The Tales franchise has a storied past, deserving to be in the iconic realms of JRPGs. However, the series has always been in this spot between mainstream gaming popularity and nicheness, making its prevailing relevancy mixed in efficacy throughout the years.
With the highly anticipated Tales of Arise releasing just next month, there are bound to be a variety of prospective fans, so let’s take a look at the past Tales entries that can act as comfortable gateways into this action JRPG series. This list is in no particular order, as each title has its own strengths and appeals that will assuredly vary from person to person. Additionally, I will not be going into strict detail here as this piece is intended for beginners to become remotely acquainted with these games.
Tales of Symphonia
Tales of Symphonia is consistently heralded as one of the forefathers of the Tales franchise. While there were numerous Tales games before Symphonia, this entry was immensely popular, even for those who did not follow the series afterward, thanks to its initial platform of release; the Gamecube.
The Gamecube had a notable absence of JRPGs, so Symphonia was a distinct release that captured the attention of several gamers yearning for the platform to boast a critically acclaimed title of the genre. And Symphonia certainly fit that bill.
Throughout this title, players control protagonist Lloyd Irving and the friends he makes along the way as they go on a journey to fulfill the duty of the Chosen, called the Journey of Regeneration. This journey aims to revitalize the world of Sylvarant, which is on its last legs of mana. Several truths regarding the intricacies of this task and more revelations from beyond the curtain make this adventure not as transparent as it seems, though.
Symphonia has its fair share of twists and turns, but its narrative is relatively safe and will not reconceptualize JRPGs for newcomers, especially those experienced in the genre. It does emit an undeniable sense of charm, though, from its aged yet nostalgic art style to its magnificent soundtrack and well-written cast. Furthermore, its combat is simple for any new player to grasp with layers of easy-to-digest customization.
There are some minor setbacks such as Skits, mini Party conversations essentially, not being voiced in English. There are no fundamental hurdles to enjoying this experience, though. I occasionally see Tales of Symphonia regarded as the Final Fantasy VII of the Tales series, and I find that an apt comparison. If you want to play through one of the franchise’s first smash hits, you can do so on Gamecube, PlayStation 3, and PC via Steam.
It is worth noting that the PlayStation 3 and PC versions contain more content, as they are remastered ports of the PlayStation 2 version that was Japanese exclusive. Moreover, the PlayStation 3 port has Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World packaged alongside this title, which is a direct sequel. This sequel is not received well by a staggering amount of vocal fans, but if you want the most bang for your pack and have a PlayStation 3 lying around, that is the ideal version to purchase. The PC port did face some troubling optimization issues at launch, though it is far more stable now and is a suitable avenue for experiencing this classic.
Tales of Berseria
Tales of Berseria is a more recent title, having been released in 2016. It quickly grew in popularity, cementing itself as one of the franchise’s best outings. While this entry is directly connected to Tales of Zestiria by being a prequel, Berseria can be fully enjoyed on its own without any prior context.
Players view the story of Velvet Crowe, a woman who experienced great tragedy earlier in her life and now seeks revenge against the one responsible. Boasting a darker tone, the narrative has notably eerie moments and disturbing sequences, but events are never overwhelmingly graphic or the like. It is certainly one of the more enthralling stories the series offers and is absolutely worth seeing unfold from start to finish.
Unfortunately, gameplay in Tales of Berseria can be somewhat arduous to fully comprehend with systems that are not well-explained in the menus, so an investment of patience is required to learn how combat works. Alternatively, one can choose to primarily play as Velvet, who is infamously broken. Still, the difficult mechanics to understand are not vital to succeeding in fights and are more supplementary if one solely purses the main story. Either way, a Tales beginner will have to overcome a few trying hurdles, but I assure you that progression is far from exceptionally strenuous.
Moving on, the soundtrack and voice acting are top-notch and expertly encapsulate the depressing undertones that permeate from character to character within this heartbreaking narrative. The translation can be hit-or-miss, especially with a few Skits, though their intrusions are light in nature.
Tales of Berseria is a satisfactory first outing for prospective newcomers thanks to its modern presentation, well-crafted story, and immersive tackling of darker themes. A few mishaps aside, there are no substantial game-ruining factors that hinder enjoyability. This title is available on PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam.
Tales of the Abyss
I’ll be honest and blunt, Tales of the Abyss is my favorite entry in the franchise. It contains one of the most well-written growths of a protagonist I’ve ever witnessed and continually enhanced story stakes alongside satisfying conclusions. I’m getting ahead of myself though, Tales of the Abyss was initially released for PlayStation 2 in 2005 and is widely regarded as one of the series’ hallmark titles.
This game did not receive the same level of limelight as Tales of Symphonia, likely because its platform of release was packed to the brim with JRPGs. However, it still stood out amongst the pack for many and delivered a phenomenal experience. In this title, players control protagonist Luke fon Fabre, a spoiled and arrogant noble who gradually uncovers the true circumstances of his birth and certain facets of the world alongside his party members.
The narrative is not as predictable as the classics of the genre, but it still contains undeniable characterization tropes that are expected in JRPGs. The character relationships are quite endearing, and Luke experiences substantial change and character-defining growth to an extent rarely ever depicted in Tales. Additionally, the cast is one of this game’s highlights, and they ultimately coalesce to bring entertaining banter and collective progression.
Combat is in the same vein of complexity as Tales of Symphonia, so, rather approachable if understandably archaic. Unfortunately, also like Tales of Symphonia, the Skits are not voiced in English. Once again, not a ruiner by any means, though it can take some players out of the experience due to the awkward silences. Now, this has become almost repetitive to say at this point, but the soundtrack is exceptional and is full of classic songs that have stood the test of time and remained beloved, just like every other entry on this list.
Tales of the Abyss is a tad clunky and has some faults with its presentation, yet its issues do not stain the story it tells. It is a great outing for curious onlookers willing to accept some gameplay jank in the midst of, as some internet nerds say, “raw kino.” The title is only available on PlayStation 2 and 3DS, with the latter being an acceptable port.
Tales of Xillia
Tales of Xillia is yet another title loved by fans, and for just reasons. It handles decently mature themes and a character-centric narrative with legitimately gripping story stakes. Players can choose between 2 protagonists, Jude and Milla, though they both appear in each other’s stories, and the course of the narrative remains the same no matter who is chosen. Only differing perspectives are depicted and dependent on choice.
Xillia boasts easily one of the more comprehensible combative systems with quick-to-parse mechanics and, personally, one of the more enjoyable gameplay loops the series has seen thus far. Speaking like a broken record here, but, once again, the soundtrack is fantastic, and the voice acting this time around is noticeably high-quality. Older Tales games have their fair share of cheesy line deliveries, and Xillia certainly has those, but the cast’s voiceovers feel more natural and better directed.
The addition of 2 playable stories may seem like it adds an absurd degree of replayability, and, well, in a sense, it kind of does. Completionists have their work cut out for them. I know I did when I got the Platinum Trophy. Subtle flex aside, the actual content differences between the 2 stories are minor, and they are mostly identical save for a few key alterations in character perception. This makes the choice feel sort of meaningless in the grand scheme of affairs, but it does not significantly disrupt the pacing.
The real strength of Xillia, at least in my opinion, comes from the character relationships, which are effortlessly illustrated in the Skits. In addition, I consider the Xillia cast one of my personal favorites, which, in a series so dependent on the quality of its casts from each entry to the next, means quite a bit regarding enjoyability.
This title is only available on PlayStation 3 (Bandai, please port all of the Tales games to modern platforms), so if you still own one, I consider this game worthy enough to dust off the bad boy and get to playing. The sequel, Tales of Xillia 2, is also only available on this platform.
Tales of Vesperia
If there’s one game in the Tales franchise comparable to Symphonia in terms of pure popularity, it’s Tales of Vesperia. Initially releasing solely for Xbox 360 in the west, a platform similar to the Gamecube with a distinct lack of JRPGs when compared to its contemporary console rivals, Vesperia earned several fans who were not acclimated to JRPGs and the like. This unique following earned it a distinct cultural identity that remains instilled within its core to this very day,
The protagonist, Yuri Lowell, is as unconventional as JRPG protagonists get, with a blase and matured yet flawed outlook on life that is rarely conveyed in the genre. When taking his subtle growth and gray lines of inward conflict into account, these standout factors make him potentially the most beloved protagonist in the series.
Players control him and his merry band of diverse backgrounds throughout the world as they yearn to alleviate a power struggle set within the Empire, a land-dependent on curious pieces of technology known as Blastia. The cast in Vesperia is my favorite hands-down, as they are endlessly humorous yet shone with astounding character depth. They more than makeup for how admittedly lackluster the narrative can be.
Speaking of, if there’s one significant critique I have for Vesperia, it has to be how the narrative rarely felt like it had emotional weight pushing events forward, instead blatantly coming off as if it were following a dry script. That isn’t to say the story isn’t compelling or engaging at all because it is at points. Well, it’s difficult to describe my faults without spoiling but to be as generalized as possible, the overall execution is underwhelming.
The combat is approachable and is widely considered the best battle system in the series, which I readily agree with. It contains no needlessly vague mechanics or embedded specificities with head-scratching implementation, instead opting for an uncomplicated array of battle options with transparent progression. I hope Arise manages to remotely emulate Vesperia’s combat philosophy from a newcomer-friendly standpoint.
Tales of Vesperia is one of the ideal options an intrigued party can choose to play if the series interests them. Its strong cast, addictive combat, and other elements make it shine as one of the franchise’s heights. Furthermore, its platforms are approachable with its Definitive Edition, containing content formerly exclusive under the Japanese-only PlayStation 3 release, being released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.
And those are the 5 Tales games I recommend to any newcomer yearning to give this series a shot. Considering that most entries are stand-alone, or at least not requiring knowledge of prior entries, you can honestly jump into most titles if they stand out to you. More than anything, I’m honestly hoping for Bandai Namco to port all of these older Tales games to modern platforms since the majority of them are trapped on older consoles. Still, I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see if they ever take that step.
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