I have spent most of my life playing Japanese role playing games. From the Final Fantasy series to the Shin Megami Tensei series, I have enjoyed several different JRPG titles from Japan. But one in particular was always hit or miss for me, and that was the Tales series. I bounced off of Abyss and Beseria, never owned a Gamecube to play Symphonia, finished Vesperia and liked it, but never felt the pull of replaying it. So to say that Tales of Arise is one of the best JRPGs to date is an understatement. Tales of Arise captures what makes JRPGs timeless while evolving and creating a new vocabulary of play through its storytelling and combat that I hope other studios take note of.
Several games of its genre are built to be memorable through its story and Arise is no exception. As you follow the journey of the two lead characters; Alphen, a masked enslaved person turned revolutionary hero, who’s honest himbo energy clashes against Shionne, a driven member of the slaver class, as they both team up to fight against the lords of the colonized world of Dhana to rid it of tyranny and free the enslaved people. Their relationship is by far the strongest part of the story as they both learn how to trust and see each other past their race as they connect through past trauma caused by the ruling class.
This aspect of storytelling was something that I was the most surprised and intrigued by. The story of Arise is a story of rebellion at its heart. The characters all come from different places of a societal system that has benefited or harmed them, girded with the intent of trying to change the system for the best. The idea of overthrowing the government or God is nothing new in games like these but what makes Arise stand out is its willingness to engage with what happens after the revolution. Each realm the lords reign over show different aspects of how oppression occurs. Whether its methods are slavery, Big Brother’s ever watchful eye, the power vacuum left after a revolution, brainwashing, or even equality as much as the system can allow, each section of the game’s story challenges the characters to wrestle with what their journey actually means as they defeat each lord.
These challenges don’t just happen to the oppressed class, either. Arise takes time to show how such a fascist kingdom strangles its own favored people into submission. Societal structures like the ones shown in game oppress everyone in different ways and to different degrees. Arise shows this through its conversation with generational trauma as well. The game does it best to show how much pain can be passed down and it tries to find answers on how to stop the cycle of violence.
The English dubbed voice acting cast does an incredible job of illuminating the nuances of their characters and the emotional choices their characters all go through. The music works as a beautiful accompaniment that ties the voice acting and beautiful water color art design to life. Each fight, city, forest, or desert pops off the screen with a life-like flourish I haven’t seen since Persona 5. Arise has a personality that breathes through it and culminates well in its combat system.
Tales of Arise follows the formula of the other Tales games still. It brings combat to a circular stage where its fighting is real time button mashing like Kingdom Hearts or NAMCO Bandai’s other recent JRPG, Scarlet Nexus. What makes this combat mechanic sing is how each character’s fighting style is individualistic but complementary to every one else in the team. You can use Alpen’s blazing sword ability to deal more damage while sacrificing some of your health, shoot from far way with elemental buffs or heal with Shionne, or tank for the party as Kisara. Each character is suited for battle with a unique play style that you can play through the majority the game as. The moments I felt that battle was beginning to become a bit repetitive, I would switch to a new character to play as primary, and feel a breathe of fresh air.
Tales of Arise doesn’t reinvent the wheel of JRPGs but instead sticks to the tradition of trying to tell a larger story through the eyes of likable characters and engaging combat. As we are moving into a new generation of consoles, it’s exciting to see games starting to move towards the future and I can’t wait to see what they do next.