great deal of jRPG trope role-reversal here, which while not extraordinary in and of itself is a big deal within the series. Jude, the male lead, is a timid med student. He openly admits his lack of confidence during fights, and while a predictably capable physical fighter, he also plays the role of secondary healer. Milla is an intimidating swordsman and capable offensive magician. She’s also kind of a deity.
Both characters are refreshingly mature and dynamic, but even from the beginning are welcome departures from the usual archetypes. The rest of the cast and the overarching narrative itself are less interesting, but the two leads are enough to keep Xillia interesting, with a little help from some engaging new combat mechanics.
Xillia is simultaneously the most fun yet least multiplayer-entry in the Tales canon. The option still exists of course, but the marquee addition to the battle system, linking, makes bringing your buddies into the mix less appealing. You can link the character under your control to any of the other party members (and can switch on the fly), and that character will follow you during the fight. They will act based on your actions, flank the enemy, use unique skills, and set up devastating dual skills that can be linked together under certain conditions.
You can link to a human player, but the amount of coordination required to pull everything off as smoothly as the A.I. does is almost too much trouble to bother. Either way, the linking and dual skills are great fun, and while combat is probably too fast for these new features to have a great effect on strategy, the extra depth and flashiness goes a long way to keep the dozens of hours you’ll spend in combat more engaging.
The rest of Tales of Xillia generally falls in line with what you should expect from the series. The silly skits, low tech visuals and animations (though the use of color and lighting sometimes makes up for the technical shortcomings with some aesthetic ingenuity), and inconsistent voice acting are all present and accounted for. Some neat attempts at streamlining are attempted with shops and travel, which along with mostly in-engine cutscenes keep the pacing as brisk as a bloated jRPG can afford. Some dungeons have odd puzzle sections that would feel more at home in a Zelda game, which aren’t built with the rest of the game in mind at all, leading to some frustrating camera and control issues.
Tales of Xillia isn’t going to bring many new fans over to the franchise. Outside of the fascinating protagonists, the game sticks to its archetypal guns, but is relatively inoffensive. Where Xillia really shines is in combat, and it has some fun new additions as well as extra refinement to the basics that make it fast, engaging, and the most fun I’ve had with one of these games in a long time.
Hint: Make sure to hoard all the weird little items you get. Donating spare junk to the shops as often as you can will give you quite an advantage all the way through.
by Lucas White