Let’s Talk About It: The JRPG Series that isn’t Final Fantasy, Star Ocean, or Persona

So I realize that I’ve been playing a lot of Persona 5, but now that I’m done with a second playthrough, I might as well write about another franchise, one that, while it gets attention, needs some more attention. I’m talking about the Tales series. While I consider myself a slave to Square Enix if only for Star OceanFinal Fantasy, and Kingdom Hearts, if we’re to account each series individually, the Tales series is the franchise I’ve played the most titles for. At one point during college I considered myself a nut for Bandai Namco because I played at least one Tales game every year: Vesperia (for a second time) in 2011 with one of my friends, Graces f  (first time) in 2012, Vesperia (third time, but first time with the Japan only PS3 version) in 2012, Abyss (first time) in 2013, Xillia (first time) in 2013, Symphonia and Symphonia 2: Radiant Dawn (both for the first time) in 2014, Xillia 2 in 2014, Hearts R in 2014 (jeez, I was busy playing games in 2014), and after graduating from undergrad I played Zestiria in 2015. If you couldn’t tell from the amount of games I listed in the about three year span of time, I really used to dig Tales games (though for some reason I’ve yet to play Beseria and I really blame that on saving up for a Nintendo Switch). One of the elements I’ve really enjoyed about the Tales series has been its gameplay. While, until FFXVFinal Fantasy has never been my cup of tea, because I don’t really like turn based combat, and Star Ocean has always been a bit too rigid in combat (exception being and II), I’ve always enjoyed the fluid gameplay of Tales games and the combos you can unleash.

 

Even though I have never been able to fully do what this guy is doing in the video, the point that I could make combos based off of moves and mix and match have always been the fun aspect of Tales games. You get to figure things out and customize techniques to your play style.

Unlike Kingdom Hearts you can play as more than one character, if you so desire, but not change the perspective of the narrative because of it. And I would compare the Tales series to Persona somehow, but they feel too distant for me to do it and I feel as though I wouldn’t do either justice. And I’m not dissing (intentionally at least) the other series’, but rather saying that I quite enjoyed Tales games because they didn’t do or were different from other series’ I also enjoyed.

And because I’ve played a good number of Tales games, I’d like to list my top five Tales games out of the games I’ve played.

5) Tales of  Symphonia

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So this will clearly piss people off because Symphonia is like the Final Fantasy VII of Tales games. People remember this game as one of their first Tales experiences either on Gamecube or PS2. They remember the enthralling story, the lovely characters, the wonderful conflict of it all. They’ll never stop blabbering about the opening theme for the game. And while I agree that this flagship entry had a lot of great qualities, I must admit that I probably played this game late, not having played it until the remaster on the PS3. Had I played the game when it first released and enjoyed the controls as an eleven year old, still leaning into a the JRPG fandom, I might have put this particular entry higher up, motivated by the nostalgia I had for wonderful characters, but unfortunately I don’t. And while we’re at it, no. Sheena isn’t best girl. Zelos Wilder is.

4) Tales of Xillia

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From the moment I finished Graces f, I had been awaiting the release of Tales of Xillia, it looked way too cool to me. I enjoyed the split character narrative and that you could change your perspective based off the character you choose at the beginning. I chose Jude Mathis the first time I played. Never in a JRPG had I seen a main protagonist use gauntlets instead of a sword, his combos were amazing, and I enjoyed the snap vanish that he could do to evade and counter enemies. I quite enjoyed the battle system of the game. It felt like a combination of Vesperia and Graces f. And the game was also the first entry where there weren’t chibi models. Everything was in full figures. The narrative pulled me for a loop as I continued to wonder where the series would go next and it kept building to grander and grander feats in a process that actually felt organic. I mean the climb from small scale enemies to a god seems large, but the progress was natural which made Xillia 2 a bit of a weirder game because you could tell the characters had been nerfed. But through this game you got a compelling story in which both protagonists played an integral role to the narrative and the moment around the middle/ climax of the game where the group splits up is amazing and exactly what drama should be for games. What I’m saying is that I loved this game, but not as much as the next three entries.

3) Tales of Graces f

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Okay, this might be confusing to most of the Tales fandom, but I love this game. I love the opening. I don’t know most of the words to it, but I still like to sing along. Seasons are changing. The snow’s coming down now. I was super invested in this game just from the prologue. I enjoyed that we got to see our main protagonists as children. I enjoyed that I didn’t like Asbel’s little brother that much. I got used to Asbel’s hideous post time skip white outfit (and then changed the outfit as soon as I could). I loved that you could battle almost all of the party members in a one on one duel. I even had a complete walkthrough downloaded on my 4th gen iPod Touch. I understand that the story was cliche and that too many JRPGs do the whole, my friend is possessed or became evil plot line, but it was still compelling enough for me to want to keep playing, because while the overarching narrative was cliche, there was enough fun in the subplot lines that it didn’t matter. And last but not least, the gameplay, the combat, was lit. It was fuego. It was combos upon combos upon combos and precise customized strings purposed for destruction. I love this game’s combat, and that’s why it’s number three.

2) Tales of Vesperia

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Now imagine this: I once had and enjoyed playing (for a short while) an Xbox 360. I loved that console for the short period where it was really trying to promote JRPGs on the console. I was playing games such as Infinite Undiscovery (which should get a re-release on PS4), Star Ocean IV, and Final Fantasy XIII (trash). And because Microsoft really wanted to sell consoles in Japan, they bought the exclusive rights to Tales of Vesperia. Wanting to play another JRPG, I of course bought the game. And I will tell you, I do know every word to Bonnie Pink’s “Ring A Bell”, so I sang that intro every time with no shame. To continue with the history of this game, about a year later Bandai Namco made a PS3 version of the game that was only released in Japan a year or so later which I then bought and played even though I was only kind of, but sure am not currently, fluent in Japanese. So what attracted me to Tales of Vesperia? Well first off our main protagonist, Yuri Lowell, is a badass. He’s an anti-hero with the coolest base projectile in the game. Every other protagonist in the series used “demon fang”, but Yuri has “azure edge”. Yuri could switch hands on his swings and used both swords and axes. And the man murked people. Corrupt nobles caught the fade from him and got got. In terms of badassery, Yuri has the number one spot in my heart for Tales protagonists. And even outside of Yuri there were plenty of other cool and entertaining party members I enjoyed. I remember so many days yelling, No Estelle! Don’t hit that enemy! Heal me! Which sure it was frustrating, but it was a game I loved. It was also a game I co-opted with my friend Jimmy. He played Raven or Repede while I mained Yuri. The story was amazing. The combos I would string with Dragon Swarm were great. And I just spent the most time on this entry than I’ve had with any of the other Tales titles. Even amongst the Tales fandom, this is a fan favorite.

1) Tales of  the Abyss

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This was a game, when I first started playing it, I didn’t believe would be a favorite for me. The first few times I tried to play this game, I would fall asleep rendered helpless and unable to continue my progression. I tried playing it all of sophomore year of undergrad, and failed, but then I came back home for the summer and it was just me and my Playstation 2. The only thing I had to do that summer besides play video games was my summer job. And who knew that general isolation was what it took to play and finish Tales of the Abyss? Though this was also the start of me realizing that I don’t have the greatest of attention spans. I constantly need other stimulus to focus on things.

Anyways, when I finally focused on playing this game, I realized how much I liked it. It was older than most of the Tales games I had previously played. Until then I had only played VesperiaGraces f, and Legendia (this is the only older entry). But there was something in the old style and kind of slow combat that I enjoyed. There was a rhythm I could get into. There were combos that could still be strung and an interesting gameplay feature where your artes could upgrade based off of the Field of Fonon on the battleground. It was really cool. But gameplay aside, there’s one main reason I love this game more than all the others and that’s the character development of Luke fon Fabre. Luke starts off as a bratty seventeen year old, sheltered, spoiled, and ignorant of the world. He’s unwilling to take responsibility for his actions and hesitant to acknowledge his responsibilities. But then after certain events in the game, he cuts his hair and tries to take his best step forward. Of course in this transition where he’s more self-aware he apologizes a lot, but then in the third act, with the fate of the world depending on it, he makes his last development as a determined and truly self-aware character who’s redeemed his past transgressions. Characters like Luke are my favorite characters. It’s kind of why I like Boruto so much. But Luke’s character development kept me going through the game, because I couldn’t wait to see how he grew as the game progressed. Luke inspired me to change too, and as years go on I like to track my own character development. Sometimes it’s iffy, sometimes I regress, but for the most part I try to take steps forward. And that’s why Tales of the Abyss is my favorite Tales game. Also because “Karma” by Bump of Chicken and “Meaning of Birth” are amazing.

Anyways I leave you with a thirty minute version of “Meaning of Birth”Later days.

 

 

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