We check out the first five hours of the import copy of Namco Bandai's latest RPG.
The last time we checked on the colorful world of Tales of Xillia, we elaborated on its story and fighting system. This time, we'll explore more about the game's leveling-up system and early major boss fights.
Before getting ahead of ourselves, we should provide a recap. The game's story is about Jude and Milla on the lam from the government authorities after inadvertedly messing with the game's MacGuffin, a spirit-draining cannon. Along the way, they come across potentially-shady mercenary Alvin, shy-but-powerful magician Elise Lutus, long-ranged spirit user Rowen J. Ilbert, and Jude's childhood friend Leia Rolando. The series' linear motion combat system now emphasizes co-operation. Players can assign a "master" to tag alongside a "partner" to attack a single target simultaneously, which leads to them juggling an enemy or performing a specific tag-team attack that deals a lot of damage.
The level up screen also takes a turn for the visually fancy and open-ended. Dubbed the Lillial Orb grid, each attribute you can upgrade is displayed in a web-like fashion, from a character's attack or defense rating to his or her TP limit. Activating four adjacent nodes on the web allows you to unlock an additional power up or skill for free; these range from passive skills that use up SP slots or even active skills that uses up TP. To expand the next ring on the web, you need to activate two skills (highlighted with a bigger symbol than the rest) on the outermost ring. It's definitely easier to comprehend than Final Fantasy X's sphere grid system, as each node is laid out in a uniform position and each of them have symbols representing each attribute.
We could also level up shopkeepers to make them sell better equipment and also give us good discounts for lower-tier items. Throughout the dungeons and fields, we amassed a lot of random components and items from encounters and map exploration that we could give to shopkeepers to level up a particular section, be it weapons, armor, and items to name but a few. While some can argue that the old system of getting better items as you uncover later locales is just fine, power-levelers can abuse the system by grinding for materials in order to access high-powered weapons at an early stage. Plus, it's a lot better than going through the motions of synthesizing different items in a tedious fashion like in past Tales of titles.
We also tangled with a few bosses that gave us quite a challenge since we were getting into grips with the new combo-based battle system. Our first opponent was a squid and turtle hybrid that used water-based attacks. These attacks either surround the monster temporarily or shoot out in a straight line following its target. If it's cornered or surrounded, it will jump up and do a telegraphed stomp attack that hits around where it lands.
Fortunately, it is slow and is weak against fire. Fighting against the beast also taught us the ability to link different artes after performing the team-up attack. Figuring out which artes link with each other after pressing R2 is key in keeping a chain combo going while the enemy is being juggled so that your Overlimit bar isn't wasted on just a single attack.
The other boss was a giant man named Jao who is from the Ha Mil village; we won't disclose much more than that since it's story-related. What we could share was that he wielded a giant hammer to attack and could also summon the local wildlife to aid him. Unlike the other monster, he was fast for someone his size and couldn't be interrupted while performing his combo hammer swings capped off with a huge area-of-effect earth attack. We had to circle around him while the A.I-controlled party members distracted him. It helped a lot that he was weak to Wind, so we used Milla's Wind Slash attack so that we could do a tag-team attack with Jude followed up with a couple of Link Artes to pile on the pain.
We anticipate combat to test us harder later in the game, but the overall feel is great and flexible. The tutorial and learning curve of the battles a few hours before the first boss is sufficient to gets new players into the spirit of things, although it helps if they had previous experience with any of the titles using some form of the Linear Motion battle system (Tales of the Abyss and other titles after that). Figuring out which artes could link with each other during a link artes and tag-team attack is akin to finding out an efficient combo in a 2D fighting game. The system will eventually get deeper as you unlock more moves and passive abilities for each character via the level-up system.
The little touches added onto the seemingly old-school action-heavy RPG was appreciated during our playthrough. We could climb onto specific ledges to bypass obstacles, we could ambush encounters from behind to gain the upper hand in combat (either by stunning or dealing a bit of damage to them) and we could fast-travel to previously-visited locations.
With a good combination of old-school action-heavy trappings and new-age conveniences, Tales of Xillia seems to be shaping up into something potentially grand for RPG fans. The game is currently out now in Japanese, but an English version has yet to be determined.