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small image Introduction to the Tales of Series

September 11, 2011 5:54 pm by small image

Every now and then I’ll write up a video game article, and every now and then I’ll write an “introduction” article designed to explain the basics about some kind of fandom relating to Japanese media (anime, manga, video games, etc). So here’s a blog post that will do both at the same time! This week I’d like to talk about the amazing Tales of series of RPG video games, currently celebrating its 15th anniversary.

If you’ve never played a Tales of game before, now’s a great time to give one a try! New games are coming out everywhere, and they’re all looking pretty spectacular. Tales of Xillia has just come out in Japan, while North America and Europe are looking forward to releases of Tales of Graces f for the PS3 and Tales of the Abyss for the 3DS–presumably some time soon next year. Until then, you may be able to check out games like Tales of Vesperia for the Xbox 360, Tales of the Abyss for the PS2, and Tales of Symphonia for the Gamecube (and its sequel for the Wii).

The Tales of games are created by Namco, a company that has brought the likes of Pacman, Pole Position, Dig Dug, Mappy, Klonoa, Soulcalibur, Tekken and Eternal Sonata. Their Tales of games, however, have quite the dedicated fan base–especially in Japan. They not only have lots of great, likable characters, but the gameplay is tons of fun. In fact, if you were to ask me, I’d say the Tales of games are the funnest RPGs to play, ever!

In general, I’m not a fan of most RPGs. For example, I’ve tried about a half-dozen of the (misnomer) Final Fantasy games, and I can only select the “attack” option so many times before going crazy (or watching three hours of cut scenes about characters I care nothing about before getting to actually *play* the damn game). Random battles are also one of the worst inventions in video game history, since nearly every RPG that has them (it seems) makes you fight dumb enemies every half a second, and you end up hearing the annoying victory music so constantly… ARGH. My experience is similar with other non-action RPGs out there, perhaps the only major exception being Skies of Arcadia (which included a number of clever strategic elements to the gameplay, and had really fun, endearing characters).

At any rate, the Tales of games avoid all this frustration entirely. In each game I’ve played, you control a character in the overworld or in dungeons, and every now and then you’ll see an enemy. If you don’t feel like fighting, you can probably just avoid the enemy and be on your merry way (which is incredibly nice when you just want to explore and find those treasure chests and whatnot). However, whenever you do fight, the action begins–and it’s great! In fact, I enjoy it so much, I most always seek out the enemies so I can fight some more.

Essentially battles are a bit like a fighting game. You and up to three other characters (either controlled by the computer, or by your friends [which make Tales of games tons of fun to play with friends, by the way]) face a bunch of enemies. Running left and right moves your character toward and away from the enemy you’re currently locked on to. You can easily change which enemy you’re fighting, and in newer games you can even hold a button to maneuver your character to wherever you wish. You can dish out basic attacks, special attacks, magic spells, useful items, and amazing combos. And since you can play as several different characters in each game (usually at least six), there’s a ton of cool-looking attacks and spells to learn, with a wide variety of weapons and fighting styles. Bottom line: fights are frantic, fast-paced, and fun!

So gameplay is arguably where the Tales of games shine brightest, but I also really love the characters in the games I’ve played. I’m mainly only experienced with Tales of Symphonia and Tales of the Abyss, but I’m at least familiar with some of the other games out there. Each game in the Tales of series usually takes place on a different world, so the cast of characters for each game is new. Though there is a bit of repetition in character archetypes (e.g. chances are the game you’ll play will star a teenage boy with a sword), the characters are most always quite easy to like. I feel that characters in most RPGs (and in fact, most video games) these days really try way too hard to look cool. Which quite frankly isn’t so hard to do. What is more challenging (apparently) is to make characters actually be interesting, and not just a rehash of a generic team of badasses. Fortunately in Tales of games, character development is handled quite nicely, and there’s almost always much more to each character than he or she first appears.

On top of all the cut scenes and in-game dialogue, there’s also plenty of skits–bonus conversations between characters, included for those wanting more depth to the character relationships, and for those wanting to learn more about the world and magic of the story. They essentially play out in a way similar to visual novels, and are often a lot of fun to read (or listen to, if you’re playing a Japanese copy–I really wish these would get dubbed in English releases). I think they’re nice for showing the characters talking about things and doing stuff unrelated to the main plot–it makes them more real, revealing some of their likes, dislikes, personality quirks, and how they feel about each of the other characters in their party.

Stories in Tales of games run a really long time, and chances are you’ll be spending many, many hours on one of these games–especially if you like to explore and do all the side quests. You’ll get to talk to many people, visit many cities, traverse many dungeons, collect many items, defeat many bosses, and even play an assortment of mini-games (generally optional). You’ll also get to cook lots of food! That’s right, you even get to cook food in Tales of games, which is useful for replenishing health and technique points after each battle.

The Tales of series may not be perfect, but I do commend the makers for making improvements to various gameplay mechanics over the years, and never abandoning the core style and atmosphere fans have grown to love. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say. One thing I have wondered though about Tales of games–and Japanese RPGs in general–is why these games always seem to take place in a Europe-style fantasy setting (you know… with knights and such rather than, say, samurai or something). Not that this is a big deal, but it is something I’ve found curious.

So there are lots of Tales of games for everyone to try, starting with Tales of Phantasia on the SNES (released in 1995). Perhaps the most popular game in North America though was Tales of Symphonia, a Gamecube game. This one has a TON of things to do, so it really isn’t hard to rack in 80-100 hours of game time, and with nine playable characters, you may find yourself playing again and again! The game I’m currently playing however is Tales of the Abyss (on the PS2), which I’ve found extremely enjoyable so far. I’ve quite liked the special gameplay mechanics in this game, and have appreciated the surprisingly unique setup and series of events in regards to the plot. The voice acting is also probably the best I’ve heard from an RPG (which I suppose isn’t saying too much), especially from the main character Luke. I really like how his character has developed so far, and look forward to reaching the ending to the story.

I also look forward to future releases, namely Tales of Graces f. This looks spectacular, and so does the game just released in Japan–Tales of Xillia–which is selling very nicely over there. I really hope it will get released in North America! The character designs look really great, and so does the setting. From what I hear, it has really raised the bar for the Tales of series, so hopefully that means we will continue to see good things from this company.

And thanks to the popularity of Tales of games in Japan, there are several anime adaptations (both series and OVAs) as well as manga adaptations. The soundtracks for the games are generally really good as well, and many games have great animated openings, complete with talented vocals (at least in the Japanese versions). For the most recent examples, check out these two for Tales of Xillia: this one with focus on Jude, and this one with focus on Milla.

For those of you who have played Tales of games, which one have you played most? What characters are your favorites? And what games are you most looking forward to?