Unlike the rest of the Lazygamer staff, I am a confessed JRPG fangirl. Yup, I love them, can’t get enough of them. Well, or so I thought. This happy fangirl was given Tales of Xillia, and I may need to qualify that fangirl title.
Tales of Xillia is your typical coming of age JRPG. The story focuses on two main protagonists – Milla and Jude. At the beginning of the game, you can choose which character you want to play as – something that confidently implies that Xillia will be so good you’ll just have to play it twice to see both sides of the story. I chose Milla, a character later described as a “busty 20-something” (she has jiggle physics), and she certainly is.
Milla proclaims that she is actually Lord Maxwell, the ruler of spirits and protector of both humans and spirits. Jude, on the other hand, is a shy and awkward medical school student. Through a strange series of events, they end up on a journey together as Milla pursues her mission. They gather the rest of the JRPG archetypes during the first 10 or so hours of gameplay. These include Alvin, the mercenary with a secret, Rowan, the wise old man with a past, Elize, a cute naive girl with her strange pet Teepo, and Leia, the insecure girl with a lifelong crush on Jude. Together, they will try to save the world, while learning important life lessons along the way.
So yeah, it’s a fairly traditional JRPG plot line, with your typical characters to act it out. In fact, I was sort of enjoying the game. Until I fell asleep. No, seriously – for the first 20 hours of gameplay, I could not play for more than 2-3 hours without falling asleep, controller in hand. I’m not sure if it was the music, the voice acting or what, but something consistently put me to sleep. It made the game rather difficult to get immersed in, and certainly made me worry about how much I was actually enjoying Tales of Xillia.
With the exception of some side quests (bring a certain resource or food dish, go kill some enemies, go save someone who tried to kill enemies), the plot line is fairly straight forward. Arrive in location, sit through 15 minutes of cut scenes, travel to the next location killing tons of enemies, arrive in new location, rinse, repeat. It was just a bit too predictable for me, and it ended up feeling like bad story telling. The pacing was particularly bad – the story and character development dragged for the first 20 hours or so of gameplay, then all of a sudden there was a huge game shift with a ton of new developments, followed by two hours of gameplay that seemed to be endgame stuff, followed by another ten hours of pointless (and predictable) plot twists. I kept waiting to get absorbed – to care about the characters or story. It just didn’t happen.
The combat system was rather interesting. Characters could do normal attacks, or special attacks. They could also link with one other character during combat, leading to special combo attacks. I spent most of the game with Milla and Jude linked – I seemed to get the most combos and Jude had a knack for keeping Milla alive. However, mixing up between the characters did add a nice variety to combat. In general, the fights were dynamic, quick and relatively interesting. However, there was little to no need for grinding. If you kill just half the enemies on your journey between areas, you will be high enough level to kill the next boss. In fact, early in the game, I was killing every enemy I encountered, and I found the boss battles to be a bit too easy to be interesting or challenging. That said, in general, the combat was well designed and thought through.
Leveling occurs with the use of Lilium orbs. These spread out like a web, with nodes focussing on HP, stats, skills and abilities. In this way, you can fully customize a character’s attributes. If you like, you can work evenly around the web, balancing your character, or you can focus on specific skills and attributes as you see fit. If you don’t want to worry about how to build your character, you can also select “auto-level” and the game will do it for you. So, this should appeal to the OCD customizer and lazy levelers alike.
I found the aesthetic of Tales of Xillia to be inconsistent. Some cut scenes allowed you to move dialogue along, some did not, and others turned the entire cutscene into an anime-style clip. I liked all three styles, but found it jarring the way that they moved between them. For the most part, the music was rather repetitive and monotonous – I still blame my narcolepsy on it. However, in the last 10 hour of the game, the music changes drastically. In fact, it becomes like a cool jazz soundtrack. I love jazz, but I must say that Xillia almost made it sound like a softcore porn flick. The saxophone just rang out in such a way that it made me worry about what Milla and Jude were getting up to after battle. I believe the jazz was to represent the new world the players encountered, but I was just unimpressed with the use of music and art direction.
Despite these issues, the game truly wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great, either. I found myself wondering what would set Tales of Xillia apart. It did not have any element that made it inherently repulsive. Combat worked, the story was okay although told in a predictable and poorly paced way. The characters were diverse enough for everyone to have a favourite, and there are a wide variety of towns, fields and dungeons. All in all, there was nothing truly horrible to say that this game was bad. However, I’m afraid that it is also completely forgettable. There is nothing that sets the game apart as something to enjoy, to replay. So, add this to the pile of average JRPGs. If you’re a fanboy/girl, give it a whirl. Otherwise, it’s really not worth your time.