Tales of Xillia 2 review: time sink

Xillia 2 takes the best of the original but fails to find its own voice

Game Info
Platform PS3
Publisher Namco Bandai
Developer Namco Bandai
Release Date Aug 19, 2014

Tales of Xillia 2 is a downgrade from Tales of Xillia.

This Japanese role-playing game serves as a follow-up to last year's Tales of Xillia and a return to the same world with a new hero. Buoyed by the nostalgic allure of both the Tales series and the first Xillia game, Xillia 2 has a lot to work with. Its promise of combining old characters with a new adventure is a strong one.

But the game is drowned by a surface-level plot and puzzling additions that prevent it from escaping the shadow of its predecessor in coherent, meaningful way. Tales of Xillia 2 has a hard time proving its necessity.

Where the first game felt fantasy-driven, with a story that revolved around spirits, Tales of Xillia 2 takes a decidedly more sci-fi approach: alternate universes.

Hero Ludger Kresnik is sucked into a strange conflict by his brother's secrets and a chance meeting with a young girl named Elle. Building off a more linear structure than the first, Tales of Xillia 2 is split into several main chapters, with the option to occasionally branch off on character-driven side chapters. The main story requires very little exploration. It's also the same world as the first game, so returning players will already be intimately familiar with most of the locales.

In its main story, Xillia 2 tasked me with eliminating "fractured dimensions" — basically alternate universes — to protect the integrity of the "prime dimension." Ludger has the ability to warp into these alternate worlds and destroy the source, effectively wiping out the other timeline and all its people.

That ability — called the Chromatus — is a fantastic addition to the game's battles. Like the first Xillia, fights are real-time free-for-alls. Enemies appear in the game world rather than attacking randomly. Getting into a fight was always my choice, and the game's combat made it a pleasant one. Once in a battle, I took control of one character and could perform different attacks and combos at a furious pace.

xillia 2 review screen 2

With the Chromatus, I was able to push my battle prowess one step further. It runs based on a meter that steadily builds over time. Once full, I could slip into a special transformation and perform a bevy of cool new attacks. The special mode is only available when playing as Ludger, but the game allows you to swap control between party members with a quick button press. It's the kind of easy, hands-on experience I appreciated from Xillia when it came to controlling my party — at least, in some aspects.

The original Tales of Xillia's upgrade system allowed me to choose which abilities or attributes each character would learn next, but Xillia 2's progression is stunted due to the new "Allium Orb." The Allium Orb offers a pre-determined stash of skills to learn or improve on. I would set each character with an orb and promptly forget. It sucked the fun out of gaining new levels.

I felt like I had little control over my characters or reasons to experiment with their skill sets, which gave me no reason to stray away from playing as Ludger. It never seemed as though I were playing anything new — largely because Ludger is joined by the entire gang of playable characters from Xillia 1, as well as two familiar faces that make their debut as full party members. Tales of Xillia 2 makes no effort to develop these old characters outside of optional side-chapters. Instead, focus is given front-and-center to the relationship between Ludger and Elle.

The final decision that directs the game's ending is its most satisfying and difficult

Ludger is a largely silent hero, and much of his personality is derived from his quiet interactions with Elle. I played a part in developing him as well; throughout the game, I was given two options on how to respond during key moments. I enjoyed ditching static interactions and having the choice to be kind to those I liked, or incredibly rude to those that annoyed me. Small conversation options don't affect the game's multiple endings, meaning I could act freely without worrying about how my story would conclude. The final decision that directs the game's ending is its most satisfying and difficult; I found myself actually struggling on which path to take.

But for every right move Xillia 2 takes forward with its hands-on story, however, it loses ground with its pacing.

Early in the game, I was saddled with a massive loan as part of the stupidest gate mechanic I've ever encountered in a JRPG. Main-chapter stories were locked until I hit milestones in payments. It was like being stuck in a pay-to-play game with fake money.

At a whopping 20 million gald (the game's currency), my debt was a behemoth that couldn't be casually chipped away at. I spent hours grinding on side-chapters and bounty quests, but even these became nail-bitingly tedious. Desperation and boredom drove me to wile away my frustrations by fighting enemies wherever they were plentiful. Even with my best efforts, I paid off little more than 3 million gald in-game.

tales of xillia 2 review screen 2

How did I finish the game without clearing the debt? Tales of Xillia 2 automatically nixed what was left of what I owed as I neared its end-game. It was simultaneously an act of mercy and a way to render everything I'd accomplished up to that point meaningless. The constant specter of the loan did nothing to enhance the story. Instead, it was a shackle that kept me from moving on at my own pace and left me grinding for cash.

Tales of Xillia 2 never really explores the consequences of the great weights it places on your shoulders. This rings especially true with the game's flippant handling of alternate universes. By destroying each new catalyst, I wiped out the entire timeline and everyone in it. Throughout the story, several characters touch on this and its gruesome implications, but no one ever outright says it: You're committing genocide. The lack of a true resolution to this problem frustrated me, especially because Xillia 2 goes out of its way to prove that these characters from alternate timelines are just as much alive — and human — as their counterparts everywhere else.

Wrap Up:

Xillia 2 takes the best of the original but fails to find its own voice

Tales of Xilla 2 is a house built on a solid foundation with a rotting roof. It takes the best elements of the first game — thrilling battles and a fun, quirky cast — and drags them down by gating off content in a way that felt insulting to my time. Tales of Xillia 2 does just enough to justify itself as a sequel, but the voice it finds is a sputter compared to what came before it.

Tales of Xillia 2 was reviewed using a retail copy provided by Bandai Namco. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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