With the first season of the anime adaptation of Tales of Zestiria coming to a close, the Tales franchise has received a new influx of interested fans. This is a guide for those who want to get started on the Tales Series.
I’ll be recommending recent games that are easier to acquire. So I won’t be recommending any games that have never been officially released in English or games that are only available on PS2 or earlier consoles.
Tales of Symphonia / Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World
Available on: PS3, Steam
The longest game in the entire franchise and the first to receive the 3D graphics treatment. Given how old it is, the gameplay isn’t as solid as later games, and it suffers from having irritatingly difficult dungeon puzzles to solve, but otherwise, it’s got a solid story and great characters that makes it still worth playing even to this day. The sequel, while less loved and more contested, offers improved gameplay and models, but suffers from having a less compelling story than its predecessor. It’s also much shorter, and while the battle aspect of the game play has improved, it’s party setup took a step down by only giving the player two permanent party members, the rest of whom only join for brief intervals until they decide to permanently stick with you in the final chapter. I personally still found it to be an enjoyable entry to the franchise despite its faults and still felt that it had a good amount of twists and solid character writing.
Tales of the Abyss
Available on: 3DS
Abyss was the first in the franchise to ditch the 3D chibi models and opt for a more proportionate look. Gameplay is much more improved, and while the dungeons still have puzzles, they aren’t nearly as frustrating to solve as Symphonia’s. It also has the best story and character writing that the series has to offer. While not as long as Symphonia, Abyss is still quite long, allowing for further world building and character exploration that later games tend to skimp out on. Luke will get on your nerves the minute you start playing the game, but trust me, he gets better.
Tales of Vesperia
Available on: Xbox 360, PS3 (never left Japan ;-;)
Having never played this entry due to my lack of an Xbox, myknowledge about this game is quite limited. What I do know about it is that it’s held in the same high regard as Symphonia and Abyss and is still incredibly popular among Japanese and western fans today. Protagonist Yuri was so well received in Japan that he actually had to be banned from the official character popularity poll because he won every single year since his game’s release. I’m also well aware that there’s a PS3 remake that has over double the amount of content that the original lacked….but never left Japan. The fandom’s still pretty bitter about that. Oh, but most importantly…You can play as a dog.
Tales of Graces f
Available on: PS3
Widely regarded to have the cheesiest story in the franchise, but fans will often also begrudgingly admit that it has the best battle system. Battles are fast paced, with an array of commands that could be inputted instead of simply smashing “o” to activate special attacks and “x” to perform regular ones. The title system (a system that improves a character’s stats depending on the bonuses it gives) is also the most refined of its kind that the series has to offer. Unfortunately, this is the only game in the franchise that makes use of it. So, yes, while Graces may not have the most solid writing in the series, it’s definitely the most fun to play through, especially with friends (it makes those cheesy cliche moments seem even funnier).
Tales of Xillia
Available on: PS3
The biggest gimmick for Xillia is the inclusion of two protagonists and the introduction of the first female protagonist in the series. While both paths follow the same story, it’s well worth playing through both sides since both characters have scenes exclusive to their story line. Jude’s side focuses more on character development while Milla’s side focuses more on world building. This game also introduces a “link system” that literally links two characters to allow for special dual attacks. However, this link system also makes the game less fun to play with three extra friends, as the second linked character is automatically set to an AI. That said, the dual attacks are fun to watch after initiated, as they differ depending on the characters linked together, and the after battle quotes tend to favor linked characters which adds further depth to the characters’ relationship and reflects how they’ve grown closer as the story progresses. Speaking of story, while Xillia felt rushed and lacks a lot of things that main entries in the franchise are likely to have (it doesn’t have a bonus boss from previous games, it has the least amount of unlock able costumes, it doesn’t have any mini games); Xillia 2 manages to pick up the slack and fill in the plot holes left behind by its predecessor, so Xillia is still most definitely a title worth looking into.
Tales of Xillia 2
Available on: PS3
Widely regarded to be the darkest in the franchise (it’s the first to actually feature blood), Xillia 2 picks up roughly a year after the events of the first game. The gimmick this time is a silent protagonist, whose responses can be chosen by the player. The choices the player makes can affect both the game’s ending (five, the most in the franchise) and Ludger’s relationship with other party members. Gameplay is much the same as its predecessor, however, Ludger is given the ability to switch between up to three weapon types during battle. His chromatus form, while activated for a limited time, also offers game breaking abilities that will make the player want to keep him in their party at all times (not that they have much of a choice, since he’s stuck in there until you beat the main story). Xillia 2 still definitely has its flaws in terms of writing, but it improves on a lot of things Xillia lacked and while not on the same level as Abyss and Symphonia, I’d still give it a fairly high rating.
Tales of Hearts R
Available on: PS Vita
While not on the same level of cheese as Graces, Hearts’ story definitely isn’t going to win any awards. Thankfully, the fun gameplay more than makes up for it. Battles are random, a rarity among modern RPGs, but worry not, as every single battle is guaranteed to be an enjoyable experience. Characters jump around to slam enemies down from high above, dual attacks can be initiated through the vita’s touch screen, and the ease in which weapons are distributed (simply through leveling up the characters’ stats!), makes this a solid entry to the franchise. Unfortunately, the game suffers from bad translation errors, several of which mischaracterize important characters and NPC’s alike. It’s faithful to the original script for the most part, but one wishes that Bandai Namco’s translation team could have at least tried to stay truer to text.
Tales of Zestiria
Available on: PS3, PS4, Steam
This one’s a little harder to recommend to newcomers to the Tales franchise. It’s a game that limits the co-op that Tales games usually offer due to the armatization system (a system that fuses two characters together and is more or less required against tougher bosses). Its battle camera is difficult to control and I found myself at numerous points (both when playing solo or with a friend) staring at wall and wondering if my character was actually hitting the enemy. Its story, while not bad, isn’t particularly good either. One thing it did get right were its characters. They’re all likable and play off each other really well and it has some of the most attractive character designs the series has to offer. The tracks composed by GoShiina are also worth mentioning, they’re really great at setting the mood from fast paced boss fights to more emotional scenes and make trudging through dungeons seem less tedious. While definitely not the best the series has to offer, I’d recommend picking it up once you’ve tried out the other games the series has to offer. Especially since it serves as a direct link to the most recent game in the franchise, Tales of Berseria, which will be released in English in early 2017.