Tales of Arise and Inciting Incident
StoryScan: Critical hit
StoryScan: Critical Hit highlights specific aspects of individual game narratives that are exceptionally well done. In this essay, we’re covering Tales of Arise (Bandai-Namco, 2021), the latest entry in the long-running Tales role-playing game series. This essay will cover content up through the end of the game. Players who have not completed the game may want to set this article aside until later, as it contains substantial spoilers for the main storyline.
At seventeen entries and counting, Bandai-Namco’s Tales series has made an indelible mark on the history of Japanese role-playing games. Multiple Tales titles have received manga and anime adaptations, as well as books and audio dramas. The most recent entry, Tales of Arise, revitalizes the gameplay for a new generation while staying true to its themes of racial conflict and coexistence.1 As with past entries, these broad themes have given the Arise developers ample space to develop characters who exist on different sides of the conflict.
In Tales of Arise, players take on the roll of the mysterious Iron Mask and his compatriots as they navigate a complex, violent political situation: a brewing war between oppressor and oppressed. The party members each come from a different group with their own viewpoints on the conflict, which creates all sorts of opportunities for narrative tension. The first of such opportunities occurs in the first key plot point: Arise’s conflict-rich Inciting Incident.
Appearing in most common story structures, the Inciting Incident is the point in the narrative when the setup ends and the story begins. K.M. Weiland, author of Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, describes it as “…the moment that changes everything for the main character and puts him on the path he will tread for the rest of the story.”2 It’s the disruption of the status quo: the plot point that forces the protagonist to acknowledge that something is wrong in his life. Sometimes, it’s the world that needs changing; other times, the protagonist’s problem is a personal one. Many stories will have both global and personal issues for the protagonist to tackle, and these issues can intertwine. By tying the global and the personal together, every bit of progress the characters make towards resolving one problem will affect the other, for better or for worse. This all starts with the Inciting Incident, which kicks off the conflicts for the characters to resolve.
The Global Conflict
A strong Inciting Incident requires a solid Setup, both on a global level and a personal one. Tales of Arise begins by establishing its global conflict: the ongoing hostility between Dahnans and Renans, the two races in Arise’s world. Three hundred years before the story starts, Dahnans and Renans lived as neighbors on Dahna and Rena, two neighboring celestial bodies. Initially, the Dahnans believed that Rena served as home to departed souls, so it came as a terrible shock when the Renans arrived on Dahna with advanced technology and powerful beasts. These overwhelming sources of strength allowed the Renans to overtake the Dahnans easily, and both Dahna and its people have been under Renan control ever since. This conflict makes up the backbone of Arise’s story, providing important context for all events that occur. Every problem the characters face is either caused by or exacerbated by this imbalance between Dahnans and Renans, which gives the characters (and the audience) an obvious goal: changing the balance of power.
That goal comes into focus in the narrative present, where Dahna has been divided into five regions under the control of Renan lords. Although Renan control appears absolute on the surface, almost every region conceals pockets of Dahnan resistance. In the desert region of Calaglia, the resistance force known as the Crimson Crows works to free their fellow Dahnans from a life of toil in Calaglia’s mines. This additional setup narrows the focus of the story from the entire world to a specific region, which helps the audience connect with the conflict. Now, the people fighting aren’t just nameless Dahnans; they’re individuals with wants and dreams, and one of those individuals is a protagonist with problems of his own.
The Personal Conflict
With the global conflict established, Tales of Arise narrows its focus even further to its main character: an amnesiac Dahnan slave, one who bears the name ‘Iron Mask’ because of his distinctive (and unremovable) headwear. Although Iron Mask has no memory of his past, his strong sense of justice still compels him to fight for those who are unable to fight for themselves. He’s aided in this endeavor by his unique inability to feel pain, which allows him to keep fighting in situations where others might collapse. That isn’t to say he’s immortal, though; as his doctor points out, Iron Mask is just as human as everyone else in the mines, which means he could die from an injury without even realizing he’s been hurt.
Iron Mask’s strange abilities plays a heavy role in his desire to fight for the Dahnan people’s freedom. Even though his inability to feel could lead to his death, he still believes he should use it to help those who need it. This desire forms the basis of his personal conflict, which informs his decisions throughout the plot. With this personal conflict established alongside the global conflict, Tales of Arise has everything it needs to move the story forward with the Inciting Incident.
The Inciting Incident
Tales of Arise kicks off its Inciting Incident by taking an ordinary day for Iron Mask and making it extraordinary. When Iron Mask is assigned to work on the rails, he expects he’ll be hauling rocks and moving cargo, but he’s taken by surprise when the Crimson Crows derail a Renan train. Inside one of the cargo holds, the Crows find their target: a captive Renan girl afflicted by a curse that shocks anyone who touches her. Although the Crimson Crows set her free without issue, their inability to get close to her gives her ample time to escape and run from her captors alone. This puts her on a collision course with Iron Mask, who’s been working in the railyard below.
When the strange girl encounters Iron Mask, their sudden meeting forces him to make a quick choice: either he can run like the girl suggests, or he can stay and defend her from the other Renans. His dedication to justice drives him to choose the latter, and he dives into the fray to help the cursed stranger. In the ensuing struggle and its aftermath, Iron Mask touches the girl and receives a shock, but his unique ability spares him from the pain. It’s a rude surprise for the girl, who’s never met someone who could touch her before, but for the audience, it’s all the more proof that Iron Mask has a place in the coming fight. It’s also proof that there may be a reason for Iron Mask’s abilities, one that he’ll have to learn on his journey. In just a few short scenes, his personal conflicts have made him a part of the global struggle, and the only way to resolve the one is to pursue the other.
Tales of Arise possesses a compelling Inciting Incident that forces the protagonist out of his ordinary world while drawing the audience into the story. By combining global and personal conflicts, Arise gives the protagonist two compelling reasons to pursue his goals, and the pursuit of one invariably affects the other. This close connection ensures that every scene that follows serves a purpose, and audience members can’t get invested in one conflict without caring about the other.
One of the earliest known structures, Three-Act Structure divides stories into beginning, middle, and ending.
Frequently used in theater, Five-Act structure marks the midpoint as the height of tension, rather than the closing.
Final Fantasy VII: Opening
Final Fantasy VII’s memorable opening succeeds by weaving in character, setting, theme, and conflict.
1 Robson. Daniel. “Why 90% of Fans at Tales of Festival Are Female.” IGN, June 26th, 2014.
2 Weiland, K.M.. Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 3) (p. 82). PenForASword Publishing. Kindle Edition.
* Reference Footage: Infernix Gaming. “Tales of Arise All Cutscenes Full Game Movie New 2021.” YouTube, 2021.