The Future of the Tales Series in the West Hinges on Tales of Arise’s Success
Tales is a hallmark JRPG series that contains beloved classics that even non-dedicated fans of the series know of, such as Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Vesperia. Despite the series overall prominence in the gaming industry, however, in recent years, its state in the Western market has been less than ideal.
There has been a severe lack of ports for the older titles, little to no marketing for the series on its Western front, failed mobile titles, and a lack of developmental news for the next mainline entry, Tales of Arise. When it comes down to it, this next mainline entry has to utterly wow veteran fans, prospective ones, and critics alike if this series has any hope of prospering further in the future on Western shores.
Tales has grown a reputation for having become an apparent ‘mid’ franchise, in other words, not being particularly irredeemable, but also not being particularly noteworthy. To be blatantly honest, I agree.
Tales of Zestiria is certainly one of the more controversial titles the series has delivered for various reasons, and Tales of Berseria earned far more praise. However, it still met its fair share of controversies, such as the localization quality being especially questionable in select skits and story scenes.
However, besides those two titles and the Tales of Vesperia remaster, the series has remained dormant on the console forefront, having descended into mobile game hell. In the midst of this series being dormant, it seems like many have forgotten the key traits that Tales succeeds in and what has made it so popular and beloved in the first place.
Characters are the building block of JRPGs. I believe that regardless of how lackadaisical or excellent a narrative is, the characters always have to be at least remotely compelling for that narrative to really hit home and feel meaningful.
Tales is a perfect representation of this ideology since, personally speaking, the narratives in these games are usually nothing to write home about. They have their share of twists and occasionally addicting story momentum, but the stories themselves are merely the backdrop to push the characters forward. The stories are not the driving forces since the Tales games are character-centric adventures, first and foremost when it comes down to it.
Thanks to its somewhat recent remaster, Tales of Vesperia is a perfect example to use here. This game is a cult classic and is many fans’ favorite entry in the series. And while I have my fair share of critiques for it, Vesperia is among my favorites in the franchise for one major reason; the characters.
On their own, the characters are mostly nothing special. They fill easily identifiable roles and have personality quirks that anyone familiar with Japanese media would have no issues finding. However, when these characters interact with one another and let the wackiness of their traits shine through, the majesty of this game becomes apparent. Estelle is the book smart, ignorant of reality princess. Rita is the classic tsundere.
Despite that, the two interacting are always a wondrous, wholesome, and humorous joy that never fails to make me crack a smile. This same general trend applies to the rest of the main cast and each dynamic that is provided.
I realized that, yes, while I enjoy the combat, and the story is at least remotely interesting in a back-of-the-brain sort of way, I am really playing this game for what the characters make me feel. Tales games always do a stellar job of immersing players with simple character conversation. Vesperia is arguably one of the highest points in the franchise for showcasing that.
Tales’ character dynamics are always a vital component of these games’ brilliance. They honestly make the adventures in these titles feel more worthwhile to experience than what other series may provide. Tales’ casts are known for being full of tropes which is by no means an inherently negative aspect.
Tropes have negative connotations, but aside from the obvious fact that everything takes inspiration from something, tropes are the blueprints for how characters function. They’re tropes for a reason, and that’s because they have worked. And besides, it is not like these tropes exist independently with no stimulation in these games. They have identities of their own that morph and collude with other tropes to create entertaining outcomes.
Above all else, Tales of Arise has to succeed with its cast. It is superbly relieving to see this title boasting a new engine, a shakeup the series has needed for way too long now, but all of that can be for naught if the cast falls flat. Am I fearful they will? No, that is the one constant that Tales has always excelled in.
While some entries in the series are more beloved than others, every game is someone’s favorite, and I’d bet that the reasoning for any of these games being someone’s favorite has a large part to do with the cast. Based on the admittedly limited bits of footage we have seen for Tales of Arise, this game is going for a fairly dark and ominous tone, perhaps hearkening to Tales of Berseria.
Having a dark entry does not absolve the possibility of casually fun character dynamics shining through since Tales of Berseria accomplished just that. However, I hope that the series does not forego this one strong constant it has had.
As a diehard Tales fan, Tales of Arise is an indescribably exciting title that is propelling me to unfathomable levels of hype. Alongside that excitement, however, is apprehension and fear. Change is necessary for any franchise after a certain point, but there is always a fine line that must not be crossed; identity.
Tales of Arise must bring new light for Tales as a whole, but it must not abandon the strengths the franchise has boasted for over 2 decades so it does not lose the fans it already has. Characters are Tales’ bread and butter, and weakening them is the equivalent to Tales no longer being Tales.
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