The Tales Series has a very long legacy. The first instalment, Tales of Phantasia, dates back to 1995, and the series' catalogue stands at 16 titles. That's not including spin-offs and derivatives. The Tales Series found its start on the Super Famicon - the Japan-only version of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System - and it has stayed on a similar trajectory ever since. Of the 16 entries in the Tales Series, only 11 have made it to North American markets, with a 12th slated for American release later this month. So, despite a long history, and consistent critical acclaim, the Tales Series is a far-cry away from becoming a flagship title in the catalogues of Western gamers.
So far, after more than two decades, there's been one exception. Tales of Symphonia is, by and large, the most successful game in the Tales Series when it comes to American releases. It was the first of the series to feature 3D graphics, and it found its home on the Nintendo GameCube in 2003. With a new Tales title coming later this month, this week's Games Worth Buying will address why Tales of Symphonia was successful, and whether the franchise's newest member, Tales of Berseria, can hope to repeat history.
Where Tales of Symphonia was Successful
Part of Tales of Symphonia's success can be found in the fact that it was simply released at the right time. 2003 was a time when traditional turn-based JRPGs were becoming less relevant. The appeal of tropes like "random battles" that had been hallmarks of games like Final Fantasy were, at this point, less palatable. Gamers interested in the JRPG genre were looking for something new, and Tales of Symphonia was a title that delivered.
Tales of Symphonia offered three things that a lot of other JRPGs of its time couldn't. Primarily, a different combat system that did away with traditional turn-based mechanics. Instead, it opted for a real-time combat system. This, alone, made the game more attractive to Western audiences. Likewise, a cel-shaded art style that played to the strengths of the GameCube's hardware meant that Tales of Symphonia stood out against the backdrop of traditional JRPGs. Lastly, Tales of Symphonia was less text heavy than other JRPGs of the time. This made for a game that was more action-based and less dense in terms of plot and dialogue. For mainstream Western audiences, this was a JRPG that a lot of casual gamers could get on board with.
The Tales Series' Newest Entry
Tales of Berseria is the newest entry in the the Tales Series. It has already released in Japan, and will reach North American stores on January 24th, 2017. Tales of Berseria continues many of the mechanics that are trademarks of the franchise. Including its unique real-time combat system, which the developers have dubbed "Linear Motion Battle". Also familiar within the franchise are Skits that feature humourous character interactions, and button mapping for combat.
Since its Japan release in August of 2016, Tales of Berseria has sold modestly well, and it sold roughly 87% of its shipment during the first week of its release. While these figures would typically boast good economic fortune, they're indicative of a lot more when you look at the Tales Series as a whole. The Tales Series, within the last few instalments, has seen slipping sales at each release. Tales of Berseria continues this trend, having been outsold by previous instalments in the franchise.
Looking back at past titles, Tales of Zestiria released in January 2015 and sold 340,891 copies in its first week with a sell-through of 89.52%. While its sell-through rate isn’t that different, Tales of Berseria only sold about 70% of what Zestiria did in its debut.
Unlike Tales of Symphonia, which released at a time when JRPGs were becoming less fashionable, Tales of Berseria is out just on the threshold of their revival. Furthermore, many contemporary JRPGs are opting for real-time combat systems, or something similar - such as the very popular Final Fantasy XV. Again, this suggests that Western markets, and the tastes of today's Western gamers might favour a game like Tales of Berseria better than they have in the past. JRPGs are becoming more relevant to the average North American gamer.
Yet, Tales of Berseria suffers from two crippling faults. The first has to do with graphics. While this may be a shallow criticism in terms of what defines a great game, visual polish has a lot to do with whether a game sells or not. Take No Man's Sky, for example, whose fundamental game-play flaws were in some cases overlooked due to its incredible visual style. The Tales Series has never been at the forefront of cutting-edge graphics, but Tales of Berseria has received criticism for its lacking visuals.
The second issue has to do with repetition. After two decades of development, there has not been a lot of diversity in terms of what to expect from a game in the Tales Series. Like turn-based RPGs before it, this could be the downfall of the Tales Series. Any game mechanic, no matter how unique, can be done to death.
January 24th is Coming
The Tales series has left a lasting impression in the JRPG genre. It remains to be seen whether or not the latest release will leave an impression on Western markets. Despite critical positivity, and a dedicated following, the future of the Tales Series may be uncertain. However, given the traction that the JRPG genre has gained in Western markets in the last 2 years, it's possible that Tales of Berseria could find a decent measure of success.
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