Bandai Namco dropped the Tales of Arise demo today, just a little under a month before its September 10, 2021 release date. The demo is small in terms of length, but pretty big in terms of substance. In fact, it’s one of my favorite major JRPG demos in a long time, offering a perfect slice of what the game is like without potentially compromising the early hours. Also, it helps that Tales of Arise is a joy to play and is visually stunning, more so than any previous Tales adventure.
Typically, if a JRPG gets a demo, it’s really just the full game with a cutoff point. There are exceptions of course, but for the most part you get to start the game as if you bought it and pick up where you left off when the game comes out. There are a few reasons to do it this way, one being convenience for both the developer and players. The devs don’t have to carve out a bespoke demo, and players don’t have to replay the opening hours unless they want to.
Tales of Arise Demo First Impressions
But even so, a lot of folks get turned off by that approach, myself included. It’s better than nothing for sure, but there’s something about that format that cools off excitement around launch time. You’ve already gone through the opening moments, the logos, the title screen, the fresh experience of playing a new game from the beginning. I’m no spoiler culture hardhead, but not enjoying these kinds of demos is more of an experience spoiler to me.
Tales of Arise goes for a sort of middle ground. This isn’t a unique vertical slice, nor is it just the whole game. It’s a random chunk somewhere in the early stages, with your characters already introduced to one another and starting around level 25 or so. But there are boundaries, and you won’t go very far. There’s just enough game here to play some battles, run around a few areas, camp and take on a miniboss or two. You can jump in multiple times if you want, but it’s a small taste rather than a glimpse at the full experience.
And that lends itself super well to coming back and playing more than once. Especially since when you start the demo you can choose who you control initially, which changes the little trailer you get at the end. You can play as any of the available party members, each of which plays quite differently (You can also change the leader in the demo, but the trailer stays on who you picked first). So if you’re stoked enough to play more than once, there’s some incentive baked in. But perhaps more importantly, you also get that incentive without running into the big problem I mentioned earlier.
Because it’s only around an hour, perhaps less, and presented without any greater context, this actually feels like a proper Tales of Arise demo. It’s just a little taste, enough to get you an idea of how to play the game, get a bit of a feel for it, and get cut off before you can get too invested. That’s perfect for organically encouraging interest that’ll last until September 10.
And man, it’s just a great taste. Tales of Arise is the first series entry under new leadership, and a lot of major changes to the usual Tales formula have been made. There’s less of an axis-type orientation, allowing you to move freely around the battlefield and even dodge or jump as smoothly as any character action game. The “Artes,” or skills, are also meant to be bigger parts of making combos.
Everything just works together, and it’s so much more natural to suss out what you are and aren’t allowed to get away with compared to say, Tales of Xillia or Symphonia. You have dedicated buttons for your leader’s skills as well as using the dpad to pop off interruptions from your pals almost like assists in a fighting game. Do everything right and you can juggle an enemy a good while, and it’s easier than ever to dance around the controller and find those moments.
That doesn’t mean the game is too easy! I actually lost to the demo’s ending challenge a couple times on the Normal difficulty. You quickly learn there are limits to how aggressive you can be, and how much attention you need to pay to the party’s well-being. It’s also just as easy to miss hits or drop combos as it is to make them. You have to pay attention to the animations the enemy’s position relative to yours, so on and so forth.
Tales of Arise is also an incredible-looking game, easily the most raw fidelity of a Tales outing. And that doesn’t compromise the visual style either, still making this recognizable as a Tales and not some weird God Eater spinoff or something. The maps are reasonably sized without feeling too small or big, and the colors just explode from the screen. Between this and Scarlet Nexus, Bandai Namco is nailing this whole new console generation thing.
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That’s all for now! Well, that’s quite a bit considering I just fooled around with a demo for an hour. But I’m absolutely sold on Tales of Arise. The demo’s quick pace and small scope were engineered with expert precision, giving me enough to know I’ll love this game but not so much I’ll feel like I’ve already been playing it when the time comes. I can’t wait to figure out who these characters are, what the world looks like when it gets weird and of course, how many sick combos I can think of.