May contain minor spoilers. This is a story-focused structure-like essay review with some criticisms. Maybe the longest review I have ever written for this blog. I suppose it’s a nice way to end the year.
If you are a do-gooder who cares a lot about living organisms (yes, that includes destructive human beings) and you enjoy reading science college textbooks, you’re going to love this game. First off, you probably took an introduction course to biology and came across the term symbiosis. If I were, to sum up, the entire story of Tales of Xillia (developed by Namco and released 2011), that is the structure of the story of which it involves. So, despite what some professional reviewers said about this game, it’s not just another generic JRPG story saving the world. In fact, I would even argue that there’s no saving the world in this game but rather protecting it. Tales of Xillia is about how life forms help each other to exist: humans and spirits coexisting and working in harmony or humans and advanced technology called spyrites coexisting and working in harmony. I think you get the gist. In this story, there’s no real main evil villain and there’s a lot of philosophical conversation that happens among the characters, on top of the added humor. Does that sound like your cup of tea? Hey, I could always play a feel-good game in this day and age. The skits among the characters got me laughing hard; apparently, I did not view all of them as there is a trophy for it called Obsessive Skit Viewer. It is awarded to Xillia’s most dedicated couch potatoes. Wow, what a lovely way to mock your audience. You should be happy that your game is being purchased and played or else you wouldn’t have a job. The joke is on you too! I digress. Whatever happens to the concept of symbiosis that the game was so focused on preaching?
Joke aside, I did spend enough time with the game to have the characters grow on me. What I like about the characters in this game is how imperfectly admirable they are. They got a lot of evolving to do which makes them a charming bunch. Yes, that includes Milla Maxwell who is a spirit that takes the form of a 20-year-old woman and who learns that there are limitations to being a human such as hunger and emotions; Jude Mathius an indecisive med-student who cares too much and lacks direction; Elize, an orphan child who suffers from verbalizing her thoughts and thus making friends, which is why she is accompanied by a “talking toy” named Teepo; Alvin, a lonely shady mercenary who changes sides like the unpredictable weather; Rowen, an old passive, self-conscious military tactician who fails to lead; and lastly, Lei, a childhood friend of Jude who lacks femininity and grace to attract a partner and start a family of her own. They are not the ideal heroes and heroines you see in most video games and that is exactly what I like about it. In fact, they are a bit on the “special” side. In other words, they are unevolved human beings. They are characters you can sympathize with and relate with. After all, as a human being, “There’s always room for improvement,” says Rowen, the character who is often referred to as grandpa by the other characters because of his age.
In contrast to the heroes and heroines, the “villains” aren’t all as evil as they appear. What separates them from the heroes and heroines is their outlook on life. And here I will mention again, where I came to the conclusion about the plot and how I refer to symbiosis. The “good” and the “bad” guy have the same mission and that is to protect what they hold dear to them. In fact, when life forms help each other for their benefits it’s called symbiosis. One does not have to kill the other in order to survive. They just co-exist and even strengthen one another. So, it’s no surprise that the villains seem a bit one-dimensional and stiff to my liking and even laughable and unrealistic. They could have been explored a bit more. At times, I felt as if they served a purpose only to give depth to the heroes and heroines by highlighting and contrasting their weaknesses. As absurd as it sounds, the heroes and heroines can learn some useful traits from the villains such as having a clear mission in life. They are “evil” for a reason because they stay true to their conviction. For this reason, the characters are not the game’s strongest strength rather it’s the concept of symbiosis and its humor that take the spotlight in the story.
But of course, the game has more to offer than its creative storytelling. The gameplay is flashy and fun! There are enough places to explore and gather materials to enhance shops. I found it quite addictive, just collecting materials and galds (video game currency). I like how I am rewarded for unlocking more items in each shop (foods, items, accessories, weapons, armor, etc.) so I can make characters stronger in battles because the game battle system is entertainingly fun. I could easily get sucked into grinding for materials to expand these shops which may reach level 99 or 100. The furthest I got with one of the shops is level 90. I stopped there since the story is the main reason, I played the game and I already clocked in 88 hours! So here I give my 2 cents on game design: I find it ironic how the male protagonist is an honor med student. I bet he doesn’t play video games during his break because he is too busy hitting the books. If you are going to preach to your audience (which is probably your typical 20-year-old college student), you got to learn how not to slap his or her face at it. Only hardcore trophy hunters would spend hours on this game. Yeah, in life you can’t please everyone. Perhaps, you should practice what you preach and take Milla Maxwell’s route: stick to a point. As for the boss fights, they were challenging but not too difficult. There’s some strategy involved for those who like to tinker and customize their characters. And for those who just want to experience the story, the player can always select the option to optimize their character skills automatically. The only effort from the player is to mash certain buttons while in battle. Yep, this game is for you button masher! Not so difficult to learn. In fact, the gameplay is quite generous. If you failed a boss fight, it opens the battle menu for players to re-strategize the characters. I found that extremely helpful and rewarding when I do finally defeat the boss. It’s a casual game that is manageable towards the end of the day. However, the downside to the gameplay is that on your second play-through, the enemy and boss encounters can get pretty easy and boring fast until you meet the final boss, which makes me question the game’s development and its consistency. The only reason I can think of is to play the game the second time around with less effort since most players might just want to experience the story in their chosen protagonist (you can either start off the game as Milla Maxwell or Jude Mathius), and view the cinematic cutscenes and collect some materials to max out the shops for trophy purpose. The game was meant to be played twice. Regardless, I didn’t think it flow well from a player’s perspective, especially if the story is the focal point of the game.
Overall, I really did enjoy my time with this bright-colored game and its colorful casts even though it’s not a perfect seamless game, but still quite impressionable and ambitious. The greatest thing I got out of this game is the reminder that we have the freedom to decide for ourselves what is our life’s mission; whether it is to protect our family, support our loved ones, make friends or lead a country, etc., it’s important to stick to a mission and not waver. You can say that is a form of strength. At the end of it all, we fight because “We all just want to live,” I quoted Jude, the main male protagonist. From a gamer to another gamer, I highly recommend this game to any JRPG fan.