Why I dig the Tales series, and you might too

0
11

Nothing clicks together quite like a good Tales cast

Today is a good day for the Tales Of series. It marks the fifth anniversary of Tales of Berseria, the most recent major entry in the franchise, and there’s also a demo out for the upcoming Tales of Arise, which is now only a few weeks away.

As I’ve talked to friends about this game, I’ve heard a similar refrain over and over: some variation of, “I haven’t really ever played a Tales game,” or “this will be my first Tales game.” I’ve talked to a few folks who have been interested in the series before, but never really taken the plunge, until now.

I’m more of a Tales aficionado or enthusiast than a diehard. My experience pretty much lines up with whatever’s been available on the consoles I own, so there are some gaping holes in my background with the series. But games like Symphonia and Vesperia are among my favorite RPGs ever, and ahead of the launch of Arise, I wanted to share a bit about what makes these games click for me, and why they might click for you too.

It isn’t just the combat, though the fighting game-meets-RPG mash-up is certainly its own brand of intriguing fun. And the big narratives can range from okay to great, depending on which entry you pick up. It took me a few years and replaying several games over again to figure this out, but the reason I keep coming back to Tales is because of its cast.

For those new to the series, Tales is similar to Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest in that each major entry is its own thing. There are some exceptions to the rule, obviously; Tales of Xillia, Symphonia, and Destiny got sequels, and Tales of Zestiria got a fairly far-flung-back prequel in Tales of Berseria. But these are mostly individual, standalone stories, as is the case with Arise.

In role-playing games, characters obviously take part in the big events happening around them. They’ll show up in the cutscenes, fight in boss battles, and work alongside you in dungeons. Outside of combat and story moments though, RPGs can be iffy on portraying what the group looks like when it isn’t just saving the world.

Having some hang-out time with your party can do a lot to build up your (the player’s) connection with a cast of characters. Each member has their own personality, likes and dislikes, and goals that can sometimes clash with those of the whole unit. Exploring those aspects helps add depth to them, so you’re not just working with a team of skilled and talented warriors, but one that also travels together, shares meals, and sleeps around the same campfire.

Series like Persona and Mass Effect emphasize this aspect of an RPG, but Tales does it a bit differently. First off, a Tales game puts you in the role of a character, and that character is defined by their own choices. It’s not a molded protagonist, the way that Ren or Commander Shepard. Outside of some special circumstances like figuring out which companion Lloyd might talk to at a certain point in the game, he is a set character.

Tales games also wrap this party aspect into many, many facets of its design. It’s not just that the party travels, but they travel together. In some games they can eat dishes that you select after battle, and certain characters might cook the dish better or worse. This is even used to comedic effect at times, with characters like Raine not being able to reach high ranks on dishes due to her less-than-stellar cooking skills, or Repede turning dishes into Dog Food.

Skits are the most obvious example of Tales honing in on the party dynamics. When walking around, prompts will pop up in the bottom-right corner to initiate a short discussion between members of your party.

Maybe it’s a small chat about what’s been going on in the main plotline. It might be the chance for one party member to express their own concerns, or even reflect on how a recent happening affects them specifically. There are some very specific skits that only happen under certain conditions, and there are others that just feature all your party members shooting the breeze, joking with one another or inquiring into each others’ personal lives, outside the grand adventure they’re currently on.

Skits can seem small, but for me, they’re the lifeblood of a Tales game. It’s a constant reminder that this isn’t just a character on the overworld with a back-up squad standing somewhere off camera, but an adventuring group that moves together.

Tales party members can come from varying backgrounds, and even in games where some members start out as longtime friends, those relationships can still evolve over time. Tales of Berseria follows a group of characters that’s very loosely banded together, but grows to care about each other’s well-being.

This carries back over into the cooking and even into battle, where characters can team up for dual attacks that combine their Artes usage into a tandem assault. It’s really cool to have a skit where two characters are obviously warming up to each other, and then in a battle a little while later see them team up for a special Arte; they’re learning to work together and live together.

What I’ve dug so far about Tales of Arise is that it seems like the boost in production isn’t just going towards making grander cutscenes or better character models (though it is a pretty good-looking game, from the previews we’ve seen). It’s also being used on the skits, elevating them from the usual talking-head character portraits to cut-in comic panels with animation.

Cooking isn’t just an after-battle boost with a cheerful response, but an action you can take part in at your camp. You get to see the party member present it to the group, letting everyone else know dinner is ready. And as you flip through the menu options, you can see the party members in the background, sitting around the campfire together.

It’s a dynamic that other games have also attempted, like in Final Fantasy XV‘s boys trip through the countryside. And for them, it can work to varying degrees. But the Tales series has been doing this for a long time. The idea of Tales of Arise getting the chance to do this stuff even grander is made that much more interesting when I go back and look at some of the better skits in Vesperia or Symphonia.

So yes, the Tales series is a nice blend of fantasy RPG storytelling and more action-oriented combat. It’s got a very stylized, anime-inspired aesthetic, the music is usually solid, and it’s neat how it lets you play as individual characters in the party, an aspect that’s also become popular in recent RPGs like Final Fantasy VII Remake.

The draw for me was, is, and will continue to be the cast of characters. Tales games are at their best when they’re leaning into the strength of not just individual narratives, but the group as a whole. Seeing an endearing group of fighters, mages, runaways, and vagabonds form a begrudging comradery that will eventually bloom into friendship over the course of their journey is just great, every time. Characters like Judith, Rita, Magilou, Regal, and Eizen are good on their own, but become much more within the context of their respective parties.

So if you’re thinking of hopping into the Tales series, either with Tales of Arise or with one of the older games (if you’re brand-new, I’d recommend either the Vesperia remaster or the most recent game, Berseria), that’s what the draw is. I don’t claim that mine is the universal reason why fans love it, but I’d have to think it at least charts somewhere in the top reasons why. Show up for the anime aesthetic and action tilt, stay for an endearing group of misfits you can’t help but love.