After much waiting, Namco Bandai not only revealed the release date of its latest role-playing game in the Tales series--Tales of Xillia--at a recent Tales of Festival event that was held in Yokohama, Japan last Saturday and Sunday, but also showed off new in-game and combat footage.
The game's story is set in a world called Liese Maxia, where humans and spirits coexist. Unlike in past games, there will be two main protagonists sharing the spotlight: Jude Mathis and Milla Maxwell. The former is a 15-year-old medical school student who fights enemies with his fists, while the latter is a female spellcaster who can summon elemental spirits and defends herself with a sword. Story-wise, Jude ends up crossing paths with Milla when he's looking into a spirit artes (the Tales term for magic) failure at a military laboratory in the middle of the night. They both uncover an army conspiracy, which eventually leads to their becoming fugitives.
Milla's elemental powers mysteriously vanish within that period, which makes the trek to clear their names a little harder. It also turns out that Milla is a fish out of water since she originates from ToX's spirit world. As a result, she comes off as airheaded and tactless when dealing with human affairs. The Tales series had always handled outcast protagonists with some dose of believability with Luke von Fabre (Tales of the Abyss) and Yuri (Tales of Vesperia), so it will be interesting to see how the chemistry between Milla's brashness and Jude's earnest behavior work out as the story progresses.
Joining the duo are Alvin, Leia Rolando, Elise Lutus, Tipo, and Rowen J. Ilbert. Alvin is a wandering mercenary who Jude and Milla come across while on the run from the military, while Leia is a childhood buddy of Jude's who works as an apprentice nurse and as a showgirl in an inn. Elise is a shy spirit summoner who constantly makes her floating stuffed doll Tipo to do all the talking, while Rowan rounds out the party by being the oldest and most experienced member of the group.
Conflicts in-game let you make full use of the Double Raid Linear Motion battle system and the Link Mode system. Like in Tales of Vesperia, you control your selected character together with an AI-driven party of four in wide-open combat spaces and attack enemies in real time. You will have access to skill and spirit artes (special attacks and spells, respectively) for fighting while also dodging and blocking counterattacks from foes. The newest addition is that combat will focus on cooperation.
The battle system lets two characters tag-team with each other to take on targets. Based on the Tales of Festival video we've seen so far, Jude and Milla will be able to flank an enemy and blindside it into a juggle state. You can even unleash team-up special artes attacks while in the midst of a combo. Jude and Milla can perform a team-up move called Scarlet Fang, which launches an enemy in the air, followed up by blazing air slashes from the two. Alvin and Milla can perform an attack together where they summon an ice dragon to launch an opponent and then slam it down with a combined downward strike that emits a white beam from the ground.
When linking characters, the main person you control is called the "master" character, while the character you wish to have close to you is called the "partner." In battle, a thin blue line helps to highlight which characters are paired up. When the situation calls for it, a partner can use specific partner-only moves at any time during combat. For instance, when Jude pairs up with Milla, Jude can use his Restore spirit artes on Mira is she's set as the "master" character. If Jude is in the driver's seat, Mira can support him with the Bind spirit artes, which paralyzes an enemy he's confronting for a short time.
Alvin can help his partner out by using the Breaker combat artes, which breaks an enemy's guard if it's persistent with blocking. The move has a great chance of paralyzing the target. Leia can steal items from enemies knocked down by a master character's skill artes, while Rowen can cast a magic guard if the master character gets pelted by spirit artes. Elise's partner assist enables her doll Tipo to tag an airborne enemy and steal its health and technical points (the game's equivalent of mana points) for the master character.
The tag-team system adds a lot of interesting possibilities and eliminates the need of pausing combat halfway and enabling commands for the AI-controlled party members. The inclusion of a party-swapping option with the D pad (and a time-slowing option to do this via pressing R3) was also welcome, since now players do not need to constantly escape from combat just to switch up their party. As a result, the flow of combat was smooth, though the chaotic nature of the game's battle system will take some time to get used to. Keep in mind that you can choose not to link up characters; keeping characters apart can be useful whenever there are battles that require players to divide and bait the opposition.
Additionally, each character will have a personal combat ability. Jude has a special evade where he backsteps away from an enemy attack and then instantly appears behind it. Milla has a skill called magi that changes the properties of a spirit artes on the fly, while Alvin can pull off a charged-up finishing strike after performing a skill artes.
The game's aesthetics are combining the best of both worlds; specifically the anime stylings of Tales of Vesperia and the watercolor tones of Tales of Graces. As a result, ToX's visuals were vibrant and lush as any game set on a fantasy backdrop should be. The battles themselves are a colorful mix of firepower, aura, and sword slash trails. However, the game seemed to retain that problem where every character announces its attack every single time it's used. While hearing it the first time wasn't too bad, we predict that you will reach out for the mute button after the next few hours of experiencing combat.
In any case, the game is shaping up to be a worthy successor to the series thanks to the developer's method of retaining its fast-paced real-time combat while also adding in a few new tricks to pique the interest of the jaded RPG player in us. Tales of Xillia will be out in Japan this September 9 for the PlayStation 3. An English version of the game has yet to be announced. A limited-edition bundle of the game that comes with a custom-colored PS3 is also up for purchasing for 37,980 yen.