When Tales of Arise was first unveiled back in 2019, fans wondered if Bandai Namco was creating an open world reboot of the cult RPG series. It’s certainly the fashionable move among Japanese games these days, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Elden Ring being just two examples.

But while producer Yusuke Tomizawa says that a reboot is “correct description for this title,” it’s closer to the original games than you might think. The comedic skits are returning, series stalwart Motoi Sakuraba will once again be handling the soundtrack, and the combat will resemble previous games in the franchise. In that vein it’s probably more appropriate to call it a “refresh” than a reboot; an opportunity to relieve the franchise fatigue that had crept in after eight games in nine years, bump up the presentation, and expand beyond the cult fanbase that has formed around the series.

Tales of Arise will mark the series’ debut on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 (Tomizawa couldn’t comment one way or the other on the possibility of a Switch release), overhauling the previously creaky graphics with the help of Unreal Engine 4. It will also feature a fully-orchestrated soundtrack, lending Sakuraba’s soundtrack a sense of prestige. It will attempt to bridge the gap between the old and the new, dragging the sometimes formulaic series into a new era.

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“We wanted to really send a message to the international players and fans that with this release, we are going to really push forward and push the envelope and the whole concept of the game,” Tomizawa tells IGN. “The visuals, the aesthetics, and all of those things are evolving but we also keep a lot of the things that everybody has known and loved over the years. So it’s both a reboot in a sense that we want former Tales fans to come back to this game, as well as attract new players with these stunning new graphics, visuals, the aesthetics and all that good stuff.”

“Stunning” might be too strong an adjective for Tales of Arise’s graphics, but they are certainly a dramatic improvement over the previous games in the series, which for years relied on the same graphics engine. The impression it conveys is that Tales is, well, a Tales game, replete with exaggerated anime flourishes that should go over well with fans. While we’ve yet to get a full hands-on with the new game, it’s easily the best looking entry in the series to date.

The Tales series will also benefit from taking some time off. Up until recently, Namco Bandai had been pushing Tales games out on almost an annual basis, making the series feel stales at times. Tales of Arise represents the largest gap ever between Tales releases, the last major release being 2016’s Tales of Berseria. Even before the pandemic, it was delayed due to what Tomizawa referred to as “a lot of quality issues,” as well as the desire to launch on next-generation consoles. The extra work seems to have paid off, giving Tales of Arise a sense of polish that the series has lacked of late.

The same can be said for the combat, which has received a “huge overhaul,” Tomizawa says. While it retains the arena-based battle system of previous games, it will “really improve on the player input and feedback loop of the game and how the controls feel.” It will include an evasion and countering system similar to the one in Tales of Graces, which Tomizawa refers to as “very highly rated” for its combat, as well as the ability to actively switch between party members, which has its own “unique, interesting mechanics.”

We still haven’t really seen the combat in action, but the new Tales of Arise trailer suggests that it will put a big emphasis on colorful super attacks. One thing it will not have, however, is multiplayer. With few exceptions, the ability for multiple players to control characters has been a key feature going all the way back to the original Tales of Destiny, so its removal is a fairly big deal for the series.

Asked about the decision to cut multiplayer from Tales of Arise, Tomizawa says, “So this game is really a standalone game where one person really enjoys the drama and the overall story of the game, we don’t really have any plans currently for a multiplayer mode. But on the other side, we did put a lot of focus on how the characters work together and how they cooperate in the battle and how that plays out in game mechanics.”

As it turns out, the combat comes up a lot when talking about Tales of Arise. This probably should come as a surprise given Tomizawa’s history with God Eater, a Monster Hunter competitor known for its fast-paced combat. Tomizawa talks a lot about a desire to keep a strong focus on the intensity of the combat, which is one reason that Tales of Arise will once shift to combat arenas instead of staying on the field. It will also be relatively linear in its progression, though Tomizawa promises that it will feature “a bunch of side quests” as well as sub-routes and detours.

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It’s interesting to imagine what could have been. According to Tomizawa, the team actually did experiment with an open world version of Tales of Arise, but ultimately decided to stick with a more linear format.

“We actually did debate whether to go with an open world concept or a linear concept. This was something in the early stages we really had a back and forth debate about. We actually ran tests simulating both situations and ultimately, we came to the decision that, as we mentioned, for reasons that we want the players to focus, we went with the linear option,” Tomizawa explains. “We thought this was the best way for players to really enjoy what Tales of Arise is all about. Again, the story, character development, all that good stuff, we thought that was the best way to deliver that gameplay to the player.”

Well, not every RPG needs to be open world, especially given the comparisons it would inevitably invite to the extremely successful Genshin Impact. But if the Tales series does indeed want to reach a more international audience, some form of open-ended exploration is probably needed. But in the meantime, a focused experience is certainly welcome, especially if Tales of Arise manages to improve on the drab, hallway-like dungeons from previous games.

If Tales of Arise does manage to garner a new audience, it can credit the decision to shift to PC and next-gen consoles, its improved graphics, and the fact that anime is just generally in vogue these days. Genshin Impact, Persona 5, and even Atelier Ryza have shown how successful an anime RPG can be in the five years since Tales of Berseria’s release. The time is ripe for Tales of Arise to guide the venerable series into the future.

We’ll know soon enough whether it’s successful. Tales of Arise launches on September 10 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5, and PC.

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Kat Bailey is a Senior Editor at IGN. She is known for caring far too much about RPGs.
Source: IGN Video Games All
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