With a new age of consoles comes a new era of familiar genres being reinvented for them. JRPGs are no stranger to this, with many reinventions and positive additions to the genre stemming from new console capabilities. What began as the switch from 2D-3D has now become the most detailed particle effects and the capability to pack a massive, story packed world in a single title. The Tales series has some ups and downs, but with mostly positive reception, there was an expectation on Tales of Arise even before the launch. I believe those expectations were filled, and Tales of Arise passes almost every hurdle with flying colors.
Tales of Arise starts with an already loaded backstory which is introduced right as the game starts. There are two worlds that were originally at peace, with the people of the lower world revering those of the higher world as gods. One day, the residents of the higher world came down and enslaved the population of the lower world with their superior technology, and it has been more than 300 years since then. Now, as a slave, your main character must do what it takes to not only survive; but find a hint of freedom in a waking hellscape. To open a game and see a story like that unfold can be really jarring, especially seeing the style of game it is. Tales of Arise doesn’t pull any punches either, informing players what happens to people when they’re unable to work anymore, and what happens to those that try and defect. Punishment is quick and severe, and nothing seems to go right at all. As Iron Mask, even without your memories you do your best to help your fellow man and attempt to get by.
As the story progresses and the cast gets larger, these loaded concepts are expanded upon and spoken about at length. With a member of the Renans (higher world) in your party, you also get their perspective of the whole situation. With most of your party members being of the lower world, there is a lot of tension in the party whenever these events are brought up. This separation of ideals and conflict doesn’t harm the experience, but instead gives it a very real feeling of people with different ideals coming together to pursue a common goal. The party isn’t necessarily made of friends, but everyone is doing their best to understand and work with each other. The humanization aspect of these characters does a lot for the storytelling and worldbuilding, and makes any bit of extra dialogue feel very natural.
In terms of appearance, Tales of Arise looks absolutely stunning. Even in dreary and sad environments, the level of detail that has gone into them is nothing short of astounding. As you travel you visit drastically different areas, from starting in fiery mountains to visiting snowy plains and lush forests. Not only is the environment variety wide, but the appearance of each captures your attention immediately. What best describes it is feeling like an adventure, it’s reminiscent of how old JRPGs felt when the world opened up and you were finally able to truthfully explore.
The combat is something as well, although the controls can take some getting used to. Each playable character has a gimmick, like the main character sacrificing health to use empowered moves. The combat is instanced in arenas with 3rd person action, and each face button is mapped to an attack. As you learn more moves and have them mapped, you’re able to string together rather long and stylish combos if you perform them properly. This is also a game where you learn skills by constantly fighting, so the grind doesn’t feel too bad as you’re learning new things every few fights. The experience gain is another story entirely, as grinding feels like it plateaus after awhile; overleveling doesn’t feel like a super feasible option. At the very least this keeps all the fights engaging, as even at Moderate difficulty the game feels challenging enough for bosses to keep even seasoned JRPG players on their toes.
Tales of Arise treads the fine line between fantasy and truthfully troubling topics with aplomb, with world building keeping the concepts fresh and interesting. Each character’s motives feel unique, and their development throughout the story feels natural as they experience new things. Tales of Arise is honestly a step up in pretty much every way above its predecessors, and I feel like this is an incredibly strong entry point for JRPGs in the newest generation of consoles.
Score: 9 out of 10
Reviewed on PlayStation 5