When Tales of Xillia 2 was released stateside, I was skeptical. I had finished the first game a few months prior, and I didn’t feel any burning desire to revisit the world and characters. The original game to me was the perfect example of a game that did not do anything horribly wrong, but nothing spectacular as well. It felt as if it was just happy to exist. The characters worked decently together, but no single person stood out from the rest. The same can be said for the locales and story moments. After itching to play a Tales game a month ago, I decided to scratch at the backlog and give Tales of Xillia 2 a chance. Now that it is all said and done, I am very pleased with my decision.
The Tales of series is driven by its characters. It is the one JRPG franchise I first think of when thinking about embarking on an adventure with a group of friends. The same cast that you saw in Xillia 1 returns for the second game. This time around, the protagonist is different. You play as silent hero Ludger Kresnik who discovers that he is different from everyone else in that he has the ability to travel across time dimensions and destroy them. This is a time travel tale without feeling quite like a time travel tale. As a silent protagonist, it is up to the player to make dialogue decisions, always choosing between one of two options. Soon after the game starts, Ludger meets a little girl named Elle who has been separated from her father and been tasked with finding the Land of Canaan so they can reunite with one another. In a lot of ways, this game tells the story of Ludger and Elle. Their relationship is very heartwarming to watch. They play off each other very well and have solid chemistry. However, Ludger also interacts well with the other members you are already familiar with. Two other characters also join the main party later in the adventure and both members are a delight to see.
One of the biggest joys I find in playing a JRPG is travelling across different locations. The problem with Tales of Xillia 2 and one of the main criticisms levied against the game is that it heavily borrows locations from the previous game. In fact, these locations do not offer any new areas to explore. They are ripped straight from Xillia 1. While it does make sense that a game taking place in the same world would have recurring locations, it certainly feels lazy to change so little. I did not experience the sense of discovery I crave while playing JRPGs. It was a letdown for someone who values that so much. With that said, the developers do alleviate this problem to a degree. A few chapters into the game, you receive the ability to not only fast travel to any location you previously visited, you also receive a fast run option where you can hold down the R2 button and sprint through the maps. The downside is that you have less control over Ludger while doing this, and if you run into an enemy while sprinting, you will begin the battle being attacked from behind. Including these features alleviates a lot of the frustration I was feeling when I discovered early on I would be spending the majority of the game seeing the same sights.
The characters work well together. The locations are the same. How does the gameplay work compared to the first game? If you were a fan of the first game’s combat, then you will be delighted to hear that it remains the same for the most part. Linked Artes return where you can pair party members together to perform joint Artes. The leveling system from the first game, the Lilium Orb, has been replaced in Xillia 2 by the Allium Orb where you collect extractors and learn abilities by accumulating points earned in battle. I did not like the Allium Orb at first because it didn’t feel very inspired and wasn’t adding any distinct features the Lilium Orb didn’t already provide. As the game progressed, I learned to appreciate the Allium Orb because it was so simple. I could pick and choose what abilities I wanted to learn for each character by simply swapping in a different extractor. It also encourages the player to actively fight enemies in order to learn more and more abilities. The Lilium Orb did much of the same thing, but it didn’t have as much freedom as the Allium Orb. Any time a game gives a player freedom, I feel empowered. The same can be said for the added mechanics of the Chromatus Gauge and different weapon types for Ludger. The Chromatus Gauge is similar to a Limit Break. When it fills up, you can R3 and L3 at the same time and enter a more powerful state where Ludger does increased damage. There are multiple levels to the Gauge and you earn more as you progress through the story. As for the weapon types, Ludger has three: swords, hammer, and pistols. You can switch through the three on the fly and each one has advantages against different enemies. Tales of Xillia 2 does a nice job of keeping the player familiar, but also adds enough new wrinkles to keep the gameplay interesting,
Tales of Xillia 2 is divided into chapters. There are sixteen chapters total for the main story and each character has multiple side chapters as well. The most frustrating aspect of the game is how it handles gating players. In order to progress the main story and often times unlock a new area, you must first pay off a certain portion of the loan Ludger has accrued. Early in the game, Ludger unexpectedly has medical expenses in the amount of 20,000,000 Gald. You are expected to pay this off in order to progress. Much later into the game Ludger is absolved of the debt, but getting to that point is taxing. The amount you owe for the next payment increases as the story progresses, and a lot of the time, this debt broke any immersion I was experiencing. I would complete a chapter and was then forced to grind for an hour or longer in order to pay off the current amount I owed. The only saving grace to this mechanic is the character Nova who acts as the intermediary between you and the bank. She will often crack jokes about the money you owe and some of her interactions with Ludger had me laughing for a good while. With that said, she will often interrupt your adventure with phone calls asking you to pay. After a while, these frequent phone calls can be annoying and the debt system overall is perhaps the game’s biggest flaw.
I firmly believe Tales of Xillia 2 is one of the most different games in the series to date and that is due to the tone and themes the game presents. Very rarely does Tales tackle darker subject matter, and Xillia 2 does this wonderfully. It explores issues such as regret, betrayal, protecting loved ones, coming to terms with the past, and a myriad of other themes. It is not afraid to pose difficult questions to the player. This culminates with the game’s ending that becomes an emotional rollercoaster and is in my opinion, the best ending to any Tales game to date. You can make several important decisions over the course of the ending which affects which ending you get. Attempting to handle more mature content is something I applaud the game for and would like to see in future titles.
Tales of Xillia 2 has its share of flaws ranging from the debt system to the repeated locations. However, the game’s strengths which include better interactions among its cast, tweaks to the battle system, and more mature storytelling really resonated with me. Destroying time dimensions with Ludger and friends was a welcome surprise. I did not think I would enjoy the game as much as I did going into the adventure. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is a favorite game of mine, but it was enjoyable enough for me to recommend it to others. If you are trying to bide the time before Berseria comes out, give this game a shot and you might find yourself relishing it more than you thought.