The Tales series has always thumbed its nose at JRPG traditions. Wildly popular in Japan, Tales hasn’t pierced the West in the same way that franchises like Final Fantasy have, though many of its titles remain in the pantheon of the best JRPGs. We’re counting down the 14 mainline titles released in North America in this guide to the best Tales games.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Tales games feature real-time combat in the style of a fighting game. The traditions of a good JRPG are still present, though, including dense character progression, a grand narrative, and a cast of interesting characters. With the two combined, the Tales games provide a break from the monotonous gameplay that often comes from JRPGs.
1. Tales of Vesperia
The best overall Tales game is a hotly debated topic, but most players settle on Vesperia, and we have to agree. The story is second to none, the combat system is deep once it’s fully unlocked, and many of the more tedious elements of other Tales games are streamlined.
Released exclusively for the Xbox 360 in 2008, Tales of Vesperia was many players’ first introduction to the series, especially in the West. You don’t need to dust off your 360 to play it, though. Namco Bandai released
in 2019 for Switch, PC, PS4, and Xbox One, so you can experience the game on modern systems.
2. Tales of the Abyss
Released originally for the PS2 in 2006 before being ported to the 3DS in 2012, Tales of the Abyss is the eighth mainline entry in the series. It’s a nearly perfect Tales game, with excellent writing, unique characters, and plenty of content. However, as is the case with a lot of Tales games, sometimes combat can feel like nothing more than button mashing.
The big addition to Tales of the Abyss was “Free Run,” allowing players to move around the combat arena in any way they want. This feature has shown up in nearly all Tales games since the release of Abyss, marking it as a landmark title in the series. Unfortunately, it’s tough to find. Tales of the Abyss never received a Steam port, so you’re limited to the 3DS and PS2 versions.
3. Tales of Berseria
is the latest in the series, releasing only a short year after Tales of Zestiria in 2016. The two games actually take place in the same universe, though Zestiria is set some 1,000 years after the events of Berseria. The inciting incident of Berseria should be experienced unspoiled, so if you’re interested in playing the game, we suggest stopping here.
You play as Velvet, a young woman whose only aspiration is to care for her ill younger brother, Laphicet. Once Daemons show up in her village, Velvet’s brother-in-law Artorius sacrifices Laphicet for a ritual known as the “Advent.” Witnessing this, Velvet rushes at Artorius, only to be overcome with Daemons. One possesses her arm, turning Velvet into a Daemon herself. Darker and slower than other Tales games, Berseria is shocking and moving, with the series’ signature combat system to back up the story.
4. Tales of Symphonia
Most Tales fans agree that Vesperia is the best. That said, Tales of Symphonia is certainly the most iconic. Released as a GameCube exclusive in the West, Tales of Symphonia quickly became the most popular title in the series and still holds the record for highest sales.
It’s still an early Tales game, so you can’t freely move around battle arenas and the graphics are a bit dated. Thankfully, the cel-shaded art style has aged well, and the original GameCube release maintains a solid 60 frames per second. You can also pick up the Steam port, which costs only a few dollars during most sales.
5. Tales of Xillia
Tales of Xillia isn’t as defining for the series as Symphonia or Vesperia, but it includes all of the elements of a good Tales game. The combat is frantically fast-paced, the characters are quirky and lovable, and the plot is fairly unique. That said, it’s a bit short, as you can play through the campaign as two different protagonists.
While searching for his professor, medical student Jude Mathis stumbles upon a military research facility with a weapon of mass destruction called the Lance of Kresnik. Mathis, after being found in the facility, is saved by Milla Maxwell. After destroying the weapon, you choose to play as either Milla or Jude as they run from the officials behind the Lance of Kresnik.
6. Tales of Graces f
Similar to Xillia, Tales of Graces f isn’t a landmark game in the series, but still includes enough to be among the best. The story isn’t as thrilling, with you following a swordsman who befriends an amnesiac, but it’s still charming and lighthearted. This is a character story focused on friendship, and although the scale isn’t as grand as some other Tales games, it’s still a journey worth taking.
7. Tales of Destiny
Tales of Destiny was the first title in the series to get a North American release. Although the hybrid combat and characters were enough to draw in a few new fans, Tales of Destiny released for the original PlayStation in the same year as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Final Fantasy Tactics, and, oh yeah, Final Fantasy VII.
To say Tales of Destiny was overshadowed would be an understatement. Still, Tales of Destiny remains one of the better titles in the Tales series. It even received a full remake on the PS2, though it was only released in Japan.
8. Tales of Zestiria
was released a year before Berseria, and despite being one of the more recent titles, it’s a return to form for the Tales series. Cliché as it is, you play as Sorey, a village boy who finds out that he’s the only person who can save the world from darkness. There are some interesting story beats, but the overall plot is a bit stale. That said, it integrates with the gameplay perfectly.
Powerful as he is, Sorey can see members of a spirit race known as Seraphim. These god-like beings are a core plot element, but also a core gameplay element. You can call upon Seraphim during battles to perform long-distances artes, and Sorey can even combine with Seraphim to unlock an entirely new move set.
9. Tales of Xillia 2
Tales of Xillia 2 directly follows the events of the first game, though you take control of a different protagonist. Ludger Krenik, the silent character you play as, can travel between parallel dimensions in order to keep the world he calls home in balance. Xillia 2 also offers an extended look at the cast of characters in the first game.
The expanded take on the story is a little too expanded, though. The game sags a lot in the midsection, with a lot of backtracking and fetch quests. Still, Xillia 2 features the same combat system as the first game, with an interesting overall plotline.
10. Tales of Phantasia
Tales of Phantasia is the first game in the series, originally released as a Japan exclusive for the Super Famicom in 1995. Upon its release, Phantasia was praised for its unique take on combat, breaking from the tradition of turn-based battles in favor of a fast and fluid real-time battle system.
Western fans can still play Phantasia, which was released in North America on the GameBoy Advance in 2006 and ported to iOS in 2014. That said, Phantasia feels disappointing compared to the more recent titles in the series. The characters are still interesting, but the plot feels stale and the combat system underdeveloped.
11. Tales of Hearts R
Similar to Dragon Quest XI, which received a Japan-only port on 3DS completely redesigned for the platform, Tales of Hearts was released as a Japan exclusive for the Nintendo DS in 2008. It eventually made its way to Western shores in the form of a 3D remake for the PlayStation Vita in 2014.
While Phantasia feels like a precursor to the entire series, Hearts R feels like one of the more modern entries. With full 3D environments and free run in combat, it plays like a recent entry, with deep progression systems, to boot. That said, the story loses its way quickly.
12. Tales of Destiny II/Tales of Eternia
As is the case with every long-running JRPG series, the Tales franchise suffered some confusing naming conventions in its early days. Tales of Eternia was released as Tales of Destiny II in North America, though Eternia and the original Destiny don’t share any plot elements. Adding to the confusion, a proper sequel, Tales of Destiny 2, was released exclusively in Japan for the PS2.
The buried identity of Tales of Eternia shows through in the final product, with a largely forgettable cast and story. It’s a fine game, featuring all of the hallmarks of the series, but it’s a far cry from some of the later entries.
13. Tales of Legendia
Tales of Legendia released in the same year as Tales of the Abyss, and seeing how highly we rated the latter, it’s clear why Legendia ranks so low. Instead of looking to the future, Legendia looks to the past, with a linear battle system and dated visuals.
Legendia isn’t a bad game, but it feels like the result of a development studio caught in limbo. You will recognize some elements from Final Fantasy X throughout Legendia. The story and gameplay are fun, but you will probably feel that the game is predictable if you have played other Tales titles.
14. Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World
The Tales series doesn’t do sequels especially well, as shown by Tales of Xillia. The gap between the two Symphonia games is even greater, though. While the two Xillia games are both pretty good, Tales of Symphonia and its sequel occupy opposite ends of the quality spectrum.
It’s a strict downgrade in almost every way. There is a difference in quality when it comes to writing and storytelling. The characters feel a little flat after playing the other games. The game introduces some changes for gameplay and encounters, but overall the combat system isn’t as good as previous installments. Dawn of the New World is still a good game, and a must-play for fans of Symphonia. Just know that it’s not as provocative as the original release.