Let’s make this clear right off the bat — I think Tales of Arise is a great JRPG. The latest in Bandai Namco’s long-running and much-beloved Tales series, Arise has a lot going for it. It’s a big, beautiful adventure filled with colorful worlds to explore, a never-ending supply of enemies to battle, and a loveable cast of weirdos in your party to grow fond of. But there’s one glaring element of Tales of Arise that keeps trying its hardest to make me fall out of love with it: its aggressive and frankly gross DLC.
After a bit of a slow tutorial, Tales of Arise settles into a satisfying groove where I find myself wanting to explore and find new items, which will in turn help me craft new gear. The real-time combat is as exciting as ever, filled with all of the grandiose anime spectacle you could ask for, even if the enemy variety could use a bit of work. But the standout element for me in Arise is its cast of characters that slowly make their way into your party and guide you along the adventure.
Anyone who’s played a Tales game before is probably familiar with the massive amounts of skits available throughout your journey. These are basically optional little vignettes that usually have to do with the area you’re in, a battle you’ve just won, or some characters you’ve recently met. You can skip right by them with no harm done, but if you engage with their stylish animated comic book presentation, you’ll gain entirely new perspectives on the story and your party in general.
Aside from these skits, you can also gain a bit of insight into your pals at campfires, which allow you to regain all of your health and combat points, cook meals for temporary status buffs, and have one-on-one conversations that strengthen your bond with individual party members. This is all stuff I love, save for one pronounced feature.
Sitting down at a campfire should be a moment for your party — as well as you as the player — to catch your breath, reflect on how far you’ve come, and prepare for what lies ahead. These moments of weary travelers resting along their journey and just hanging out are usually things I love in games, whether it’s the iconic shot of your heroes lounging about fireside in a grove in Chrono Trigger or the Phantom Thieves hanging out in Ren’s room above LeBlanc before you head out to a palace in Persona 5.
But in Tales of Arise, each respite means being bombarded with prompts to dive into the game’s DLC, which honestly bummed me out every time. Not only is “Downloadable Content” featured as prominently as the options to “Rest” or “Reminisce,” but there’s also a scrolling ticker off to the side advertising what you can buy now that you’ve already purchased the full-priced game, including cheers to “Save Time!,” which made me ponder whether I was wasting my time in the first place.
In terms of content, $1.99 will get you 100,000 in-game Gald (… seriously, just call it Gold) and can be purchased several times. Another $1.99 will raise your party by 5 levels, with $2.99 giving you a 10-level boost. And again, these can be purchased several times. If you want to become an OP Scrooge McDuck by the time you leave the starting area, the only thing standing in your way is a $20 bill.
I don’t have any problem with totally optional cosmetic DLC. By now, it’s honestly par for the course for many JRPGs, oftentimes leaning into anime staple fan service beachwear. Hell, I’ll admit that I bought the School Life costume pack DLC for my Tales of Arise party, just so I could dress them up in modern-day outfits and pretend that I was playing some kind of weird Persona spin-off. And I’m really glad with my decision, preferring the casual clothing to the more outlandish armor that they’re usually wearing (and still do in certain cutscenes, which I find very, very funny).
But the way Tales of Arise aggressively hawks its DLC feels like a telemarketer that simply won’t take no for an answer. And it’s not just in the campfire scenes. The game’s opening title screen has a scrolling notice at the bottom excitedly telling you that you can pay money for an early game XP boost. And if you ever want to manually save or load your game, that very same menu contains links to the DLC as well.
The worst part about this barrage of DLC offers is that it has me questioning the balance of Tales of Arise’s core game. Are Gald and healing items purposely scarce throughout the adventure to make the prospect of plunking down real money more appealing? Is the leveling curve artificially deflated, necessitating quite a bit more grinding to unlock new skills and abilities? Of course, it’s possible that none of this is true and that the DLC was created after the game had already been balanced. But the fact remains that once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s impossible for us to not question the decision.
It reminds me a lot of the discussion around Assassin’s Creed Odyssey a few years back, which had a $10 piece of DLC that gave you a permanent 50% boost to all XP gained throughout the campaign, which in turn made the game flow better and feel much more balanced. In fact, Tales of Arise has a similar pack for $4.99 that gives you equippable Artifacts that do the same thing. It’s a slap in the face to fans who paid full price to jump into the game at launch, and publishers should be called out on it, no matter if they’re Ubisoft or Bandai Namco. It’s just a bummer that this is something I have to think about every time I play Tales of Arise, because the gross DLC is taking oxygen away from what is otherwise one of my favorite JRPGs of 2021.