If you know me as a gamer at all, you know that traditionally Japanese-style role-playing games have a special place in my gaming heart and you would also know that I have played a great number of them, most of them in the 90s and early 2000s. I was always willing to give a lot of other western releases a chance but, in all honesty, I showed a huge amount of bias, even if it wasn’t always backed with the know-how, back then.
With that in mind, I got back into the Tales of… series again after seeing a few videos for a new entry for the Playstation 3 entitled Tales of Xillia that actually received a proper sequel before actually seeing a North American release. I was rather hesitant because, it would seem, that games that come straight out of Japan with only the most vital localization done cater to a much different audience than when I was into them; it’s shown in everything from Persona to Final Fantasy. Let’s face it – those of us who got into gaming early on in the industry’s life are of a way different class than those who got into gaming during the PlayStation and XBOX era. Seeing another Tales entry get a lot of hype got my hopes up – I hadn’t played a lot of any Tales game since the SNES titles. I played a lot of them afterward but never got in the same kind of replay as I did from the SNES games – can’t quite explain why because a lot of my initial creative writing inspiration that still sticks with me today came from the PlayStation entries, among other games from that era – when I hear about another Tales, the nostalgia kicks in and I’m hoping I can get a lot of the same kind of experience I got from my past with the franchise.
Did I get that? Well, yes and no – the franchise feels as though it’s grown up a lot since I was really into it; not in the sense that it’s matured but in the sense that it’s changed. Is this good or bad? Well, yes and no – that depends on which side of the weeaboo fence you sit on: if you’re the kind of person that obsesses over animé, manga, Japanese culture in general and get all the jokes and quirks that come with it, this kind of thing will be right at home with you. However, when I was into that stuff, I was into the deeper end of the storytelling market in Japanese animation; stuff like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Perfect Blue where the themes were not limited by culture or language and those themes were extremely thought-provoking and mature, at times.
I can’t really say I don’t know how much progress I’ve made in the game, so far, though I would assume that I haven’t gotten very far because there’s been no huge reveals in the story quite yet and I always consider myself about halfway when I get a better idea of the scope and scale of the story. Everything has been given a very thinly-used cel-shaded look so that everything from the characters to the scenery still has that distinct Japanese animated look to it without having to drop to cutscenes in order to do some story progression. Of course, that’s not to say those animated cutscenes don’t exist but they’re minimal. While everything is quite beautiful, with this in mind, the arenas are quite cramped – I’m assuming that they did this in this way to save on loading times – leading to a somewhat claustrophobic feeling: being able to see wide-open spaces and areas that feels like you should be able to traverse over a lot more space than you’re offered. You don’t get that corridor feeling that a lot of people complain about in some games, nowadays, but it certainly feels like I’m being forced and you’re being cramped.
This pretty much explain, long-winded-like, how I feel about the game to this point – I’ve been doing a lot of battling, a lot of talking, a lot of walking around, a lot of escaping and a lot of implication but I don’t feel like I’ve really accomplished a whole lot. There’s been a whole lot of hand-holding in regards to tutorials but I don’t feel it’s actually helped in a way that actually produces results. It feels as though the game is saying, to me: “you know, this is a JRPG, guy – you know what to do.” Battling, leveling, movement, extrapolation feels as though it’s modeled to give you a lot of freedom but it’s strictly for appearances as it also feels as there’s only one real way to succeed.
The best example of this is the Lilium Orb: a device that is used to allow character leveling customization. It works kind of like a simplified Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. When you gain enough experience points, you get points that you can put towards activating parts of the Orb, which add stats to your characters. Activating certain sequences of these parts adds skills or abilities and sometimes expands the Orb as a whole. While you get a great deal of freedom in how you get to build your characters, there’s clearly a role each character plays and that role suggests that you have to take a specific path in order to have greater success in battle. You can do it however you want but you probably shouldn’t.
Am I saying that Xillia is a bad game? No. Am I saying that this is a boring game? No. Xillia is a game that feels like I’m being led along in the great big world I’m presented while on a leash. This is still to say that Xillia is a great experience – battling is intense, at times, everything looks great, the voice-acting isn’t killing me, the music feels appropriate and catchy, the characters show some anti-stereotypical behavior and things seem very progressive for the genre but I still feel like I’m being led along and that gives me the impression that there’s so much potential here that can be tapped into and it just isn’t tapped into, yet.
That might be part of the situation, too – I feel I’m still early on in the game and perhaps the game takes that leash off. I’m really hoping that that’s the case because if they don’t start making some serious story-related revelations soon I think I’m going to start pulling my hair out. As great as this game is it also feels a little long-winded and repetitive at times.
Tales of Xillia is a great game so far – I just expect way more, having played this much, and I want to see more from this game. This is, literally, the only reason I’m continuing, at this point, as I’m running into small snags in the gameplay more and more that serve only to aggravate me. I like this game and I want to find more to like instead of feeling restricted and aggravated.