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The Inarguably Arguable Tale of a Tales of... List

All thanks to ArbitraryWater for the idea for this list - and subsequently, a few others.

The Tales series is the RPG equivalent of walking into any restaurant and ordering bacon and eggs. You know exactly what you're going to get with varying degrees of quality. That's not a bad thing - in fact, in an era when another major company known for making JRPGs seems more intent on finding a wider audience for their game by making bizarre changes to their core gameplay, it's endearing and entirely welcome. It's nice to have a near yearly series of RPGs where I know exactly what to expect.

That said, some Tales games appeal to me more than others. Maybe it's because they take some interesting turns with the story. Maybe it's because of some small gameplay changes. Or maybe they've just nailed down the formula so well that the entire package just feels great.

This is my attempt to rank the Tales games I've played. I realize the list is incomplete, so please refrain yourselves from throwing the rotten vegetables and realize I just didn't have access to all the games in the series when they were out for their relevant platforms.

List items

  • Xillia had a ton of promise that unfortunately never went anywhere. It ended the main story on a satisfactory note clearly inspired by Final Fantasy X (but not reaching that game's highs by a long shot), but the genuinely intriguing stories of the anicillary party members never paid off.

    It's unfortunate. Xillia and Vesperia are practically neck and neck on this list - Vesperia has the better main character, but what Xillia does with its anime trope party members is much more interesting, and I genuinely tend to like Milla, the optional female protagonist (who I've yet to beat the game with). And in the end, I think Xillia tells the more interesting overall plot, although this comes with a caveat that all Tales plots are stinky diapers full of human excrement.

    Xillia's leveling system is also terrifically badass and needs a modern iteration. Again drawing inspiration from FFX, leveling gives each character a certain number of skill points to spend on a web of abilities and buffs. Filling in rows and columns of abilities strengthens certain aspects of a character more, allowing for some fun long term planning. It's a riot and it makes extra exploring and grinding well worth it.

  • Vesperia was a bold game - at least as far as a Tales game can ever be said to be bold. The art style - bolstered by fixed cameras - is downright gorgeous, with more of a flashy cartoon feel than its brethren. On a technical level, Vesperia never tried to do anything too crazy, keeping its systems tightly in check and leveling fairly rote. It did feature an overworld map, which hasn't been the case in some time with Tales games. Personally, I don't particularly care about overworld maps when it comes to Zestiria and Xillia, but certainly in iterations like Tales of Graces, it really could have cut down on the amount of time spent backtracking.

    What Vesperia does better than Xillia lies in its unusual protagonist, Yuri Lowell. Most Tales games feature a naive, upbeat go-getter, but Yuri was a more down-to-earth former soldier turned hero who eventually reveals himself to be of a slightly darker caste than most plucky JRPG heroes. While in the grand scheme of games, there have been many, many better protagonists, for the Tales series at least Yuri propelled the game to greater heights.

  • I'm only a few hours into Zestiria so far, but a) there's a vampire squirrel man, and b) it's darned purdy. I'm not fond of the bizarre loot and skills system, which seems like someone in Japan tried to play Diablo, got horribly confused about what was going on, and sort of upchucked all their badly translated ideas into this game. I'll try to figure it out more and get back to you with a better feeling of where this game belongs. Vampire squirrel man makes it rank this high for now, though.

  • I owned a Gamecube for a hot minute with only three games - this, Wind Waker, and F-Zero. Really, those were the only games you needed for that system. I'm grateful for my time with it, as that was my introduction to Tales games.

    Symphonia was a good RPG, never quite as interesting as Wild Arms, Final Fantasy, or Suikoden, but it did its own actiony RPG thing and had a certain bizarre style to it I enjoyed.

    That said, Symphonia's been surpassed. The characters are cookie cutter anime types with nothing interesting going on. The plot is, at times, poorly translated and largely straightforward anime bullshit with people saying and doing anime-ass things. Anime anime anime - the RPG. I respect and like Symphonia for what it did, but you're better off playing Xillia, Vesperia, or Zestiria.

  • If the rest of Graces had been as good as its badge and title system, we'd be having a vastly different conversation about what game deserves the top sopt here. Titles award stat boosts and new abilities, and can be leveled five times through use and various actions in the world. It's a cool system, one that rewards both combat and exploration. I personally like Xillia's better, but I can definitely respect series fans who say that Graces had the better leveling systems.

    That said though, the characters and plot are the most boring of the series and the sheer amount of backtracking through the game's dull environments is spirit-crushing. I beat Graces and tried to attempt its post-game content in F, but by that point, my soul almost forcibly leaped up into my fingertips and forced me to stop playing for the sake of my sanity. No game in the series bored me to tears as much as Graces F did by its ending.

  • Xillia 2 is a step backwards in just about every regard for Xillia. It never takes advantage of the compelling plot points left dangling at the end of Xillia. It never returns the focus to its interesting side characters. It forces the player to retread countless environments from the first game - a major buummer for us in the west since the first game had just been released shortly before Xillia 2. It tried to do some interesting things with its story of a pair of worlds trying to reconcile themselves to their newfound cohabitance, but ultimately can't deliver on any of its most interesting premises by simple din of being shoved out the door so soon after Xillia.

  • I have nothing good to say about Abyss other than it was a remarkably pretty game, particularly on the 3DS. The plot is poorly translated and impenetrably dense. The main character is so offensively awful that I quit playing faster than I've quit just about any JRPG before. There's a little Meep looking motherfucker that makes wildly annoying sounds. Nothing about the game interests me and it's the only game of the bunch I actively despise. Even Xillia had some redeemable parts, like its contracts and sometimes interesting collision of worlds. Abyss is pretty to look at and a complete pain in the ass to have to endure.