(or, A Tale of a Thousand Miles Begins With A Single Skit)
Greetings! You’re probably not wondering why I’m writing this, and I’m not wondering why you’re reading this. Both are for the same reason: you’re interested in learning more about the series of games known as the Tales (or Tales of) series, but don’t quite know what entries are recommended (or even available) to try!
That’s a fair concern, given that there are a whopping fifteen mothership titles spread out over the twenty years of the series’ life, even ignoring the retroactively disqualified Tales of the Tempest. However, only eleven of those have seen official western release (with one on the way by the end of the year), a strong majority of which came from the latter 3D half of the series.
Fan-translations have made an attempt to fill the gap, as they always do, but as of now, when I write this, there are two mothership titles that lack a fully-playable English version. Past learning Japanese well enough to play them yourself, playing them would require reading along in a half-assed translated script and learning enough of the menus, items, and other text fields to grip the battle system. On top of fan-translations meant to get us a game in whatever form they can manage, like Tales of Innocence and Tales of the Tempest, there have also been translation projects for versions of games the West isn’t going to get, like Phantasia PSX.
Playing these fan-translated versions generally requires either emulation or modded hardware, and so those come with all the caveats and details I’d rather not burden this guide with. Fan-translation pages will be linked in the appropriate game’s section. Thanks to Becky Davnall (@eatthepen) for commissioning this article!
Before the guide begins in earnest, I’d like to clarify some of the terms used!
A mothership title is one of the main entries, a Big Game in the series, while an escort title is a spin-off. Escort titles take popular elements from the mothership titles and mix them into something new, while the reverse is not true. Another term I’ll be using is a game’s Characteristic Genre, which, as explained by series producer Makoto Yoshizumi, is a short subtitle or phrase meant to give players an idea of the general themes of the game. The biggest reason for this is that the dev team didn’t see these as strictly RPGs, but as “Character Playing Games”, where the audience wasn’t meant to use the characters as avatars, but instead to watch the characters grow and their story unfold. These terms haven’t made it over to this side of the Pacific in an official capacity, but I love the idea, so they’re included to help give an impression of the games, especially ones I lack personal experience with.
Also worth noting is that one of Tales’ features is local cooperative multiplayer, even through the most recent iterations! Connect some extra controllers, switch the appropriate characters off of Auto into Semi-Auto or Manual, and have some couch co-op fun with your friends!
Tales of Phantasia
Characteristic Genre: Legendary RPG
- Super Famicom (1995)
- PlayStation (1998)
- Game Boy Advance (2003/2006)
- PlayStation Portable (2006)
- iOS (2013/2014)
Playable in English via:
- Super Famicom (Fan-translation)
- PlayStation (Fan-translation)
- Game Boy Advance (Official)
- iOS (Official)
This is the game that started it all! Based off an unpublished novel by the programmer of the game, Tales of Phantasia follows Cress Albane/Cless Alvein and his companions in a fight against Dhaos, an evil man intent on destroying all of humanity, that narrowly escaped total defeat by a group of heroes in the past by jumping through time. After this escape, he is sealed away, but the seal is lifted at the start of the game! A good old-fashioned high-fantasy story prompt, complete with ur-JRPG tropes like the protagonist’s village getting burned down at the start!
While the Super Famicom/Nintendo version has been emulatable in English for quite some time (the copyright on that page for the SNES patch is for 2003!), the PlayStation version, which I’ve heard good things about, only got its fan-patch situation sorted out at the start of 2012. Barring a few odd glitches like the Collector’s Book screwing things up if it’s alphabetically sorted, I have it on good authority this is the version of the game to play. The SNES version functions something like a Star Ocean game where range is factored into arte performance, given that part of the group that started work on it went on to found tri-Ace, but the PSX version functions more like other Tales games, where the direction that the button is pressed alongside selects the arte performed.
Tales of Destiny
Characteristic Genre: RPG of Destiny
- PlayStation (1997/1998)
- PlayStation 2 (2006)
- PlayStation 2 [Director’s Cut] (2008)
Playable in English via:
- PlayStation (Official)
Tales of Destiny’s story is centered on Stahn Aileron, who is introduced as he’s caught as a stowaway on an airship on his way to seek adventure, fame, and fortune, away from his country-boy life. While he’s serving as a deckhand as punishment for his crime, a hostile force attacks the airship, and in the confusion, he tries to find a weapon, eventually finding a sword in a storeroom. Thinking it’s a potentially-serviceable piece of junk, he takes it up, only to find it is a Swordian, a sentient weapon from an ancient war, and after escaping the crashing airship, he’s thrust headlong into a battle for another ancient relic alongside other Swordian users.
The PSX version is serviceable enough, obviously, but there is a fan-patch working on the Director’s Cut version that apparently changes some plot elements, and in general looks pretty good, due to being on the PS2 and working with a 3D environments + 2D entities graphical style. It’s not in a playable state as far as I’m aware, though, so English-only folks will have to wait a bit for that version.
Tales of Destiny II (Tales of Eternia)
Characteristic Genre: RPG of Eternity and Bonds
- PlayStation (2000/2001)
- PlayStation Portable (2005/2006)
Playable in English via:
- PlayStation (Official)
- PlayStation Portable (Official, EU/AUS regions)
Tales of Destiny II/Tales of Eternia tells the story of Reid Hershel and his childhood friends Farah Oersted and Keele Zeibel, as they meet a mysterious girl who speaks an unrecognizable language. In searching for her place of origin, they end up crossing a dimensional divide, becoming entangled in the ages-old conflict between their own world and this new one.
With a name like Tales of Destiny II, you’d think this would be a sequel to Tales of Destiny! Unfortunately, you’d be wrong! The game’s actual title, Tales of Eternia, would’ve been copyright infringement on the fictional planet that the Masters of the Universe media franchise takes place on! No, really. In order to avoid this, they slapped the previous entry’s name on there with an added number to differentiate it, a full 14 months before the actual sequel to Tales of Destiny came out in Japan. They probably should’ve asked if there was an actual Destiny 2 in the works, huh? But, uh… there’s nothing connecting Destiny to Eternia past the usual cameos.
Tales of Eternia also received a 13-episode anime loosely inspired by the game; it was licensed but never distributed in the US.