Greetings everyone! I don't normally write extensive reviews, but I felt this game deserves it as I've finished getting every achievement now without buying any shortcut DLC perks and maxed out all my end-game weapon stats. So, let's get down to it.
Story - Score: 8
A quick rundown on the story is that there is a war between the Dahna and Rena, with Renans in control and enslaving the all the Dahnas. You get to control a group which consists of both Dahnas and Renans to defeat the five Renan Lords and free all the Dahnas from slavery.
I felt the story was interesting enough as I progressed and liked how the story expanded much more than how I just described it. In this game there's a whooooole lot of voiced dialogue between your group which is always a big plus for me (over 300 voiced skits).
I enjoyed all the bonding and antics between your group, especially since each of them comes from pretty distinctive backgrounds. Each of them gets their spotlight to shine and all in all making me actually care about each of the group members. Overall, I think the story was nicely done.
Controls and Gameplay - Score: 8
I use a PS5 controller for Steam, so the default control layout didn't make sense as the attack button was R1, the three Artes attacks was triangle, square and X, and the jumping button was circle. It wasn't a problem since I was able to edit them all in the settings. I changed the Artes attacks to L1, R1, and triangle respectively, regular attacks to square, jumping to X and initiating conversations with circle. After that, it felt much better as if I'm playing a classic action game during combat.
Gameplay wise, the game is pretty straightforward on progressing through the story. It's not as true open-world as I initially thought at first, but many of the areas are big enough that sometimes I forget that it's a narrow path to the next destination.
Leveling up and equipping gear is very simple as each character has a weapon, armor, and an accessory. You cannot modify your weapons or gear in any way which may be off-putting to some. You can however customize your accessory by leveling them up to 5 with modified stats via materials.
In game battles are awesome with the implementation of perfect evading/guarding in which you can counter with awesome looking abilities. Boost attacks/boost strikes are also very appealing and is a staple part of the battle system. They also included Over Limit mode which is their version of Limit Breaks when you can just go all out with your attacks without spending your CP.
The best part about the battle system is while you can only control one party member at a time, each of them plays rather differently which keeps battles fresh. For example, I find myself controlling Shionne the most during battles as I prefer ranged gun attacks. Rinwell would come second as I love casting powerful AOE attacks that just pleasing to look at when the high damage numbers show! ^^
Visuals and Sound - Score: 10 for Visuals, 7.5 for Sound
The visuals here are the best aspect of this game. The anime cutscenes are done by none other than Ufotable, the animation studio that's behind the ever so popular Demon Slayer and much of the Fate series. That alone speaks volumes for itself.
The in-game cutscenes are also still amazing especially with all the battle cinematics. It almost feels like the Final Fantasy VII Remake battle sequences with all the sword play going around! Haha. Character models are nice looking and detailed when showing their expressions. The area maps and environment are also awesome as well and I feel it has a very polished look as if I were playing another Square Enix JRPG game.
For the sound it was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I felt the opening anime song is just so-so (felt like any typical anime op song that wasn't really memorable). Some of the area themes are really nice though, even so that sometimes I found myself just stopped from moving around just so I could listen to the music playing.
After spending a good amount of time in the game and reaching the second part, the second anime op song comes in and that one was a lot more to my liking than the first. It has a much more serious tone to it, which makes the viewers know that the story going forward just got real. =P
The ending song at the end was also nice and fitting. Battle theme is just meh.
Replayability - Score: 8.5
I know one would ask first "Are there any missables in this JRPG?" to which I can happily say no. I keep hearing about missing recipes and finding owls that aren't there anymore after a certain point, but they'll just appear elsewhere later in the game. There's a total of 70 sub-quests that can be done alongside your main questline, and some of them are nice and expanding (some can only be done post-game). I feel that's a plenty amount and can be done at any time. No pressure in getting to them before you finish the game.
As with most JRPGs there is a New Game + in which you can transfer your character levels, equipment, Artes etc. given that you find the appropriate artifacts first. (Can be done post game if you prefer.) Next, this game is pretty linear in a sense. An example for that is with some JRPGs, there's different romance options or choices that can alter the dialogue and change the outcome of the game (like the Persona or Legend of Heroes games). Sadly, there is no such feature here which to me is a bummer. It could have added major replayability value given the amount of party members. But the redeeming factor is that this game does have a healthy number of challenging bosses and with the Chaos difficulty mode that can be unlocked, it certainly adds some replay value.
The fishing mini game is fun with 44 fishes total and with several different rods/lures to use to catch specific types. Farming and cooking are also nice small additions to make quick gald (money) or boost stats via ingredients. There's even some nice cameos in game from other Tales games that you can re-encounter with at any time! Hehe.
Final Thoughts - Overall Score: 8.6
So overall I thoroughly enjoyed this game, as I'm now clocking in at over 100 hours now and am willing to write this review! ^^ This game can be an entry point for newcomers who've never played another Tales game. The story here is self-contained. The polished visuals that I saw in the trailers in the beginning of the year are what got me to pre-order this game months in advance. And now that I've done everything I could in-game I can happily say that it was my money well spent.
Also, I just want to note that I don't see a reason for anyone to buy any of the leveling DLC. It literally took me 5 minutes to level from 86 to 100 easy with the right stipulations. Don't be a lazy bum. Anyways I always find myself comparing this game to the earlier Bandai JRPG title SCARLET NEXUS that got released a bit earlier this year, and I can say I very much enjoyed this a lot more than that one (completed that game as well). For this game I went the extra mile beyond getting all the achievements and spent hours with each character doing solo battles in Training Grounds just to max out their end-game weapons. =)
All in all, I felt this game is my favorite JRPG of the year so far (next to Nier Replicant) with only looking at the soon to be released Shin Megami Tensei V to look forward to for JRPGs this year. I may not be familiar with all the Tales franchise games (having only played Berseria previously), but even I can tell that Bandai Namco has really stepped up their production value with this title compared to all the older ones, and I look forward to seeing future installments elevating their boundaries even higher.
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