The Tales of franchise is a Japanese role-playing game with a history dating back to 1995. It will soon release its newest title in 2017. I stumbled across the series late in college, but never fully took part in playing until I purchased Tales of Vesperia for the Xbox 360. Vesperia was probably the best place I could have started, with its memorable cast, script, and story. It would be many years before I tried another title, particularly since Vesperia was the only game in the series ported to the 360, my only console for many years.
What brought me back to the franchise was a desire to find more co-op games to play with KWoo. That’s when I remembered that the Tales of games provide battle co-op–while most of the game is single player, battle mode allows up to four. It has been incredibly fun experiencing these stories together over the past year. Sharing in the same story and fighting side-by-side really makes it feel like we’re on this adventure together. We both want to play more Tales games, and have individually played some Final Fantasy (KWoo prefers 7 and 8, while I like 4 and 6; we both enjoyed 13). If anyone knows of any other Japanese RPGs like these, please let us know!
We started with the PS3 port of Tales of Symphonia (ignoring Dawn of the New World for now) since I had incomplete knowledge of the story and wanted to fully experience it myself. I had seen it played numerous times by others, as well as watched the first 4-part OVA anime. I also have an old friend who is passionate about Colette’s character. It took us over a year to finish Symphonia due in large part to our wedding preparations. But finish we did, for which I’m glad.
I’ll be honest and admit that I’m puzzled as to why this is one of the highest rated games in the series. While we certainly enjoyed the story and characters, they were predictable in their simplicity and the dialogue leaned way past my threshold for cheesiness. Lloyd as a main character is a bit too dumb for my affections. What saved Symphonia for me were its adult characters: Raine, Sheena, and Zelos. Maybe that’s because they’re closer to my actual age now and I could relate to them a bit better, even if I didn’t agree with them all the time.
Another aspect to the game that I found agonizing were the puzzling dungeons. Many of them seemed designed to torture players, like the Temple of Darkness and the Ymir Forest. KWoo enjoys puzzles like a little masochist, but even he was frustrated with the constant runaround in the ToS dungeons. Thank goodness for YouTube videos and Gamefaqs–without them, I really would have given up!
After Symphonia, we turned to Tales of Graces F, a game I had originally played on a friend’s Wii, but never actually finished. KWoo and I also played this on the PS3, and it quickly became his favorite of the two with its smoother and more challenging (in a good way) fighting system, funnier dialogue, and more modern graphics.
I think the biggest improvement to our group experience in battle was the ability to fix the view on the entire field. In Symphonia, the camera follows Player 1, which sucks for co-op. I might swing one way with the camera, while KWoo would be somewhere else and lose sight of his character. Graces fixed this by allowing more options for the camera. We were able to more freely choose our targets. I almost always stuck with Asbel, while KWoo alternated between Sophie and Hubert.
Another interesting change to Graces was its Dualizing. Pretty much anything collectible can be combined with something else to create a completely new item: weapons, gear, food, other consumables, etc. You can actually skip this option if you’re only looking to run through the game, but if you’re a completionist, you’ll need to Dualize. You can easily get sucked into crafting for hours, but it does cost you money!
As improved as the writing was for Graces, I was particularly annoyed by the inability to change the voices to Japanese. There were plenty of phrases in the script that required familiarity with Japanese culture, and English localization often couldn’t bridge that gap. Despite that irritation, I did find the dubbing very well done. I thought the voices all matched their characters and particularly enjoyed Pascal’s scenes. Pursuing all the side quests and skits fleshes their personalities out in ways that you might not see if strictly following the main story line. I’ve seen some critics of Graces peg it for dull characters, but I’m inclined to think that they didn’t try to do the side stories.
We’re looking to start another Tales of game when we return from our honeymoon at the start of the new year. I have Tales of Vesperia, which I mentioned I have played before, as well as Tales of Xillia. Xillia is completely new for both of us, and I very nearly completed Vesperia but was unable to defeat the final boss. Does anyone have a suggestion for which one we should play next?