Those of you who read my posts will already know that I bought these games before I realized I don’t actually like the series, so I’ll try to keep this one short. With that said, the more of these I play, the better I think I can articulate exactly why I don’t like them (or maybe I’m just repeating myself; who knows). Besides, I already paid money for the game; maybe I can still get something out of it.
This is an RPG, except the battles happen in real-time. The right face button is normal attacks, the bottom one is for special attacks, the left one guards, and the top one brings up the menu. While holding the guard button, you can dash in any cardinal direction, though dashing to the side has you circle around the enemy you’ve locked onto (instead of going straight sideways). One major difference between this and previous Tales games is that TP is no longer a thing; instead, all attacks and dashes lower your stamina bar, though it refills completely within a couple seconds of not attacking or dashing. Another major change is that the battle camera stays behind you during battles (as opposed to being in a fixed position, only zooming to keep everything on screen like in previous Tales games), and this is a major change because now the camera can get stuck on scenery and prevent you from seeing anything. Plus, the one time the camera doesn’t follow you is while dashing, which is the one thing you’d want it to keep an eye on you for due to its context-sensitive nature. There’s also a new mechanic where you can fuse with an ally to get stronger attacks, but these are balanced by being slower to use, giving enemies more time to attack and stun you. As for recurring mechanics, an unfortunate one is that, despite the arena and enemy placement being 3D, your movement is locked on the 2D plane between you and the enemy you’ve locked onto (something I maintain only ever worked in Tales of Phantasia, which had 2D side-scrolling arenas where enemies waited in line). Sure, Free Movement also makes a return, but using it prevents your stamina bar from refilling because, apparently, half-way decent mobility is a broken mechanic that needed to be nerfed.
While the game doesn’t necessarily combine the worst mechanics from RPGs and hack-‘n’-slash games, what it does choose to combine simply do not work with each other and instead work to the game’s detriment. For example, outside of elemental weaknesses, the game has a triangle weakness system for different types of attacks, with normal attacks being able to interrupt spells (some of which outright can’t be avoided if they activate), but rather than make it a set number of attacks to interrupt the spell, it’s a set number of damage you have to do, meaning your level has more to do with your success than how good you are at the game. EDIT: Also, if you encounter a large group of spellcasters, all of whom are spread out, it’s literally impossible to interrupt all of them, meaning you’re going to be forced to take damage (I’d even go as far as to say that these battles are harder than any of the bosses). Another example is how stuns work: if you attack the enemy at the right time (and, again, do enough damage with your combo), the enemy gets stunned, and each Tales game besides maybe the first one always makes a point that, if you’re good enough, you can time your attacks with your AI-controlled allies’ attacks to keep the stun going for longer. However, what none of the games tell you is that enemies can randomly break the stun and instantly transition into another attack. Not only are you unable to do this if an enemy stun-locks you, but you can’t even interrupt your combo to try to dash away from the attack, once again resulting in unavoidable damage.
The worst part is that even if you try to take all of this into consideration and use skill to overcome the game’s challenges, it won’t work because the game simply doesn’t reward skilled play. A good example of this is the fight against Maltran: the boss has a lunge attack that’ll hit you if you dash backward, a spin attack that’ll hit you if you dash to the side, and no conveyance for either attack (so the only way you can hope to dodge is if you dash before the boss’s attack animation begins). Also, due to the aforementioned stun-locking, getting hit just once usually gets you killed (at least on Moderate difficulty), especially since, at this point in the game, bosses can trigger special attacks that take more than your max HP from you. After a few attempts where I tried to win using actual skill, it occurred to me that the only thing I could do differently was revive my allies so that they could revive me when I inevitably got killed by the boss again, and sure enough, that’s what led me to victory. That’s when I finally realized the central conceit of the series: it doesn’t reward skill because it was never meant to reward skill; it was made by people who only knew how to balance turn-based RPGs, but still wanted the action mechanics as a gimmick to separate it from other turn-based RPGs. Suddenly, everything made sense: that’s why so many parts of the game force you to take damage; that’s why you’re regularly sent up against several enemies at once during normal battles, all of whom inevitably have different targets and attack at different intervals, with the only possible way to win unscathed being if they start off grouped together and you manage to hit and stun all of them with your own combo; that explains why, after all this time, the border of the arena STILL won’t show up until you’re right next to it, inevitably getting in your way whenever you try to dash away from one of the attacks that can actually be avoided; that explains why there are status effects that PREVENT YOU FROM DODGING IN THE FIRST PLACE, and why every status effect prevents you from using an item on the character with said status effect; that explains why the final boss drops the pretense and has one attack that’s literally unavoidable, regardless of circumstance, and why the final boss’s one-hit-kill attack can only be stopped by dealing enough damage before it activates (something that’s literally impossible if you’re too low level for the current difficulty); it’s just the pretense of being skill-based without any of the things that make it actually reward skill. Sure, future games may take “feedback” into consideration, but the devs will always go back and sneak some more unfair crap to balance everything out. “Oh, what’s that? You want attacks and dodge maneuvers to be fast and responsive? Okay, but we’ll also make enemy attacks faster and larger so you still can’t avoid them regularly!”
So yeah, this one’s not recommended. The only people who’d like it are those who can put up with bad mechanics for the story, but keep in mind that the story is also kinda generic.