In the midst of a JRPG dry spell here in the West, Tales of Xillia 2 is a welcome arrival to our shores. A sequel to the acclaimed Tales of Xillia and a member of the “Tales of” franchise, Tales of Xillia 2 showed promise in going above and beyond its predecessor in terms of story and gameplay by experimenting with the structure of the series. Its modernized feel and upgraded mechanics made fans of the franchise yearn for their return trip to Xillia’s world, to step into some new shoes and see the post Tales of Xillia twists shape the characters and their homes and to this degree, Tales of Xillia 2 succeeds. However, with each success the game marks up, it detracts another point for watered down mechanics and nonsensical design choices.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
Now, this isn’t specifically an aesthetic observation as it applies to certain gameplay elements as well, but I’m putting this paragraph here to let it sink in and filter down to the rest of the review — the similarities between Tales of Xillia 2 and Final Fantasy XIII-2 are staggering. The pink title menu and accents, the time centric theme complete with cogs everywhere, Ludger’s transformation having a similar button input scheme as the FFXIII-2 Eidolons, certain character roles (in story, not combat) that are mirrored, branching dialogue paths with player controlled responses that slightly adjust the script are all examples of this eerie similarity. I’m not saying this is bad or good in terms of Tales of Xillia’s final score or review, but the connections are there. I’m also sure that these are coincidence, but just the sheer amount of coincidence must be taken note of.
Storywise, Tales of Xillia 2 doesn’t offer anything particularly new to the genre but it keeps itself interesting and enjoyable enough to hold the player’s attention for most of the game. Like its predecessor, it continues to present a darker story compared to the other games in the franchise. While this goal falls short sometimes or feels a bit hackneyed at others, the balance between lightheartedness and tragic moments is kept fairly well. Most of the cast of the first game returns too, which immediately reveals a major positive and negative. The positive is having the chance to get to know the cast of Tales of Xillia, which is still a great collection of characters if albeit a little predictable at certain moments, in more depth. It’s like catching up with old friends and seeing how they’ve grown (or in some cases not at all) since the previous game’s conclusion. The biggest negative, however, is a polar opposite to the aforementioned positive: the lack of new main characters. Tales of Xillia 2 introduces Ludger and Elle (one of which is playable) who fall into their tropes: Ludger as the silent protagonist and Elle as the initially brash but kindhearted child. But the story and its recurring cast lack a sense of discovery, the exhilaration of getting to know someone or something and learning about their personality or motivations.
The visuals of Tales of Xillia 2, the art and the graphics, are touched up a bit here and there but have remained relatively similar to Tales of Xillia. If you look at the Tales of Xillia 2 by itself, there isn’t much of a comparable difference, but side-by-side to the first there’s a noticeable improvement. Sparse and spread out, the game also features some enjoyable anime style cinematics at critical plot moments. These are a nice break from the polygonal world environments and character models. The soundtrack of Tales of Xillia 2 is within the same circumstance; the musical composition is easily recognizable as a “Tales of” piece, though with a few noir numbers thrown in here and there. All in all, Tales of Xillia 2 doesn’t deviate much from the “Tales of” aesthetic style, but as they say: when there’s nothing really wrong it, why try to fix it?
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
Tales of Xillia 2 brings back the Link RT battle system featured in the first Tales of Xillia with a few new twists here and there. The system seems more refined and responsive, but ultimately that doesn’t affect the gameplay in a significant manner as the first’s was pretty well polished. Other than that though, it still sticks to the traditional “Tales of” fighting-game style of combat which is as enjoyable and satisfying as ever. The “Tales of” series has usually been hit or miss on its aesthetics, but the main attraction is combat and Tales of Xillia 2 delivers some more fantastic fast pace battles.
The greatest new addition to Tales of Xillia 2 is how Ludger Will Kresnik, the game’s protagonist, functions as the central character. For the most part, he’s a silent protagonist except for the one word responses frequently used to agree or disagree in skits or certain cutscenes. Outside those responses, the player chooses what Ludger will say and how he’ll respond to certain situations. However, this level of player choice is difficult to fully execute as to instill a sense of satisfaction in its choice system and the outcomes. Unfortunately, Tales of Xillia 2 fails completely with both. The simplistic binary choices presented are reminiscent of Mass Effect’s in that they only allow for a “good” or a “bad” option, which feels flat and stifling. Furthermore, these choices only slightly alter the outcome of the situation for a majority of the game, changing a few lines of dialogue or earning some friendship points with a party member. The real impact doesn’t come until the end of the game, but as it only truly functions in such a minuscule part of the game, the idea that Tales of Xillia 2 centers around this theme of decision-making as stated by its creators is rendered useless.
Another deviation from the usual “Tales of” tradition is the emphasis put on gald, the game’s currency. A staple in the “Tales of” franchise since its premier title, Tales of Phantasia, gald is a major focus as a mechanic in Tales of Xillia 2. A certain event at the beginning of the game puts the player in a ridiculous amount of debt that must be payed off periodically to advance the main story. While this sounds daunting, Tales of Xillia 2 features a job system which makes it relatively easy to make a lot of gald pretty quickly. The system and its quests themselves are a bit tedious and do get annoying once in a while as they act as unnecessary and sometimes forced roadblocks, but it’s hardly game breaking.
Lastly, I really hope you like cats because Tales of Xillia 2 puts an odd, unexpected emphasis on the furry, feline critters. Arguably the most sizable side activity in the game, the Kitty Dispatch system includes sending multiple cats out into the world to collect rare items and return according to the Playstation’s real-time clock. These materials can be used to customize equipment or appearances and the amount there is to collect, including the cats which are hidden, makes for a substantial amount of game hours. But the game’s decision to make everything cat related is so out of nowhere that it just feels like a cute, slapstick skin painted over the skeletal system of the Kitty Dispatch.
As a standalone title, I consider Tales of Xillia 2 to be an incredibly entertaining JRPG. Though it’s not particularly memorable or innovative, it’s got its charms and is for the most part a solid, captivating JRPG experience. Much like the films that come out around this time of year, I’d compare Tales of Xillia 2 to a “popcorn” film: one that is not genre defining or masterful but nevertheless is still extremely enjoyable. Though the game’s story and characters fall a bit on the weak side, the high intensity, combo filled combat makes up for it. I’d definitely recommend Tales of Xillia 2 to anyone who wants to play a quality JRPG, though for newcomers it might be a bit out there and lackluster.
Final Score: 8 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood