The early 2000s were dark times for JRPGs. The release of Final Fantasy 8 started a trend of JRPGs moving to older main characters and more mature themes. While this showed the genre as a whole growing up, it also led to some extremely dull games, culminating in the dullest of Final Fantasies, Final Fantasy X.
Along with Skies of Arcadia, one of the few shining lights in this era was Tales of Symphonia. The game was, at the time, a throwback to earlier JRPGs on the SNES, with a younger main character and a more light-hearted approach to story. It was the latest entry in the mostly-restricted-to-Japan Tales series at the time.
I mention this because I can’t help but feel that, just like Symphonia was a throwback to the SNES era, the first Tales of Xillia felt like a throwback to those dark days of the early 2000s. The characters were dull cutouts, the combat was clunky and not all that fun and the story was utterly stupid. After one of the main characters had betrayed the part and been forgiven for the fourth time, I threw the disc at the wall in frustration.
So it’s fair to say I didn’t have a lot of hope for Tales of Xillia 2. Starting it up and seeing the first few minutes seemed to confirm my fears, and the introduction of a mute main character almost made me quit then and there.
But my job is not to quit until I’ve put in enough time to write a review, so I taped a cyanide capsule to my tongue and soldiered on. These are the sacrifices I make for you, dear reader.
The story this time concerns Ludger Cresnik, who is starting his first day of work as a chef. One thing leads to another, trains get hijacked, his brother turns out to be evil and he ends up hanging out with characters from the first game. So far so standard. The end result is that they all go on a quest to defeat whatever it is that needs defeating this time.
If it sounds like I don’t care all that much about the story then that’s because I don’t. There’s nothing interesting or new in it, and the game doesn’t even really try to offer anything new. The characters are dull, made worse by a mediocre English dub (and, sadly, no Japanese audio option) and found myself constantly thinking how much I’d rather be playing a better game.
Then Alvin showed up. I bit down hard on that cyanide capsule. This is a character that, in the first game, suffered almost no consequence for his reprehensible actions. He’s a great example of just how awful JRPG writing can be, and I do not want anything to do with him. No way, no how.
For all its flaws, Xillia 2 is competently made. The cel-shaded visuals, a series trademark, look nice and the game has some catchy tunes, including another intro song from Ayumi Hamasaki. There’s no complaints about the controls or the menu system, which is understandable and gives access to all the game’s systems. It might even be possible to have fun with it.
I’ve always liked the combat system in the Tales series, with its move to a semi-realtime combat at a time when turn-based systems were dominant. These days the system is a little less innovative, but it works well enough. I can’t help but feel that the idea of random or semi-random monster battles is an anachronism nowadays, a hangover from when video game RPGs were still aping pen-and-paper games as much as possible.
In this day and age, as we move into a new generation of hardware and the gaming possibilities that brings, Tales of Xillia 2 feels like a throwback to a time when JRPGs did things because that was how things were done then. It offers nothing innovative or new, and doesn’t even improve on its immediate predecessor. It’s not bad, by any means, instead committing the far greater crime of mediocrity. You could buy this and play it and even extract entertainment value from it. But why would you when there are vastly more interesting games out there you could spend your time playing instead?
Clean cel-shaded visuals
Tales Combat is still pretty satisfying
No Japanese audio