The Tales series has had a troubled time finding its foot outside of Japan. Though it recently passed 20 million units sold, it still lags behind the likes of Final Fantasy. It's a maligned younger sibling of the Japanese role-playing game genre. But Tales of Arise is looking to turn that narrative on its head, led by its new brand director and producer Yusuke Tomizawa.
We sat down to discuss Tales of Arise with Tomizawa at E3 2019, not long after the reveal of the next game in the series. The trailer was striking, especially because the Tales series has long stuck to a certain aesthetic. As Tomizawa tells us, Tales of Arise is looking to evolve the series, starting with a visual overhaul.
"We introduced Unreal Engine 4 as the base system and introduced our own unique shader system as well, to make the unique visuals in Tales of Arise," says Tomizawa via translator. "We retained the core Tales Of style and graphics from the past, but we make some evolution from those old titles."
The Tales series has been going for a long time, over two decades. And for the next entry, Bandai Namco is looking to develop a hold on western shores. Tomizawa believes the mix of realism and anime-style graphics will appeal to western players, and the team has already done motion capture for nuances like facial expressions to capture a more lifelike look. Even something as simple as a change in height can radically alter the appearance of Tales to an outsider.
"I believe we have done a [good] balance between real-life atmosphere and the animated, anime graphics style," says Tomizawa.
It isn't just about aesthetic, either. While it was tough to get any specific details about the combat, it sounds like it will be similar to Tales games of the past but even tighter and more responsive. Tomizawa also says the team has been influenced by various action and action-RPG games, though he won't say which.
"The good responses, a speedy battle system, is like a current trend among users who like action-RPG games," says Tomizawa. "So I can say that, in the good meaning, we are really affected by those kinds of games."
He did say that battles will be larger scale in Tales of Arise, incorporating camera angles to emphasize much greater sized foes to defeat. While the team isn't trying to make Tales of Arise more difficult, they are trying to ramp up the action and scale of combat in the field. Having a real sense of threat lets players feel "more achievement" when felling a massive boss, according to Tomizawa.
Tales of Arise is Not An Open World Game
Tales of Arise is not an open-world game, however. There are larger scale fields-or the expanses between towns and vital locales in traditional Tales games-and the Tales team has incorporated differences in elevation to add more dynamics to field battles.
For the two main characters, whose names Tomizawa would not tell me, they are the primary representatives of two disparate worlds, Dhana and Rena. The relationship between them is symbolic of the tense relationship between their worlds. From the trailer, it seems somewhat reluctant and strained. There will be more party members and characters, but these two were good starting points for Tomizawa and his team to showcase the dichotomy that defines the world of Tales of Arise.
Tales games are a blast (I am a noted defender of them on this site), but they're often defined by tradition. Most adhere to a style, story structure, and battle system, which may slowly evolve over iterations but still don't stray too far from the set path. When Tomizawa joined the team in 2018, he says he worked to identify the core values that make up a Tales game and find ways to move them forward.
"The theme of the development of Tales of Arise is inheritance, and evolution of the traditional features of the Tales Of series," says Tomizawa. "Not only about the battles, but the skits, various traditional systems. We [broke] down the core values of the Tales Of system, and are working to evolve these new features in the latest entry."
He says the announcement of Tales of Arise was purposefully done at E3 in order to reach a more worldwide audience. Communication, or marketing the Tales series to a potentially interested audience, is a place where Tomizawa says they can improve. The anime aesthetic is essential to Tales, and it seems that if it's given a fresh overhaul and put in front of the right people, Tales can grow to a larger audience.
"The anime style and graphics are a core value of the Tales Of series, but the anime style graphics are still being evolved in Tales of Arise," says Tomizawa. "I think one of the core new features that can appeal to Western users is the graphics."
Tomizawa says there are no announcements to be made about next-gen, that his team is simply targeting the current generation. But in terms of outside influence, there was one that I couldn't let him leave without asking about: as I talked with Tomizawa, I noticed his laptop bore a sticker of Sans from Undertale. I asked him what he thought of Undertale, which he says he really loved because of how it mixed role-playing games with shooter mechanics and layers of "meta" storytelling. But would he ever consider taking a leaf from Undertale with a Tales game?
"The Tales Of series is a traditional RPG series, totally different from this kind of 'meta' game," says Tomizawa. "But maybe if the development team allows, I really love that kind of feature. If the team allows, maybe I can input something. Maybe not team, but the old gamers and fans. [laughs] If fans allow us."