11 ways Bandai Namco can fix the Tales series

Bandai Namco’s Tales series is one of the few ongoing JRPG series left on the market. While many greats like Chrono Trigger, Breath of Fire, and Secret of Mana have dropped off the face of existence, Tales continues churning  game after game. But, there’s a problem: the last few Tales games have been pretty mediocre. Few Tales games have scored over a 7 or 8 out of 10 since Tales of Vesperia came out. They just feel like bland generic JRPGs, when the games were once considered one of the most important RPG franchises in existence. Why is this? What went wrong?

Some would say that Bandai Namco has become too concerned with making their games gimmicky. Some say that Tales games are trying too hard to be American-style RPGs. Regardless of why, the old magic of the Tales series has been lost. But here are a few ways that Namco Bandai can get it back.

Focus on Story

The last few Tales games have all been described in the same way: the beginning and end were OK, but the middle was just busywork. This seems so different from earlier games where you were desperately trying to get back to your own time, fighting against an ancient hero gone evil, or taking down a corrupt empire from the inside. Any good RPG story has a central premise, and makes all of its quests, even its sidequests, support that premise. One beach party sidequest is OK, but not ten.

Don’t Repeat Yourself

Tales of Zestiria, the last game in the Tales series, had a serious problem with repetition. 40 hours into the game, the player was still getting tutorials on what buttons did. A story cutscene would play, and then immediately after players would watch a new skit which reiterated exactly what the cutscene said. System messages would pop up multiple times just to be sure that you knew exactly what you were doing. As you can imagine, this was really annoying! It felt like Namco Bandai thought we were too stupid to keep track of of what was happening.

Don’t Try To Be Skyrim

“Open World” is a buzzword in the industry these days, we know. Everyone is trying to be the next game that features a huge landscape, tons of sidequests, and a million ways to do anything but follow the main plot. But Tales players aren’t coming to the franchise for a thinly veiled attempt to make an anime Skyrim. They want a solid plot and interesting characters whether the game is linear or not. Both Xillia and Zestiria suffered from attempting to be more “open world” and the result was a game that at many points felt aimless and devoid of story direction, rather than a huge adventure with a million options.

Let Players “Build” Their Character

In more recent Tales games, both the level-up system and battle system have been greatly simplified. You simply got new attacks and abilities as the game went on, and they were gained with such little fanfare that you never even realized it until you randomly went into the menu to do something else. But earlier games, like Tales of Vesperia, would let you build your character by focusing on which artes you wanted to level up. You could, for example, focus on making the main character, Yuri, fight in the air, do long extended combos, or even focus on dealing AOE knockdown damage. Newer artes are just a million variations on the same “deal damage” ability, which most enemies can block randomly for new good reason.  

Expand Your Combo System

Part of the appeal of character customization in classic Tales games was figuring out how to make your combos longer. Characters would equip skills that would let them do things like, get an extra hit in the air, or chain artes backward on the ground, or even chain spells into other spells. You were always trying to maximize your damage in new and interesting ways. However, more recent Tales games put a hard limit on your combos. For example, in Tales of Zestiria you canattack four times, and that’s it. Without interesting forms of customization, players defaulted to “spam the attack that does the most damage,” and that’s just not that interesting.

Bring Back TP

Newer Tales games use the “SC” system. Basically this means that any attack, normal or special, that you do uses SC and when you are out you can no longer attack. While this was vastly simpler than the old TP system, which made special attacks cost a resource, it also made battle boring. I got through the entirety of Tales of Zestiria without ever using a single special attack. I barely even knew what they were or what they did! Special attacks HAVE to different somehow to be worth using!

Remember Multiplayer

This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Tales was one of the first RPG frnachises to allow multiple players to participate at the same time. Over the years, it has become synonymous with the concept of multiplayer JRPGs and its one of the only JRPGs on the market to offer multiplayer support. Yet more recent Tales games keep including systems that punish the player for having friends to play with! Tales of Xillia had the link system which forced control to be taken away from two players at a time in order to use half of the game’s battle systems. Tales of Zestiria had the “armatization” system which fuzzed two characters into one but only to one player! Both of these games were difficult to beat without using these systems that quite literally kicked other players out of the game. Remember Namco Bandai, some players are coming to this franchise SPECIFICALLY to play with a bunch of friends.

Fix the Camera!

This is another pet peeve of mine. Back when Tales of Symphonia first released, the camera would focus on the first player and the first player only. Unfortunately, this caused a bit of a problem In that you could never tell who or what was attacking your other party members. Later Tales games fixed this problem by having the camera focus on the whole party. But Tales of Zestiria, the most recent release, changed battle so that it took place on the map, rather than a separate battle screen, and lo and behold the camera was broken again. It was so broken that any tight space tended to make the camera focus on the enemy’s butt rather than the actual battlefield.

Bring It Online

Many great single-player RPGs like Bravely Default now have some sort of online capability that lets you share friends, units, skills, or something. Tales has a number of features that would be perfect for an online suit. First of all, the aforementioned multiplayer could be online instead of local. I don’t know any game that is still 100% local multiplayer these days. You could also allow players to fight their parties against each other online for a VS experience. You could even let players recruit each other’s characters if the character build system is varied enough.

Include One or Two Good New Systems Rather Than A Million Half-Baked Ones

Let’s take a look at the number of new systems that Tales of Zestiria added. There was the skill grid, a new crafting system, armatization, power hit combos, skill stacking, AP battle actions, character specific map actions, equipment leveling, shop levels, the normin system, the lord of the land system, fast travel… and honestly I could go on. Other than fast travel I barely used any of these, only dabbling in most and by the end of the game, completely ignoring them.  Meanwhile, games like Tales of Vesperia had an incredibly robust skill system and… well that was about it. There wasn’t much else new to speak of, but the skill system was so well-designed and connected with the existing battle system so well that the game felt gloriously deep and interesting.  

Please, Please, Please Focus on Game Stability

Finally, this should go without saying but please, make your game stable. Tales of Zestiria was a mess of problems. The PC version routinely crashed. Keys couldn’t be mapped unless you were in the main menu, so if a new player joined you had to quit out of the game. The save menu wouldn’t even work correctly. Heck, there were some in-game cutscenes that would simply lock the game up randomly for no reason. I get that the Tales series has traditionally been a console game, so maybe you aren’t focused on the PC market, but similar problems were reported with the PS4 version. In our current age of the internet, there is a temptation to release your game with problems and patch them out later but Tales has historically been one franchise that has avoided falling into this trap. It’s tragic to see it finally giving up now.