The dawn of a new hardware generation is often accompanied by a few pangs of uncertainty. For fans of Japanese role-playing games, the future remains especially uncertain, with only Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III on the horizon, while Wonder Flick and Omega Quintet linger without confirmation of Western localization. Mercifully, solace can still be found on the PlayStation 3- with the release of Tales of Xilia 2 offering an engrossing and melancholic twilight entry for this generation’s JRPG genre.
While we’re getting the title late in the PS3’s lifecycle, Xilia 2 was published nearly two years ago in Japan. But save for the outdated decision for English-only voice acting, the wait was worth it- with Namco-Bandai delivering a top-notch translation for a technically impressive grand adventure. For those who enjoyed the first XIllia, this follow-up offers an indulging reappearance of characters and locations- while adding enough tonal distinction and new mechanics to justify another sixty dollar purchase.
Tales of Xillia’s storyline allowed players to select either Jude Mathis or Millia Maxwell as the lead character. Although the technique allowed players to see the world through each protagonist’s perspective, in execution the trajectory of each hero’s journey was largely identical. Interestingly, Xillia 2 settles for a single lead, the largely taciturn Ludger Kresnick, but presents a similar impression of choice- extending pairs of actions or dialog options at regular intervals. While a player’s decisions do provide some radical repercussions late in the game, more often they’re used to determine an affinity with other characters. Much like the Persona series, building rapport feels rewarding, and yields tangible perks in the way of new combat skills and conversational options.
While the game’s relational developments are certainly gratifying, Kresnick’s depiction is a bit unfulfilling. Instead of following role-playing tradition and extending a well-developed hero, the lead is mainly defined through player decision, his enigmatic silence only broken by the sporadic grunt (at least during the first playthough). Although this design decision might help foster identification between the character and the player, Kresnick ends up feeling like a cipher, especially when juxtaposed to the rest of Xillia’s colorful cast. Beyond the reticent lead, the game gradually reintroduces the largely likable principals of its predecessor, while adding a number of new characters. Considering the size of the cast and how towns are teaming with talkative NPCs, Xillia 2 supplies a magnitude of dialog, highlighted by a surprising number of engaging character arcs.
Set a year after the events of the first game, Tales of Xillia 2’s plotline wisely focuses on straightforward events before embarking on its more metaphysical elements, such as the inclusion of alternative timelines. The opening hour introduces players to both Kresnick, as well as an eight year-old girl named Elle, who’s attempting to observe her father’s request to journey to a mysterious place known as the Land of Canaan. Tenderly, the game cultivates a heartening and convincing relationship between the two, with Kresnick unsurprisingly drawn into aiding the charming young child. An ensuing catastrophe plunges the protagonist into debt, forcing Kresnick to escape liability by abolishing fractured dimensions. The game’s original marketing pitch asked players, “Are you prepared to destroy the world for the girl?” which is an adept summary of Xillia 2’s main thesis. The answer can be found in the title’s two endings, each of which are poised to deliver a sense of mono no aware in players. As someone who always preferred a bit of poignancy in their journeys, I found the game’s conclusion offered one of the more rewarding finales in this generation of JRPGs.
Xillia 2’s storyline also guides much of the game’s mechanical structure. Specifically, Ludger Kresnick debt determines how far around the game world he can venture. Attempt a move to the next area to push the plotline along and you’ll be forced to pay a sum toward your principal. This system also plays into Xillia 2’s side quest system, which allows you to earn currency by going on a handful of different mission types. While these are enjoyable at first, they become less gratifying as the game goes on. Each subsequent loan payment swells in price, which means you be disconnected from the main storyline while fetching items or hunting things down. Before long, it feels as if the developers but the system in to pad Tales of Xillia 2’s playtime past the fifty hour mark. On the upside, Tales’ character-driven side missions deliver some of the game’s best storytelling. Although non-compulsory, gamers who enjoy a good character arc should ensure they don’t overlook these events.
While collecting enough Gald for your next load payment might be a protracted process, Xillia 2 balances that with the franchise’s traditional brisk real-time battles. Effectively, the game’s combat model extends its predecessors engrossing system, providing players with a bit more flexibility. From increasing the number of key bindings to issue artes and allowing gamers to free roam across the battlefield with a press of the L2 button, a player’s repertoire has grown, but so has the assertiveness of antagonists. Beyond linking with allies, for stat bonus and flanking maneuvers, Kresnick’s arsenal allows gamers to attack with guns, war hammers, or his trusty blades, extending the number of ranged and melee options. Despite the increase in complexity, Xillia 2’s confrontations still channel the energy and exhilaration of fighting game, divorcing the title from its turn-based contemporaries.
Off the battlefield, Xillia’s character-enhancing Illium Orbs have been tweaked into a new system. Now, equipping special items called Extractors gradually endows characters with new Artes and skills. While gamers still need to perform a bit of micromanaging due to the elemental nature of Extractors, new perks become unlocked automatically, delivering a pleasing sense of progression.
Although Tales of Xillia 2’s debt mechanic might remind players of the student loan woes, the game’s other components are robust enough to help forget about your financial situation. The real-time battles Tales series feel even better with new options, while the plotline offers one of the most poignant experiences of the generation. The only other caveat is directed at newcomers- although Xillia 2 has an in-game encyclopedia to that covers the basics of characters and lore, it’s no match for a playthrough of the first game.
Tales of Xillia 2 was played on the PlayStation 3 with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 3
Developer: Namco Tales Studio
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Release date: August 19th, 2014 (US)
Language(s): English voice and text