It’s been several years since we’ve seen a mainline Tales game. After 2017’s Tales of Berseria, we now find Tales of Arise launching on 10th September 2021, commemorating the JRPG series' 35th anniversary. While Tales of Arise received a lengthy delay last year, it’s close to completion and in preparation, Bandai Namco has given us a closer look. Alongside a recent trailer and PlayStation 5 details, we went hands-on with a preview build. And while that was unfortunately brief, we enjoyed what was shown.
Tales of Arise tells a tale of two nations. For the last 300 years, Rena’s advanced technology and magic have been used to subjugate Dahna, stripping its citizens' freedom while taking their natural resources. Fittingly then, our story revolves around Alphen and Shionne, residents of Dahna and Rena respectively. We didn’t get to see much of this intriguing story unfold, though Bandai Namco confirmed this preview segment occurs "roughly 10-20 hours in", once you’ve gotten all six party members.
Taking us to the Elde Menancia region, this preview mainly involved taking down monsters known as Zeugles. Upon arriving at Viscint, Dahna’s capital, a lockdown’s in effect after a particularly fearsome Zeugle was spotted nearby, so Alphen volunteers to eliminate it. No matter who’s selected as party leader, most cutscenes took place with Alphen and Shionne, and while the game uses a linear approach, we’ve got some exploratory freedom. Now, this world isn’t exactly packed with secrets, but exploration pays off as you find mineable crystals, used for strengthening weapons and accessories.
Ingredients are a common sight too and Tales of Arise utilises a cooking system, available when resting at campfires. Meals offer stat boosts like increased strength, though effects vary depending on who cooked it. If you lack ingredients, travelling shopkeepers are nearby too, who also provide healing items, armour, weapons and more. Better yet, they’ll craft accessories to boost your skills – which provide upgrades like reduced Fire/Water damage - and all you’d need is those materials from crystals, alongside a small fee.
Of course, it wouldn’t be exploration without enemies blocking your path, and there’s plenty of Zeugles to keep us occupied. Like many modern RPGs, the title doesn’t do random encounters. You could actively avoid enemies if you wish, but running into them places you inside an arena. You can set party formation beforehand and equip them with six specific Artes — unique skills split between ground and aerial abilities. Unlike previous entries, co-op has been removed from Tales of Arise, making battles a strictly single player affair.
Once you begin, four characters actively engage in combat while the remaining two provide backup support. You can swap between active party members during fights and thankfully, there’s someone to fit different playstyles. During this preview, we mostly stuck with Alphen and Kisara for their close combat abilities but if you prefer ranged attacks, Shionne’s gunslinging proved a suitable (albeit slower) option, while Rinwell’s mage abilities gave us astral Artes. Otherwise, Law’s martial arts training was useful for melee combat, while Dohalim provided a competent all-rounder.
For defensive manoeuvres, everyone’s got a dodge/guard move activated with R2 and over time, everyone charges up a special gauge. Once filled, you can activate a special attack from the d-pad, which proves useful in a pinch. When an enemy is nearly defeated, that gauge flashes blue, meaning you can activate a special Boost Strike to finish them off, teaming up with another character. Completing battles also earns a limited number of Combat Points, used to heal teammates.
There’s a good challenge here – adjustable between four difficulty settings – and while we wouldn’t call combat especially deep, it felt satisfying and Elde Menancia had decent enemy variety. However, it was hard to get truly sunk in due to the preview build’s shorter length. Despite thoroughly exploring this region and fighting most enemies, we reached the end within an hour, and certain gameplay elements like skill trees were also unavailable.
Ultimately, that leaves our impressions somewhat limited, and we didn’t have much opportunity to appreciate the story. For anyone wondering, no skits were present in this build either, though we’ve been told those will appear in the final release. However, what we experienced is undeniably promising and Bandai Namco’s latest entry left us wanting more. Backed up by a vibrant visual presentation, it’ll appeal to newcomers and series veterans alike, so if you enjoy JRPGs, this is certainly one to look out for.