Published and developed by Namco, the Tales role-playing game series began in 1995 with the release of Tales of Phantasia. Where most Japanese RPGs were used a turn-based battle system, Phantasia’s Linear Motion Battle System allowed players to control their selected characters in real-time.
This beat-em-up-like combat was revolutionary at the time and helped the franchise stand out amongst a crowded genre in the 90s. Additionally, it would become the staple of the series and evolve over time with every new mainline release.
Now, 25 years on, the Tales series is considered one of the top three Japanese RPG series next to RPG giants like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of anticipation for the upcoming for the impressive looking Tales of Arise. The new title could potentially be the series most advanced yet, but, until then, let’s take a look at ten of the best mainline Tales games in the series.
10 Tales of Phantasia
Tales of Phantasia is the very first game in the series, and its unique real-time battle system made RPG fans take notice. By today’s standard, the battle system is very dated, and this was true even when compared to Tales of Destiny and Tales of Eternia, which was released just a few years later.
However, its time-traveling story and characters are as charming now as they ever were, and it remains a favorite and one of the most requested to be remastered amongst dedicated fans of the series.
9 Tales of Xillia 2
As the name suggests, Tales of Xillia 2 is a direct sequel, but this time it puts you in the shoes of a silent protagonist named Ludgar Kresnik. Ludgar has the ability to travel to and destroy parallel dimensions in order to keep his own world in balance.
Xillia 2 is full of likable and relatable characters and, more importantly, a gripping plot that rounds up the events of the first game nicely towards the end. Unfortunately, it is slightly let down by the fact that you are forced to endure MMO-like fetch quests to earn and satisfy the game’s debt system to advance the story.
8 Tales Of Zestiria
Tales of Zestiria is one of the series more recent titles that, despite its slow start, feels like a return to to the series’ roots. The game’s King Arthur inspired story is very enjoyable if a bit predictable, but the traditional Tales-style character development is fantastic. Additionally, it feels like it's part of a bigger universe that can be appreciated a lot more when played with Tales of Berseria.
Zestiria’s combat combines some of the best elements of Xillia’s bonding system with Graces’ core fighting mechanics. As a result, it’s exciting, fast, and the strategic planning required will satisfy even the most hardened RPG fans.
7 Tales Of Destiny
Tales of Destiny was released in 1997 and is still considered to be one of the most beloved in series. Despite being a follow up to Tales of Phantasia, it was the first Tales game to get a western release. Just like Phantasia, however, it felt dated even when compared to its rivals back in 1998 and was heavily criticized for its lack of originality.
Where Destiny excels, though, is its characters who remain a favorite amongst fans today, and the battle system which holds up much better than Phantasia. Fans still hope that the Tales of Destiny remake for the PlayStation 2 will one day get a translated and remastered for a western release.
6 Tales Of Graces f
In terms of story and characterization, the Tales fans will find Tales of Graces f to be a very familiar story. The game is as traditional as it gets for the series, and some RPG fans will likely find it cliché. Yet, the execution and presentation are fantastic. Graces is a very light-hearted tale of friendship but it is presented in such a charming way that you can’t help but fall in love with it.
Don’t let that sense of familiarity fool you, however, because Graces f possesses one of the best combat experiences in the series. The battle system is so much fun that it elevates what could have been seen as a rather generic entry in the series.
5 Tales Of Xillia
Tales of Xillia changed the traditional formula of placing in the shoes of just one character by allowing you to choose between two Jude Mathis and Milla Maxwell. This provided players with two significantly different experiences and extra replay value.
At around 40 hours, the story is shorter than other Tales titles, but that adds up when you experience both characters, and it means you get a tighter and far more gripping story, too. Additionally, Xillia’s story is expanded with its direct sequel with Tales of Xillia 2.
4 Tales Of The Abyss
Tales of the Abyss is a huge favorite amongst fans of the Tales series, and for good reason. It arguably has one of the best character-driven stories for a lead protagonist in any RPG, let alone the Tales series.
You’ll watch the game’s lead Luke develop from an unlikeable spoilt rich boy into the heroic man that he needed to become. Abyss can feel a little long and drawn out but, the journey is more than worth it, and you’ll quickly fall in love with the game’s supporting cast and villains.
3 Tales Of Berseria
Even though Tales of Berseria is a stand-alone Tales title, the events precede those in Zestiria by 1000 years, and there are quite a few allusions and references between the two games.
Those expecting another whimsical fantasy will be surprised to learn that Berseria is much darker in tone. The protagonist, Velvet—who's up there with Yuri is one of the series' best—and the cast of characters that join her in the journey are more akin to anti-heroes with troubled pasts and vengeance in mind. It's dark in its themes but has arguably one of the best stories in the series.
2 Tales Of Symphonia
For many western fans of the series, Tales of Symphonia was their introduction to the series. It could be said that Symphonia did for the Tales franchise what Final Fantasy VII did for Final Fantasy. As a result, Symphonia remains a perfect starting point in the series and for good reason.
It employs a more cutesy art style than recent titles, but the cell-shaded visuals and beautifully rendered towns still hold up well today. Symphonia boasts a large cast of lovable characters, and its story which focuses on oppression and discrimination is as poignant now as it was 15 years ago.
1 Tales Of Vesperia
Originally released as an Xbox 360 exclusive in the West, Tales of Vesperia was a title that a lot of RPG fans missed out on the first time around. Thankfully, with its definitive remaster now available on the PS4 and Xbox One, all fans can experience the absolute best Tales game to date.
Its lead Yuri Lowell is an experienced warrior with a dry sense of humor that deals with many situations in a way that would deem him to be an anti-hero. He’s a far cry from the plucky naive do-gooder heroes that appeared in previous titles and is more relatable as a result. The rest of the cast is equally as endearing and the story, while familiar to the genre is executed in a way that will keep you playing from beginning to end.