PS3 REVIEW: Tales of Xillia

11 04 2012

Let me preface this review by giving you a little history of myself and games in the Tales series of role-playing games.  I first heard about Tales of Phantasia probably in about 1997 or so, before any of the sequels, when it was available for the Super Famicom.  Back then, games that came on cartridges were much more expensive to import, and I remember it being somewhat hard to get as importers had turned their eyes away from 16-bit systems, and expensive… somewhere in the $125 range.  So I played it on an emulator.  At that time, nothing could emulate the special sound chip that was used to give the game an actual opening theme and voice throughout the game; but never the less I was blown away by the beefy graphics that seemed to hold their own against modern RPGs.  Additionally, I was struck by the attention to detail the programmers had shown, and it had me hooked.  I eagerly imported the limited versions of Tales of Destiny and Tales of Eternia.  Then I took some time off from gaming.  I would pick up with the Tales series four games later, when Tales of Vesperia was released for the Xbox360.  Vesperia, like the previous games, also impressed me.  So when it came time to get a new PlayStation 3, I went searching for the limited edition Tales of Xillia bundle, not only because I liked the design of the console; but because it included a game I planned to enjoy as well.

 

That machine is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Until it gets dusty.

 

The first thing that struck me about Tales of Xillia was the lushly animated eye catch it has.  Very beautiful.  What it does, though, is set your expectations up for a level of quality that ever materializes.  You begin by choosing a main character to play as, Jude, a boy, or Milla, a girl.  I chose Milla.  We’re then treated to a console rendered opening scene where Milla senses the death of a spirit, and travels to right the wrong that’s occurring.  The PS3 is a pretty powerful piece of hardware, and Namco had already set the standard for current-generation Tales  games with Vesperia (Tales of Graces F doesn’t count because it was made for the Wii and then ported over to the PS3).  Gone is the anime look of Vasperia, replaced with shocking low-res textures and jerky movement that had me flashing back to the marionette look of Star Ocean: The Last Hope International.  I really was shocked.  I expected more graphically than what I was given; but I trudged on, and I mean trudged.  For me, there wasn’t a lot to like about the game.  In fact, I’m not even going to give it the benefit of my prose, I’m just going to list what I liked and didn’t like:

 

LIKED

–       You can actually rely on the characters you aren’t controlling to act intelligently in battle and to heal you when you need it.

–       One of the pieces of background music sounds like the Back to the Future theme.

–       The character of Tipo is awesome creepy.

–       You can set all party members to attack automatically, so you don’t actually have to play a lot of the game.

–       One of the characters gets hurt and actually has to go around in a wheelchair for a bit.  That’s new.

 

That little purple bowling pin thingy is made of pure awesome.

 

DIDN’T LIKE

–       Gameplay is boring and repetitive.

–       Characters are beyond cliché, reminding me of hollow copies of characters from the last RPG I beat, Ni no Kuni, and then every RPG before that.

–       There’s no sense of urgency in the entire game.

–       Character customization is unnecessary and, well, dumb.  Why would I want my characters running around dressed as other characters from other games?  Why would I want my characters to have a wolf’s tail or wear bunny ears and funny nose glasses?

–       Areas beyond towns have items that replenish every time you enter that zone, and they’re marked on your map so you can just going back to that place and get more stuff.  Where’s the challenge?

–       Monsters are overpopulated, and advancing becomes a grind fest.  An easy grind fest.

–       Items that you can pick up are shine and are readily identifiable from a distance.  What is this, Resident Evil?

–       Characters movements are jerky and unnatural.  They move their head, pause, move arm, pause, etc.  And when they walk, it doesn’t look like their feet are touching the ground.

–       You can’t go in most of the buildings in the game, and when you can go into one, there’s nothing to do, you’re just in that building.

–       I didn’t die once, and only had to use healing herbs 6 times in the entire game.

–       One of the characters gets hurt and has to go around in a wheelchair.  That’s retarded.

–       The plot is pure cellophane.

 

OK, everybody attack while I go into the kitchen and make a sandwich.

 

I could go on; but I won’t.  Really, this game is just another hollow JRPG; the kind that gives JRPG’s a bad name.  And that’s so sad, because the Tales series and Tales fans deserve so much more than that.

There’s a reason why in Japan the almost three year old Tales of Vesperia still retails for ¥5480 ($68.00) used, while the newer Xillia goes for a much lower ¥1480 ($18.00).  It’s because the ball has completely been dropped by Tales Studios.  Where past entries in the series stood for quality and meticulous design, Xillia feels more like a cash grab.  It feels like Namco just slapped it together, threw it out the door, and said, “Here… now give us your money.” They set the bar so high with their efforts on other systems, Tales fans deserve so much better from the first true outing of the series on the PlayStation 3.  Maybe the next one will be better, or maybe Namco’s just trying to milk you for every penny you’ve got.  If the way they handle their DLC is any example, I’m betting on the latter.

 

 

As a final note, I’d like to mention that I was finally able to pick up an actual copy of the original Tales of Phantasia for the Super Famicom.  It rocks so hard, and what they did with that special sound chip is simply amazing, even 15 years later.  It’s mind blowing to hear a SNES game that actually has an opening theme song that not just bleeps and bloops, but is sung.  If Tales Studios could be half as inventive now as they were then, we’d have another gem in our hands; but as of now, we only have a lump of coal.





Ace Combat: Cross Rumble 3DS Impressions

11 01 2012

Ace Combat: Cross Rumble for the Nintendo 3D follows in the footsteps of the other 15(!) games in the arcade style flying series: you fly a fighter jet, get involved in dogfights, and blow stuff up.  All and all a good mix of aerial acrobatics and mayhem.

The controls on the 3DS are simple and straightforward.  The shoulder buttons speed you up or slow you down, the slider pad controls your craft, the B-button fires your machine gun, A-button files missiles, and the Y-button automatically maneuvers the plane onto the tale of enemy aircraft, if they’re close enough.  While the demo od Ace Combat does not support the slider pad pro, Namco has stated that the finished game will; although I don’t know what you’d use the second slider pad for- the game plays fine without it.

I played the demo first with the 3D off, and it delivered a so-so experience.  I mean, it’s Ace Combat… same old same old.  But with the 3D on, the game really shines.  The planes don’t pop out at you, instead the 3D is used to pull you into a little world of shiny daring-do.  The only problem I had with the game is that the explosions don’t appear to be done in 3D…. something that could change between now and the day of release in North America.

Some people have complained about Namco’s self-imposed 3 play limit (the game deletes itself after  you boot it up three times); but the demo is pretty short and it’s not something I think someone would turn to over and over again.  Besides, once the game is running you can play it as many times as you want, no problem.  It’s just when you leave the game and then restart it that you get a strike against the 3 play rule.  Watch the video for the full experience.