Tales of Xillia (1) is easily my number one in terms of stories in the Tales franchise. It had some faults, and while I did LIKE all of the cast a great deal, I only really loved a few of the characters in it. It had a good story, the most exciting of all the Tales’ mid-point twists (and really, an incredibly well handled reveal by any standards), a bunch of times I thought it was gonna end and it tricked me, and felt like it had the perfect mix of light hearted fun and seriousness. Newly released in the US, Tales of Xillia 2 takes place a year after Xillia, same world, mostly the same faces, and a new story. I was super hyped for it, especially after the E3 trailer for the US release (seen above), and now that I’ve finally beaten it I can write this up.
Anyway, have another one of my overly lengthy reviews. I like writing these ones best.
This review IS spoiler free, so don’t worry if you haven’t played the game, however Xillia 2 is a direct sequel, so play Xillia first and don’t read this if you haven’t.
The Cast – Everyone from Xillia is back and they were all fairly likable in the prior game – the same still stands true a year later. Not only that, but Gaius and Muzet (the latter actually being kind of likable now) are now party members. The majority of the new characters are great. Ludger is awesome and even though he’s kind of a silent protagonist, he does say a lot through your decisions (you just don’t hear him until NG+) and at other times, he even says moves in fights and a few short things during skits and such. Point is, he’s not some gordon freeman lazy writing excuse, he’s an actual good character. I was worried about this prior to playing, but it’s handled well. His brother Julius is easily one of my favorite new characters in this game even though he’s not around too much. He’s got a great perfectly fitting voice in the dub and has a well handled bond with his brother that seems natural. I just wish he got some more development and was a possible party member. I also thought that Bisley Bakur was pretty badass throughout (because he is).
Rollo included as a great new character. Rollo is one cute fat little cat.
Nova – She deserves her own thing rather than being lumped in with the whole cast. Nova (also known as King Novias or Agent N) is really cute, sweet, and a total silly goose – but at the same time she’s a shark. A loan shark. And if you have a good enough TV and pay attention, she has literal shark teeth and shows them off at times when you call (or when she calls) to pay your debts. She’s also shown (at least once that I can remember for sure) at the start of the game as being extremely skilled in combat. She’s a genuinely cute and silly girl, but she’s also got that ‘shark’ side to her in a more literal sense than just her job title. I also really liked that she has plenty of development and involvement in the story rather than just being essentially an extra or only there for the debt stuff. My OTP for this game is Ludger and Nova. Her dub VA did a great job getting across her…uniqueness too, and it only made her all the cuter for it. Just like Julius, I wish she could be partyable. If this was an Atelier game I know she would be via DLC, but that won’t happen here. Though you supposedly can change into her character model in post-game if you do the bonus dungeon.
The Side Story Missions – Every character in your party has ‘bonus chapters’ where you get some side missions focused on developing their story or helping them out in some way. These were fun and a lot of them were actually some of the most emotional parts of the game. Actually, I feel like I was more interested in these than in the main story of the game. They were all interesting, bittersweet, or fun (or all 3), and they are definitely something you don’t want to skip when playing. This was easily the best addition to the game and instead of just having little skits to develop people we really got to spend time with the cast, help them out, and get close with them. It was really well implemented and the stories were all well done and kept you wanting to see the next part to find out how their mini-story continues or finally concludes.
Choice Making – I usually don’t care for this type of thing in games, it just makes everything half-assed because the writers have to make all these branching paths instead of one focused one. However, in this case it actually really works well and adds a lot to the game and your attachment to what is going on. I always found myself actually considering the options instead of just picking whatever or just picking “the right choice”. This isn’t a situation that WRPGs have either where it’s “BE AN ASSHOLE OR BE A SAINT” – your choices are all pretty understandable and both believable or acceptable most of the time and MOSTLY aren’t obviously ‘bad vs good’ or ‘mean vs nice’. It made me care about what I was choosing to do or say, which isn’t the case with most of these types of things in games. It actually changes enough of the dialogue, your relationships with the party, and sometimes the events that it felt like it really mattered for once.
A Late-Game Decision and the Results of it – Rather, a chain of them, which ends up deciding if you get an outright bad end right then or continue on in the story (albeit this is not the final decision or anything, just near the end), and its kind of crazy and exciting while also ending pretty sad either way, and I liked the direct result (right after making said decisions) equally for both options. I didn’t expect one of them to even be something that would ever happen in any Tales game for any reason, it was actually seriously surprising and had an impact on me – I didn’t want to go through with it when I realized what was about to happen. The other (the true/canon) path option’s direct result at this point was something easy to see coming (kind of even directly told to you moments prior and something you could see coming from the start) but was equally something I didn’t want to do, and it lead to even more genuinely sad stuff. Actually, it was probably one of the more powerful (emotionally) moments in the Tales franchise for me overall.
Seriously, this part of the game was outstanding and without question 10/10 material from the end of a specific fight this brings you to to the end of the scenes directly after it. I genuinely felt, and still do feel in some ways, sad over it – but it’s what you have to do, and if you choose not to…well, you can, and you can see what happens when you do that – and it’s just all handled so well and in a way that you know what is coming yet it only makes it harder to face it, do it, and deal with the direct events after it that really get to you. I’m just amazed they managed to handle it all so well, and there’s a lot more to it that made it such a big deal but that’s all spoilers so I can’t mention it. Maybe I’m a softy, but even asking others and looking around the web, it seems that most agree it was actually one of the rare times in games that something was actually sad rather than feeling like it was the typical contrived attempt at doing so you get in games.
This game was worth playing even just for that part, it even actually got to me which most games, movies, and anime simply don’t do when it comes to making me actually feel sad over anything. If only the whole game was done so incredibly well as that part it’d easily be a top tier game.
Multiple Endings – There are four total endings that I know of (one joke, one bad, one normal, and one true/canon), and it was worth seeing them all. Just be ready, absolutely none of them but the joke ending come without the price of being very bittersweet.
The Story – It’s kind of interesting and at times a bit exciting, but overall it feels way too ‘typical’ and lacking. I know this is a Tales game, but here there are no real surprises or twists, and the overall ideas behind the story – while not bad at all – feel like they are just kind of a mish mash of popular things like Steins;Gate and Madoka Magica without much thought put into them at all aside “I guess this could be a cool idea, lets add that too”. However, my main issue with the story was the PACING. This game feels like it has no idea of how it wants you to play it while still being ‘on rails’ for the most part, which makes it a clunky and very often awkward experience. On top of all that, at times it feels like it’s simply heavy to be heavy, or dark to be dark, and makes it feel out of place and a bit forced at times like it takes itself far too seriously. Tales games have always had some comedy mixed in, and this had the least of those lighthearted moments – it felt almost like they relied on Nova’s calls to brighten the mood most of the time. It’s an alright story with some really good moments, but the majority of it feels kind of mundane and overdone.
Paying the Debt – I don’t have this under ‘bad’ because unlike a lot of people, I didn’t hate it, I just felt it really caused a lot of the pacing issues. You can’t progress in the story until you pay, and the money needed continues to rise and rise each time. Not to mention you have Nova calling spam-calling you half the time while you’re in a serious situation or just finished a really serious moment in the story. I really like Nova so I don’t mind hearing from her, but this should have been handled better. However, thanks to this we got Nova as well as a gambling minigame, so its not so bad. Plus, every time she calls (or you call her) she has real cute lines she says.
Laziness – About 98% of the game is just reused from Xillia, which was to be expected – but I mean there is only a total of maybe 3 very small locations that were added, everything else is just from Xillia 1. On top of that, a lot of the things within the game are inconsistent – for example there’s a point near the end of the game where you’re supposed to be locked up and such and you break out, yet those same people continue talking to you normally and calling you after that during side-missions (ones only available after that, which means they could have easily avoided the inconsistency) and you can even go talk to that person for a lot of side missions even in person in the same building with the same guards you are WANTED by and who you almost killed to escape. It’s really stupidly thought out – or rather, it wasn’t thought out at all.
Relevant Story Elements Clashing with the Lore – One last issue I have with the story, but is bad rather than just ‘eh’, is that it so heavily involves things that were never remotely brought up or mentioned whatsoever in Xillia – and actually some things that were outright impossible to exist in the prior game due to the lore outright stating certain things that would contradict them existing at all. It’s like they forgot about all of that or were hoping the player had.
Character Development Issues – While the cast themselves are all great and it was fun seeing everyone again, so many of them had huge changes in their dreams and lives that simply do not fit their character at all, and their overall personalities are no different so it clashes in a bad way. The biggest two issues would be Leia entirely ditching her huge passion and dream of being a nurse to…be a reporter? Her entire personality was based around helping others directly and saving lives. Now she’s just writing editorials and it’s only ever mentioned once by Alvin jokingly. They just wanted her not to be a nurse so they made her not a nurse even though it went against everything she stood for. The second ‘biggest’ would be Alvin, who has gone from mercenary to a fruit merchant with the guy who is married to that child-slave-trader whore Isla. I can see Alvin doing anything for a buck, but this was apparently HIS idea, and it just doesn’t fit at all. The rest of the cast has issues as well, but I can at least kind of get where they were coming from.
Forced Party Changes – Almost all of the main story quests and entirely all the side quests force you to use a specific party (usually letting you pick one extra character). It made me have to play with characters I didn’t want to in a game that is essentially an add-on – if anything I should be encouraged to play the whole game with my favorite party, not forced out of ever using it 90% of the time. It also makes the game more difficult due to the awful setups it forces you into, with the majority of the game having Elize (the only real healer in the game) leave the group through some contrived reason just so the player wouldn’t have a healer.
Milla Maxwell – It’s hard to go into detail on this while avoiding spoilers, but for the first half or so of the game Milla is an unlikable bitch and easily the worst character in the cast during that time. This is fixed at a certain point, but its really hard seeing her like this until then when she was so likable in the prior game, luckily she does go back to how she always was about halfway through the game.
Awful End Dungeon Design – It’s only 2 screens long but it’s several paths and 98% of them have one piece way down them that is a fake piece but you can’t tell this from afar and have to just go down path after path forever until it disappears and you have to go back and do the same thing 300 more times. Possibly the most awful boring and plain obnoxious way of ending the game they could have created. This isn’t a puzzle or a challenge, it is literally just pure tedium and not remotely fun. It took me almost half an hour to get through 2 fucking short screens, and that was without fighting anything.
*Slight Spoiler* The awful filters and sepia bullshit in the majority of the mission sequences – Constantly from the beginning of the game through to the very end, any time you’re in another dimension you have this awful sepia and smokey filter covering the screen. It is ugly, it is not pleasant at all on the eyes, and it makes you just want to rush through and get the mission over with to return to a game that doesn’t look like shit. It sounds like a small thing, but its fairly obnoxious when you’re actually playing.
Two Late-Game Bosses – Well, technically one or both, as they are equally shit and it changes which one you have depending on your choices (one is optional for a secondary ending, one is for the true ending, but you’d probably want to do both just to see what the other ending is/get extra costumes and titles/get a trophy). Either way though, you’re stuck with either a boss that has you confused – and I’m not exaggerating when I say this – about 90% of the fight, even if you have gear that is anti-confusion and so on. You get to play about 5~10 seconds between being confused yet again. This is not ‘challenging’ nor is it fun, it’s fucking infuriating and bad boss design because you aren’t even PLAYING THE GAME at that point but watching your character do dumb shit. And if you choose the other route you’re stuck with the same confusion shit PLUS being gang banged with no way to dodge, block, or heal, and the few chances you do get you’re either stunned or fucking confused. It is some of the biggest bullshit I’ve seen in bossfights for awhile from JRPGs.
*Spoilers* Elle’s Mom – Her mother who is never a point of the story but is clearly a point of interest for the player because you’d obviously want to know who Ludger ended up with is something I was always wondering and they finally reveal it if you go the ‘normal end’ route instead of the true end route…and the result is it’s just some random cunt they made up who has never existed in either game at all whatsoever on any level until the very end scene of the Normal ending. It’s just incredibly fucking stupid – out of a whole cast of characters, even some side characters, and even a clear love interest in Nova, we get SOMEONE WHO DID NOT EXIST AT ALL IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE OF EITHER GAME aside from TEN SECONDS in ONE NON-CANON ENDING. Pick ANYBODY and it’d be better, instead they picked NO ONE. Not a random NPC, not a character you spoke to for 10 seconds, nothing, nobody, someone who doesn’t even exist outside of those ten seconds.
*Spoilers* A Fairly Stupid Ending – *Obviously this one has spoilers!* The main antagonist was the person I agreed with far more than Ludger and friends. Their goal was purely for humanity’s sake and would have created essentially a utopia for mankind – rieze maxians and elympions alike, while Ludger and the others are simply being hippy do-gooders who want peace and love for spirits and humans together even though they’ll never be as happy or well off for it and may never step forward a single step for hundreds or thousands of years. Not to mention that dream of theirs was proven not to work multiple times in the past, as the game CONTINUALLY HAMMERS INTO YOUR HEAD throughout various side stories and even some of the main story. It’s ridiculous that you are, aside from the joke end and bad end, forced to go with the stupidest plan possible for mankind’s future because two people feel special – like many pairs exactly like them in the past have and failed horribly. Even the fucking great spirit maxwell – essentially God as far as the first game made him out to be – failed at accomplishing it. So who to side with? The side that is doing anything they can to better the lives of humanity while making spirits become emotionless (and thus not even in pain or sad over it) slaves? Or the side who wants to essentially doom humanity for a one in a trillion chance? I’m sorry, but I can’t pretend I’d put humanity at death’s door because my friend says he ‘totally can fix the universe’ when he can’t even confess his feelings to the girl he loves after two full fucking games.
I don’t see how people praise this as “way better than Xillia” or how it “fixes all the problems with Xillia”. This feels like a big step DOWN from Xillia without much room for debate. It is not nearly on par with it’s predecessor, which story-wise was possibly my favorite Tales game yet (with Graces as my favorite character and chemistry wise). It has an average quality story, it has no ‘big’ moments aside the singular one I mentioned earlier, it feels very lacking, the entire world is rehashed from Xillia with only two or three small zones added, the cast is pretty much all the exact same, the pacing is very poor, and a lot of the game feels like its “in the way” of the experience rather than adding to it. It’s alright and I encourage Tales fans to play it if they played Xillia (if not, then play Xillia first, this is 100% a sequel, not a stand-alone title at all), but its really nothing special and doesn’t hold up to the standards the past couple games in this franchise have stood up to and even surpassed.
It’s fun, there’s some cool additions that I really enjoyed like the side missions with the cast (which were easily my favorite parts of the game), decision making and multiple endings, some really likable new characters, and so on – but it just all felt so lacking and like it should be an expansion rather than its own full sequel. I like it but at the same time it disappointed me in a lot of ways and ended up being a game I never found myself as ‘into’ as most of the titles in this franchise or even in the competition. However, repeating it from above, this game also had possibly the most powerful bits I’ve seen in the franchise. There was plenty good here, even great, there was just also a massive mishmash of issues that truly hampered the full experience, not to mention the awful bullshit like unfun shitty boss fights and the worst possible dungeon as the big finale.
On top of all that, the story was constantly stupid and clumsy, almost never stopping contradicting itself or forcing you into stupid situations. The only actual endings are also both completely retarded and based off of believing in ‘positive thinking’ changing the universe instead of a 100% guaranteed miracle, which was an option but not one presented to the player – you actively have to stop it, no matter what you choose. I’m sorry, but Jude’s idealism is not going to renew the world or save humanity, and it’s not something I want to put the future of everything into the hands of. The fact you’re forced to was stupid. I was completely dissatisfied with the story throughout, but the endings just cemented how awful the writing and direction was. It’s a sad thing when your trailer is a thousand times better than your actual product.
Xillia and Graces F were both “game of the year” of their release years for me and some of my top ever favorite JRPGs, but Xillia 2 only feels like an ‘alright’ game with a massive amount of problems – only taking the ‘alright’ title thanks to the old cast being developed a bit more, a few moments in the story, and the gameplay still being fun and addictive.
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I’ve spent more time thinking about it and the more I do that the more I realize how bad the writing truly was and how incredibly lacking the vast majority of the game ended up.
Lowered the score to a 6.