Review | 8/19/2013 at 9:00 AM

Tales of Xillia Co-Op Review

Get those gels and Demon Fangs ready - it's go time!

Tales of Xillia, the latest Tales game released in the West, has been eagerly anticipated by JRPG fans due to its critical acclaim in the East. Does it live up to all the hype? Let’s take a look.

One of the eye-catching cities of Tales of Xillia

The game follows the story of two protagonists: Jude Mathis, a serious and kind-hearted medical student, and Milla Maxwell, powerful commander of all the spirits in the world (and a spirit herself currently in human form). For the first time in a Tales game (as far as I’m aware), players get to choose which protagonist to follow, Jude or Milla. While something around 90% of the game is the same regardless of who is picked, at certain times in the story Milla and Jude are separated, and the player is treated to cutscenes and gameplay that is character-specific. When Jude and Milla reconvene, there’s usually some hint of what happened to the other in their time apart, but players won’t get the whole picture.

Rieze Maxia (the world in which the characters live) is composed of an ecological bond between spirits and humans where both produce resources for health and prosperity for the other. Much of the game’s story revolves around Milla’s mission to protect the spirits and Jude is caught up in a series of unfortunate events and ends up joining her on her quest to save the world. They’re joined by a colorful cast of characters, which eventually brings the playable roster up to six. I can’t really say too much about the plot without spoiling it, but Xillia also greatly revolves around the relationships between the characters and the character’s pasts.

Combat Screen - where all the fighting happens!

If you’ve played a Tales game before, you’ll probably know basically what to expect from the gameplay. Player one controls navigation through the world and interaction with NPCs and shops. The real-time battles can support up to four players (locally only) with the remaining characters controlled by the AI. The battles are triggered either when players run into visible enemies out in the field or by a story event. The name of the combat system this time around is the Dual Raid Linear Motion Battle System, which is quite a mouthful and not nearly as intimidating as it sounds. Free movement around the field of battle (towards and away the screen in addition to left and right) is again supported, as it has been since Tales of the Abyss. Players can also not only switch to any non-player controlled characters at will, but also swap in benched characters while they’re in combat, some very nice options to add to the flexibility of battle. Xillia sees the return of TP (mana, basically) in addition to AC (I think of these as action points), and surprisingly the two synergize pretty well.

The biggest change to the combat, however, is the linking and linked artes system. During battle, characters can “link” with another character, drawing a blue or green line between the two. When linked, two special things happen. The first is that the character that was linked will perform special actions from time to time on the shared target (e.g. Alvin will break guard, Leia will attempt to steal an item). The second, and most exciting, benefit to linking is that the linked characters can perform special artes entirely dependent on which two characters are being used (so Jude and Milla get a different set of linked artes than Jude and Elize, for example).

Rowan and Jude executing a linked arte

Linked artes are much more powerful than normal, individual artes, so they can’t be triggered all the time. Players will have to pay attention to the Overlimit Gauge on the left side of the screen, which is divided into about five segments. Once a segment fills up, the X at the top will begin to flash, allowing one linked arte. To trigger a linked arte, the player must use an arte that combos with an arte of their linked partner (so you’ll have to look this up and remember it to make combat run smoothly) then hit R2 when a gold X flashes over their avatar. Once a linked arte has been triggered the Overlimit Gauge will continue on to the next segment. When the Overlimit Gauge is completely full, a linked arte will trigger Overlimit. During this time the bar will turn completely gold and begin to slowly deplete. During the time of depletion, players can trigger as many linked artes as they can fit into this time, ideally chaining them together. Mystic Artes are also available only during Overlimit, and must be triggered by special arcane artes.

Leia, starting up her Mystic Arte

It sounds extremely complicated, but it’s pretty easy to pick up on and master during play. Just keep in mind that players can look at their linked artes by going to a character’s artes screen and hitting R2. This will bring up a table (which can be sorted by character) of all the linked artes they can perform with all other characters, and which artes they need to use to trigger them.

The linking system is a pro and a con at the same time to Xillia. On the one hand, I found it to be extremely fun and add a strategic layer to the game. On the other hand, it effectively makes it so Xillia is best played with two players in co-op instead of three or four. The reason behind this is that when a character is linked by another character, the linkee can’t really control their character. Linking basically has the second character follow the first character’s lead, and begin to auto trigger certain skills and artes based on what the linker is doing. Players certainly could play the game without linking in a three or four-player scenario, but I feel this would really take a lot away from the battle system.

As far as other co-op details go, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the game gives players a second party member. Milla joins the party as a playable character within half and hour into the game, which is much quicker than many other Tales games. A third character is added around an hour or two later, but a fourth character doesn’t join the roster for quite a few hours after that. Due to some preliminary research I did beforehand, I chose Jude as my protagonist, and I’m pretty happy with that choice. According to others, when Milla and Jude split up, Jude is more often and more quickly joined by additional characters, while at times Milla goes about it solo for some time. Jude seems like a solid bet for players who will have a consistent couch co-op buddy for their time in Rieze Maxia.

Milla, being a badass

All in all, I’m enjoying Xillia immensely. The combat system may be my favorite yet in the Tales series, and none of the characters are obnoxious (if you’ve played other Tales games, you’ll understand how this is a positive). The graphics (especially the environments) are impressive and pleasing to the eye. Though the difficulty seems a little easy compared to other installments in the series, we were able to ramp up the difficulty to make things more challenging. In addition to all of this, many little things have been streamlined (e.g. the food and shop system as well as party AI tactics) making Xillia is a solid step forward for the Tales series, and a great place to start for newcomers. Just remember, though, to take advantage of all the combat features, two players is probably best!