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One of 2021’s Best Games Just Joined PlayStation Plus and Xbox Game Pass

It’s worth making time for this action-packed RPG.

key art from Tales of Arise
Bandai Namco
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The Tales game series has always been a bit of an odd duck, eschewing the turn-based battles usually found in party-based RPGs in favor of a real-time 2D system. When the series eventually moved into 3D, it could have easily lost what makes it special, but as 2021’s Tales of Arise shows, the series is just as capable of breaking the mold of 3D action RPGs as it was their 2D counterparts. Now, Tales of Arise is available on both PlayStation Plus and Xbox Game Pass, making it the perfect game to play while you wait for the biggest RPG of the year.

Tales of Arise takes place on the world of Dahna, which was invaded by the technologically advanced people of Rena centuries earlier. The Renans enslaved the Dahnans, harvesting not only the products of their labor but also the “astral energy” released when they pass away.

Alphen and Shionne are a mismatched pair that are somehow made for each other.

Bandai Namco

At the game’s outset, a slave with amnesia named Alphen rescues a rogue Renan named Shionne. Shionne suffers from a curse that hurts anyone who gets too close to her, while Alphen is incapable of feeling pain — which feels like an absolute gift to fan fiction writers. As it turns out, Shionne is out to destroy her Renan oppressors, leaving her feared by the Dahnans and despised by her own people. Together, Shionne and Alphen set out to free the planet from Renan rule (and learn more about each other along the way).

It’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff. “Ragtag band of heroes fight the evil empire” is about as typical as RPG stories get. But while the plot may be familiar, Tales of Arise packs plenty of depth in the details. Where a lesser game could simply depict the Renans as a bloodthirsty monolith of oppression, Tales of Arise resists the impulse to paint its characters in black and white. Shionne isn’t the only Renan in the world fighting back against her oppressive homeland, and even characters who can initially be seen as one-note “good guys” have more going on.

Tales of Arise explores the different forms that oppression takes, rather than turning its entire empire into a cartoonish hellscape. While the game starts in what’s essentially a nationwide forced labor camp, nations under Renan rule maintain their grip on the populace through fear and restrictive laws. But the game’s boldest step may be showing the darkness that can lurk even behind governments that appear to offer freedom.

Tales of Arise takes players on a quest to free the gorgeous world of Dahnan from tyranny.

Bandai Namco

While Tales of Arise’s story is interesting, it’s the combat that will keep you coming back for more. If you’ve played Final Fantasy 7 Remake or the recent Granblue Fantasy: Relink, you’ll likely recognize a lot of similar systems in Tales of Arise. Battles use a party of four characters, which you can switch between at will. Each character has a very different fighting style, so swapping between ranged characters, melee fighters, and tough defenders offers a fun bit of strategy that lets you feel active in every phase of a fight.

Each character also has a Boost attack, powerful maneuvers that do damage and inflict extra effects, like interrupting spell casting or knocking enemies prone. These can be activated even when you’re not directly controlling the character using one, making it easy to use your most strategic abilities without interrupting the flow of combat.

You can also set strategies for characters to follow when you’re not directly controlling them. The more hands-off version of these strategies just lets you tell them how often to use skills and items, but an advanced menu lets you tweak exactly when they’ll use specific abilities. Your partners’ AI still isn’t perfect, so you may have to do some babysitting to survive difficult encounters, but they’re pretty capable of taking care of themselves in most situations.

Combat is the centerpiece of Tales of Arise, and once you get a taste of it, you won’t want to stop.

Bandai Namco

Beyond that, Tales of Arise is packed with smaller systems. You can gain access to more powerful spells if you excel at avoiding attacks, and using your standard spells repeatedly unlocks upgraded versions. Chaining together combos increases your power and gives you more rewards at the end of the fight. No matter how long you play, it seems Tales of Arise never stops adding complexity to its combat so it never feels like you hit the point where there’s no way to improve.

As you explore Tales of Arise’s world map, you can avoid most combat encounters that aren’t essential to the story, but I rarely wanted to do that when I play. Combat is such a joy that I went out of my way to defeat any enemy I could find. On top of normal enemies, Tales of Arise also scatters much more powerful versions around the map, which will almost always be able to crush you the first time you see them. To take these special beasts on, you’ll need to level up and make sure your tactics are tuned to meet the specific challenge they pose. Taking these beasts down feels a bit like the Hunt system in various Final Fantasy games, and it’s just as rewarding.

Tales of Arise is a great game on its own merits, and it may be the perfect game to dive into in the lead-up to Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. They’re very different games, but Tales of Arise can scratch the itch for party-based action combat while you wait. Clocking in at around 60 hours, you may not be able to finish Tales of Arise in a week, but once you get a look at this enthralling action RPG, there’s a good chance you’ll want to see it through to the end no matter what.

Tales of Arise is available on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox. It’s currently free with both PlayStation Plus and Xbox Game Pass.

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