Tales of Xillia 2 has been out for two years already in Japan, and we’re only just seeing the western release now. Having recently previewed the game, I suspected that it would be worth the wait; sitting down and playing it properly has only confirmed my suspicions. Tales of Xillia 2 is a good game, a lot of fun and well worth your time – for the most part, at least.
Tales of Xillia 2 is set one year after the end of Tales of Xillia, where the two nations of Rieze Maxia and Elympios, once divided by a great barrier, are now at a tenuous peace after a fierce and bloody war. The racism and distrust which the Rieze Maxians face on a daily basis gives Tales of Xillia 2 a much darker feel compared to the first game. Jude, Milla and the cast of the Tales of Xillia now strive for peace and harmony between the two contrasting nations, despite the odds being stacked against them. While the returning cast are a big part of the story, Tales of Xillia 2 is not primarily about them.
The protagonists of Tales of Xillia 2 are Ludger Kresnik, a young man striving to be like his brother working for the prestigious, albeit shadowy Spirius Corporation making technological advances in all fields possible, and Elle Mel Marta, a little girl searching desperately for the Land of Canaan at the behest of her father. Ludger stumbles across Elle by sheer chance on the day he starts his new job as a local chef. Terrorists attack the train station he works at, and he chases Elle aboard the train they have just hijacked. Elle is carrying her father’s pocket watch which allows her to travel between dimensions, a big explosion happens, and Ludger is landed in 20,000,000 Gald’s worth of debt, paying off his, Elle’s and even his cat Rollo’s medical bills. Ludger is then forced into searching for his brother Julius, who is now a wanted criminal following the hijacking, and becoming a Spirius Agent, tasked with eliminating the fractured dimensions threatening the fabric of reality.
As complicated as it may sound, the story is actually quite easy to follow, and the intermittent anime-styled cutscenes and soundtrack adds real flavor and depth which makes it a joy to play. Fear not if you haven’t played Tales of Xillia before, as the back-story is constantly re-examined. If you’re truly into exposition, there’s even an entire encyclopedia located in the pause menu.
The real flesh of the story and character development exists in Codec-styled skits which will leave you thoroughly amused; the difference between the Tales of Xillia 2 skits and the Metal Gear franchise’s Codec calls is that as your short animated conversation plays out, your faces appear in boxes on the screen which move about the screen as you speak. If you say something that your partner thinks is odd, they will casually slide away from you; if you say something that makes them gang up on you, their boxes will physically pull together and character portraits will glare at Ludger for making a tit of himself. This makes for a much more real and natural conversation than the Codec calls ever managed, and really warms you to the characters and their personalities.
Tales of Xillia 2 is a charming game despite its dark nature and bleak tones. During cutscenes you’re often given binary choices in what you want to say, or how you want to react in the situation. While a lot of emphasis has been put on player choice by Bandai Namco in their marketing of Tales of Xillia 2 to consumers, by and large the answers you give are pretty straightforward. Most of your choices only make a difference in how much your crew likes you, or play out a conversation in a slightly different way, but there are several decisions which have a bit of clout; making the wrong decision can alter the course of the story at these points, and your decisions here have an impact on how the game plays out, which is always a nice touch and aids replay value.
As charming as Tales of Xillia 2 is, however, it’s not beyond reproach. The battle system is one of the most frustrating systems I have encountered in a JRPG. Despite constant hints and tutorials being given – even after 12 hours into the game – and an entire elemental weakness system being implemented, there isn’t much in terms of variation. Combat is as straightforward as it seems at first glance: mash X to get your AP up, then hit O to release a more powerful attack. Lather, rinse, repeat. After about 8 hours you do unlock Ludger’s Chromatus Transformation, which spices things up a bit, but the battles are still a little repetitive all the same, even considering how hectic the screen gets when your three support characters are independently attacking and casting spells.
The controls aren’t brilliant either; on several occasions I found myself accidentally swapping my main character out while simply trying to cycle through Ludger’s weapons, and just mashing X until the end of the battle in order to default Ludger to the party leader. But largely, fights are a bit on the easy side, at least until you hit some of the boss fights.
While you can go through the entire game on Normal without upgrading your weapons or having to particularly try, occasional boss battles sees huge difficulty for no real reason. The massive disparity in difficulty is jarring, and makes a game which instead of having a difficulty curve, fluctuates between mindless button mashing and having your ass handed to you.
On the bright side, Tales of Xillia 2 isn’t all just battles. There’s a vast, rich world to explore, full of stunning vistas and exotic locations. The characters you meet – particularly your party members – have a real depth to them. Sure, there are the usual JRPG tropes here – such as the of the head of Spirius looking like he eats kittens for fun, and one of Spirius’ lackeys being so thoroughly useless that you actually feel bad for him every time you beat him down with your sledgehammer; but you feel for the majority of the characters all the same. The map area which you can explore can be quite rewarding if you take the time to enjoy it, and the only collectible in the game is one which is immediately useful: you are tasked with collecting 100 cats for the local crazy cat lady who speaks in cat-related puns throughout the course of the game. You can then send out these cats on item-gathering missions once every 10 minutes or so; the more cats you collect and send forth, the rarer and more numerous the items you receive get.
The elephant in the room at this point is Tales of Xillia 2‘s debt system. In my preview, I mentioned that I was intrigued to see where this mechanic goes, and how much of the gameplay is taken up by it. As a result of this debt, Ludger’s travel privileges are put on hold until certain payments are met. At first you are effectively exiled to the town of Duval and in order to get home you must work off a set portion of your loan by doing kill-quests and delivery-quests.
You can either repay the loan as you go, or more simply wait until your wallet hits a payment threshold where you are forced to pay the money back. As you meet these thresholds your travel restrictions are lifted, and you are permitted to continue your entirely linear quest. It’s a novel way of forcing the player to spend time in the dungeons and beautifully designed paths from town to town, but that’s all it is: a glorified time sink which stops you from upgrading your weapons because you never have any money.
Overall though, Tales of Xillia 2 is a good game, and fans of Japanese RPGs and the Tales series will be more than happy. It’s by no means groundbreaking, and there are a few areas where it falls down – like the battle system being a hectic mess and Nova ringing you to take your money before you buy that upgrade you wanted. The important thing, however, is that it tries – there’s more than enough enjoyment to make up for the shortcomings.
So I wholeheartedly stamp Tales of Xillia 2 with my seal of recommendation. It’s charming yet bleak; the characters are ones you actually care about; and you genuinely want to know what will happen between Ludger and his brother Julius, as the head of Spirius tries to drive them apart. Will Elle get to the Land of Canaan? Is the evil Spirius guy truly evil? Is the entire plot that you are fed just a ruse?
Tales of Xillia 2 not only asks you these questions, but it makes you care about the answer.