Tales of Tiers

Bored. Wanted to do something with Xillia, but sort of exhausted all pertinent topics with the regular Sunday Summaries updates. Instead, realized the best way to irritate and alienate fans of this series and confuse almost everyone else would be to sort the playable characters from every game into FGC-style tiers. I tossed in some notes for funzies. You know me and funzies, we go way back.

Disclaimer Zone: These tiers are entirely subjective and based on my opinions of the character as a narrative construct and also as a playable combatant in the always wild and deeply layered Tales real-time combat engine. (You've heard they have things like LMB systems? You got that right! Tales has got tons of LMB systems.) I've also only played like eight Tales games, so I'll be periodically adding more characters to this list as I eventually get around to the other games in the series. Legendia, Graces F, Hearts R, and Xillia 2 are presently the most conspicuous absences, given they all have English versions. Expect an update in 2025, maybe. Oh, and there's spoilers for all the games included, but since the newest one is still four years old I didn't think it would matter too much.

Final Disclaimer: Tales is a pretty great JRPG series, despite what some of the below descriptions might suggest and whatever footage you may have seen of animes saying the darndest things in fancy costumes. A franchise doesn't reach this many games without having a strong inner core made of molten iron spinning a thousand miles an hour. They are to RPGs what I am to analogies - a gift, in so many words.

2021 Edit: Now includes all the Zestiria and Berseria characters. Graces F next, and then maybe Arise?

Also, be sure to agree/disagree and/or make a case for your favorites in the comments below, excepting characters from games I've yet to play. (All in due time for those guys.) I'm considering putting together another list for Tales villains if this goes well enough.

List items

  • Tier: E

    Game: Tales of Phantasia (SNES/PS1/GBA, 1st in the series)

    Role: Healer

    Nickname: "Walking Bandaid"

    Notes: Mint's the very definition of uninteresting. She's a pure cleric class, standing alone in the corner hitting Cress and the party with cures, and her personality is as vanilla white as her nurse/priestess costume. Phantasia is the first game in the series and was still finding its feet with the variable group dynamic in its distinctive real-time combat and the series' trademark of small character moments to help its cast evolve from their archetypes and breathe a little, instead resorting to roles common to all RPGs of that era. It wouldn't be until the later and more sophisticated games that we'd begin to see fully-developed and more distinctive characters.

  • Tier: D

    Game: Tales of Phantasia

    Role: Ranged

    Nickname: "Mister Dead Sister"

    Notes: Chester introduces the Tales archetype, one that also can be seen with quite a number of protagonists from a certain other long-running RPG series, that is the overly serious brooding hero. He is a particularly one-note example, spending most of the time grieving his dead sister and bringing the mood down whenever Arche comically crashes into a tree on her broomstick or something. It's one of those thankless "straight man" roles that the series would eventually move away from, making sure each member of their ensemble casts has their own silly quirks and foibles for lighter moments of levity between whatever apocalyptic events are transpiring. One point in Chester's favor though - Phantasia's plot is a little odd, and the party sans Chester ends up a hundred years back in time, making pacts with spirits and growing very strong in the process. When they get back, Chester realizes he has some work to do to catch up, and essentially grinds off-screen for several days and nights to get on everyone else's level in an uncommon twist of ludonarrative harmony. He's a determined guy. Also his sister's dead. She's deeeead.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Phantasia

    Role: Melee

    Nickname: "Garden-Variety Cress"

    Notes: Cress is a very straightforward character, in that inevitable way that most JRPG protagonists tend to be. There's the cypher theory for why this is, of course: that by making the hero as plain as possible it becomes easier for the player (also assumed to be male, though frequently not the case) to project themselves onto that role. It's why many video game heroes are mute beyond occasional dialogue choices, and go largely unseen in first-person games. Like anything else in Phantasia, the first Tales game, all the traits that the franchise would become known for were still in their primordial state here, and while the protagonists of future games would still be fairly boilerplate on occasion, there would at least be more of an effort from the developers to distinguish them through personality quirks and personal motivations than the modest and selfless heroism of a guy named after the least exciting of the common sandwich fillings. That said, at least he's fun enough to play as, creating a mold for the dextrous swordsmen protagonists to come.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Phantasia

    Role: Mage

    Nickname: "Hermanime Granger"

    Notes: Arche is the exception in Phantasia, in that she's a more overt anime character than the RPG archetypes that populate the rest of the party. An adolescent witch with pink hair that is rarely not flying around on her broom, she represents both the more uncommon (to RPGs in general, at least) character design of Tales and an unusual role in combat as a participant that is always in the air. Most mages are stuck at the back with warriors to protect them, but Arche's flight means she can go wherever she is needed and still be relatively out of harm's way. She's a fun character to have around during Phantasia's more gloomy moments and an equally fun character to use in combat, and I want to say the developers made sure future Tales games were influenced by what she brought to the table over her comparatively stock companions.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Phantasia

    Role: Mage

    Nickname: "Uncle Lester"

    Notes: I haven't really talked about the recurring Tales archetype that Lester represents - the tired old man trying to keep up with all these darn kids. It's an easy role to relate to, especially as I get older myself, and a way to ensure that the precocious musings on the nature of reality from the younger cast are kept in check by an older voice of wisdom, even if that older voice can frequently be as silly as anyone else. Claus is kind of a dick to the group when you first meet him, as he's far more attached to doing research and drinking his coffee, but he slowly warms up to them as he helps them in their quest.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Phantasia

    Role: Ninja

    Nickname: "Pocket Ninja"

    Notes: The Fujibayashi clan makes two appearances in Tales (at least, of the ones I've played) and in both cases represent a distinct "ninja" class that operates largely on incredibly fast attacks and debuffs. Suzu's the younger of the two (despite being several hundred years older - it's a time jump thing) and she's an incidental optional character in much the same way Yuffie was in Final Fantasy VII. She's still a lot of fun to use in combat and would become the basis, I'd imagine, of my favorite martial class in the Tales series - the fast melee combatant who dazzles enemies with combos and juggles rather than heavy and slow knockback attacks.

  • Tier: D

    Game: Tales of Destiny (PS1, 2nd in the series)

    Role: Magic Swordsman

    Nickname: "Squall Leonmagnus"

    Notes: If Chester was the originator of the moodyguts Tales character, Leon is very much the epitome. Introduced as a rival, then nemesis, then eventually begrudging companion and friend, and finally waterlogged corpse, Leon's one of those characters that, while powerful, you don't ever want to spend any amount of time building up because you always have the nagging sense that he's going to split after the next cutscene for dramatic reasons. (Tales has a huge number of these types of traitor characters, incidentally.) He's also an enormous jerk with his shock collars. His demise (spoilers for a 20 year old game) at the mid-way point in the game is meant to be a Aeris-tier tragic heroic passing, but I was glad to see the last of him. Naturally, as a mercurial androgynous pretty boy with a whole lot of emotional baggage, he's one of the series' fan-favorites and was brought back in the most contrived way for Destiny's Japan-only sequel. At least his sister is cool. And not dead, if you thought there was a theme emerging.

  • Tier: D

    Game: Tales of Destiny

    Role: Ranged

    Nickname: "Pretty Archer Sailor Moon"

    Notes: There's a cynical theory, though a popular one, that Final Fantasy started adding what could only be politely referred to as jailbait characters for the sake of boosting sales among the more salacious fans of anime and JRPGs in its home nation. Yuffie, Selphie, Rikku, Penelo and Vanille all occupy a recurring role of a perky, bubbly and not all that plot-important cheerleader/support role in their respective games who, were they actual actors and the games actual movies/TV shows, would probably only be there as a launching point or stepping stone for their pop idol careers. It's probably more indicative of how Japanese celebrity culture operates as a whole than a decision borne of any specifically prurient intentions, but it can still be a bit creepy to see all these sexualized 8th graders throwing down with the slightly older main cast. Anyway, the pink pigtailed Chelsea is pretty much that for Tales of Destiny, and doesn't really offer a whole lot beyond temporarily becoming the party's archer while Garr (who she creepily dotes on) is occupied elsewhere.

  • Tier: D

    Game: Tales of Destiny

    Role: Bard

    Nickname: "Knifey Bard"

    Notes: Though a swordsman, Karyl spends most of his time sitting at the back buffing everyone with his music. While bards are often useful additions to any party for their active buffs, they're generally dull to play as and Karyl's a little too close to a certain Edward of Final Fantasy IV (there's a lot of shared DNA between that series and this one, if you were wondering, especially early on when Tales was still finding its own path). There's also the fact that Destiny has a distinct edge, as it were, with the sentient weapon "Swordians" that bond to each of the main characters and offer them various elemental magical artes to go with their combat artes. Karyl is one of the few characters in Destiny that doesn't have one, so his usefulness is limited.

  • Tier: D

    Game: Tales of Destiny

    Role: Tank

    Nickname: "Donkey Kongman"

    Notes: A hulking bruiser that joins the party if they beat him in the arena. He's an optional character and so the game doesn't spend a whole lot establishing any kind of personality for him beyond "big, bald, and prideful". Double Dragon's Abobo probably has more of a dramatic arc than this guy, and all he does is break through walls and get tricked into falling down bottomless pits.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Destiny

    Role: Mage

    Nickname: "Philiaphilia"

    Notes: It'd be highly reductive to deconstruct Philia into a series of popular anime fetishes - she's bookish, wears glasses, is shy and demure, has a huge mane of green hair, is fairly klutz-like and freaks out whenever anyone displays any sort of romantic attention towards her, which happens often - but the game does so itself early and often after introducing the easily flustered priestess scientist. Even so, a series of anime archetypes is better than the personality vacuum that was Mint in the previous game, and Philia gets into some amusing (if uncomfortable) situations with her bonded Swordian, who also happens to be a creepy old man who hits on her constantly. Oddly enough, despite dressing like a healer and officially being a priestess of Straylize Temple, she's purely an offensive mage type. She also supplements her magical artes with her scientific pursuits, creating bombs in battle. You know that tall ditzy girl with the gel bombs from Big Hero 6? Her. (People saw that movie, right?)

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Destiny

    Role: Melee/Ranged

    Nickname: "Zero Cool"

    Notes: The Prince of Phandaria is a class act and one of those characters that makes the rest of the party feel a little inadequate in comparison. As well as an honorable leader and a prolific archer and swordsman, he also falls in with a Swordian and becomes a master of wind magic to boot. If there's a downside, he's a little predictable as a character and not one with entertaining foibles like the rest of Destiny's cast, but he's a useful guy to have around in combat and out. Just a cool-ass customer.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Destiny

    Role: Melee

    Nickname: "Forgettable"

    Notes: I wasn't sure where to rank Mary because she's one of Destiny's many "guest" characters, who filter in and out of the party for various plot reasons, often not sticking around for more than a dungeon or two (Chelsea's another example). While she doesn't have a Swordian and is limited to her combat artes, she's an effective and fast swordswoman (occasionally axewoman) and her amnesiac past makes her a great foil for her opportunistic partner Rutee, who frequently takes advantage of this for her own gains. She gets sidelined fairly early on in the original Tales of Destiny, operating as another sword arm until the player can stand on their own two feet with the Swordian-enhanced party, but she has a larger role in the PS2 remake.

  • Tier: S

    Game: Tales of Destiny

    Role: Melee

    Nickname: "Glam Metal Hero"

    Notes: Stahn's the man. The dimwitted protagonist of Tales of Destiny, Stahn's very focused on justice but not at all savvy as to how that justice might be upheld. He becomes an easy victim of the opportunistic Rutee as a result, the latter using the former alternately as a meatshield and a piggy bank. Once Stahn grows acclimatized to the Swordian Dymlos, however, he grows several degrees more powerful, balancing out his many sword artes with the flame powers of his elemental companion. Outside of combat, Stahn is a loveable doofus who you root for. In combat, he's a straight up napalm-tossing killing machine. He's apparently even more of a raging badass in the PS2 Destiny remake.

  • Tier: S

    Game: Tales of Destiny

    Role: Thief/Mage/Healer

    Nickname: "Heartbreaker, Gald Taker"

    Notes: Rutee's character can basically be boiled down to a Looney Tunes still where a character's pupils are suddenly replaced by dollar signs. Much of Rutee's goals, at least early on, involve taking advantage of everything and everyone around her to make some coin. In that respect, she's an easy character to understand if not perhaps root(ee) for. All the same, she has semi-noble goals for fattening her purse - orphans are involved, naturally - and Stahn's guileless optimism and goshdarned goodness finally rubs off on her after they travel together for a while. Her tragic upbringing also brings a lot of perspective of how she turned out compared to her brother. She's another versatile combatant too, and can rely on thief skills, quick melee, and ice-based magic.

  • Tier: D

    Game: Tales of Eternia (PS1/PSP, 3rd in the series)

    Role: Mascot/Weapon

    Nickname: "Blue Pikachu"

    Notes: Another team mascot/animal. Quickie is slightly more tolerable than the equally shrill Mieu of Tales of the Abyss, because he's (she?) also used as Meredy's weapon whenever she isn't casting. It also doesn't talk, which is a big plus, but that also means it's ultimately just a pet and doesn't offer a whole lot to cutscenes and skits. Figured I gotta include it though, because I included all the other mascots.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Eternia

    Role: Mage

    Nickname: "Space Bjork"

    Notes: Meredy's an enigma for much of Tales of Eternia - when she's first introduced to hero and heroine Reid and Farah, she has emerged from an escape pod and is talking in an unknown language. Even when they find a way to communicate, she speaks in an odd broken pidgin English. What's weird is that the game eventually visits the mirror world that she comes from, only to find that everyone there talks normally. Beyond that, she occupies what will also become a frequent recurring role in Tales and many other RPGs which is best described as "mysterious waif" - a female companion whose origins and purpose are unclear for much of the game and will clearly have some major plot significance later, and the hero(es) are compelled to protect her because she's super nice, I guess.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Eternia

    Role: Melee

    Nickname: "Eh"

    Notes: Reid's one of my favorite Tales series protagonists because he clearly has zero interest in whatever grand destiny the game has in store for him, and would rather eat monsters and relax in his forest hideout. In fact, most of the early progression is pushed forward by the enthusiastic Farah rather than the apathetic Reid, including helping Meredy and recruiting their mutual friend Keele. Needless to say, I find a protagonist like that super relatable. Reid's also one of the most fun series heroes to play as, as his style focuses entirely on wildly aggressive and fast sword attacks that keeps enemies occupied and away from his companions. That tiny tube top, though... what were the designers thinking?

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Eternia

    Role: Mage

    Nickname: "Egghead Likes His Booky-Wook"

    Notes: Keele is Reid and Farah's friend and their three-way relationship is one of the core elements of why Eternia remains my favorite Tales game. While Reid is easily bored and apathetic, and Farah is impulsive and far too eager to help despite the issues her enthusiasm causes, Keele is a reserved and sardonic bookworm that, similar to Reid, sort of resents being pulled away from his easy life until he begins to realize the importance of the party's mission. You might not think it sounds fun to have an RPG adventure where two thirds of the party just want to go home and stop meddling in other peoples' business, but the sheer indifference is just funny to me, especially after so many "we have to do the right thing!" JRPG characters of the past. His burgeoning attraction to Meredy is cute too, if a little mystifying.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Eternia

    Role: Ranged

    Nickname: "Duke Nukem"

    Notes: I'm still racking my brain to figure out what Max is actually doing in the game. He's the leader of a resistance group on Eternia's "opposite world" of Celestia, and one that runs around with a giant bazooka and loudly promotes himself at any opportunity as the true emperor of the world like a professional wrestler. He's crazy in a very endearing way, and joins the party to help them depose the despotic present leader of Celestia, but it's questionable if the unhinged charismatic warlord is necessarily a better choice to rule. He's also the series's first charge character, which each of his gun-based artes needing their own charge time that the player can reduce with QTE prompts.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Eternia

    Role: Ranged

    Nickname: "Pint-Size Pirate"

    Notes: Pirate girl occupies the recurring role of "lady thief with a heart of gold" and sets off another recurring Tales element that is Aifread the Pirate: a dimension-hopping legendary corsair that robs every world of its riches and then leaves those riches in a bunch of conspicuous places for future heroes to find. Chat's a descendant of Aifread and eager to follow in his pegleg footsteps, lending the party her world-skipping airship and her combat prowess. Chat, unusually, fights with a handbag and its contents, leading to all sorts of surprises. I suppose we can blame Final Fantasy 6 for airship privateers whose attacks rely far too frequently on random chance.

  • Tier: S

    Game: Tales of Eternia

    Role: Monk

    Nickname: "Chia Chie"

    Notes: Farah's the rare RPG case of a positive female plot motivator - specifically, one that isn't some enigmatic girl that drives the plot by winning over the hero with her beauty and kindness before getting kidnapped by the bad guys and forcing the hero to take pursuit, but rather actively pushes the party forward herself. While Reid is the ostensible protagonist of Tales of Eternia, being the one with the mysterious power and all the best arcane artes towards the end of the game, it's Farah that initially gets the apathetic hunter into gear, chooses to help Meredy (the aforementioned enigmatic girl) and continues to be the heart and soul of the group. The game even goes so far to give her a backstory to explain why she's such a go-getter (and why she hits people so hard), filled with tragedy and a persistent regret that motivates her to selflessly help others. Doesn't hurt that she's also my favorite class to play as in Tales - the unarmed monk character - in my favorite 2D Tales game. I suspect it's because the combat in Tales already feels a bit like a fighter game, and so unarmed fighters are more of a snug fit.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Symphonia (GameCube, 5th in the series)

    Role: Mage

    Nickname: "Angus, The Boy Detective"

    Notes: Genis is the Piggy to Lloyd's Ralph - he offers a voice of wisdom and restraint for the impetuous teen, and in turn benefits from having someone brawnier in his corner whenever a situation gets confrontational. Their easygoing friendship is one of a few important Lloyd-focused relationships in Tales of Symphonia's first half, along with Lloyd's burgeoning if doomed romance with Sylvarant's "Chosen" Colette Brunel and his (initially) faux-paternal one with newcomer Kratos. Beyond that, though, Genis is your typical kid genius with a name that has an unfortunate rhyme and chiefly attacks with a cup and ball toy. There are worse kid characters in the series, but Genis is still easily the Scrappy-Doo of Symphonia's otherwise excellent ensemble.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Symphonia

    Role: Melee

    Nickname: "Axesune Miku"

    Notes: I spoke about a certain character archetype earlier, the underaged cheerleader, and while Presea is sorta that for Symphonia she's also a character of hard swings for a variety of reasons beyond the most literal, which is that she swings an axe around very hard. She's introduced as the daughter of a lumberjack and has lost all emotional attachment to the world and the people in her life, and for most of the time spent with the party wants nothing more than to return to her lonely routine in the forest where the party first meets her. It becomes evident that this is due to exosphere tampering - the "science run amok" McGuffin for Symphonia that allows certain characters, including the party, to become strong but requires sacrificing human lives to produce. While this seems like a fairly novel and intriguing base upon which to build a character, it's only when you realize that this also produces the entirely coincidental effect of halting her aging, making her a woman in her late 20s who is stuck in the physical body of a schoolgirl. Which is just icky on several levels. In Tales' defense, its convos rarely get more salacious than jokes about bust sizes, but uncomfortable stuff like this just kind of shows up occasionally like rising damp.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Symphonia

    Role: Mage/Healer

    Nickname: "Elvish Ms. Frizzle"

    Notes: Raine's the elder sister of the precocious Genis and acts as the younger cast's classroom teacher and, when they're on the road, tutor. Most of the time she's a dry and mature character who helps keep the rambunctious Lloyd and self-conscious Colette in order, but there are moments where her studious facade drops and she goes full fangirl whenever the party reaches a location of historical or archaelogical importance. The best part of this is that everyone remarks on her "ruin mania" like that's an actual thing.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Symphonia

    Role: Magic Swordsman

    Nickname: "Bad Dad"

    Notes: The serious mercenary Kratos is yet another in a long line of dubious but powerful party members you probably shouldn't be giving your best equipment to, just in case. Depending on the player's late-game actions, he either becomes an ally or an enemy, but he's a great layered character and a big help in combat with his array of sword and magical artes: a combination that can lead to some truly broken builds. Then again, he does kind of take off after the first act, so it's best not to rely on him too much.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Symphonia

    Role: Monk

    Nickname: "Illegal-Regal"

    Notes: Though a late comer to the party, the former corporate suit and present ex-convict represents a fairly unique melee character in that the honorable Regal refuses to use his hands because of an inadvertent murder he still blames himself for and which led to his incarceration. He's essentially an RPG version of Street Fighter's Cody, and one of a few cases of a Tales character who should be a lot more powerful than they are handicapping themselves for the sake of game balance. My favorite type of character for combat is the fast combo-heavy melee type, especially those who use their fists, so expect to see a lot of those in the higher tiers.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Symphonia

    Role: Melee

    Nickname: "Learning is for Chumps"

    Notes: Perhaps my favorite part of the inimitable Tales of Symphonia is that both the protagonist and deuteragonist are complete idiots, and it's down to the rest of the party to make sure they don't wander off a cliff. Lloyd's a master of his dual-wielding sword style, but he'd be the first to admit that he only taught himself how to use two swords because two is a bigger number than one. He's a complete monster in combat, fortunately, and the game does a fine job of making us focus on Colette's world-encompassing journey as the Chosen when it's Lloyd's mysterious origins that are the true mystery for the game to unravel.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Symphonia

    Role: Mage/Healer

    Nickname: "Oops!"

    Notes: Colette would be Lloyd's other half, a pious and compassionate young woman who is cruelly tricked by fate to become her world's "Chosen", which simply perpetuates an aeons-old ploy to regularly have one world siphon power and prosperity from its mirror opposite and then have the other reciprocate in an endless cycle. Colette's also a loveable dimwit who falls over a lot and is inexplicably the designated thief of the group.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Symphonia

    Role: Magic Swordsman

    Nickname: "Pretty Fly for a Chosen Guy"

    Notes: Zelos is Colette's equivalent "Chosen" for the opposing world of Tethe'alla, and the money and status of such a position has gone right to his head. Taking gifts from all the womenfolk in the land, which is a literal gameplay mechanic the player can exploit to earn a lot of money and items, Zelos is harboring a dark past and a secret ambition to stop the party's mission at any cost to ensure that Tethe'alla remains the prosperous one. Depending on how the player chooses to let things play out, he'll either stay with the party or die fighting them at a crucial juncture. His combat style is similar to Kratos', if a bit faster and weaker.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Symphonia

    Role: Ninja/Summoner

    Nickname: "O Shii"

    Notes: Sheena's the other Fujibayashi ninja, and fights mostly through her summoned spirits and by throwing cards around. Despite being a mysterious recurring enemy who is trying to assassinate the group for the sake of her world of Tethe'alla, she's also the most accident-prone ninja this side of a "Naruto Abridged" video and frequently falls, Wile E Coyote style, into her own traps. Sheena's one of those wonderfully goofy Tales characters that gives each game its heart while the more melodramatic main plot rages on around them. She's also a distinctive combatant, a front-line fast melee character with ranged cards and her special summons, which need specific requirements to use and tend to work as they do in Final Fantasy: one-time nukes that can also buff the whole party or debuff enemies.

  • Tier: F

    Game: Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World (Wii, not a core series game)

    Role: Healer/Mage

    Nickname: "As Tsun As Possible"

    Notes: Marta's the deuteragonist of the "Dawn of the New World" sequel to Symphonia, and insufferable start to finish due to her unfortunate dual role of damsel in distress and psycho jealous girlfriend. There are ways to do anime heroines right, as many of the later entries on this list will attest, but Marta was two lazy archetypes smushed together. Since the game spends a lot of time with just the two leading characters, occasionally letting Symphonia characters drop in as cameos who aren't allowed to level up or progress in any way, she is the "stay at the back" mage/healer role to Emil Castagnier's pure offensive charge. Not all that interesting.

  • Tier: D

    Game: Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World

    Role: Magic Swordsman

    Nickname: "Emil Can't-Stand-Ya"

    Notes: The wishy-washy hero of the Symphonia sequel spends most of his time getting browbeaten by Marta, browbeaten by the taciturn Richter or seething with impotent rage at the hero of the previous game, Lloyd, who he blames for burning down large parts of his hometown of Palmacosta. There's a bit more going on behind Emil than meets the eye, and he eventually changes into a sociopathic jerk. This isn't much of an improvement.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World

    Role: Mascot

    Nickname: "Mr. Doggie"

    Notes: If I had to give Dawn of the New World any props, albeit grudgingly, it'd be the character of Tenebrae. He's a Centurion, which is a sort of spirit (the Tales universe's equivalent of the summoned eidolons/deities of Final Fantasy) that is beholden to the God of Monsters, Ratatosk, and keeps in check all the monsters of his particular element, which is Darkness. He's there to serve Emil, a human that's important to Ratatosk in ways that the game slowly uncovers, and operates as both his partner and mentor as a millennia-old sentient entity with a lot of wisdom to impart. He also gets absolutely no respect despite all of those attributes, and most of the party tends to address him like he was a run-of-the-mill talking greyhound.

  • Tier: E

    Game: Tales of the Abyss (PS2/3DS, 8th in the series)

    Role: Mascot

    Nickname: "Don Cheagle"

    Notes: The arboreal milieu of Mieu was disturbed after the little teddy bear manages to set a whole forest on fire, and so Mieu is pretty much a blue, anime Winnie the Pooh with an arsonist streak. The Sorcerer's Ring is a series mainstay that allows for some environmental puzzles, and for Tales of the Abyss the developers figured they might as well give it some personality by sticking a blue gachapon toy in it that squeaks anxious imperatives at everyone like Snarf from Thundercats if he resembled a rejected Sonic the Hedgehog character design (OC, please don't steal). The one upside to Mieu is that it's heavily implied, overtly in Luke's case, that no-one in-game can stand him either.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of the Abyss

    Role: Melee

    Nickname: "Affluenza"

    Notes: At some point, Tales realized that the heroes of their games have the greatest capacity for character growth because they also invariably have the most screen time, so you get cases like the abhorrent spoiled rich kid Luke who eventually softens his haughty edges and slowly becomes to grow as a compassionate human being as various revelations come to light about who he actually is and how far his teammates are willing to put up with his irascible, odious bullshit. Unfortunately, before those climactic character defining moments arrive, you have several tens of hours to spend with Jerkass Luke and the verbal abuse he doles out to his companions, especially Mieu (which is also when I actually don't mind it so much). The Hero's Journey is a fairly common story template for any RPG, and the Tales games are no exception, but sometimes your patience can wear off before they can come around and redeem themselves.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of the Abyss

    Role: Melee/Support

    Nickname: "Lil' Golddigger"

    Notes: Anise is that aforementioned underaged cheerleader archetype for Vesperia, but a lot of her flirtations with older men are played off as comedy. I'm not sure that necessarily makes any less dubious, especially as it's made abundantly clear that she's looking for a rich husband due to her family's money troubles. However, I rate her a little higher because she's simultaneously a meta parodic take on this type of character: a bubbly and friendly companion who is clearly putting on a facade and is a bit more of a schemer than she lets on, especially to those whom she has targeted for her elaborate courtships. She also has a distinctive combat role, riding around on an enormous plush robot which makes her an odd mix of a slow melee tank and support character.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of the Abyss

    Role: Mage/Healer

    Nickname: "Team Mom"

    Notes: The "enigmatic waif on a mission" of Tales of the Abyss, the reserved and cold Tear Grants is attempting to complete a difficult quest and keeps getting caught up with idiots like Luke fon Fabre and his gaggle of hanger-ons. Even so, she acknowledges that she probably can't accomplish this mission on her own, and eventually accepts the party's help. Though she rarely breaks her poker face, she is completely at the mercy of cute things, which doesn't help when one of the party members is a squeaky sky-blue Care Bear with a fat little tum-tum. In combat, Tear has a very distinct mage build which takes advantage of the game's new feature "Fields of Fonons", which are elemental spaces created within battles that allow certain artes to change their elements and become more powerful. Many of her spells create these circles, and the majority of her healing magics are all AoE as well. It makes her fairly indispensable.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of the Abyss

    Role: Ranged/Healer

    Nickname: "Princess Personality"

    Notes: Luke's betrothed and the current princess of the kingdom of Kimlasca-Lanvaldear, Natalia forces her way into the party late and demands to be taken along whatever quest Luke is on. She spends most of her early time with the group being as annoyingly pushy as Luke is, as if the best solution to an uppity aristocrat is a second one, but finally calms down a bit once she realizes the seriousness of Tears' mission and the depth of the fabrications her life is built on. The game takes full advantage of her sheltered princess naivety with several cruel jokes at her expense, and that makes her a far easier character to like than early Luke, possibly in part because they sped right past the part where she spends half the game being insufferable. In combat, she's an effective healer and archer, which is a long-ranged combination that - as Overwatch is now discovering - makes way too much sense.

  • Tier: S

    Game: Tales of the Abyss

    Role: Mage

    Nickname: "Mister Sinister"

    Notes: Despite sounding and looking like a mad scientist, Jade's actually a reasonable sort who came to a revelation years ago about the perils of meddling with science and instead operates as his Emperor (and best friend)'s most dependable general. After he gets caught by an enemy's trap and has much of his skill siphoned away in the most contrived "abilitease" sequence ever, he decides to join the group and uncover the shadowy organization that was behind his curse. Jade's a great character because there's something so unsettling about the way Jade is always smiling, or talking about his less than ethical experiments, that you start to think he might turn out to be the main antagonist. Well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?

  • Tier: S

    Game: Tales of the Abyss

    Role: Melee

    Nickname: "The Yellow Dart"

    Notes: Guy was the highlight of the overlong Tales of the Abyss for me - a very fast swordsman that works in some nebulous role within the fon Fabre household and quickly joins his master Luke when he takes off on his adventure. The big gag about Guy Cecil is his gynophobia, which doesn't get explained until very late in the game (along with a whole lot of well-concealed tragic backstory), and his androgynous looks raises all sorts of questions about his sexuality early on, so I guess you could say he's the Tales equivalent of Kanji Tatsumi. In combat, he sacrifices defense and power for sheer speed, which in DPS terms makes him the most damaging fighter in the game. He runs rings around foes and allies alike, stopping occasionally to heal/buff his stats, and whenever he leaves the group the game seems to slow to a crawl.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Innocence (DS, 9th in the series)

    Role: Melee

    Nickname: "Mildatoast"

    Notes: Ruca has many of the same problems Emil does: he's far too dismissive and meek, and tends to let the people in his life walk all over him. Tales of Innocence is about accepting who you are - or rather, the awesome person you once were in a former life and drawing confidence from that - and using that strength from those past lives to make a difference in the here and now, and Ruca eventually grows a pair and becomes more proactive as memories of his former life as a ten foot tall indomitable general starts shifting his present personality. It's a lot better than a "hero" who frequently flip-flops between weakling and pyscho *cough*Emil*cough*. In combat, Ruca's a very slow but very powerful combatant with his two-handed blades, and it's a little unusual to see an androgynous schoolboy pulling around a greatsword as big as he is.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Innocence

    Role: Ranged/Mage

    Nickname: "Bullet Witch"

    Notes: A female deuteragonist that's a little rougher around the edges than the series is used to having, Iria is a gun-kata mage combination that's as broken as it sounds and a take-no-shit ass-kicker both in and out of combat. In fact, she tends to come on a little strong to the painfully meek Ruca, and the two have a mildly antagonistic relationship until the usual hormones kick in. Most of Illia's combat artes involve crowd control and keeping distance, with her attacks often having the potential for knock-backs to give her the space for her more powerful (and thus longer to cast) offensive spells and heals. Like all the female playable characters in Innocence, you could probably beat the game just using her alone.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Innocence

    Role: Swords/Swords

    Nickname: "Extraswordinary"

    Notes: Spada's an aristocrat who talks like a street urchin and wields two swords, following in the likes of Lloyd Irving and other all-out offense melee characters. What's unusual about his past life is that he was once a sentient sword that was wielded by Ruca's impressive general past life, so the two instantly feel a kinship based on their many martial adventures. Spada's fast and deadly, but Innocence has way too many broken characters for him to make much of an impression.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Innocence

    Role: Ranged

    Nickname: "Sniper Dad"

    Notes: The token grown-up of Tales of Innocence, Ricardo also fulfills the common role of "this guy's going to betray us eventually, isn't he?". The party first meets him as an enemy, being an army sniper for the neighboring warlike country, but he eventually determines that he and Ruca have an unfulfilled rivalry borne of their past lives and decides to stick around, after they agree to a price for his services. In combat, he's a pure ranged physical attacker, opting to stay at the back and headshot monsters before they get too close. The downside to this is that he can be a little slow, especially compared to Illia.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Innocence

    Role: Healer/Thief/Mage/Broken Mess

    Nickname: "Shank Sister"

    Notes: There's been a few priestess/nun roles in Tales games before Innocence came along, and while Ange's personality has the usual mix of compassion and grace you'd expect from that archetype, she clearly has another side you rarely see. Her combat style is, well, not exactly becoming of a woman of the cloth, as it tends to involve a lot of shank-style and spinning dagger attacks and item theft. She sort of reminds me of Dragon Age's Leliana, but without the superspy backstory. Her past life, since that's the big thing with Innocence, was that of a genius tactician that helped Ruca's general win many wars. Pragmatic rather than idealistic, Ange's a fun subversion of the usual do-gooder priestess. Oh yeah, and she's perhaps the most broken combatant in the entire series - on top of her heals and resurrections, she has absurdly strong holy offensive magic, dagger combos that shred enemies to pieces and the most powerful Mystic Arte in the game which magically hits an enemy at full force thirty-six goddamn times. She can essentially fit any combat role with the amount of versatility her character build offers, and you sort of wonder why she even needs other party members around. If anything, you have to force yourself to not use her too much, like with Final Fantasy Tactics's own gamebreaker Cidolfus "T.G. Cid" Orlandeau.

  • Tier: S

    Game: Tales of Innocence

    Role: Monk

    Nickname: "The Pink Blur"

    Notes: Of course, if we're talking sheer speed characters, I don't think you can do much better than Hermana. A streetwise orphan that joins the party in Innocence fairly late into the game, she - like everyone else in the party - has a past life that she can suddenly remember with perfect clarity. Rather than a general or a talking sword however, she was an incredibly powerful dragon who eventually died of loneliness decades after the death of her friends (which included Ruca and Illia's past lives), causing Hermana to feel occasional intense bouts of sorrow and abandonment that breaks her otherwise tough demeanor. She's also one of those characters with a Kansai dialect, which often localizes to a rural "hey y'all" southern US accent which is sort of endearing for a pink-haired street urchin. In combat, she's essentially a flurry of Chun Li kicks that never seems to slow down, and she was also inexplicably given a powerful spell for every element. The game gets a lot easier with her around, if it wasn't already easy enough with Ange in your team. (Oh, I suppose I should also note that in Innocence, similar to many other Tales games, you have what is essentially a super meter that builds based on guards and combo hits that, when maxed, allows you to perform Arcane and Mystic Artes, the most powerful attacks in the game. Ange and Hermana seem to fill their gauges in a matter of seconds.)

  • Tier: D

    Game: Tales of Vesperia (Xbox 360 (PS3 Japan Only), 10th in the series)

    Role: Dumb Kid

    Nickname: "Prepare to Die, Eggbear!"

    Notes: The token kid of Vesperia and the weakest link of what is one of the better Tales ensembles. Karol's a know-it-all brat with a severe lack of self-confidence and every plot arc he's involved in is a veritable eye-roller. Worse, the disproportional amount of time the game spends on his trivial problems is time taken away from more interesting characters in the party, each of which has their shit together (to varying degrees) and have more important concerns than whether or not their aimless guild is doing well or pointlessly romantically pursuing some cold fish mid-boss.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Vesperia

    Role: Healer

    Nickname: "Pink Mitsuru Kijiro"

    Notes: Estelle is a pink and happy foil to the pragmatic darkness of Yuri's character, and the two balance each other out fairly well in lieu of Flynn Scifo, Yuri's actual opposite, who is off doing his own thing. A sheltered princess with a considerable education, she's eager to see what the world is really like outside of her castle and frequently becomes a damsel in distress due to her naivety and, inevitably, a secret hidden power that the various schemers of the world require for their plans. She's predominantly a healer, but she's not a bad swordswoman either and can rely on melee if no-one needs restoring at that moment.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Vesperia

    Role: Sword Melee

    Nickname: "Boy Scout"

    Notes: Flynn's only playable a few times in Vesperia, except in the Japan-only PS3 port when he becomes a full-time member for the latter half of the game. A friend of Yuri's since childhood, Yuri's present day shenanigans as a vigilante often puts him as odds with the lawful knight Flynn, even if both can acknowledge that the other is a good man seeking justice on their own terms. Their relationship, therefore, is a strained but mutually respectful one, and their frequent clashes are the inevitable result of their differing perspectives. That fractured friendship one of the best aspects of Tales of Vesperia, though Flynn himself has to be a fairly dull do-gooder for that duality to properly work. In combat, he represents the traditional sword and shield knight to Yuri's showy swashbuckling warrior, but both are built to be equally powerful. There's some shades of Guy Cecil, both to his design and fighting style, so I wish he could stick around longer. If I ever play the expanded PS3 version, he could well be raised a tier or two.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Vesperia

    Role: Mage

    Nickname: "Blah-blah-blah"

    Notes: Rita's a prodigy from the academic city of Aspio and not exactly a people person, as she's focused entirely on her studies her whole life and hasn't made a single friend since she started her tutelage at Aspio's facilities. The party bounces off her a few times when they need the help of a Blastia expert - she's a big fan as well as a knowledgeable source - but she eventually warms to the amicable Estelle, if not quite to the rest of the group to the same extent. Rita's social awkwardness is played for laughs in many scenes, though rarely at her expense - rather, her usual response to criticism or lechery is to shoot fireballs at that person until they shut up. It's not even a tsundere thing, since that usually requires an affectionate side to balance out the aggression. Rita's also the group's nuke, ready to throw any of a dozen powerful spells at enemy groups. Sometimes you want a versatile combat mage, one that can hold their own if enemies get too close. Instead, Rita's core strategy is to ensure they never get close. She's good at it.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Vesperia

    Role: Ranged/Debuffer

    Nickname: "Creepy Old Man"

    Notes: Raven's a shady character that starts following the party around for reasons he keeps close to his chest, which is an immediate red flag for anyone who's ever played a Tales game before. In skits and cutscenes, he alternates between complaining and being creepy, almost all of which are answered in kind by Yuri's sarcasm or Rita's inability to converse with someone she doesn't like without violence. It's all an act, of course, though it takes everyone a while to cotton onto it. Ultimately, Raven's an amazing douchebag and I love him very much. Combat-wise (and, really, personality-wise too) Raven's a lot like Alvin, with a customizable weapon that can alternate between ranged and melee depending on how close to the enemy Raven feels like getting.

  • Tier: S

    Game: Tales of Vesperia

    Role: Melee

    Nickname: "The Dark Enforcer"

    Notes: Yuri's the best protagonist to come out of a Tales game in forever: a deeply conflicted vigilante who operates outside the stuffy rules of his empire's knight order but still tries to keep the peace and find justice with whatever means he deems necessary. It'd be easy to label him some sort of anime Batman, but Yuri also a vicious streak that occasionally causes him to doubt his status as "one of the good guys", and often serves to alienate some of the party members around him, including the perpetually positive Estelle. Their relationship, if not entirely romantic, is built on her faith in his intrinsic goodness and his rising to meet those expectations in spite of himself. It's often fun to watch him bounce off Kapel, to whom he's fairly antagonistic in a big brother way, and to the laid-back and equally lone-wolf Judith with whom he trades a lot of reciprocatory if empty flirtations. He's a great personality to anchor a game on, which is all you wish of a RPG protagonist but rarely seem to get.

  • Tier: S

    Game: Tales of Vesperia

    Role: Dog

    Nickname: "The Bark Enforcer"

    Notes: Yuri's other half is his partner Repede, who considers himself neither a dog nor a pet. Definitely hound-like, Repede is more intelligent than he lets on and only Yuri really knows the extent of his perspicacity. He's the best example of a Tales mascot - a cute animal character for certain members of the party to fawn over but also a badass combatant in his own right, with his own selection of unique abilities befitting his uncommon status as an RPG dog. Definitely touches of previous RPG dog characters, like FF7's Red XIII, Persona 3's Koromaru and Shadow Hearts Covenant's Blanca, but if anything even more grizzled and obstinate. Also he fights dudes with a knife which he holds in his mouth, so make of that what you will.

  • Tier: S

    Game: Tales of Vesperia

    Role: Aerial Melee

    Nickname: "Elf-Sufficent Woman"

    Notes: Judith's another of the Tales late-comers - characters that appear late in their respective games to balance the fact that they're super strong in battle. Judith hails from the decidedly Elvish "Kritya Clan" and is on her own quest to destroy the nature-poisoning "Blastia" McGuffins of Tales of Vesperia, often putting her and her dragon mount at odds with the party who have just arrived to protect said McGuffins and the benefits they provide to their local human communities. It's not until the party realizes how dangerous they are that they can finally see eye-to-eye with their draconic nemesis, who spends most of the early game in a form-concealing suit of heavy dragonknight armor. Humorously, it's Yuri who first meets her in her casual gear outside of the body armor while both are temporarily imprisoned by the hostile Empire, and agrees to keep her armored alter ego a secret from a vengeful Rita and the rest. Despite being on a mission of importance to the world's balance, she's surprisingly chill and easy-going, a personality I feel derives from her race's longevity and a general lack of excitement in their floating, isolated city. She's quick to tease the males in the group and act sisterly towards her fellow women, and she's a mellow delight in any scene or skit. She's also a great addition to combat, giving her a lance with a lot of reach and an emphasis on aerial attacks that befits her role as a dragoon - a class common to Final Fantasy but rare everywhere else.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Xillia (PS3, 13th in the series)

    Role: Mage/Healer

    Nickname: "Weeping Belle" / "Weepinbell"

    Notes: The token kid of Xillia, Elize is a reserved and neglected child who mostly speaks through her loudmouth puppet Teepo, who represents her unfiltered id due to some technological mumbo jumbo in her back story. Her demure tone and Teepo's brash forwardness occasionally makes it hard to conflate the two, but there are times when the prissy little madam aspect of her character comes through, especially in one trying time when she calls out fellow team member Leia as the useless one holding everyone back (which is entirely untrue from a gameplay perspective, by the way Elize). Most of the time, though, she's a regular kid who the rest keep around for her prodigious magic channeling abilities, making her the most effective magic user in the party in both offensive and defensive roles. Set her AI to run away from enemies and heal everyone and you probably won't have an issue with any of the game's bosses.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Xillia

    Role: Monk/Healer

    Nickname: "Bazonga Fanatic"

    Notes: Jude's one of the two protagonists of Xillia, a game that makes the novel choice of giving players two different "stories" that are about 90% the same but for a few sequences where Jude and the other protagonist, Milla, are separated. A studious young man, the whole game from his perspective is a coming of age story about becoming an adult and making his own decisions, dropping out of med school to help the mysterious Milla save the world from agents that seek to disrupt the careful balance of nature and humanity. His initial meekness is also a sore point, like the earlier Ruca and Emil, but he grows out of it fairly quickly. Xillia is a bit more sophisticated with its combat roles than I'm used to, in part because of its linking mechanic where two characters can combine their efforts for stronger artes, so that means many of its characters take multiple overlapping roles in combat. Jude's an up-close hand-to-hand melee combatant with a moderately high strength score, but he's also an effective healer and can keep himself and others in the fight with his support skills. While I had a lot of options after recruiting the rest of the game's characters, I predominantly used Jude because of his preferable fight style.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Xillia

    Role: Magical Swordswoman

    Nickname: "Milla Vanilla"

    Notes: I've yet to play Milla's side, so I only really understand her as Jude sees her: a serious young woman who seems a bit alien some of the time and very obstinate all of the time. Driven by her mission to investigate why the spirits of the world are dying, she introduces herself as a human avatar of Maxwell, the recurring "Lord of Spirits" who was usually the most powerful summoned entity in previous Tales games (like, say, Bahamut). Depending on whether or not her servants, the four Great Spirits, are with her she's either a very strong magic/swordswoman combination or a broken one. However, that versatility means that she's not the best physical attacker or the best offensive mage in the party, but a workable all-rounder. Depending on how you play the game, the convenience of an all-in-one combatant is not a bad protagonist to have, especially at times when there's no-one else in the party to rely on.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Xillia

    Role: Mage/Debuffer

    Nickname: "Grampa Ninja"

    Notes: Rowen's a cool old guy who joins the party after he's initially introduced as the butler of the wealthy but compassionate Sharil siblings, and it becomes evident quickly that Rowen is actually an extremely skilled military tactitician and magic-user in hiding. He has perhaps the most distinctive combat build in the party, relying a lot on contextual magic arte manipulation that can be tweaked after the artes are cast. This "arte-tuning", which the player has some control over, makes him an extremely versatile mage if perhaps a difficult one to master. He can also rely on his short-range saber, long-range knife-throwing and an array of nasty debuff spells to keep the enemies guessing. Even despite his maturity, the game can't help but make him something of a mild lech occasionally, and wrings some great character moments from his troubled past.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Xillia

    Role: Melee/Ranged Cross-up

    Nickname: "Revolver Lancelot"

    Notes: Alvin's your archetypal backstabber character, though the game has some fun with this trope by having him betray the party (and the bad guys) no less than five or six times and has him keep coming back as if nothing's amiss like a certain unemployed George Costanza arc on Seinfeld. Towards the end, it's evident that everyone's tired of his shit, but we also get to see why he is the way he is. A mercurial mercenary who's fond of picking on the reserved Jude, he also acts as his big brother. This makes his recurring betrayals all the more painful for Jude too. Alvin's a lot of fun in combat, at least, as he balances between a large sword and a firearm, using the former to push enemies away and the latter to keep hitting them as they slide out of range of his blade. He can also combine his weapons by charging up his artes, which makes subsequent artes all the more powerful.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Xillia

    Role: Melee/Healer

    Nickname: "Leia the Slayer"

    Notes: Leia's a character like Farah, in that she's overly enthusiastic and cheerful almost to a fault. A childhood friend of Jude's, she insists on joining him and Milla when the two visit Jude's hometown for story reasons. After they leave, she stows away on a ship to follow them and from then on becomes a permanent party member. Her relationship with Jude has always been aggressive but fond, and it's clear to everyone (except Jude, naturally) that her feelings for him run pretty deep. It's because of this that Milla is convinced to bring her along, enjoying her forward candor. Leia's like Ange in combat, in that she balances healing, melee and thief skills into a package that's worth keeping around in any fight because of her range of potential combat roles. Most players tend to settle using her as a support healer like Elize, but I found myself relying on her bo staff techniques as a front line fighter just as frequently. Like Vesperia's Judith, she's also a bit of an aerial type, with various skills that allow her to stay in the air longer.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Zestiria (PS3/PS4/PC, 15th in the series)

    Role: Melee/Designated Hero

    Nickname: "Sorey My Game Wasn't Better"

    Sorey is, I believe deliberately so, designed to be as old-school Tales protagonist as they come: naive, earnest, surprisingly skilled, and someone that slowly grows to embody the heroic figure the world needs. He's also a ruins-exploring dork who is suspiciously immune to the charms of his female companions and spends a lot of time contemplating his purity. That is, the essence that makes him the game's messianic figure and not a euphemism for Slapping the Shepherd. Given how central he is to the narrative he doesn't get to be a "fun" ancillary character, but instead the straight man to everyone else's antics.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Zestiria

    Role: Water Mage/Spoilsport

    Nickname: "I Wish I Could Quit Blue"

    Mikleo is the hetero (questionable) life-partner of Sorey, and the two bicker like a married couple. Between this and his measured and scholarly demeanor (though he's just as guileless and naive as Sorey is) he exists as a conscience and advisor to Sorey, sort of like a cyan, supercilious Jiminy Cricket. Best example to describe his comic relief role is that he learned to fight with a staff ostensibly because it suited him as a magic-user, but everyone immediately deduces it was to account for Sorey's height advantage whenever the two sparred.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Zestiria

    Role: Earth Mage/Tsundere

    Nickname: "Earth Girls Make Me Uneasy"

    I feel like someone on Zestiria's staff was finishing a month-long Disgaea bender when they came up with the simultaneously world-weary and prepubescent Edna (even her name sounds like Etna) who serves as a sardonic, low-energy foil to the rest of the party's endless optimism. Having lost her brother to the "seraph's curse" - turning into a dragon, which is certainly one way to symbolically frame Alzheimer's - Edna's very unresponsive to outsiders at first and takes a long while to warm up to the party, though she finds a few moments of joy in tormenting the too-serious Dezel, the too-naive Mikleos, and too-fresh Zaveid. Man, I could really do with less centuries-old pre-teens in my animes though, especially if they have strong sub/dom overtones with how much they beat up their male colleagues. Just ick, my dudes.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Zestiria

    Role: Wind Mage/Jerk

    Nickname: "Dezel Nuts"

    Dezel's the growly loner of the group, slow to accept the rest of the team and the sort of prick who sits in the back and doesn't say much because he's got his own shit to be angsty about. That makes him about as personable as FFIX's Amarant and almost as irrelevant to the story. Like the rest of the party's seraph, he's a combination elemental mage and melee character except he uses a whip-like "pendulum" as his chief weapon. Whips are underrated weapons in RPGs, possessed as they are with both speed and range (plus in DQ they tend to hit everyone at once), and I'm inclined to like Dezel a little more for that reason.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Zestiria

    Role: Lancer/Too Busy To Be Here

    Nickname: "Princess Cameo"

    Alisha's a bizarre construct not in terms of her characterization - she's a typically overburdened princess trying to balance her own idealistic morality with the more pragmatic decisions that need to be made for the sake of her kingdom - but in the way she's introduced as the game's other token human (Sorey being the first) before she vanishes after the first act, bound for whatever DLC campaign they had planned for her. Her busy princess schedule actually takes precedence over her wanting to go adventuring, in a first for a game of this type but perhaps a far more realistic scenario in any other medium, and instead the "second human" role is taken by Rose. As such, you spend very little time with Alisha and only recruit her again towards the end of the game. There are some interesting scenes with her at that point onwards, but by then it's too little too late.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Zestiria

    Role: Fire Mage/Pun Queen

    Nickname: "Lailah, Your Puns Have Got Me On My Knees"

    Lailah's a big dork and I love her. Well, not that much; Lailah suffers a little from being the Team Mom, which usually has her playing the magnanimous, thankless Marge Simpson role in the party dynamic. However, she takes to the slightly uncool parent role with aplomb with her procession of groan-inducing puns, which are the quickest way to this guy's heart right here. In combat she, like all of Zestiria's "seraphs," largely focuses on spells of a certain element, which in her case is fire. I guess between the weird sense of humor and fire element and little else to speak of personality-wise she's kinda like this game's Yukiko Amagi.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Zestiria

    Role: Assassin/Cheerleader

    Nickname: "Rose is our Dread, Violence is Due"

    Rose is the other human in the party for much of Zestiria, and one of the few humans in the world who can see seraph like Sorey can. She's also an unremittent killer, but only of the truly deserving. She and her Bloodwing association have been striking down problem nobles and other demonic criminals long before Sorey arrives and his suspicious appearance in the human world has her temporarily put out a hit on him too. But it turns out Rose is all smiles and rainbows when you get to know her, so that's good. Kind of interesting character: a strange mix of optimistic and pragmatic, with a hint of a depressing backstory. She's probably the most fun to use in combat too: as well as fast rogue/ninja techniques with her daggers, she's fond of dropping traps and bombs across the battlefield to keep other enemies from getting close.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Zestiria & Tales of Berseria

    Role: Wind Mage/Flirt

    Nickname: "Flirty McNoshirty"

    Zaveid's an entertaining character because he thinks he's a lot cooler than he actually is: another lone wolf who regularly walks around shirtless to show off his abs and flirts with anything with boobs in his silly deep Patrick Warburton voice. Though unquestionably strong, he spends a lot of both Zestiria and Berseria popping up briefly in his alternating role as either a boss fight or exposition delivery system (or both - all depends on the situation), before flitting off somewhere to get his ass kicked by the real bad guys. Both Zestiria and Berseria eventually reveal something of his backstory and that he's actually an upstanding guy deep down, but you spend far more time with the jerkass version (he also has the same abilities, element, and weapons as Dezel, which is always a giant red flag).

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Berseria (PS4/PC, 16th in the series)

    Role: Healer/Mage/Dork

    Nickname: "Laphi Taphi"

    I still don't care the token kids that each Tales burdens themselves with and Laphicet's too much like Velvet in that he barely emotes or has much interest in anything or anyone, at least initially. Rediscovering his humanity (sort of, since he's not actually a human) while travelling with a party of inhumans is an arc that mirrors Symphonia's Colette in some curious parallels, and with Symphonia's know-it-all Genis in others. He's also workable as the party's token healer for a while though he can be an effective little nuke also.

  • Tier: C

    Game: Tales of Berseria

    Role: Monk/Mage/Sourpuss

    Nickname: "Cold as Eizen"

    Eizen is Edna's older brother and shares her stunning personality, as an earth-based elemental who is appropriately also a stick-in-the-mud. He makes a cameo of sorts of Zestiria, and to say he's fallen on hard times in that game is something of an understatement; in fact, that future tragedy fuels a lot of his unpleasantness in Berseria, and the game can't help itself from making all sorts of winking references to what fate has in store for him. Eizen's also one of my favorite Tales "classes," the meaty but fast brawler, though as a malakhim he's also responsible for being one of the party's magical damage-dealers.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Berseria

    Role: Swords/Swords/Swords

    Nickname: "Second String Samurai"

    Rokurou's a fun character because while he's your typical JRPG bro jock wiseacre - a Yosuke Hanamura or Ryuji Sakamoto, if you will - he still has a dark side as broad as the moon's. When he's not joking about food or booze or farts, he's swearing unholy vengeance on his overachiever brother (an even bigger asshole) and suggesting Velvet burn everything to the ground as a more effective solution to her problems. He's fun to use in combat too: like Velvet, he dual-wields fast weapons to keep enemies stunlocked and unable to retaliate.

  • Tier: B

    Game: Tales of Berseria

    Role: Spearlady/Healer/Cop

    Nickname: "Marilyn Munster"

    In a party of misfits and monsters, you need a do-gooder (read: cop) to balance things out, be the moral center, and really just be the exception in a party of exceptions. Eleanor joins the party for less than auspicious reasons - she's undercover for the holier-than-thou bad guys and tries to fight Velvet out of spite, loses anyway, and becomes her indentured servant like some bad sitcom plotline - but proves herself valuable as the second healer and a decent mid-range combatant with her spear. Like most spear-wielders, she's as useful in the air raining down strikes as she is on the ground, though since half her repertoire are slow-casting spells she's not that much fun to play as. Also, she's a damn cop.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Berseria

    Role: Overwhelming DPS/Eye Candy

    Nickname: "Velveteen Stabbit"

    Velvet's the first anti-hero protagonist in a Tales game since Vesperia's Yuri Lowell, so she scores major points in that regard, but she's also a tough character to like if you aren't a hormonal teen who's into "strategically distressed clothing." Part of this delayed empathizing process is due to a crucial facet of her character: she's been emotionally deadened by tragedy and magical circumstances alike, reborn for a purely destructive role, and has little time for levity or emotional connection beyond an equally insouciant brat who reminds her of her dead kid brother. As much as I love Berseria's whole "rooting for the bad guys" motif, the central relationship is kinda weak. That said, as a kickass heroine who absolutely does not truck with BS of any kind, she's still awesome.

  • Tier: A

    Game: Tales of Berseria

    Role: Black Mage/Wildcard

    Nickname: "Abracadabra, Mistah J"

    A pragmatic witch-jester fond of playing both sides against the middle, with very little skin in the game regarding Velvet's crusade against the church, Magilou just tends to hang around and snark on everyone and barely lifts a finger to help. She's like a distaff Kefka if he didn't give a shit about world domination and only stuck around to troll General Leo every time he screwed up. You'd think this passivity would make her annoying, but she's usually the bright spot in any cutscene she appears in spite of (or because of) how much she irritates everyone else, especially Velvet. In combat, she's of course the primary magic-user DPS of the party, though she's a little more versatile than the party's malakhim due to not being stuck to one particular element.