I love the Tales of... Series it is currently one of my favorite JRPG series on the market right now. As I continue to work my way through Tales of Berseria I have decided to update this little list of mine and rank all the modern Tales of games. As you might have noticed this list will only include all of what I call “modern” Tales as these games are fairly easily available to play on modern High Definition and Eighth General handheld consoles.
Sadly I have not played any of the classic entries in the series and as such they wont be making an appearance on this list; as I can’t exactly place a rank on something I haven’t actually played can I? Furthermore this will only be including the North American releases of the series so currently Japanese only releases like Tales of Innocence R and Vesperia PS3 will have to remain unranked until Namco Bandai is nice enough to bring them over, which is never happening... especially Vesperia PS3...
Please note this article originally appeared on August 21st, 2015. This update was made to include the more recent Tales of Zestiria. Minor edits to improve readability have also been made along with minor content changes.
9) Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World: Despite being a relative newcomer to the series and not having the nostalgia for Tales of Symphonia that many long time Tales fans possess I still felt this game really lacked the spark of the original. Perhaps it’s due to the fact the game suffers from the classic JRPG sequel issue of what do you do AFTER the world has been saved and the villain defeated. Perhaps it has something to do with the less the less then memorable protagonists or just generally the feeling that this game wasn’t even good when it came out.
In a strange twist I actually felt the HD overhaul Dawn of the New World got in its PS3 re-release was actually a disservice. As the game (originally for the Wii) looks only marginally better then its predecessor which originally released on the Gamecube. All around its a basic JRPG journey that really doesn’t give somebody any reason to get excited for it. In fact I’d say if it wasn’t bundled with the classic Tales of Symphonia I’d recommend skipping this all together.
8) Tales of Graces F: Another Wii port that found a High Def home on the PS3; sadly in many ways it origins show through pretty clearly. In terms of graphics its just not as pretty as what came before or after, with the exception of the battle system the game play its simple, finally it is just less of a daring game. All around its a game that feels like a placeholder in the series.
Perhaps that is due to the fact this was the game Namco used to test the North American market to see if Tales would sell, which likely still clouds my judgement. However at the end of the day I just cant shake the feeling the game is a glorified port and not a great one. That being said the combat is a lot of fun with arguably the fastest and most entertaining (if not indepth) combat in the series. The story is a little annoying to be honest, as it’s quite cliched along with the grand sin of a forgettable, annoying, and boring cast.
All around the best way I can describe the game is that it toast and honey. Kinda sweet when you’re eating at and actually kinda enjoyable but immediately forgettable. Really this entry started above Xillia 2 and Hearts R however as I was writing it I found myself asking why? It’s a fun adventure as you go from point A to B and that sweet sweet combat will keep it enjoyable however it is really nothing to write home about.
This also needs to be said. This is the game that introduced paid DLC into the series. Previously where there were dozens of unique and fun unlockables to acquire, such as weapons and costumes the majority of those are relegated to paid DLC. Worst of all there are actually pay to win options (this is Namco after all) such as packs for in game currency and items. Something I don’t think any gamer really enjoys.
7) Tales of Xillia 2: Another sequel perhaps I’m seeing a pattern here... anyways after the smashing success of Tales of Xillia it made a lot of sense financially to return to the popular title. However much like Dawn of the New World it feels like a retread in that you always have the “been here done that” feeling. This is helped along by the fact that the majority of Tales of Xillia 2 assets are just recycled from the previous game. Furthermore unlike Dawn of the New World almost all the main cast of the first game plus supporting characters join giving the game a sort of reunion special vibe that never approaches the original.
Finally the worst sin of Tales of Xillia 2 is your own personal avatar Ludger; the first (at least to me) silent protagonist in the entire series. Where you make decisions for the group slightly effecting the story. Sadly this “control” is but an illusion as really until the end almost no choice actually matters and rather then have a vibrant protagonist such as previous Tales of games you have a silent and boring one.
Beyond that Ludgers transformation ability breaks the carefully balanced battle system of the previous game. Previously where you could use any character you wanted depending on your style you now seem forced into using this single overwhelming force. So ultimately powerful he makes the game boring. In short Tales of Xillia 2 didn’t do EVERYTHING wrong just the majority of its changes were in the wrong direction and it forgot what made the series great.
6) Tales of Zestiria: The newest (non-Berseria) entry to the franchise there was a lot of hope going in that this could be something to recapture the magic of the series following the lackluster previous few entries. However that hope was for naught. As Tales of Zestiria while full of potential by the end fell flat, weighed down by far too many poor design choices and a story that just never got off the ground.
Normally Tales games battle systems are among the highlights of the experience. However Zestiria made key mistakes in this regard; the rock, paper, scissors nature to the monsters weakness made battles either far too easy or artificially hard. The fact during the game you were forced to use two characters always and the others were little more then tools robbed the cast of personality and the player of choice. While on the technical side the camera was terrible and the AI was abysmal. Combat just didn’t stick.
The story was also horribly cliched and felt as if it was designed by a fill in the blanks fantasy guide. However despite these flaws it did have redeeming features such as a cast that not all standouts were likable in their own quirky way. An openness the series has lacked since Vesperia and a plethora of extra things to do. Zestiria was not a terrible game, it was just disappointing and that is kind of worse.
5) Tales of Hearts R: The only truly “mobile” title on this list. Tales of Hearts originally released for the Nintendo DS in Japan and was recently re-released for the Playstation Vita in North America. However despite the games portable nature it loses nothing for being on a handheld. In fact this game feels totally like a fully fleshed out entry in the series.
Sadly while its production quality is top notch it suffers in some key areas. First it seems strangely stuck between East and West, despite having only a Japanese audio option the script was clearly written with English dialogue in mind. Characters names were clearly localized in the script yet the original names are voiced in the Japanese audio creating a noticeable dissonance between what you hear and what the script is telling you people are saying. That said a nice treat though is that if you are a fan of Japanese anime (and Tales of fans and anime fans tend to overlap) you will be treated to a lot of “I know that voice” as the voice acting itself is top notch with many prominent seiyuu’s playing parts in the game.
From a gameplay perspective it kind of exists as a missing link for North Americans as the battles are slower then Graces F while faster then Vesperia. All around the battle sections feel like a tuned up Vesperia which is why I would argue the battling is the best part of the game. Furthermore like classic JRPG’s of old the game is blessed with an impressively large and open world map designed for exploration.
Those who are used to the interconnected corridors of modern Tales games this is a very welcome feature. Tales of Hearts R at its heart (sorry had to make the pun) is a really fun and accessible game and if you have a PSV I encourage you to pick it up.
4) Tales of Symphonia: I really expect to get flamed for this one. So I will get it out of the way. Yes, Sympohnia was a revelation back in the day for the Gamecube; however a lot of the game just does not hold up. The super deformed almost chibi character models, the bland empty world map, the uninspired dungeon design, the formless blob monsters on the field. Symphonia is clearly a product of its time.
Though there are elements of the game, that do hold up and speaks to why this game is held in such high regard and that is basically everything else. The story starts with a very basic quest of go to A, beat B, and seal C from there the story eventually spirals off into a worlds spanning adventure to save not one but two worlds from certain doom. All the while fending off constant attacks from various organizations which have infiltrated every aspect of society. While simultaneously being betrayed and finding new enemies at every turns complete with twists that would make M Night Shyamalan weep with envy. Honestly, it is a good if a little ridiculous story, in short its a great story for a JRPG.
Beyond that the cast is memorable and entertaining. The cast is also highly believable from Lloyd and Colettes relationship, to the ever enigmatic Kratos, and the all around crazy but sympathetic Zelos. When a series has a cast list as long as Tales I must say its a really good sign when one game has such a high concentration of memorable characters. While I will never feel the love and affection for the game its original players in the West feel I do understand it; it is just a damn shame those character models look so out of place...
3) Tales of Xillia: Remember how I said Tales of Xillia 2’s greatest sin was basically making Tales of Xillia kinda worse. Well that is because it was damn hard to improve of the original. Tales of Xillia is a very entertaining game with great core mechanics, a beautiful and detailed world, a complex and engaging story, and memorable characters. Really Tales of Xillia is a perfect example of why Tales fans love Tales.
It is also unmistakably the most modern feeling game in the series (Authors note: Even now after moving to the PS4 this still remains the case) moving away from the more anime style graphics that dominated the series before to a semi-realistic while still highly stylized character models that the series seems to be continuing to use. Furthermore the anime cut scenes have been massively improved now being done by ufotable of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade (Budget) Works fame.
The battle system is also nicely balanced with a good feeling of control and chaos all blended together seamlessly. I also must say one of the main villains in the game Giaus remains among the most bad ass men in gaming. I highly enjoyed Tales of Xillia and can understand its huge popularity in Japan. Furthermore the decision to split the story into two perspectives between duel protagonist Mila and Jude although strange at first makes a lot of sense by encouraging the second play through as the two distinct characters certainly gives each path a reason for existing.
2) Tales of the Abyss: Ah Abyss... I’m not even sure what to say to be honest. Lets start with characters really they’re all good. Even Natalia the perennially annoying “Hime-Sama” Princess character is actually good in this game. The main protagonists Luke experiences genuine and realistic character growth, furthermore when the villain (SPOILERS) Van is said to be based on Oda Nobunaga that actually does not feel like a stretch as the character is that good. The game simply put features a great cast and is easily one of the strongest of the series thus far. The story with a cast this strong I would argue does not even matter that much, however the path it takes the player down is long and detailed enough to have kept my attention for more then 100+ hours and playing this on the 3DS that says something.
Also unlike its fellow 6th generation title Tales of Symphonia Abyss’ origins on the PS2 are a blessing as this game has aged masterfully. From a more populated world map to realistic character designs, in terms of technical achievement I would choose Abyss any day over Symphonia any day of the week. The games only small flaw is the battle system with it’s over reliance on its Field of Fonon (FoF) system to unleash high powered cost effective arts as they often feel just too random to properly use in a controlled method. Really other then that though its a great game and if you have a 3DS certainly pick it up, even the 3D effect even works well.
1) Tales of Vesperia: This is the game that began it all for me and really the reason I keep coming back. I keep wishing to find another game that captured me like Vesperia did years ago. While I have yet to be able to find a Tales title that has been able to do that, it really matters little now. In the three years gap between Vesperia and Graces F I have became a Tales evangelist spreading the word of this lovely franchise.
In short I love this game and judging by the continuing request for the PS3 version many feel the same way. It yet remains the best of the modern Tales games for a number of reasons. A strong and memorable cast (if not as strong as Abyss) an entertaining and easily breakable battle system, with a full a detailed world map a feature JRPG’s really must bring back. Furthermore unlike every game after all the content of this game comes pre-loaded; from a variety of fun costumes to massive super bosses that can tax even the most skilled players.
Although in terms of single features V esperia may not be the best in any single regard I would argue it has the collection of all the best elements from the rest creating a truly whole package. Despite being eight years old Vesperia’s pure anime art style continues to hold up as time goes on giving it a lasting power that seems to be eluding some other games in the series. As I said upfront this is a list of my favorites and Vesperia is without any doubt that game for me. I’d welcome comments and discussions on the topic, however Vesperia is unquestionably the best modern Tales of game.
PS: For those who have played the older games in the series leave impressions in the comments please. As I said I didn’t forget them I just have no experience wit them.