[NOTE: This game is a direct sequel to Tales of Xillia, and as such, the story section of this review contains spoilers for that game.]
Repaint a Black Sheep
Damn, it’s been a great time to be a Tales fan lately. After over a decade of hit-or-miss Western releases of the series, games have started flowing in like crazy. In just the last couple of years, we’ve seen Western releases of Tales of Graces F, Tales of Xillia, and Tales of Symphonia Chronicles (along with Tales of Phantasia iOS, which many, including myself, would like to forget ever happened). The releases aren’t slowing down either, with Tales of Hearts R set for release later this year, and Tales of Zestiria expected mid 2015, which will mark the fastest localization turnaround in series history…should it be released as planned.
While the series definitely doesn’t have the same level of recognition in the West as, say, Final Fantasy, its popularity has been picking up quite a bit of steam. Unfortunately, the last major release, Tales of Xillia, was generally seen as lackluster compared to others of the series. While not a bad game by any stretch of the word, it just wasn’t up to the level gamers had come to expect from the series. The original announcement of Xillia 2 drew hope from the fanbase that it would correct the issues of the first game, and excellent reviews and word of mouth only helped to hype Western fans up for its localized release.
The day finally came nearly two years after its original release in Japan. Tales of Xillia 2 was released for PS3 in North America on August 19th, 2014, with its European release coming three days later. I do have to apologize about the sheer lateness of this review. While I did pick up this game on release day, I only got around to completing it a couple of days ago…
A Land of Wishes
Xillia 2 takes place one year after the original game. The schism separating the worlds of Rieze Maxia and Elympios has been destroyed, and the two worlds are slowly attempting to integrate with each other. The cast of the previous game have all gone their separate ways to find their places in the newly unified world.
The new protagonist for this game is Ludger Kresnik. Raised by his brother, Julius, the main story begins with Ludger en route to his first day on the job as a chef at the local train station. On his way, he has a chance meeting with a young girl also racing to the station. This girl, Elle, has been told by her father that she must travel to the land of Canaan, a mythical place where wishes can be granted. The train Elle boards is hijacked by Exodus, the terrorist group from the previous game, and Ludger rushes aboard to take the train back.
So begins Tales of Xillia 2. Malevolent spirits, world-destroying powers, and traditional Tales twists quickly take this game from its humble beginnings to a much deeper story. Unfortunately, saying much more would be spoiling what makes the game great. This game is easily one of the more story-involved entries in the Tales series. The game divides the main story up into chapters, and nearly every chapter brings about a new twist. Between main chapters, each of the previous game’s main cast (along with two newly-playable characters from the past entry) also has their own side-story arcs to help flesh out the story as a whole. These side-stories run from dull (Gaius) to excellent (Milla) to hilarious (Muzet).
The Battle for Canaan
Xillia 2 makes use of the Tales series’ traditional action battle system. The player has direct control over one party member, fully commanding said character in an Action-RPG/Fighting-esque battle system, while the rest of the party is controlled via AI. General instructions can be given to each AI character in the game menu, and battles can be paused to issue direct orders or use items if needed. Each entry in the series adds its own quirks to the system, and this game builds off of the original Xilliabattle system. Returning for this sequel is the link system, where characters can pair up with each other, giving them access to special attacks (known as “Artes”) and skills.
The sequel adds in two new quirks. First off, the main character, Ludger, is able to switch between three sets of weapons on the fly: swords, guns, and a hammer. Each weapon has its own moveset and Artes, allowing for quite a lot of diversity when fighting. On the downside, remembering three sets of Artes can become difficult and occasionally confusing. The second addition is the weakness system. In the original Xillia, enemies had various elemental weaknesses you could capitalize on, but Xillia 2 makes it much more integral to fighting. Landing a direct hit with an enemy’s weakness drops their guard, giving a small window to use another element on them to increase damage and continue a chain. The window remains open until all elements have been used or you miss the timing. With six elements, along with each of the three weapon types also acting as a weakness, controlling combos becomes very important in battle.
This game demands that you make use of the system, as it can be downright brutal at times. This game is much harder than the original, and is probably one of the most difficult Tales games I have played in recent memory. Standard enemies can be unforgiving, and bosses will show no mercy on you, so you have to fight smart.
Xillia 2 is also extremely sidequest-heavy. As mentioned earlier, each main character has their own story arc that develops as the main story progresses. Aside from this, the entirety of the game is based around a debt system. After some early story events, Ludger amasses a huge amount of debt, and must work on paying it off over the course of the game. This can be done by taking on a series of jobs, ranging from fetch quests to defeating powerful monsters. This system is, unfortunately, a major stumble in the game. You are not allowed to progress the main story until you make payments on your debt, and once the story really gets going, being forced to take on jobs between chapters becomes incredibly annoying. The sidequests themselves quickly become tired as well, offering almost no variety.
On a final note, Xillia 2 has a game-wide gimmick focusing on choice. Quite often, during various events or conversations, you’ll be given a choice between two things to say to a character. In some cases, your choice will affect your “affection” with that character. The closer you are to a character, the more skills and abilities you can unlock. Other choices are critical to the storyline, only giving you so much time to react. Other than these critical ones, the choices do not have much effect on the game, although it’s fun to role-play a bit deeper with Ludger and make him say what you think he would (or just pick the hilarious choices).
Between Two Worlds
This game appears to run off the same engine as the original Xillia, and while the graphics definitely aren’t pushing the PS3 hard, they are still quite well done. Each area of the game has its own look and feel, and the cities and most of the dungeons are well designed. The areas between cities, though, remain relatively dull hallway-like sections.
The graphics engine isn’t the only thing Xillia 2 borrows from the original, not by a long shot. Aside from a few new cities and dungeons, everything else is lifted wholesale from the original game. Next to the debt system, this is my other major gripe about this release. Everything still looks grandiose and intriguing, but it’s still all the same environments that were seen a year ago in the last installment. It doesn’t help that, if you intend to complete all of the main character’s sidequests, you will be backtracking through all of these areas quite a lot.
Like most recent Tales releases, Xillia 2 features anime-style cutscenes in parts of the story. The scenes were done by the studio Ufotable, well-known among anime fans for their impressively high production quality and standards. These cutscenes, especially the opening scene, are amazing to watch and brilliantly animated.
Voice of the Spirits
The music in Tales games is usually hit-or-miss with me. Luckily, Xillia 2‘s soundtrack hits well. Despite a number of reused tracks, the quality of the soundtrack is excellent. The number of musical themes is diverse, and there’s a surprising amount of battle themes, which can help keep the countless battles you’ll be fighting interesting. The endgame tracks stand out to me the most, and remain the most memorable.
Nearly every line in this game is voice acted as well, with all of Xillia‘s voice cast returning for the sequel. In my opinion, it seems the actors have a firmer grasp on their characters this time, and the slight audio problems the first game had (Milla’s “lisp”, anyone?) have been resolved here. The new characters are also well-acted. The only disappointment is in main character Ludger, who is presented as a semi-silent protagonist. It can be kind of awkward to have the camera focus on Ludger as if he’s saying something, but he says nothing at all, yet the other characters react as if he did.
The Choice is Yours to Make
Overall, Xillia 2 fixes many of the issues fans had with the first entry, but creates a few of its own. The sheer number of sidequests available is a step in the right direction, but aside from the character quests, many of these sidequests are mind numbing or meaningless. The debt system, too, builds pointless walls in the middle of the story, padding out gameplay time in an annoying fashion.
However, what the game gets right is able to surmount those issues. The story is legitimately excellent, and, although I’ll be inviting some fan rage by saying it, I’d put it up on par with Tales of the Abyss. The battle system is even more fun than the first entry, and switching weapons on the fly with Ludger makes creating interesting combos a joy to do. While the reused locales are a bit disappointing, the world of Xillia is still an excellent one, and I found much joy in the chance to explore it again.
The faults are annoyingly intrusive enough to keep the game from getting a perfect or near-perfect score, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to any Tales fan, or a fan of JRPGs or Action RPGs in general. I would recommend playing the first Xillia game beforehand, though. While it isn’t required, you would be missing out on quite a bit if you didn’t.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy purchased by reviewer for PS3. Screenshots taken by reviewer.