Tales of Xillia isn't what I'd call a new game. Being released in 2011, it's a miracle that we're even seeing it come out in the West right now. However, miracle or not, Xillia displays its understanding of various JRPG fundamentals by both honoring the Tales games that came before it, but also by innovating the genre, which felt a little stale over the past year or so.
Xillia immediately lets you know it wants you to play it twice by making you pick from two characters, Jude Mathis and Milla Maxwell. Both are drastically different from one another, yet share a common journey. Though the over-arching story remains the same regardless of the character you choose, you do experience various cutscenes differently, from the chosen character's perspective. It's a bold move by Namco to assume players would want to jump into the game a second time (considering the game is easily over 30 hours long) just to experience the entirety of the storyline from both perspectives. And yet, it's a legitimate move considering just how well designed and entertaining the game is.
Tales veterans will surely feel right at home with Xillia, since the format remains largely similar. Outside of battle, you'll roam the overworld, complete quests, and chat with your party via the Tales' standard skits. These optional conversations do provide a lot of good backstory on each character, and though they play out in the now rather tired format of character portraits on the screen, they're a staple of the series.
A standard for the Tales series now, you won't find any random encounters here
Character development especially is something Xillia excels at, and builds both characters up in interesting ways. Jude's doctor background and relatively 'good guy' demeanor is quite the opposite of Milla, who isn't actually human, but a master of spirits, and doesn't quite understand the nature of humans. The supporting cast is fantastic and quite colorful, with Alvin stealing the show as the money-hungry Mercenary with a heart of gold.
Xillia's battle system also stays relatively true to its Tales heritage. Combat is real-time and action-packed, and it can get relatively hectic with four people fighting at a given time. Two variables govern the flow of battle. AC points determine how many hits in succession your character can perform, while TP is used to perform special attacks such as Artes.
However, a big benefit comes from linking with another person on the battlefield. Not only does that character help you flank an enemy, therefore dealing more damage, they also provide a pretty helpful bonus. For example, linking with Jude will provide some extra healing capabilities, as well as having him help you up quicker when you're knocked down. Teaming up with Alvin, though, will allow you to break through the enemy's guard. The tactical beauty comes from switching these linked characters based on situational awareness, knowing when you require a certain character's ability over another. Linking also comes with some sweet linked attacks. When an enemy is staggered by one of your Artes, you're able to execute a rather powerful move along with your linked partner, resulting in some truly flashy finishers.
Eat flame you furry beast!
Xillia's free-form leveling system is a welcome addition, one that lets you build your characters in a way you want, focusing on their individual strengths. Each level provides you with a given number of gems that can be slotted in a spiderweb-like menu. When four gems surround a quadrant on the web, they unlock a special skill or boost unique to that character.
Another awesome feature is the game's take on acquiring new equipment. Spoils gathered from the overworld and battles can be traded to shops, which will in turn level them up. The higher the level, the more items are available to purchase, as well as higher discounts on items. However, just dumping these items into shops isn't the quickest way to upgrade them. All items fall into various categories like bugs, wood, etc. and each shop will offer a bonus amount of XP when a certain category is donated, thus leveling them up quicker.
Tales of Xillia isn't the best looking game by 2013 standards. The characters themselves look great, but the environments definitely look dated. The anime cutscenes look absolutely superb, and though they're very scarce, it makes the appearance that much more welcome. The voice acting is hit or miss. While characters like Alvin, Jude and Leia sound particularly great, Milla has the kind of monotone voice where you'd rather mute the game than listen to her talk. I realize it's part of her character, being a spirit descendant of Maxwell, but wow, is it boring.
Come on Milla, just put a little effort into it
Tales of Xillia marks an incredible return for the Tales series. The stellar combat, fun exploration, character and shop upgrading as well as a myriad of side quests to take part in all culminate in one amazing experience that I more than recommend checking out twice — once as each character. While it's a shame it took this long to get the game over here, better late than never, right?