Japan has been enjoying Tales of Xillia 2 since 2012, but it just arrived on our shores last week. Was it worth the wait?
So a little full disclosure here at the outset of my Tales of Xillia 2 (ToX2) review. I have not played the first game, I have yet to complete this one, and I have only played a handful of JRPGs to date. I'm clearly not a huge fan of the genre, but it's more about not valuing JRPGs enough to prioritize them in my backlog as opposed to any generic dislike for them. That said, ToX2 arrived to us and, on a whim as I had just wrapped up my Diablo III UEE review, I decided to jump into it. Honestly, I'm glad I did.
Having not played the original ToX I was unsure just exactly how lost I would be. Fortunately, I was supplied with a nice booklet that gave a high level overview of the story, a snapshot bio of the many characters involved, the controls, and quite a few other pages on other gameplay elements like the Battle and Debt systems. Early on in the game a tutorial message reminds you that you can access an encyclopedia from the pause menu with lots of information on Jude, Elympios, Rieze Maxia, the Schism, and so much more. There are also dozens of NPCs that you can run up to and talk to who also give out short bits of information to help you grasp the bigger picture of the story. So between these resources, suffice it to say that even as a JRPG noob and as someone who never played ToX (yet), I felt like comfortable enough with the story and characters of ToX2 to not feel overwhelmed or too uninformed.
Playing ToX2 puts you in the shoes of one Ludger Kresnik, a young man who knows his way around a kitchen. His brother Julius is a top security agent for Spirius Corporation, whose influence and reach in Elympios is vast. One morning while Ludger is on his way into work to start his new job, he encounters Elle Marta who is trying to find her way to Canaan in hopes to find her father. He also encounters Jude Mathis, who is trying to make his way to a special new train that is departing the station for the first time. The trio end up together aboard this train when all hell breaks loose. Forced to fight, Ludger take action in order to keep the terrorists from running the train into a building. Through multiple, unavoidable battles in each train car, the combat system is introduced in detail. Combat is free-flowing, which is great as I am not fan of turn-based games, but it took me a while to get the hang of things as it's a pretty deep system.
A key element of the combat system are the Artes, which are like special moves or spells. Each Arte uses x amount of TP, which stands for Tactical Points, I think. In the HUD at the bottom of the screen, you can keep track of the amount of TP available. Blocking and just doing basic attacks (pressing X) refills TP so that you can perform the more advanced moves like Ludger's Wind-based attack, Azure's Edge. Another value to keep in mind is the Assault Counter, which is a number that indicates how many consecutive attacks you can perform. Various Items can help refill these values, as well as your HP, and these values increase as you Level up as well.
Mixing up basic attack and Artes, and furthermore the element that said attacks are based on, is a must for keeping tougher foes in a vulnerable state. In other words, you might have to start a combo with Ludger's blades, then switch to a Wind attack, and then go from there with a Fire, Darnkess, or Earth, etc. attack, maybe switch to your hammer or pistols, etc., to keep the combo alive and to deal more damage, at least until your AC and TP run out. Linking is also extremely helpful from an offensive and defensive perspective; simply press the button on the d-pad towards the party member you want to Link with and you will establish a Link. You can alter the NPC's behavior by setting them to act freely, assist you, and one other option I can't recall. If you flank an enemy, the NPC will attack the enemy from behind, and they will also watch your back if you get flanked, too. The ability for them to revive you mid-battle has saved my ass several times. Chaining Artes makes for some cool visual spectacle as well as satisfying and very damaging attacks as well. Overall, I liked how the combat system really held my attention and engaged me, especially as the encounters became more difficult and strategy became more important.
Speaking of strategy, one of my favorite parts of the game are the decisions you have to make. Some of these have a time limit too, forcing you select between a couple of responses within about ten seconds. Other times you have all the time you want; these decisions effect relationships with the NPCs and to some unknown-to-me degree, the path of the story. Even if the game is ultimately designed to where decisions all "balance out," I liked when the 'decision screen' popped up as that too, similar to the very active combat system, kept me very invested in the game.
On the other hand, to counterattack that positive, there was a lot of repetition and, for prolonged sessions, the literal few seconds it takes to go from exploring to battle mode starts to add up, especially in those cases where the battle lasts as long as it took to get into the battle in the first place. You also have debts to pay to NPCs that are really just a clever way to hide grinding and to extend the length of the game by forcing you to stay within an area (albeit it relatively large) until you payoff debts with Gald (the cash currency in-game). I appreciate the effort to mask grinding or putting some arbitrary level requirement in place, but even under this veil it's pretty clear what you're doing. So there are those lulls in the game where it does feel artificially extended for the sake of it, and it's the sum of those times over the course of a longer session that would make me glad to encounter one of the well-placed save spots to give me a good stopping point. To be fair and realistic, few games, JRPGs especially, are without their repetitive or grinding elements, and ToX2 is no exception. But the good news is that ToX2 has enough going for it, from story to characters to combat to other gameplay elements, that these positives far outweigh the negatives.
With that, let's get to the summary...