If you remember well, I had expressed some reserves on Tales of Xillia. Let me say it straight, those ones have been busted. Let’s see how.
Some aspects haven’t changed from the preview : being the first Tales of lead-developped for the PS3, Tales of Xillia looks like it comes from a different dimension from Graces or even Vesperia. However, while most of the towns and effects (water and attacks in particular) are among the finest in the genre, field maps have all the same minimalist aspect. Anime-style cutscenes are really getting old : horrible in ToGF, those ones improve a little in Xillia but they make no sense given that the formidable game engine makes wonders in real time cutscenes.
The battle system is what I liked the most in Tales of Xillia. If I had to quantify it, it would easily make 50% of the (immense) pleasure I had playing the game. Battles in ToV were immersive, awesome in Graces, and ToX actually manages to trenscend both. You choose two characters within the four on the battlefield, one lead (the one you control) and one «partner» who directly assists your lead. The interesting thing is that each character has a special ability as a lead and another as a partner. For exemple, Jude can heal his lead while he will dodge and counterattack as a lead. Furthermore, you can switch between characters in every possible way, leaving room for quite dynamic strategies, which ultimately is very important since all ennemies don’t behave the same. But the most striking aspect of Xillia’s battles is the link attacks : as your overlimits jauge gradually fills, lead and partner will be able to launch powerful joint attacks. Always very impressive, sometimes hilarious or totally over-the-top, they make battles more offensive-oriented and far more spectacular and fiercer than ever. Of course, you can always complain that sidestepping is gone, or that TPs are a pain (not that much actually), but believe me, you forget all that once you start linking link attacks. Of course, the excellent voice acting and sound effects help a lot. Another very good thing is that the auto-item system has been refined to perfection : you can now decide the quantity, the priority order and what your allies are allowed to use. To be completely exhaustive with the battles, I must stress that the game is sligthly less difficult than Graces in difficulty «Second» except for an horrible difficulty spike in Millia’s story. Luckily, you can switch to another difficulty setting anytime, which allows you to overcome the aforementionned spike (otherwise trust me that the disc would have flown by the window).In Second, Xillia remains a decent challenge with really unforgettable boss fights, but appears a little more humane than ToGF, which was discouraging at some points.
The story seemed to be the weak point of this iteration. The problem is that it takes something like 40h to get some steam. In the first half of the game, the various events don’t really make sense as a whole. In the late stages of the game though, the narration grows really strong and fully coherent, with one of the most revelant message about ecology ever. The personal destiny of each character is efficiently developped as well, which kinda makes up for the slow start. I found the character design of the playable characters pretty good, better than Graces but not as much as Vesperia which had set the bar very high. But where Tales of Xillia is amazing is on the antagonist side : Gaius and his buddies are so cool that I though it was a shame to have them as the bad guys. Millia’s story took me 70h to complete (including numerous sidequests), I have barely tackled the post-game dungeon and there’s still Jude’s story : Xillia is really generous in the content it offers. Musically speaking, ToX is quite fine, but could have done with more variety.
Best graphics, best battle system, great characters, great scenario : you have here the best Tales of to date. With the success of ToGF in the US, the localization of Xillia is not a question of «if» but «when». And when the time comes, you can go straight to your retailer!