It is very rare to see a Tales game receive a direct sequel. The franchise has always felt like the little brother to Final Fantasy, crafting new fantastical universes to explore for hours on end with each passing iteration. With that said, did 2013’s Tales Of Xillia warrant a sequel? Ever since I finished the original game I was at a crossroads in wondering why a sequel had already been released in Japan. Don’t get me wrong, the story was good as were the characters, but there seemed to be a definitive enough ending to rule out a potential continuation.
After having played Tales Of Xillia 2, I once again revisited that thought of whether an expansion on the world of Elympios or Rieze Maxia was necessary, and ultimately came to the conclusion that the game is a weird departure from not just the original game, but the franchise itself. Now, I am all for change and spicing things up – especially in a series where each game consistently plays and indeed has a narrative like the last – but this game just has some fundamental design choices that boggle the mind.
For starters, your new and randomly silent protagonist Ludger Kresnik gets placed into medical debt early on into the Tales of Xillia 2, but it isn’t just for story purposes. You actually have to consistently pay fractions of this debt back as you accumulate Gald. What this means is that for the most part, you never really care about accumulating a lot of cash because you know that just around the corner is a cell-phone call demanding that you pay up. If you don’t pay up, you can’t progress with the game. In the end, paying back your debt is a game mechanic that is stupidly tethered to unlocking new areas of the world.
There’s a possibility that things would be less insufferable if making Gald was actually fun, but it’s not. Located in each town is a bulletin board that features a seemingly endless barrage of side-quests that are comprised of the very worst parts of playing an MMO. One of the missions was simply to find an egg. Sounds easy, right? Well somehow, it ended up being an annoying waste of time because even though I was looking in the most common places to find an egg – Ludger’s kitchen or the marketplace, for example – I couldn’t find one.
The solution was to send out your cat – who is admittedly the most adorable thing about this game – using something that Tales Of Xillia 2 calls Kitty Dispatch. The feature exists to allow players to find items that exist in the area that can only be obtained by your feline companion. It is an interesting mechanic, but it boils down to you meticulously sending out the little furball in every area you come across, and waiting or fighting patiently for minutes on end to see what it finds. The worst part is that it might not even come back with an item you need; hell, sometimes it will just come back empty-handed.
Thankfully, you don’t have to do all of the side-quests, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the mission types are any more fun. At around just 5 hours into the game you will realize that you have been doing the same brand of quests over and over, with the only differences being the game telling you to kill more of an enemy type or to kill them in a different area. And once again, it’s not like the money you are earning from doing this is going into purchasing new weapons and armor, but rather a grating debt that needs to be paid back throughout the entire game. It is just an utterly pointless nuisance that sucks enjoyment out of the experience.
The good news is that the combat system is the same fast-paced, flashy and arena-style combat all Tales fans are accustomed to, but with a twist. Ludger is able to switch between three different weapon types on-the-fly in the middle of a battle. They range from dual swords, to war-hammers, and handguns, with the general idea being that each form of punishment is best for a different situation. Furthermore, as you progress through the game Ludger also gets an ability similar to Rage mode in the God of War franchise, where pressing in both thumbsticks gives you a major attack boost thanks to some interesting narrative mechanics that I don’t want to spoil.
And speaking of the story in Tales Of Xillia 2, it is another bright spot in the game so long as you know what to expect. Unlike its predecessor, Tales Of Xillia 2 tells a much smaller story in scope that is more about expanding on the characters people fell in love with and some new characters. This is made abundantly clear by the Affinity System, which allows the bond between Ludger and his friends to grow as he fights alongside them. Also, the Affinity levels play a role in dictating which ending you will get, so it’s wise to play it smart and make sure you are levelling up your friendship with everyone.
Fighting isn’t the only way to get your sidekicks to like you though, as in between the game’s 16 main story chapters are optional missions tethered to each party member. And, just like the story missions, they are short, sweet, and to the point. I actually found myself more interested in the character side story arcs than the actual narrative, too, which is a testament to my early impression that the sequel isn’t necessarily about crashing an epic story, but allowing players to spend more time with some of the best characters that the franchise has produced. You can also gain Affinity through special items or by selecting favorable dialogue choices for the silent Ludger.
Before closing out this review, I do want to weigh in on the controversy regarding all of the reused assets, that range from world map locales to environments to enemies, and more. It’s just not a cop-out; these games take place within the same universe. Furthermore, all of the main story content is brand-new considering that Elympios wasn’t as thoroughly explored in the first game. Rieze Maxia and all of its content from the original game mostly exist as a novelty to revisit, while occasionally killing enemies for cash.
Essentially, Tales Of Xillia 2 is a sequel that tries some new things, in addition to letting fans go on another journey with characters that were more charismatic and wholly more rounded than the franchise standard. It’s just a shame that no one on the development team realized that mechanics such as the overhanging debt and having to go on MMO quests nonstop was doing the game a disservice. Most importantly though, it’s still fun to play.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, which we were provided with.
There are some awkward features that hinder the fun, but at the core of Tales Of Xillia 2 is another addictingly fun adventure.