Developed and published by Bandai Namco, Tales of Arise is the latest entry into the Tales franchise. Coming to us five years after Tales of Berseria, does the series still have what it takes? We believe so, and our time with the PS5 version convinced us of that.
The Tales franchise has been around for about 25 years now, but I didn’t become familiar with the series until Tales of Hearts was ported and localized to the PlayStation Vita in the early days of the handheld. Since then, I’ve caught up on a few older titles and have been eagerly anticipating each new title as well – yet I can’t remember a bigger leap forward than Tales of Arise.
Tales of Arise’s story unfolds on the planet Dahna, where a technology-driven race (the Renans) has dominated others for three centuries already. The game world consists of five different realms that are all ruled by their own oppressor, keeping the local Dahnans under their thumb and exploiting the world and its inhabitants for its resources. In one of the realms, Calagilia, we’re introduced to our masked protagonist, Iron Mask – named thus for obvious reasons.
You history is unclear, even to yourself, but it doesn’t take long before you run into Shionne, a Renan who’s grown weary of her people’s rule. The two join forces, and this sets off a narrative that deals with big topics that include oppression, inequality and physical abuse. New characters are introduced along the way as you traverse all five realms, and between new themes, objectives, visual designs, enemies and plot twists things never get repetitive over the course of a playthrough that will easily take you 30 or more hours to complete.
As you’d expect, your party grows as you progress through the story, and characters are well defined with unique personalities between them. What’s refreshing about this is that these personalities also clash regularly, and you’re not just playing with a team that’s happily united towards a common goal. They work together well in combat though, and this too is an area that keeps evolving over the course of the story campaign.
The complexity of the combat increases over time, so it’s good that you start out with just a single character to learn the ropes. Once more characters join your party, you get access to different play styles, but you can add further customization through Artes and new moves as well. You can also cooperate with others in your party but calling them in for an attack, while also using their unique special abilities. Within a few hours of gameplay, combat starts to feel tactical in nature, and picking the right approach never stops feeling good after that.
The 30+ hours of gameplay mentioned before is probably on the short side as well, because you’ll take longer if you don’t use the fast travel options and engage in some of the abundant optional content, which includes activities like managing a ranch and tons of side quests. If you’re a longtime Tales fan, this probably won’t surprise you – the game stays true to the formula that fans have grown to love over the years.
What IS different, however, is how it’s all presented. Where the last few games always felt like they were built on the foundations of a PS3 framework, Tales of Arise is visually gorgeous – especially on a next gen console. Character models might still look anime-like, but are far more detailed, and that’s certainly true for the environments and backgrounds as well. Especially noteworthy is how areas now look far more visually alive and not as barren as before, something that’s easy to see in locations with a lot of vegetation. Conversations are brought alive through voice acting, though it’s worth pointing out that this still isn’t a fully voiced Tales game – a shame when you compare it to other AAA role playing games.
Nevertheless, this is a game that was well worth the wait and finally gives the franchise the audiovisual step forward that was a bit overdue at this point. Between that and a wonderful story campaign, this is an entry fans won’t want to miss.