I jumped on a second chance to get some hands-on time with Tales of Arise before it releases in September, and it turns out I still have a lot to praise. This glimpse into the upcoming Tales of title covered the introductory section of the game up to the first boss battle. These initial hours leave me excited for what could be the best modern Tales of game yet. But first, a quick disclaimer: Like our first preview of Arise, I played an unfinished version of the game via cloud streaming. This time I also suffered from latency issues. Therefore I will not comment on the technical aspects of Arise before I get my hands on the final game.
The Tales of series is no stranger to the concept of twin planets, but Tales of Arise takes this concept somewhere new and dark. Arise opens on the harrowing tale of the enslavement of the people of Dahna by the dwellers of the nearby planet, Rena, some 300 years ago. You then take the role of a slave known as Iron Mask, or Alphen — a man who unsurprisingly has an iron mask stuck on his head. Unfortunately, Alphen also has amnesia, so he, like the player, doesn’t know who he is underneath that mask. Oh, and for some reason, he can’t feel pain.
Alphen toils his life away in the mines of Mosgul, with Rena ever looming in the skies above. Alphen might be a classic blank slate protagonist if not for his sheer force of personality and charm. He yearns to stop the injustice of his fellow slaves being worked to literal death. He feels no hesitation when he smashes his way headfirst into the lives of the Renan woman Shionne, imprisoned by her own people, and the Dahnan resistance group, the Crimson Crows.
Shionne is your second party member and a powerful astral artes user (a type of magic only available to Renans). When the Crimson Crows attempt to take Shionne from the train where she is imprisoned for their own ends, she makes her escape with the unexpected help of Alphen. Shionne is cursed to cause great pain to all who touch her. She also holds a master core, a concentration of astral energy that can manifest a blazing sword that burns any who wield it. Strange then that she should meet a man who cannot feel pain. Zephyr, leader of the Crimson Crows, agrees and suggests it may be destiny that you team up to defeat the Renan oppressors with your complementary skills and curses.
Alphen and Shionne soon find themselves pitted against the wild and scarred Lord Balseph. Balseph is one of the five lords of Renan competing in a crown contest to determine the new Sovereign of Rena. It’s a fascinating premise, and one that lends itself to what I suspect will be a fun loop of entering a new area, exploring it, and subsequently liberating it from its Renan lord.
The story is told through cutscenes displayed in three styles: anime, in-engine, and animated manga panels that use in-game models similar to another recent Bandai Namco title, Scarlet Nexus. While the animated scenes feel a little stiff and the manga panel scenes lack expressiveness, I find the in-engine cutscenes particularly impressive and full of explosive action and intricate animations. The manga panel style is also used for Tales of Arise’s skits. I could see this being a negative choice for many fans, but it does allow for costumes and fashion items to remain visible throughout the skits. Arise’s fashion systems are simple but effective. Costumes and visual accessories are entirely separate from equipment as expected, but you can also use the visual appearance of any weapon you have available.
Of course, you may ask, is the world of Arise actually fun and interesting to explore? I shouldn’t surprise anyone by saying that Tales of Berseria’s weakest point for me was its area and dungeon design. I am happy to say that so far, Tales of Arise is a massive step up in this regard. Areas can be open and sizable, and not just horizontally; Arise really emphasizes the verticality of its locations with vistas, hills, towers, and bridges. This use of vertical space allows areas to hide secrets (like odd-sounding owls who gift fashion items) and be excitingly layered. A jump button, fast run speed, and lack of fall damage make the traversal of these large areas quick and breezy. Though I will mention, the camera can get a bit claustrophobic in tunnels and other tight spaces.
I talked about combat a lot in my first preview, but I will give a brief overview here: Arise has free movement in battle and uses a quickly recharging resource to activate artes. In addition, artes are designed to be chained together with each other and with basic attacks, making combat terrifically smooth and enjoyable.
Artes themselves come in two main types: ground and aerial, and characters can equip three of each type. Using an Arte increases your proficiency level with that Arte, and at certain proficiency levels, new artes are learned. Like Tales of Graces, Arise also utilizes the classic Tales of system that grants “titles” to characters that actively improve character abilities. Each title a character earns grants them a small “skill panel” where both passive skills and combat artes can be obtained in exchange for SP, which is accumulated from winning battles and completing quests.
You have a second, non-regenerating resource, cure points (CP), spent by healing magic and some environmental interactions (e.g., healing Alphen after he hurts himself clearing a path). CP is restored by using items, resting at camp or inns, or finding rare “healing lights” in dungeons. To permanently increase your maximum CP, you can optionally take on powerful boss-like enemies that roam some zones.
Small touches can significantly impact your overall experience, and the developers behind Tales of Arise understand this well. For example, being able to offer a quest giver the items to complete their quest during your initial conversation and gathering points appearing on your map (and glowing when available again) are welcome touches. I also appreciate the frequent fast travel points and the option to flag skills/artes in your skill trees to alert you when you have enough SP to afford them.
This attention to detail extends to combat as well. Tales of Arise features a powerful Final Fantasy XII Gambit-like system for adjusting the behaviour of your AI-controlled allies. For example, you can create statements like “if your health is below 25%, stay away from enemies” or “if an ally is defeated, resurrect them with an item first or a spell if none is available.”
The final battle of the demo is an impressive show of what could be in store for the rest of the game, melding thrilling setpiece moments with nail-biting combat. That final battle also mirrors my final thoughts for this preview: there is a heck of a lot to be excited about going into Tales of Arise, and I can’t wait to see if it meets those expectations.