Just days after Tales of Aris won Best RPG at The Game Awards, Bandai Namco announced one of the series’ mobile title, Tales of Crestoria, would be taken offline. After barely a year on the market, the studio has effectively replaced a struggling mobile game with a brand new one — and it’s a pattern that’s becoming frustratingly familiar to Tales fans. This begs the question of whether the series should even continue with mobile releases.
Time will tell if Crestoria‘s successor, Tales of Luminaria, can break the franchise’s streak of bad luck on the mobile front. Until then, however, it’s abundantly clear that Tales is having far more success on PC and consoles. Games like Symphonia and Abyss were cult classics, but Aris was named the best RPG of a year full of great contenders like Monster Hunter Rise and Shin Megami Tensei V. With the series winning mainstream awards for its console games while canceling mobile ones, it seems clear where Tales‘future really is.
Many RPG franchises have at least one release in the mobile market. The likes of Final Fantasy have had many, from All the Bravest to Brave Exviuswhile others like Fire Emblem only needed a single strong title. These games can be easy sources of revenue for companies thanks to their microtransactions, but they’re also useful marketing tools that keep iconic characters in the collective gaming consciousness. With this in mind, it makes sense why Tales has dipped its toes into these particular waters so many times.
sorry, Tales‘ mobile offerings keep drowning, and the reason why could ironically be tied to the series’ greatest strengths. Since its reinvention in the early 2000s, Tales has employed a more deconstructive storytelling direction than its competitors. By taking a critical approach to its genre’s tropes and exploring how they would realistically impact ordinary people, Tales has effectively positioned itself as a humanist alternative to the likes of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest.
As far as storytelling goes, this was a fantastic shift that gave the series a new identity that has kept it relevant. As a means of creating marketable icons, however, its success is more varied. Most Tales games critique or question the conventions of the RPG genre, so understanding those conventions in the first place is necessary to grasp their arguments.
This kind of careful, methodical storytelling is antithetical to the instant-gratification of most mobile games offer, especially in the gacha market. Each game’s heroes are motivated by problems specific to their worlds, so removing them from that context kills what makes them special. Without a bigoted society oppressing his friends, Lloyd Irving has no reason to become an anti-racist revolutionary. Stripped of the Hobbesian climate that demonized and imprisoned her, Velvet Crowe seems like just another edgy lady.
With that in mind, it may seem that the answer is to introduce original stories for these mobile games that also recreate some of the context that motivates previous Tales characters. However, Bandai Namco has already tried and failed to make that lightning strike twice. Tales of Crestoria attempted to forge a brand new world, which to its credit had some interesting original ideas. However, because it also had to incorporate the returning parties and explaining their presence in the new setting, it was prone to going completely off-track and losing focus.
Compare this to Fire Emblem Heroes. Like Tales, Fire Emblem has become a character-driven franchise. Therefore, the superficial representation of each game’s cast should have failed for similar reasons — yet it didn’t. This is because Heroes is more focused on recreating the tactical gameplay of its series, and its story has less to do with any one entry. As such, it can get away with shallower depictions of its titular heroes because delivering a faithful one was never the objective.
By contrast, Tales keeps floundering because it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do on mobile platforms. It’s been everything from a puzzle game to a turn-based RPG, but rarely its own authentic self. Tales of the Rays was the best representation it could have asked for, thanks to a more faithful combat system. Still, it struggled to maintain what made the series truly great. As such, it’s not surprising that it was removed from Western storefronts just like all its fellow mobile releases.
None of this is to say that Tales should never make another mobile title, and it would certainly be good for all parties if Luminaria was the one that finally achieved long-term global appeal. However, with the series’ current track record, it will be no surprise if it gets canceled before this time next year. Should that happen again, it might be wise for Tales to take a break from the portable market and focus more on making the kinds of games that are currently winning awards. Sometimes it’s worth just sticking to what you’re already good at.
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