Tales of Arise™ & 🄫BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.

From anime art to Best RPG award: The making of Bandai Namco's Tales of Arise

June 2, 2022
Bandai Namco had a lot riding on their shoulders when they decided to breathe new life into their long-running JRPG game series, Tales of, in 2016. The Tales of series was first launched in 1995 and has since spanned 16 main titles, multiple spin-offs, and even manga, anime, and audio dramas. Creating a new installment would involve a tricky balance: attracting new gamers without alienating pre-existing fans.

Luckily, Bandai Namco decided to take their time to get things right. For five years, a team of series veterans and newcomers worked to create a compelling new game: Tales of Arise. The game’s story takes place between the medieval world of Dahna and the advanced world of Rena; where two people find a common goal in taking down an oppressing force. With anime-inspired designs and character-driven storylines, the fantasy delivers many of the qualities fans have come to love, but with next-generation console compatibility, massive worlds, and a whole new battle experience that makes this installment more immersive than ever. The culmination of these efforts lead to the game winning best RPG at 2021’s The Game Awards.

To gain further insight into their success, we spoke to the development team at Bandai Namco Studio as well as parent company Bandai Namco Entertainment about how the team utilized Unreal Engine to create the ultimate Tales of experience.
 

How many people worked on Tales of Arise, and how long was it in development?

Yusuke Tomizawa, Producer at Bandai Namco Entertainment:
We first began working on Tales of Arise in the second half of 2016, after the completion of our previous title, Tales of Berseria.

Tales of Arise took us exactly five years to complete, and I believe there were over 100 people working on the project at any given time! We weren’t expecting to be working on the game for five years, but it became clear we needed a longer timeline to achieve the level of quality we expected. Besides, the five-year development period meant we could spend the final year working on making the game compatible with next-generation consoles, which was a plus.

How did you approach creating a new entry in the Tales of series that would walk the line between feeling fresh yet familiar?

Yusuke Tomizawa:
It wasn’t easy! Our aim was to introduce the series to new audiences, without losing the magic that made the games so unique. To do this, first we decided to retain the game's cel-shaded visual style and manga-like designs. We then paired these with a new theme: inheritance and evolution.

We shared our plans with both our development team and existing fans of the series before we began working on the game. It’s thanks to their belief in us that we were able to complete the project without giving up, and I would like to express my deepest gratitude for their support.
Tales of Arise™ & 🄫BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.
This is the first game in the series to use Unreal Engine. Why was it a good fit?

Hirokazu Kagawa, Director at Bandai Namco Studio at Bandai Namco Studio:
We’d already used Unreal Engine on several other projects at Bandai Namco, so it made sense to update Tales of Arise to bring it in line with everything else we’d been working on. With Unreal Engine, we were able to easily make Tales of Arise compatible with multiple platforms, which was especially important when we began developing it for next-generation consoles. We also took advantage of the ability to customize the source code in Unreal Engine. It makes it easy to build a system that fits your project.

In Tales of Arise, each area is much more open than past games in addition to being much more varied and visually unique. What was the process of designing the world, so that each area felt fresh and exciting to explore?

Minoru Iwamoto, Art Director at Bandai Namco Studio:
Together with the map planner, I designed the world, expressing its narrative and game roles, while adding imagery that made each region unique.

​​I placed the planet Rena in the sky so that the opposing structures of Rena and Dahna can be seen. The castles of each region and each lord are also located high up in the sky, looking down on the player to highlight how awe-inspiring each structure is.

I also incorporated the idea of “walls” into the design. This is because walls are key to the game’s narrative: the story is about Alphen, the main character, who breaks down the walls that physically and psychologically confine the enslaved people of Dahna. Calaglia, a closed space, is represented by a "physical wall" and the Gates of Fire. Meanwhile in Cyslodia, the wall is represented by a barrier of suspicion that prevents people from trusting others: a "psychological wall."

Finally, I also decided on elements like the climate and key colors for each area. These were then adjusted to create variation so that each region felt fresh and exciting to explore. The final product was made by actually playing the game over and over again, checking the placement and look of everything from the monsters to trees, then making detailed adjustments in real-time using Unreal Engine.
Tales of Arise™ & 🄫BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.
From the characters' distinct and detailed design to the varied locations, Tales of Arise is gorgeous. Can you explain the process for creating this game's cel-shaded visual style?

Minoru Iwamoto:
We thought about what kind of style would be interesting not only to Tales fans, but also to RPG fans and people all over the world. Eventually, we narrowed it down to several styles we liked best: a CG, cel-shaded, or illustration aesthetic.

In examining each of these, I felt that there was a great potential for a style that could express lighting, texture, and atmosphere in a way that would add to today's games, while maintaining the "familiarity" that Tales has cultivated through its anime-like and manga-like designs and warm colors.

This art style has an affinity with Tales, but also has its own uniqueness compared to other titles, so I decided to pursue this style, and after a lot of research, it became what it is today.

How did the team set out to improve the series’ combat over previous games?

Kagawa:
In Tales of Arise, we focused on making battles easier to understand so that users can enjoy them more intuitively and have fun evading them at the last second.

We've made it so that you can judge the situation by simply looking at the enemy and using boost attacks to your advantage. Also, during the development process, we tried to improve the comfort level of the game by making it so that members could only use evasion, and evasion could be done with as little stress as possible.
 
Tales of Arise™ & 🄫BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.

Tales of Arise™ & 🄫BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.


In the midst of battle, spells and combat offer dazzling displays of visual effects. How did the team optimize the game to keep performance up during these action-packed moments?

Minoru Iwamoto:
We focused on three main optimizations: Speeding up the drawing process, asset optimization, and effect data optimization. To speed up the drawing process, we introduced a system that divides the drawing resolution of effects like translucency into two stages for drawing and compositing.

This allowed us to maintain the same resolution, even in areas where there are large changes to the amount of information on screen. We also reduced the semi-transparent rendering load by rendering the other areas at a lower resolution.

Semi-transparent effects often also use depth fades and refractions, so we ensured the depth and color buffers used for these expressions were reduced in size in advance. This helped to reduce the load on texture access. We also introduced measures to reduce the load on texture access by reducing the size of the depth and color buffers used in these expressions. In addition, we ensured that any post effects used at the same time as semi-transparent effects were fine-tuned for performance.

Meanwhile for asset optimization, we regularly monitored texture resolution and compression settings to make sure they were appropriate during development. We also aimed for optimal texture settings by checking the static analysis of assets as needed. In addition, since battles are conducted in a special field, we also took measures to reduce the drawing load by separately optimizing the dedicated battlefield.
Tales of Arise™ & 🄫BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.
The game has been praised for its characters and how they interact with each other. What was your approach to creating them?

Kagawa:
The Tales of series puts a lot of emphasis on characters, and Tales of Arise is no different. We aimed to show the characters' growth and strength of will: they have no home or place to go back to, but they are embarking on a dangerous journey all the same.

In order to make the characters more realistic, we scripted all kinds of conversations into the game. From serious to goofy, the conversations showed what it would be like to be with these characters all the time, on this journey together. I hope the story and conversations give players a sense of being a part of a journey with friends, which they can return to again and again.

Thanks for your time. Where can we learn more about Tales of Arise?

Kagawa:
You can learn more about Tales of Arise on BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment America’s website.

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