If you are a fan of the Tales series, welcome, pull up a pew and revel in the successes and downfalls of the latest, and in many ways greatest, addition to this prolific JRPG series. If you aren't a fan of Tales, or simply haven't yet felt the joy of continuously pummelling hostile flora and fauna with a vast array of stunning abilities and spells, then I can only grant you my condolences, and ask you what on earth you've been doing with your time? don't say partying and having lots of outdoorsy fun because that bloated, self righteous line is the bane to the true gamer's serenity. Plus the fun bit's just not true is it? Or at least that's what I choose to believe.
Xillia 2 inherits all of the glorious traits from its predecessor, including the fast paced fluidity of battle, the slick feel of the characters as they move seamlessly from one attack to the other, the multi-chromatic fireworks display as each attack ruptures a noisy chicken's face and all of the previous games characters, while unfortunately migrating the same old bland and lifeless field areas, the same dungeons, the same enemies and, most disappointingly of all, the same bosses. Its a common lazy trait of Bandai Namco's to regurgitate the same monsters - putting an extra spike on an overgrown turtle or giving a wasp a pair of shades is not fooling anyone - but what you can usually be certain of is that they've designed some undeniably cool humanoid bosses to continuously kick your arse to the curb. In Xillia 2 however, you encounter the same foursome (Gaius's droogs) in a seemingly never ending carousel of destruction, and the admiration no longer soothes the pain they live to dish out.
Its saving grace then, and the reason why this addition has become my personal favourite, is the new weakness ring system enabling the player to properly combo bosses like the good Tales days of old. With this strategic approach to boss battles you have to consider the enemies weak points and exploit them in order to enjoy a weak hits stagger phase. This remarkably ephemeral stagger period can then be extended by linking other artes with a different elemental affliction and works as a challenging method to keep these vindictive so and so's from breaking free with that infuriating blue exclamation mark attack - why Bandai Namco? Why did you have to ruin everything with that unstoppable blue exclamation mark? I had to spam beast into the faces of every boss in Tales of Xillia just to keep them from randomly grabbing me by the throat and crushing my oesophagus; that's not the way a boss battle should be, my death should not be arbitrary, it should be a direct result of my failings; then at least, amongst all my raging, I can appreciate deep down that it was my fault, my mistake that lost me the battle, and not the whimsical outbursts of my much more powerful adversary.
The problem with the weakness ring comes into fruition when you encounter enemies that have no weaknesses or have several strengths that align with your most common form of attack. Playing as Jude for the first few areas and dungeons was a banal chore owing to the fact that he has nothing but blunt attacks from the off - an element that almost every enemy in these starting areas is immune to - and as a result he becomes relatively useless in attack. For the dungeon building up to Volt I had to haplessly dash about the battlefield until my comrade would hit a weakness, at which point I'd dive desperately into the fray trying to relive the prompt devastation so often displayed by Jude in Xillia, only to be slapped back because all of my attacks simply elevated my foe from stagger. Once you attain all of Jude's artes this doesn't become a problem, and for the most part the weaknesses and strengths of normal enemies adds a thought provoking dimension to each battle, but thinking critically I believe it would've been best left for unique enemies and bosses only; that way you could develop a combo attack that affects all your enemies, instead of realising half way through that it just doesn't work.
The main protagonist in Xillia 2 is a muted, police-detective-looking character named Ludger, who, if the usual overlimit, dual attack limit and hi ougi battle extensions weren't enough, has his own Corpse shell mode that draws all enemies on the battlefield into some time-warped dimension - where Ludger is not only invulnerable to attack but outrageously powerful to suffer all manner of indignities at his neon-biotic hands. On top of this new feature, Ludger has a weapon switching base ability that allows him to use two swords, two pistols and a hammer in a single combination attack, making him the most impressive Tales protagonist to date, not to mention the most dexterously challenging. Each of Ludger's weapons contains its own 16 arte slot, consequently presenting Ludger with a possible 48 artes to be used in each individual battle. In my RPG gaming career its common practice to perhaps have six, eight if you're lucky, attacks or abilities to use at one given time, each then having its own cool down or buffer period to prevent you from disclosing total carnage upon your foes. To wield then, a total of 48 different attacks/abilities is sheer RPG mastery requiring the player to memory map each action with its assigned button in order to successfully chain attacks. Once you've completed a combo using all 16 artes available to the regular Tales pleb, you'll feel as though you've just explained the theory of relativity to an X-Factor contestant (or judge) whilst beating the rain man at a game of blackjack, so how would you feel after having chained 48? Performing each arte in a series that you see fit to destroy enemies reminds me of a brilliantly crafted hack and slash game devoid of the shallow monotony. That feel you get when engaging an enemy in Tales of Xillia is something that cannot be forced or improvised, yet it is the most essential aspect of any game though commonly misconstrued and in some cases feloniously overlooked.
The levelling system in Xillia 2 baffles me. I still don't quite understand why developers have had a sudden urge to faff with something as trivial and pedestrian as the levelling system - leave it alone! I don't pick up an RPG because it boasts a revolutionary levelling up system, because instead of simply having my stats increased and choosing new abilities and skills I can scatter through a spiders web or a cluster of stars, or prance about in the same open fields to pick up glowing ores instead of just fighting and completing quests. These features are unnecessary complications, especially when you don't speak a lick of Japanese, are struggling to find a translation and the European release isn't even set yet! The time spent revolutionising the element core business would've been better spent designing some new areas to explore but its not the be all and end all of the game and once gotten used to it poses not much of a problem.
The story of Xillia 2 for me is as yet nothing but guesswork, and the dialogue nothing save libellous self manifested translations often leading to innuendo and hysterical confessions of Rowen's brooding nymphomania, but it never inhibits the joy of playing the story through. I think ignorance from the script in a JRPG is more often than not a blessing anyway, and the avoidance of God-awful American voice-overs is never a bad thing. So if you can manage to play a game by filling in the lines and want to play through the best in the series simply for chaining combos then this latest instalment into the Tales series is a must, especially when you get to play as Gaius. Swallow Fury, swallow fury, swallow fury, swallow fury...you win.