Disclaimer: This is a video game related post and it’s about the Tales of series. If you’re not a fan of the games, this may not be that interesting. It should also go without saying that there will be spoilers for the games in this post. So watch out! Also, I kind of ranted. Sorry.
Tales of Symphonia is my favourite video game of all time. I consider it to be the greatest game I’ve ever played in terms of core gameplay, storytelling and general atmosphere. I replay the game at least once a year to reconfirm my feelings about it, and every single time I do so, it still winds up coming out on top. Tales of Symphonia is just incredible.
But it’s not just a fantastic game on its own. It’s a fantastic game that’s a part of a whole franchise of games that I’m also a huge fan of: The Tales of franchise. Symphonia was my entry point into this franchise, and while none of the other games in the series have ever managed to dethrone it from the top spot, I’ve more often than not, had a blast playing each entry.
For the longest time, the Tales series was my favourite video game franchise. After learning that Symphonia was a part of a much larger series of games, I immediately hunted high and low for each entry I could get my hands on, no matter the cost (£150 for Vesperia at the time because it went out of print). I went back and played every single game in the series. I even played the games that weren’t localised through emulators and fan translations. And of course, I continued to buy the latest entries as well as they were released.
Playing through the entire catalogue of the Tales series was one of the most enjoyable video game experiences in my life. Each game was very different and offered something unique that separated it from every other entry. The stories were always fresh and exciting and always had some kind of unconventional twist that kept things interesting. The characters of said stories were always fun and energetic and would frequently showcase their excellent chemistry when conversing with one another. The gameplay system of each new game would always build upon that of previous games and improve it through minor tweaks while also adding some kind of unique spin on it to keep things unique to that specific game.
…Then Tales of Xillia happened.
I like Tales of Xillia. I like it a lot, actually. It’s one of my favourite Playstation 3 games, but I also feel that Xillia marked the beginning of the end of the series’ charm in the form of some minor issues that eventually grew into much bigger problems when later entries would be released.
Xillia had a decent storyline that was fairly enjoyable, but a lot of its best ideas had been done before by previous games in the series, mostly Symphonia with its focus on parallel worlds vying for superiority. Furthermore, the battle system, while fun, didn’t add a lot of new features compared to previous entries. Sure, it had some minor changes but they were minuscule compared to what other games did before.
Tales of the Abyss added free run, which opened the battlefield up to a whole new dimension of movement by allowing the player to move their character in other directions besides “left and right”. Tales of Versperia completely reimagined the battle system of previous games by completely revamping its engine and making the games combat feel far more intuitive and responsive. Tales of Graces retooled the defense mechanics of previous games to make blocking and dodging a key part of the battles. Tales of Xillia just added… Link Artes… Which were special finishing moves you could do with another party member. They were cool, but they were far from a game changer.
This downward trend would continue when Tales of Xillia was followed by a direct sequel, Tales of Xillia 2.
Now, I really like Xillia 2. In fact, I think it’s a better game than the original, mostly because its narrative is much more interesting and it adds some tweaks to the original games battle system that would have made it feel like a more unique entry. But because it builds on the previous games uninspired battle system, it doesn’t feel as unique as it should. Rather than being a whole new system, it now just feels like “Xillia’s System plus these new cool things!”
Xillia 2 also reused a lot of the original Xillia’s assets. Most of the games locations, towns and dungeons are lifted straight from Xillia and barring a few new locations that look fantastic, it kind of feels like playing Xillia all over again, with a different story and better battle system. Xillia 2 is one of my favourite games due to its story, but honestly, it felt lazy and rushed because of its reuse of locations and music and… Everything!
But up until this point, while things did seem off, I never felt disinterested in the series. Sure, there were some hiccups with the last two games, but maybe the next one would be better.
And man, was I wrong, because then Tales of Zestiria happened.
Tales of Zestiria isn’t a bad game. It’s probably pretty good on it’s own. But it’s a terrible Tales game, and, in my opinion, it’s the worst game in the entire series. The story is generic, even by JRPG standards, the characters aren’t all that interesting or multilayered, and the combat is cumbersome, buggy and, simply put, dreadful.
I was genuinely excited for this game in the months leading up to its release. The story was advertised as “a return to the fantasy roots of the series”, leading me to believe that we’d be getting something like the original game, Tales of Phantasia. But instead we were given some kind of generic fantasy quest where the main character, the chosen one, needs to go kill a big bad guy who controls the power of evil… And unlike most Tales games with such a premise, there’s no real twist or turn down the line that strays the plot from that path into something more interesting.
Tales of Symphonia started off as a “save the world” pilgrimage only to deconstruct the entire narrative genre by having the quest and its world be a part of a gigantic conspiracy to keep everyone under the control of one, selfish, mortal man with a god complex. Tales of the Abyss began as a “help the protagonist get home” quest before turning into a story about the protagonist finding out he’s an artificially manufactured clone of someone else, and has been living that someone else’s life the entire time and now must find his own place in the world. But Zestiria is just… Go beat the baddy and save the world… And that’s it!
And I’d be able to excuse that if the gameplay was great, but it’s not. The idea behind everything is cool. Battles now take place on the map, as opposed to a separate screen, and are now in full 3D, but the camera is dreadful and gets stuck behind walls all the time! On top of that, the combat is just unsatisfying. It’s a button masher and the strategy is just completely gone, unless you play on higher difficulties, but then everything will kill you in a single strike.
Then the game chose to add the most cumbersome equipment and skill system I’ve ever seen from a video game. The tutorial tells you nothing. The game provides the vaguest idea of how it works, and to this day, I have no idea how to use it. And judging from discussions I’ve had with other fans of the series, no one does!
Then there’s the “open fields” which look fantastic and beautiful until you realise they’re completely devoid of any life and are simply really long, empty pathways between dungeons and towns.
I never beat Zestiria. I’ve tried to several times, but I just can’t. I want to and I feel like it’s my duty as a fan of this franchise to do so, but it’s difficult to find the motivation because I just don’t really like the game all that much.
And now we’ve got Berseria, which seems vaguely interesting in a few ways, but honestly, I’m in no rush to get it and when I saw the trailer I thought something I’ve never really had about any game in this series before:
“Meh. I don’t care about this.”
Because I don’t, really.
The recent entries in the series just lack personality, and personality is what made this series such a fun thing to get involved with in the first place. The charm just isn’t there any more. The creativity it lacking and the fun just feels… Gone. And it seems I’m not the only one, because Hideo Baba, the producer and most prominent creative mind behind the series, recently left Bandai Namco to form his own company. Why? Because he wasn’t satisfied with the direction Bandai Namco were taking the franchise.
I miss the days before Bandai Namco, when Namco had it’s own studio dedicated solely to making these games. Namco Tales Studio made some excellent games, and it’s a shame that’s no longer reality…
But then, perhaps I’m just burnt out from playing so much of the series over the years. Maybe my tastes have just changed and matured as I’ve gotten older. Or it could just be, with my time being so limited these days, that I have no real desire to play a big, sprawling RPG like I used to when I was younger.
Regardless of the reason, the Tales of franchise just isn’t something that I’m passionate about any more. I feel disconnected. I feel out of the loop compared to the other fans who seem to keep having a blast with the series I once cared about more than any other video game franchise.
But Symphonia is still the best game ever made. That’ll never change.
Maybe the next game will be a return to form. I sure hope so. Guess we’ll find out.
Are you a fan of the Tales series? How do you feel about the recent games? Are there any game franchises you’ve had a similar experience with? Let me know down below in the comments, and thanks for reading!