Tales of Xillia

August 13, 2013

Not every Tales game has been localized outside of Japan, but you’d think Tales of Xillia’s delivery to Western shores two years after initial release was made easy thanks to a solid home-reception and record for most pre-orders in the series. Granted, it’s been a long wait – a sequel, Tales of Xillia 2, has already spent nine months on Japanese shelves – but JRPG fans can rest assured that the wait has been worthwhile.

Xillia takes place in Rieze Maxia, a land where spirits shape the terrain and the world’s inhabitants feed off the resulting energy as a means of channelling mana and casting elemental spells known as artes. Rieze Maxia’s spirits are mysteriously dying however, prompting tensions and a threat of war between its regions. You have the option of playing as either one of two characters central to the conflict: Milla, the physical form of an ancient spirit, or Jude, a young medical student proficient in healing artes.

Both characters have different nuances in combat though Xillia unravels across a singular, premeditated story regardless of who you choose. In other words, you won’t see any drastic game-changing decisions beyond some select dialogue and brief diversions when the narrative demands it. Thankfully, a new-game plus mode allows both perspectives to be viewed without loss of level progression, plus a snappy fast travel system cuts down the tedium of previous entries.

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By JRPG standards, Xillia’s central plot breeds familiarly both in subject matter and the way it’s presented. Frequent cutscenes often halt proceedings to a standstill – indeed, there were instances where I’d trigger a scene ten paces away from the last – and the concept of friendship often rears its head in not-so-subtle ways. However, to dwell on these issues would be a disservice; Xillia is a slow-burner, and the time dedicated to exploring the characters recruited to your journey and their interactions with each other is what makes the overall experience so gratifying.

While often stereotypical in nature, said companions offer a surprising level of depth which helps them break the mould. Each has their own intriguing past or demons to deal with, but reveals are effectively teased out and never feel forced or cheap. The fact that I managed to empathise with the annoying talking doll Teepo, for example, is a credit to Xillia’s writing. Playful banter via in-game skits (which like every cutscene can be skipped) also adds context to the story in meaningful ways, while the backdrop of war benefits the exploration of some engaging themes I wasn’t expecting, such as death, loyalty and personal growth.

In terms of gameplay you can expect a typical division between exploration of the overworld and Xillia‘s battle screen. Moving from one region to the next is generally a linear affair, though some very minimal scrounging reveals a host of valuable resources which aid your battle efforts or act as currency for expanding stops; this gives you access to better gear, items and discounts on what you’ve already unlocked. Enemies in the environment are slow and easily avoided if you want to skip a fight or deliver a pre-eminent attack, though it speaks volumes of the battle system that I rarely chose to avoid encounters.

Battles demand a skilled and varied application of dodges, blocks, guard breaks, basic attacks and artes, and its here where the game shines the most. Each encounter plays out in real time, though bringing up a quick-menu will pause the action and allow for more selective options. Central to the system is the Action Counter and Technical Points, which denote your capacity for performing offensives abilities. Using standard moves and artes will drain both these resources, respectively, but fast recharge rates (which can be sped up by taunting enemies, using items and mixing up your playstyle) helps keep things seamless and free-flowing.

The result is swift and responsive combat akin to an actual fighting game. Before long I fell into a satisfying rhythm further complimented by Xillia’s strategically-motivated Linking. Being Linked to another character allows you to combine artes to increase damage output or activate special abilities such as Jude’s restore, which automatically heals downed partners. Linking also enables the player to chain Linked Artes together for devastating results, and you can maintain a flurry of combined attacks by switching links on the fly. It’s a tricky strategy to pull off, but yields satisfaction once learned.

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Speaking of strategy, Xillia’s Tactics system enables you to tweak your companion’s behaviour. Party members will act independently depending on the criteria you’ve selected, whether it be retreating when low on health, or attacking weaker enemies to decrease their numbers – all of which holds up well thanks to competent AI. Another system coined the Lilium Orb provides upgrades for each character, but the more interesting abilities such as new artes and skills are locked behind stat increases too incremental to bear noticeable difference in battle. As a result, an automatic levelling function became second-nature to me relatively quickly.

Complimenting Xillia’s combat is a stunning animated art style that would be a crime not to mention. Characters tend to lack fluidity during cutscenes, but it’s easy to forgive in lieu of some truly vibrant and captivating visuals. As I began my playthrough with Jude – stepping out into the capital of Fenmont wrapped in its perpetual star-dotted twilight and glimpsing the warm glow of its native lantern-trees – I was simply taken aback.

It’s a shame, then, that landscapes adjoining these key locations are victims of uninspired design. Such areas are often identical to each other beyond different colour palettes, while dungeon layouts are lacklustre and incorporate dated puzzles such as pushing and pulling blocks. In particular, one dungeon required button mashing X at regular intervals, which controlled the swing of a pickaxe as I chipped away at boulders to reveal hidden pathways. While I appreciated the attempted variety, such moments often had the reverse effect of drawing me in.

Similar complaints may also be levelled at Xillia’s sub-quests which generally involve fetching an item or clearing an area of enemies. However, more meaningful pursuits are available both during and after the main game: attaining specific goals like chaining together Linked Artes will earn you Titles, while optional high-level boss battles offer rare weapons and demand liberal use of all your skills and resources. Not only were these fights a welcome challenge, but dispelling my item-hoarding habits often proved the difference between winning and losing. This, in turn, gave greater relevance to scavenging and shop expansion.

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Overall you can expect Xillia’s main course to clock in 40+ hours of gameplay, though deft balancing of both narrative and combat should keep fans engaged the majority of the time.  Some side-content may prove difficult if attempted too early, though I was appreciative of the fact that grinding was never obligatory with respect to the primary story thread, nor was needless backtracking required thanks to the quick travel system and optional enemy encounters.

That said, Xillia’s magnitude demands considerable involvement on the player’s behalf, even without typical genre annoyances. Every character interaction, every Linked move, and even every post-battle celebration denoting which characters worked together: it all feeds into the spirit and camaraderie at Xillia’s core and that takes time to appreciate. However, it’s also the culmination of these smaller details that will see your efforts aptly rewarded. Commit yourself to the experience and, in the end, you’ll be glad you did.


Captivating story and characters | Satisfying, fast-paced combat | Beautiful animated art style | Challenging boss battles demand strategy


Boring corridor environments | Uninspired dungeon design and puzzles

Overall Score: