I have a confession to make: at the time of writing, the Tales series is, for the most part, a bit of a black spot in my JRPG knowledge.
I’m not completely clueless on the appeal of the series, however, since back when I was on USgamer I covered the first Tales of Xillia game… and quite early in MoeGamer’s life I explored its sequel in what we now know as a Cover Game feature, albeit before I’d decided to make that a regular thing.
The characters of Xillia in general were a consistently appealing aspect… but one stood out in particular. Milla Maxwell.
To delve too much into Milla’s backstory would constitute something of a spoiler, so I’ll refrain from that here. Suffice to say, at the outset of the story she’s positioned as the earthly manifestation of a god-like entity, curious about the world and seemingly hopelessly naive about all sorts of things. An interesting setup for a character, for sure, and an excellent foil to the game’s male protagonist Jude, who is rather earnest about everything.
A core part of Milla’s appeal — at least in the English dub — is her deadpan delivery by Minae Noji. Her calm delivery of her lines coupled with a distinctly dry sense of wit and humour means that she is frequently the source of some hilarious lines, and, frequently, a provocateur of the more innocent members of the cast such as the aforementioned Jude.
She makes for a great leading lady, too, though. Besides her insatiable curiosity, she’s determined and, at times, outright heroic, and forms a wonderful centrepiece for the ensemble cast as a whole, with her learning about various aspects of “human” society frequently forming the basis of many of the game’s optional “skits”.
As any Tales veteran will tell you, these “skits” are often a core part of an individual title’s appeal, and Xillia certainly sold me on the format. If you’re unfamiliar, the concept is simple: they’re optional conversations that can be triggered upon meeting all manner of conditions ranging from simple story progress to the items you have with you. Presented in a somewhat abstract manner through talking heads in moving boxes rather than detailed cutscenes, they’re surprisingly expressive sequences that give a considerable amount of depth to the main cast’s characterisation without interfering with the main narrative. And they’re often filled with good humour.
Milla is written as a character with a dry, acerbic wit, and much of the humour in the game comes from the contrast between the persona she seemingly likes to depict herself as, and the chinks she sometimes shows in her “armour” by letting a pithy remark slip out. She has a slightly different relationship with each and every member of the cast, so every interaction involving her is a real treat to witness.
Milla’s visual design is immediately striking and attractive. Her stick-thin waist, her microscopic skirt, her bare midriff, the asymmetrical straps that form an integral part of her outfit — she’s sexy, and no mistake. And yet there’s a slight air of chaos about her appearance, too — her ever-present wayward green-tipped lock of hair that sticks out horizontally is an “imperfect” aspect of an otherwise “perfect” woman, though it transpires, of course, that this was a deliberate stylistic choice. No-one likes people to be too perfect, after all — and Milla has something of a personal connection to the one who made her hair that way.
Her physical appearance is actually relevant to the narrative, since she claims she chose the form of an attractive female human specifically so that she could manipulate humans — particularly men — to her advantage. A cynical view for a spirit to take, perhaps — and further evidence that she might not be as naive as she initially appears to be. She knows exactly what she’s doing.
Interestingly, Tales of Xillia was received much more positively in its native Japan than in Western territories. The game netted a near-perfect score in long-running games magazine Famitsu, and proved popular enough for four manga adaptations, three volumes of novels and a five-part drama CD adaptation. No anime — despite the wonderful in-game cutscenes by anime studio ufotable — but why would you want to play an abridged version of the story when the central cast is such a pleasure to interact with?
Milla herself went on to guest star in Granblue Fantasy as a time-limited special character and collaboration with Namco’s smartphone game Tales of Asteria. Hideo Minaba managed to capture her essence rather well — though the slight sneer she has on her face in her Granblue incarnation gives her a slightly different feel to her more gentle-looking incarnation from the original games.
Milla is one of my favourite female characters in all of gaming today, but she was a bit of a slow burn for me initially — thanks primarily to that English dub. The localised versions of Tales of Xillia didn’t feature the option to play with Japanese voices, and many critics at the time responded rather negatively to Noji’s deadpan delivery of Milla’s lines. When I started playing, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it — but it really grew on me over time, until by the end of the game she was a firm favourite.
I was, of course, delighted to see her return in Tales of Xillia 2 under a series of rather interesting circumstances and sporting an exciting new outfit that maintained her distinctive “look” while clearly being “new” at the same time. Now, several years after I played both the original Tales of Xillia and its sequel, the first thing I always think of when I reminisce about them is Milla.
If the rest of the Tales series features leading ladies even half as good as her, well, I’m clearly going to have to explore it in more detail at some point, aren’t I?
More about Tales of Xillia 2
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