I haven’t played a Tales of game since the days of the first Playstation. It isn’t that I haven’t wanted to, I have, I’ve just never got round to it for one reason or another. It’s safe to say, then, that I jumped at the chance to go to the Bandai Namco office in Hammersmith, London, to try out Tales of Xillia 2.
• Developer: Bandai Namco Games
• Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
• Reviewed on: Playstation 3
• Release Date: August 19th 2014 (US) / August 22nd 2014 (Europe)
The game on show, I’m told, wasn’t a finished build, and due to time constraints only Chapter One was on show. Chapter Two was there, but there was another, embargoed, game to play so time was very limited. Chapter One, however, has more than enough content to show off what the game has to offer, without revealing too much before its release.
Although a continuation of Tales of Xillia, Xillia 2 features a brand new cast of characters, each with their own stories and reasons for doing what they do. However, characters from the first Xillia will be making an appearance as the story progresses, which is great news for fans.
The chapter starts with our protagonist, Ludger, having a dream the night before he takes the entrance exam to become part of the Spirius Corporation. The dream plays out as a battle between Ludger and a shadowy figure. There were no instructions on screen telling me how to actually fight this guy, so I just pressed buttons and hoped something happened.
Have you ever had a dream, and no matter how hard you try to run, you just can’t, and you’re hit with a sense of hopelessness that whatever you’re running from will catch you, or whatever you’re running to will never be reached? This section does a great job of emulating that feeling. Ludger stands there, holding his dual blades like a pro, yet he can’t seem to attack effectively due to the player being unsure of what to actually do. Of course, veteran Tales of players will know exactly what to do, making my point moot, but you get the idea.
Ludger wakes up after the battle, and heads off to his exam, headed by his brother Julius, who eerily begins to mirror the dialogue of the shadowy character from the dream. The entrance exam is basically a tutorial, sending Ludger off to defeat five monsters, with messages popping up throughout explaining controls, tactics, and menus.
Enemies appear wandering about the field, and battles are activated by running into them, akin to Dragon Quest, or Grandia. Running into an enemy from the back causes them to take damage at the start of the battle, giving the player a small advantage.
The battle system is certainly one of the more interesting aspects of the game; real-time combat, in a 3D arena, on a 2D plain. The left analogue stick moves Ludger toward and away from the enemy, but holding L2 allows him to move freely around the arena to attack other enemies or dodge attacks, and holding R1 pauses the battle and allows for a more defined enemy selection. The square button allows him to block, and when pressed together with the left stick performs a helpful quick step.
Attacks are determined by the Attack Counter (AC), a number that appears over Ludgers health bar, and reduces with each combined attack, replenishing shortly after a combo has been executed, allowing him to attack again. An additional point of AC can be gained by holding block guard down for a short time, allowing for longer combos.
Circle performs an attack called an Arte, which characters can learn by meeting certain criteria as they level up. They cause more damage, but consume both AC and Technical Points (TP) so they can’t be spammed. The Arte’s at this point of the game aren’t too effective, but that is to be expected this early into the story.
Linking characters allows Ludger and his linked partner to attack an enemy simultaneously from both sides, causing more damage, with a chance of adding an additional point to the AC. Linked characters will also come to Ludgers aid if he is attacked from behind, by attacking his aggressor, and reducing the chances of a critical hit happening.
Another perk of character linking are Linked Artes, which are executed with the push of the R2 button once an on screen prompt appears, after filling up a segment of the gauge on the left hand side of the screen. The gauge has five sections, but once a section has been filled, the following section will only begin to fill once the Linked Arte has been used.
Once gauge has been filled, using another Linked Arte will unleash Over Limit mode, during which time, Ludger AC will not deplete, party members can’t be staggered, and Linked Artes can be used time and again until the Over Limit wears off. It’s a lot easier in practice than it sounds, and after a few battles everything begin to feels natural, and the use of linking, and Artes, add some extra depth and strategy to an already solid combat system. I can’t wait to see what to see what other characters have to offer when the game drops.
After the five enemies have been defeated, Ludger returns to Julius for the results of his exam. As he arrives, there is a scream, and an ethereal beast pounces upon a frightened woman, and Ludger has to make a choice to either save her himself, or ask his more experienced brother to do so.
Conversational choices such as this are set to the L1 and R1 buttons, with a possible outcome set to each button respectively. From what I saw, the conversations don’t make that much difference themselves, with the outcomes playing out pretty much the same.
Initially, I chose to fight the monster myself, and was ultimately defeated. I then got a scolding off of Julius for not thinking about the situation clearly, and failed the exam. After a couple of retries I decided the monster cannot be beaten (or I’m just not very good) and this is where the plot needs to go. A quick restart and change in decision (I opted to let Julius fight the monster instead) results in the same thing – a scolding for being useless, and a failed exam.
Games offering the illusion of choice, but ultimately leading to the same conclusion are a major bugbear of mine. I enjoy being in control, as I’m sure most gamers do, so why developers feel the need to offer false choice is beyond me; if the narrative will always lead to the same conclusion, I’ll take a more definitive path over these false choices any day. But that’s me.
After the exam, I was treated to a great animated movie introducing one of the other characters, on the run from pursuing gunmen, who escapes with the help of a masked swordsman. It was absolutely stunning, and I can’t wait to see more in the finished game. This was followed by an equally beautiful animated character montage of other characters and scenes from the game to an annoyingly catchy J-Pop soundtrack.
After these gorgeous displays of Japanese animation, I was once again free to control Ludger, and I was left to explore the town of Trigleph, with the objective of heading to the train station. Talking to NPC’s, and meeting other characters important to the plot through conversation gave the town charm, and I would have liked a bit more time to explore it further.
After some trouble at the train station, Ludger embraces his inner Jack Bauer and climbs aboard a train, now overrun by a terrorist group known as Exodus, and with the help of a new party member, decides to fight the terrorists and stop the train from crashing into the building of a company called Oscore. I fought my way through the train to a major plot point that I won’t go into for fear of spoiling, and after a quick boss battle the chapter was over.
Tales of Xillia 2 is looking great, with a fantastic battle system, and a gorgeous visual style reminiscent of the Playstation 2 era Shin Megami Tensei titles with a slightly brighter colour palette. It has definitely peaked my interest in the series, and it goes without saying I’ll be picking up the first Tales of Xillia game to play in the weeks coming up to the Xillia 2’s release in late August.