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Tales of Xillia 2
Graphics: 7
Gameplay: 7.3
Sound: 7.2
Control: 7
Replay Value: 7.5
Rating: 7.1

Tales of Xillia was one of the most entertaining role-playing games of the previous generation. That’s why I was excited to check out the sequel, which takes place a year after the first adventure and follows the tale of Ludger Kresnik. He’s one of those old-fashioned silent protagonists who get caught up in a mysterious global battle. Yep, standard JRPG fare, right? The original cast of characters is once again part of the fun, so you can continue playing with your favorite faces, and the combat is comfortably familiar.

Okay, so one would assume the result is a surefire winner. …not so fast, though. Beginning with the graphics, they don’t appear to be significantly upgraded when compared with the initial entry, and I’m not as impressed with the general world design. The animations, especially during battle, are better than ever, and fans of the Japanese anime flair will appreciate this finely honed styling. Perhaps it only feels underwhelming because we’re in a new generation of consoles now, and certain PS3 games appear dated. That being said, I really do believe the developers could’ve done more with Tales of Xillia 2.

As is typically the case with JRPGs, you have to embrace the cornball acting and over-the-top caricatures. Once you do, you’re in for a wild audio ride that consists of well-produced music tracks – there’s a nice variety, too – and somewhat absurd dialogue sequences. Such sequences are common for the genre and they won’t surprise any veterans. In some ways, I actually prefer this soundtrack to the one in the original, just because it seems more diverse and has better balancing and production values. That could just be in my head, though; it has been a while since I played the first game.

One plays an engaging JRPG for two reasons: What should be a compelling narrative and memorable characters, and an in-depth, rewarding, often unique combat mechanic. Let’s start with the latter: As I said in the intro, those who played the first game will be right at home. It’s basically the same; it’s a combo-based system that features those excellent Linking mechanics, and players have to keep an eye on the Assault Counter (AC) and Technical Points (TP) used to execute various Artes. Combatants move in real-time and each character has a very distinct set of traits and abilities. It’s robust, involving and even addictive.

Linked allies can offer support, which is critical for more difficult encounters, and players can tailor their approach. If you wish to form more offensive-minded Links, by all means, go right ahead. But if you’re facing a particularly powerful foe, you might want to focus on defensive Links. This strategic element of the game works particularly well. There’s even more strategy thanks to Ludger’s ability to wield three different weapon types at once. Switching between them on the fly is quite fulfilling, especially because each weapon type has its own strengths and weaknesses.

There are a few combat tweaks, such as the designer’s decision to emphasize the Weakness component. Finding and exploiting the weaknesses of your enemies isn’t anything new for RPGs, but it isn’t always a major consideration. In this game, it really is. The foundation for this battle mechanic was extremely solid to begin with, and the minor changes and upgrades we have in the sequel only make it better. Obviously, fighting is the main draw. Unfortunately, things sort of go downhill from here, as the rest of the game feels too much like a rehash. I really hate that word but when it’s an apt term…

When compared with the first title, many of the locations you visit are exactly the same. I mean, they’re identical; they were just cut and pasted into this game. On top of which, with very little in the way of exploration, and no puzzles or mazes or anything, the game feels like a “been there, done that” adventure that starts to get old very quickly. This is more like “Tales of Xillia 1.5” than a full-fledged sequel and that’s where Bandai Namco starts to lose me. They succeeded in losing me entirely by instituting a new gameplay mechanic that reminds me way too much of paying off my student loans.

When Ludger begins his quest, he’s saddled with a huge debt, which he must pay back over time. This system permeates the entire game and there are times when you can’t even progress unless you’ve paid your latest installment. Whose brilliant idea was this? At the start of each chapter, I have to ante up or find a way to make good on the loan payment? This means accepting random jobs from the quest board, which aren’t even remotely interesting. Basically, you just go find some loot and kill some monsters, and the money you earn can go toward paying off your IOU. Grand. Not only is this immensely annoying, it cripples the pacing.

As for the narrative, the silent protagonist idea works to some extent but other than that, it’s not especially moving. Strangely, the developers implemented a choice system, where Ludger can choose his responses. This doesn’t work very well with a character who never actually speaks, though, and your choices don’t have much of an impact on the story. It just seems like a tacked-on feature that doesn’t add anything significant to the experience, and it's generally a waste of time. However, I will say that there are a few nice additions and improvements that should be mentioned.

For instance, you don’t have to raise shop levels anymore (which is good, because I always hated that), and the post-game content is better. There’s really awesome equipment to craft – the equipment synthesis system has returned – and there are some elite bosses to face. All of this makes the game a bit more appealing, but I can’t get past that awful debt mechanic, and too many of the characters are clearly pointless. Then you’ve got the rehashed parts of the game that really turn me off, so the end result is definitely underwhelming. Still, it’s always fun to fight!

Tales of Xillia 2 isn’t exactly everything you could want in a sequel. On the one hand, it does bolster the already great combat system, and there are a few nice additions and bonuses. But constantly having to repay a loan throughout the game greatly hinders the pacing and it’s a colossal irritant. The story isn’t as well-written or engaging as the plot of the first game, there are superficial characters tossed in for no reason, and the cutting-and-pasting of previously visited locales isn’t doing us any favors. If you can accept all these drawbacks and indulge in the awesome battle mechanic, well, good for you.

The Good: Great battle effects. Some decent voice performances. A few appreciated tweaks and improvements. Plenty of longevity and better end-game content. Combat is just plain fun.

The Bad: Overall design isn’t as good as the first game. Too many reused locales. The debt system is absolutely terrible. Story and characters fall a little flat.

The Ugly: “I feel like defaulting on the loan and killing the lender.”

9/11/2014   Ben Dutka