Top 10 Tales Of Games [Best Recommendations]

It is almost hard to believe, but 22 years have passed since the first 'Tales of' game was released in 1995. Since then, 16 main titles and a countless number of spin-offs have been created, making Bandai Namco's Action RPG series a staple that can stand alongside industry giants like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest.

Across the years, we have seen them progress from relatively humble and flat beginnings, to large 3D adventures with a robust battle system that is considered one of the best in the industry. Today, we will be looking at the cream of the crop; the ones that managed to leave a lasting impression and are considered vital entries in the franchise's legacy.

10. Tales of Hearts R

  • System: PlayStation Vita
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco
  • Developer: 7th Cord
  • Release Dates: Mar 7, 2013 (JP), Nov 11, 2014 (US), Nov 14, 2014 (EU)

The 'Tales of' series is no stranger when it comes to portable titles; the PSP and NDS both received quite a few games made specifically for their platform. The issue was that they always felt like extremely stripped down versions of the console entries; even though that is completely understandable. Tales of Hearts R (and the original version on the NDS) was the first attempt that genuinely felt like a full 'Tales of' experience on the go. It wasn't a glorified hunting game (like Tales of Radiant Mythology) and managed to not come off as a spin-off.

As with most entries in the franchise, the plot is nothing to write home about; while still managing to get the job done. It is complicated, while never really offering anything all that surprising or new. About 2,000 years prior to the game's timeline, the planet of Organica was attacked by xerom, monsters originating from another planet called Minera. Created by Creed Graphite, and a pair of sisters (Lithia and Fluora), who saw the xerom as a potential weapon to bring peace to their world; and Organica as the perfect test subject.

Although the story leaves something to desire, Tales of Hearts R makes up for it with a really fun and engaging cast – who at least have some depth. Their interactions are entertaining, and the skits are funny as well. The combat system is well balanced, working on a 2D plane within a 3D environment. Understandably, not quite as robust as something like Tales of Graces f; it still offers a really fast paced and enjoyable experience. If someone is looking for the closest thing to a modern 'Tales of' for a portable system, Hearts R is the best option.


9. Tales of Xillia 2

  • System: PlayStation 3
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
  • Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
  • Release Dates: Nov 1, 2012 (JP), Aug 19, 2014 (US), Aug 22, 2014 (EU)

Released a year after the original Xillia game, fans had reason to be skeptical when Bandai Namco announced a follow-up to the well received 2011 JRPG. With the bitter memories of Dawn of the New World, the sequel to Tales of Symphonia, still sharp in one's mind; fear that this would be another huge step down was not unfounded. Thankfully, Xillia 2 is an all around solid entry and even manages to eclipse the original in some ways.

Set a year after the events of Tales of Xillia, the sequel follows Ludger Will Kresnik, an almost silent protagonist, who is tasked with locating five Waymakers needed to discover the Land of Canaan. The first person to find the mystical area will have a wish granted. Along the way, the cast from the original Xilla join the cause and, unlike Dawn of the New World, they are actually playable. Ludger is also a pretty likeable lead protagonist and is a lot of fun to use in combat.

Building on Tales of Xillia's already complicated battle system, Xillia 2 re-introduces a weakness system to allow for longer combos. Ludger can also use three different types of weapons, which can be altered on the fly; they all play differently and are a blast to use. Although there are 9 playable characters, since Ludger is the only character with this variety, the rest of the cast feels comparably under-powered.


8. Tales of Eternia (Tales of Destiny II)

  • Systems: PlayStation, PSP
  • Publishers: Namco (JP, NA), Ubisoft (EU)
  • Developers: Wolf Team (PS), Namco Tales Studio (PSP)
  • Release Dates: Nov 30, 2000 (JP), Sep 10, 2001 (NA), Mar 3, 2005 (JP), Feb 10, 2006 (EU)

Tales of Eternia, or Destiny II, was the third entry into the franchise and remains one of the best. Despite its age, the sprite animation is absolutely gorgeous and has allowed Eternia to age gracefully. Its timeless graphic style is further enhanced by a responsive 2D battle system that improved greatly on the previous PlayStation 'Tales of' titles.

As players traverse an overworld map to different locations and towns, dungeons are unlocked and quests are given accordingly. It is pretty standard stuff by modern expectations, but the engaging story and electric battle system make for an endearing experience. Obviously rather simplistic compared to the later 3D battle mechanics, Eternia's combat can be best described as a fusion of fighter game elements and RPG team management.

The main plot centers around two planets that are in close proximity and on the verge of colliding, with only a weakening barrier separating them. The story follows Reid Hershel, who visits locations on both planets, on a mission to discover a way to stop this from happening. It might not sound particularly exciting, but the plot is really well paced and charming.


7. Tales of Graces f

  • Systems: PlayStation 3, Wii
  • Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
  • Developer: Namco Tales Studio
  • Release Dates: Dec 10, 2009 (JP), Dec 2, 2010 (JP), Mar 13, 2012 (NA), Aug 12, 2012 (EU)

Generally, fans seem to have a weird love/hate relationship when it comes to Tales of Graces f. Even the mere thought of the mundane plot and childish themes explored within the world of Ephinea, is enough to send some on a rampage. This is completely understandable, as the constant reinforcement of the friendship theme can get grating. Yet, despite all of that, here it sits at number seven on our list. Why? It is pretty simple actually, Tales of Graces f has a battle system to die for.

Pretty much all of the 3D 'Tales of' games have good combat. Even those that are largely hated by the fanbase, like Tales of Zestiria, are more than serviceable in this department. The biggest criticism someone can throw at them is that they struggle to really create their own identity, to not feel like a rehash of previous 'Tales of' titles. Since Graces f, every combat system has felt like a step-down. Not a huge one, but just that little bit.

Using the 'Chain Capacity' system, which limits how many moves the character can make, artes are unlocked as the player progresses and can be assigned to different directions on the d-pad. This allows for a variety of combos and can lead to some devastating moves towards the end game. There are also assault artes, which are predetermined moves and special team attacks. These systems are not exclusive to Graces f, but are at their best here. It is possible to pull off a combo with a counter of well over 100+ hits, especially in New Game +, which is insanely satisfying.


6. Tales of Phantasia

  • System: SNES
  • Publisher: Namco
  • Developer: Wolf Team
  • Release Dates: Dec 15, 1995 (JP)

The oldest entry in this list, Tales of Phantasia might not be the easiest game to go back to nowadays, but it was a landmark release on the SNES and, not to mention, the first ever 'Tales of' game. Even from 1995, Namco aimed to set their franchise apart by moving away from the popular turn-based battle system – which pretty much was the core of any JRPG at the time – to a real-time, action RPG system. As expected, later entries would improve greatly on this formula, but Phantasia still holds a special place in gaming history.

Infusing time travel and a surprising amount of death and foreboding, the story puts to shame later entries like Graces f and Zestiria. The game is centered around two childhood friends, Cress and Chester, who return to their hometown to find it ablaze and everyone killed; they set out on a mission to take down the mage behind the massacre and to, hopefully, put a stop to an even worse looming threat.

If it’s possible to look past the 2D animation and combat system, which is by no means horrible for its time, there is a truly great experience to be found here.


5. Tales of Xillia

  • System: PlayStation 3
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
  • Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
  • Release Dates: Sep 8, 2011 (JP), Aug 6, 2013 (US), Aug 9, 2013 (EU)

With the option to choose from two protagonists, Jude and Millia, Xillia was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews upon its release; with the battle system being one of the more highly regarded ones in recent history. The story was also a step up from Tales of Graces f, allowing for a bit more maturity to be shown by the cast. It was so popular, that it even lead to a sequel, the previously mentioned Tales of Xillia 2.

In this universe, spyrix serves as the main power source; which functions by absorbing spirits to fuel itself. Fearing the end of his species, a spirit called Maxwell, with a collection of humans that can see spirits, retreats to an isolated island and creates a barrier to keep the rest of humanity out. His plan is to wait until humanity kills itself off and it is safe for spirits to, once again, roam free. On the other hand, the Elympios empire is less than thrilled about this plan and are desperate to break down the barrier.

Xillia's story is quite interesting and manages to avoid any real cliches and tropes often seen in JRPGs, but it does suffer from a rushed third act. It is still a fun ride, and the cast is entertaining throughout. Saying that, Millia is really the only protagonist here; as Jude's mission in life is simply to follow Millia until the end of time.


4. Tales of Berseria

  • Systems: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
  • Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
  • Release Dates: Aug 18, 2016 (JP), Jan 24, 2017, 2017 (US), Jan 27, 2017 (EU)

The most recent 'Tales of' game was a huge step up from the disappointing Tales of Zestiria, which unfortunately did not quite manage to make all its new mechanics work that well. Berseria, in most ways, is a safer entry, as nothing really new was attempted. The gameplay is exactly what one would expect from a modern 'Tales of' game, although it is actually a bit more streamlined than something like Xillia, and the crafting system is somewhat stripped down.

Where Berseria really shines is in the story department; this is all about revenge! It's rare for a JRPG to be morally ambiguous, especially when it comes to the main cast of playable characters, but Namco's most recent action RPG is exactly that. We follow Violet, who after being betrayed and imprisoned as a young girl, sets out on a rampage to kill the one responsible. Make no mistake, for nearly the entire story, this is not about saving the world. No, it's about damning everyone for your own satisfaction. It is about individual goals rather than striving for a collective good. Frankly, it is exactly the type of narrative that the franchise desperately needed to take on.

If someone is new to the series, Berseria is the best place to start. It is a collection of everything that makes a good 'Tales of' game a worthwhile experience. The combat is fun, the graphics are colorful and decent, the cast is a blast, and the story is engaging. One weak point would be the dungeons, which are just a series of uninteresting corridors. It is a shame that this element felt so pedestrian, especially compared to the rest of Berseria, but it does not detract all that much.


3. Tales of Symphonia

  • Systems: Nintendo Gamecube, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PC
  • Publisher: Namco
  • Developer: Namco Tales Studio
  • Release Dates: Aug 29, 2003 (JP), July 13, 2004 (US), Nov 19, 2004 (EU), Sep 22, 2004 (US)

Tales of Symphonia is probably the most well-known game in the franchise, it has even been re-released on multiple new platforms over the years. Focusing on the 2D era, the fifth 'Tales of' entry is a culmination of all that worked in the previous four releases. With a massive overworld which contains dozens of different cities and dungeons, and a lengthy plot, Tales of Symphonia is not only a worthwhile entry into the franchise, but a must-buy JRPG title.

Set in Sylvarant, a world dependent on mana to survive, Colette Brunel is selected as the chosen; which sets her on a journey to visit five temples hidden around Sylvarant, to replenish the source of the mana. She is accompanied by her two guardians, Raine and Kratos, and two childhood friends, Lloyd and Genis. It is best to not reveal too much about the plot, but although it might seem typical at first, there is a huge plot twist in the middle that changes it for the better. Although this is a really long game, it manages to avoid becoming boring.

This is also one of the best casts in the franchise; their interactions are funny, believable, and relatable. Lloyd might be a bit grating at first, sharing similar traits to Asbel from Graces f, but he gets better as he goes along. The whole cast shows character development, making the time spent with them feel like a genuine journey. The battle system is enjoyable as well, introducing some of the over-the-top skills that would become a staple in the later games.


2. Tales of the Abyss

  • Systems: PlayStation 2, Nintendo 3DS
  • Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
  • Developer: Namco Tales Studio
  • Release Dates: Dec 15, 2005 (JP), Oct 10, 2006 (US)

The spiritual successor to Symphonia, Tales of the Abyss was the eight-core game released in the franchise. The battle system is very similar to our previous entry, although, with the addition of the free run feature, there is a heavier focus on mobility. It is important to note how influential this addition would be, especially for the direction that later 'Tales of' games would follow.

Luke fon Fabre is a spoiled rich kid, and a capable swordsman, whose life is turned upside down when a mysterious religious group called The Order of Lorelei tries to kidnap him, believing that he is the key to their prophecy. Determined to discover the truth behind who he is and to stop all this madness, Luke sets off on a journey of self-discovery and danger.

As the name implies, Tales of the Abyss is considerably darker than what the series is known for, establishing a more somber tone right from the start. While Luke is an annoying brat at first, he quickly develops into one of the most layered and interesting protagonists the series has ever had. For those with an old PS2 console or 3DS, this is one title that is worth picking up.


1. Tales of Vesperia

  • Systems: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
  • Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
  • Developer: Namco Tales Studio
  • Release Dates: Aug 7, 2008 (JP), Aug 26, 2008 (US), June 26, 2009 (US)

It might have to do with the fact that it is, by far, the hardest modern 'Tales of' game to find, especially since the PS3 version was only ever released in Japan, but Tales of Vesperia is the pinnacle of the series. The game where everything truly came together to create that one perfect experience. The 3D battle system is nearly as good as Tales of Graces f, the story is genuinely fantastic, and the cell-shaded graphics are gorgeous. On a console that did not have an overabundance of JRPGs, the Xbox 360 benefited from having one of the best releases of the last decade as a Western exclusive.

For the first time in the series, the lead character is not a child or teenager. A former Imperial Knight, Yuri Lowell, is set on a mission to retrieve his town's energy source, that has been stolen by a nobleman. Along the way, a larger mystery is revealed that eventually leads to the world needing to be saved. Yuri is one of the main reasons Vesperia is such a fantastic game, he feels unique. He does not need to grow up, or develop a personality, he is a full-fledged hero from the very first scene. This allows the rest of the cast to receive the majority of the focus, and he is used as a catalyst to develop them, rather than the other way round.

Tales of Vesperia is the best place to start for anyone interested in the series, but it is generally not recommended since finding a copy of anything other than the Xbox 360 version is nearly impossible. Still, it is almost worth buying Microsoft's outdated console just to play it.


Final Thoughts

Although the series does not have as large of a fanbase as something like Final Fantasy, the 'Tales of' franchise is definitely here to stay. Bandai Namco has shown that they are capable of constantly releasing worthwhile games that might not step too far off the beaten path, but manage to be entertaining experiences in their own right. With the success of Berseria, hopefully, we will continue to see a focus on more mature themes.

Are there any other 'Tales of' games that you believe deserve a place on our list? Please let us know in the comment section.

Mark Sammut

Writer

Author: Mark Sammut

Born and raised on a small island in the Mediterranean, my life goal is to experience as many different ways of life as possible. Since time and money are in short supply, anime and film provide the best opportunity to experience far away cultures and worlds. When I'm not watching the latest episode of Gintama, or wondering what series to watch next, you can find me in the corner of the closest coffee shop; writing away on my aging laptop.

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