In The Beginning…
How do you continue a franchise for years on end? Do you change the very fabric of the franchise to keep the experience fresh and appealing? Do you stagnate and remain the same time after time with few improvements or additions? Or do you go down the middle of the two, changing what you can while keeping the core experience similar to hold onto the fanbase that made you what you are today? Wolf Team, thankfully, chose the middle of the two. With their very apparent characteristic genre motif compounding their experience together, the Tales of franchise was solidified by a belief that many others lacked. However, the true test of their system was yet to come and eternity would be there reward.
Tales of Eternia
Predictably with the series rapid success the remake of Tales of Phantasia wasn’t their last creative effort on the console. Bringing back the entire Tales of Destiny team, that right would be reserved for the next game, Tales of Eternia. Coming out during the turn of the century in late 2000, Tales of Eternia was yet another game that still had the spirit of the franchise at its core while continuing being its own original creation. Tales of Eternia is set in the fantasy world of Inferia, a land stuck in the middle ages, that is always at odds with the parallel world of Celestia, who’s civilization is highly advanced. Stuck in the middle is Reid Hershel, a young hunter, and his childhood friends Farah and Keele. After meeting a mysterious girl named Meredy who speaks an unknown language the group sets out on a quest to find her origins. But as with any other Tales game they soon become embroiled in the age-old conflict between the two worlds and must save both from the Grand Fall, a cataclysmic event that could destroy the planet. It was also a story that truly brought the underlying theme of turmoil between races to the forefront, with the obvious real world parallels between the Inferian’s and Celestians being ever present. Given the characteristic genre of Eternity and Bonds, this motif also fit in perfectly with this entry. A tale with less protagonists then most, the bonds between each of them were crucial to their own development. A strong narrative was weaved around these bonds, how they matured between the characters and how the world would test them to their uttermost limits, making Tales of Eternia yet another worthy entry in the Tales mythos.
Gameplay, on the other hand, continued to follow tradition as usual. LMBS, of course, received a fancy makeover with the Aggressive Linear Motion Battle System. Taking the name to heart, this system enabled players to fight more aggressively by using spells as a means of continuing combos and supplementing damage, allowing characters to keep enemies staggered and prevent retaliation through crowd control, with the faster paced nature of the system being a boon for the often forgotten dodging and evasion mechanics. To compliment this emphasis on achieving maximum damage on your opponents, Mystic Artes were introduced into the series. Unleashed by inputting a complicated combination of attacks, these Mystic Artes were ultimate attacks meant to turn the tide of battle in your favor, if you had the skill to use them. This is also the first system to allow spellcasters to move freely during battle, unencumbered by the spell pause limitation. However, to balance this only one spell can be cast at a time by enemies or allies, making spellcasters not as overpowered as you would think. In addition, spells were learned by an entirely different method then regular artes via the use of craymels, Eternia’s version of spirits. After obtaining certain craymels you could fringe them using Craymel Cage’s, creating more powerful artes depending on the spirit. Other than this there wasn’t much innovation in the general gameplay department. The world still switched from 2D to 3D on the fly with skits popping up when needed along with towns for all your shopping and questing needs, however, in battle the characters had been re-proportioned to fit their representations instead of their older diminutive counterparts. There was even an anime opening produced by Production I.G., which eventually led to a full 13-episode anime series releasing shortly thereafter.
With these new additions and changes to the formula surely this would result in even more success than before, right? Wrong. After months on the market Tales of Eternia had managed to sell less then Destiny. Not by a major amount as it only sold 660,000 copies but still enough to warrant some concern. Even though it seemed that the public loved it all the same, the dwindling numbers seemed to be a sign that Wolf Team hadn’t changed the franchise enough and may have even been seen as outdated at the time due to its home console housing many superior looking games. 2D was out and 3D was in. Still this didn’t faze Namco, as once again they tried to release an entry in the franchise globally with Tales of Eternia, however, there was a catch. The game released relatively well around the globe with no problems or issues. This all changed when they tried to ship it to America. Since American toy maker Mattel owned the trademark for Eternia, due to their He-Man franchise, Namco couldn’t release it under that name. They had to make a decision fast. Would they give up localizing it or think of a new name on the fly? Thankfully their previous entry still existed on store shelves and with a bit of “genius” marketing on Namco’s part, they renamed Tales of Eternia, Tales of Destiny 2, hoping to ride of the previous games meager success. Their ruse was seen through nearly instantly, however, as Eternia’s sales were laughable to say the least. Fans of Tales of Destiny were angered that they weren’t getting a true sequel and critics laid waste to the game, mostly due to one of the most horrendous dubs in video game history. The world seemed like it wasn’t from the franchise, and that might never be the case. The Japanese based franchise would stay in Japan at least for now.
An Eternal Franchise
This newly rekindled team had made Tales their own. What originally had begun as an ingenuous novel had reformed into something unlike any RPG before it. Unbound from classic tropes and stereotypes the series could tell its own tales, ones that were compelling not just from a story standpoint but from a real world perspective. Taking their inspirations from current events and tragedies and molding them into experiences and characters that were unlike anything gaming had seen before, the Tales series was unquestionably distinct from the rest. Even its real time battle system was groundbreaking for the time, leading many of its contemporaries to eventually adopt their practices. It seemed there was nothing that the Tales series couldn’t do and at that moment there seemed to be no way to stop this growing franchise from branching out into even more untold territory. And they were just on the verge of creating their greatest work of all time.