Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tales of Xillia 2 (Gaming Grunts Review Repost)

Note: This review was originally published in 2014 for Gaming Grunts, which went under some time ago. Having recently salvaged most of my articles on there, I've decided to give them a new home here for archival purposes. Please bear in mind they differ in structure from this blog's reviews, and be sure to join me at the end for a bonus reflection!
Tales of Xillia finally arrived in America last year to much criticism, as the game’s cut-corners and immense asset recycling (all consequences of rushing to meet the series’ 15th anniversary) rendered it the latest disappointment in the series. Could a sequel right all of the predecessor’s wrongs? Perhaps, although the last attempt at a Tales sequel (the wretched Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World) did not inspire any optimism. While Tales of Xillia 2 for the PS3 avoids such dreary levels, it still settles for stagnant mediocrity.

A year after the events of Tales of Xillia, new protagonist Ludger Kresnik fails to attain his dream job: an agent at the Spirius Corporation, where his brother Julius is a respected officer. His unlucky streak continues as he not only winds up in a train hijacking (possibly spearheaded by Julius?), but is suddenly slapped with a twenty-million dollar debt and entrusted with caring for a mysterious young girl named Elle. As Ludger begins to awaken his heredity-branded power of the Chromatus and takes over his brother’s job, he and Elle find themselves joining forces with the original Xillia cast to restore the balance of spirits, chase down Julius, discover there may be worlds lying beyond their own, find the Land of Canaan, reunite Elle with her father, put an end to the Exodus terrorists, learn the secrets of the Chromatus, settle tensions between Reize Maxia and Elympios, pay off Ludger’s debt, and watch the antics of his fat cat Rollo.

If the above summary sounds like a mess, it’s because it is. It’s frustrating to see Tales struggle in story and character over the past half-decade, what with great characters being wasted by aimless plots (Vesperia), bland characters in a bland setting (Graces, excluding Sophie and Pascal), or base personalities that, while fun, lack purpose in story (Xillia). Xillia 2 wastes no time in continuing this tradition: while the scrappy, charming Elle fits in just fine, Ludger is subject to the most boneheaded series decision in quite some time: he’s mute, so as to take advantage of the Mass Effect-esque “choose your own adventure” dialogue choices players can choose for him.

While starring a mute character isn’t necessarily bad in itself, it’s woefully awkward in a game chock-full of chatty characters and spoken dialogue. The split dialogue choices don’t even possess much of an impact–barring “affection” gained from other characters to obtain quick bonus scenes–and we’re just left wondering why this character couldn’t have a proper personality to call his own. No matter what plot moments “justify” this decision, the overall execution is just far too clunky and we’re left with a lame self-insert protagonist.

And even then, the plot itself isn’t so hot. Despite being divided into chapters, there’s far too much for the story to juggle, and consequently certain story elements are frequently diminished and sidelined. Julius is meant to initiate the “battle between brothers” trope, but his infrequent appearances and vague–if at all discernible–goals render him peripheral. The fragmented worlds subplot raises questions of morality that never go anywhere, and the original cast shows up because…well, just because. Any genuinely interesting twists are far and few in-between, and the result is just more wasted potential on Namco’s front.


Just like the original title, Xillia 2 takes place over various countries presented in a third-person camera perspective new to the series. Such a bold shift could the bag of fresh air the series needs, but alas, it comes included with a dreadfully boring overworld. Most Tales games prior enforced something of a semi-top-down camera perspective with a sprawling map representing the game’s world, yet Xillia 2 continues to opt for long, boring “pathway” segments from town to town. They’re tepidly uninspired, are hardly unique from one another, and will compel players to either dash past all enemies or scramble to the Quick Jump button just to escape the tedium.

As Xillia 2 is based on the same engine as the original, it’s not surprising the game reuses all of its predecessor’s assets, right down to towns and cities looking just as they did before. Since only a year has passed in-game, it could be somewhat forgivable…if the obvious signs of laziness that already plagued the original weren’t present. All the ships ports are still practically identical, and the cries of fresh muttons continue filling the air of every single city. No matter how much content Xillia 2 presents, this homogenized presentation does it absolutely no favors.


Flashy combo strings and magic spells continue decorating the battlegrounds of Tales. More characters, arte improvements, and borrowing Graces’s “CC” combo system are points in favor of Xillia 2’s combat system, but the anemic attacks render them somewhat moot. While the artes and spells are as quick and fancy as ever, hardly anything feel satisfying to land, and so pulling together combos has all the excitement of beating up a paper bag. Okay, maybe it’s not that dull, but when considering just how great combat felt in the game’s predecessors (particularly, Vesperia and Graces), it’s disappointing for Xillia 2 to feel so sluggish.

While the entire party can be controlled, Ludger is a special case in that his Chromatus ability–usable when a time-based meter fills up–teleports he and his opponents into a space-time continuum of sorts where he can unleash amplified artes without risk of damage. Regardless of its imposed time limit, it’s also unabashedly, unavoidably broken; of particular note is the “Falling Snow” move, where Ludger can just slice back and forth for a whopping 30,000 HP within the span of maybe twenty seconds. Getting bored with battles? Just spam Falling Snow.


Remember the train hijacking plot bit? See, Ludger was roughed up quite a bit during that escapade, and the Spirius Corporation was kind enough to treat his wounds…for a price. In what’s an absolutely shameless method of padding out the game’s length, Ludger is forced to pay over a $20,000,000 debt over the course of the game. The debt acts as paywall: before you move on the next chapter, Ludger and the gang are forced to earn Gald (Tales currency) through job requests and monster bounties.

To be fair, the debt intermissions are beneficial in highlighting the game’s healthy collection of sidequests (specifically the character sub-chapters that feature self-contained narratives for each party member), yet that hardly excuses how it blatantly halts the main quest. Job requests amount to little more than repetitive fetch quests that tend to repeat and redress themselves, and their meager payment is rendered useless by the big bucks offered for giant monster kills. No matter how many sidequests the game throws at you, an overbearing impression of pointlessness pervades the entire thing, and it may as well be seeing as how it too falls victim to the mess of a plot.

Its mere presence begs the question: why am I doing this in a fantasy RPG? Yes, the Xillia games are a tad more modern than your typical Tales adventure, but what place does this have in an epic? Despite Xillia 2 being regarded as a “Mothership” entry by Namco, the constant intrusion of something so conceptually insipid (let alone the tedium of its actual execution) trivializes it to budget-levels of “Escort” Tales games (such as the aforementioned Dawn of the New World). Keep the financial woes in Animal Crossing and let me go save the world, please.


Virtually identical to the original, Xillia 2 continues to ape washed-out colors for its aesthetic. Despite the occasional gorgeous location (such as the capital of Fennmont), Xillia 2’s locales are typically dreary, pale and uninspired to a literally depressing level. While character models are some of the series’ most detailed and well-animated, not even the big green eyes of Leia Rolando can light up Xillia 2’s color palette. As mentioned before, the game loves to reuse assets (NPC characters, backgrounds, ports, etc.), amplifying its homogenized nature.


Series composer Motoi Sakurai reports in for the game’s soundtrack, albeit in one of his weaker outings. Much of the BGM is again recycled from the original, and while it’s not outright bad, things get off on the wrong foot with the piano-styled ambiences that pervade the cities and dungeons of Elympios. They’re dreadfully banal and only promote the lifeless, dead nature of the segmented roads (which worked in context of the original game, but serves as meager motivation for a new title’s beginning). Don’t expect anything special from the new songs, either.

Thankfully, Tales’ sense of humor hasn’t gone anywhere, as evidenced via the jubilant voice cast. With a superb localized script and the hundreds of “skit” conversations providing plenty of laughs, it’s a blast listening to the antics of the party.  Best of all, the muffled recording for the Milla character has been done away with, so no longer does her jarring lisp grace our television speakers. All in all it proves the Tales producers can still create fun characters…

But it's not enough. While Tales of Xillia 2 may have made up for all the original's missing content via sidequests and such, there's just no excusing such obnoxious missteps via tiring paywalls and a senselessly mute protagonist. It's not terrible, but Xillia 2's consistent tedium, clunky execution, and a still-empty well of inspiration impede any sort of player immersion. As it stands, it's just the latest in Namco's series of JRPG junk food. Go check out the Tales of Symphonia HD port if you haven't already.

  • Characters are as fun as ever.
  • Uhh…I guess spamming the daylights out of Falling Snow was kinda fun.
  • Story and presentation are a mess.
  • Combat is easily exploited and rather dull.
  • Sorry excuse for an overworld.
  • Intrusive, tedious debt system.
  • Boring, uninspired score.
  • Reused assets and lazy art direction.
Bonus Reflection: This was easily the funnest review to write. Let's face it: we all love trashing media below sub-par standards, and video games are no exception. Reviewing Xillia 2 again in blog format would be interesting, but I think I expressed my feelings so well here that there's no need. Not yet, anyway.

But if you're looking for more brutal criticism from me, don't fret. As anyone who's been following my Twitter knows...well, let's just say year's Tales game gives Xillia 2 a run for its money in terms of sheer awfulness. In any case, expect the actually good Tales to pop up in Worldly Weekend.

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