Format: PS3

Tales Of Xillia is the latest addition to the iconic Tales Of series that's kept JRPG fans like myself rapt since 1995. The good news is that this fresh title doesn't disappoint, but a word of warning - this game won't hold your hand, and despite drawing comparisons to Studio Ghibli / Level 5's Ni No Kuni, you're going to have to know your way around a JRPG before you pick up a controller.

 photo tales-of-xillia-01_zps15dae342.jpgXillia kicks off almost immediately: you'll have barely spent an hour exploring the capital city of Rashugal when the player controlled protagonist, Jude Mathis, is whisked into the dangerous world of character Milla Maxwell (who happens to be the embodiment of a deity who controls the four elemental spirits that bring balance to the world. No big deal.) The government has created the Spyrix, a weapon capable of massive destruction that harnesses the essence of the planet (mana), and Milla (being the general force for good in the universe) has become corporeal to make sure it doesn't get used. Before you can say "wow, this game sure doesn't waste any time", you're on your way to explore Rieze Maxia, fighting monsters and nefarious government/military agents along the way. Once again, it's up to you to save the planet.

The storyline is, unsurprisingly, the standard heroes quest. Jude begins his arc as a junior doctor, and by the end he's a badass monster slayer fighting for the planet's very survival. Is it altogether original? No. Do we care? Christ no - it's a JRPG. These things are the gamer equivalent of crack or soap operas. What we do care about is the rich and textured universe in which the story takes place, and Tales of Xillia has created a place where hours of gameplay can drift by before you realise just how the game is taking over your life. It doesn't take much to get distracted from the main quest, and there are enough side quests and battle encounters to keep even the most seasoned grinder enthralled. You can also play the game from Milla Maxwell's perspective if Jude doesn't sound like your cup of tea: I chose to play as Joel.

 photo tales-of-xillia-03_zps56dfb457.jpgAs you would expect, the battle system has been tweaked since the previous instalment in the series, Tales Of Graces, with a handy combo dynamic that allows your character to link up with other characters and pull off Linked Artes (if you're new to the series, Artes are essentially magic spells, or special moves - Linked Artes would be the equivalent to FF7's limit breaks. If you're new to JRPGs, then I've lost you already, so you should probably read something else), powerful spells/special moves that come in extremely handy when taking on boss monsters. If you're used to your battle party being rooted to the spot while you scroll through the menu, then you're going to find this a breath of fresh air (also - where have you been for the last 10 years??). You can switch characters mid battle, run around the battle screen, and you are in complete control of your block timing. Get it just right, and you'll somersault over your enemies attack like a gymnast, leaving them open to a parrying attack.

Upgrading your character is fairly straightforward. The upgrade layout is designed as a web with slots, and as you build up XP you are awarded tokens that can be spent turning your character into a master of defence, attack, arte (to name but a few) and balance your party to ensure your prepared for any eventuality. You can also assign tactics, so if you'd like one member to go in swords and guns blazing, while another hangs back and heals (all controlled via computer), it's a breeze to set up.

 photo tales-of-xillia-02_zps2d599b74.jpgMy only real grumble about the game is the graphics. The character designs are a gorgeous showcase of series' veterans Mutsumi Inomata and Kosuke Fujishima's talents, but they are let down slightly by a slightly flat environmental design. It's hard to get too upset though, especially taking into account that the game was originally released in Japan in 2011.

In summary, if you live and breathe JRPGs, you're going to be in your element with Tales Of Xillia. It wastes no time taking the player straight to the heat of the action, and has all the bells and whistles you've come to expect from the Tales Of series (including those cute, character developing mini cut scenes that occur as you explore the world). If you're new to JRPGs, then you should probably grind some other titles first before taking on Xillia, as you may find yourself overwhelmed.