Fans of "Tales," the quirky Japanese role-playing game series, went through a few lean years, but the series is back in North America with full force. At New York Comic Con 2013, video game publisher Bandai Namco hosted a panel outlining big plans for the 15th anniversary of the series in North America.
The panel, which took place on Oct. 11, consisted of Nao Takeda, an international marketing coordinator, Keisuke Kumiji, a video editor and Hideo Baba, the creator and producer of the "Tales" series.
Baba kicked off the proceedings by showing a timeline of every "Tales" game released in North America in the last 15 years. From 1998's "Tales of Destiny" to 2013's "Tales of Xillia," the series has arrived in fits and starts, but now consists of more than ten titles.
The panel's main focus was on "Tales of Xillia 2," which released in Japan last year, and is slated for a 2014 North American release. Although most "Tales" games weave totally separate stories, this title will act as a direct sequel to "Tales of Xillia."
Rather than taking control of your party members from the first game, "Tales of Xillia 2" will introduce a whole new cast. At the panel, Baba introduced two of the game's protagonists: Ludger, a gaunt warrior who wields two thin swords, and Elle, a little girl with a mysterious pocket watch.
Elle, Baba pointed out, is in elementary school, making her the youngest playable character ever featured in the "Tales" series. Her white-and-gray cat, Rollo, accompanies her on her adventures. Baba seemed incredibly fond of Rollo, and carried a plush toy of him all the way from Japan to sit on the panel.
The NYCC audience's regard for Baba matched Baba's enthusiasm for Rollo. "Tales" fans are not numerous, but make up for it by being energetic and a little bit zealous.
Baba could scarcely utter a sentence without the entire room breaking into cheers and applause, and Baba continually spoke of how pleased he was that North American fans enjoy "Tales" as much as their Japanese counterparts.
Kumiji took center stage next, as he shared the world premiere of the "Tales of Xillia 2" English trailer (his previous credits include cutting together trailers for "Tales of Xillia" and "Ni No Kuni"). The video was dark and violent — an abnormality for "Tales," which is generally a bright and colorful series.
In the trailer, Ludger must do battle with a number of mysterious gunmen, while Elle and Rollo venture out on their own to catch a highly publicized train. En route to its destination, terrorists hijack the train, leaving Ludger, Elle and Rollo at the center of a dangerous plot. Along the way, they encounter a surfeit of colorful characters wielding guns, swords and magic to help and hinder them.
Although "Tales of Xillia 2" was the panel's main focus, Namco is also releasing "Tales of Symphonia Chronicles" in early 2014, and made sure that its HD compilation for the PlayStation 3 got some time in the sun as well.
"Chronicles" combines "Tales of Symphonia" for the GameCube and "Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World" for the Wii, revamps the graphics and brings the two titles to the PS3 for the first time. The ports are faithful, but generally just the same as before.
Baba did reveal, however, that the theme music for each game has received a high-quality remix, and that both games will have audio tracks available in English and Japanese. Characters will also receive new costumes based on "Tales of the Abyss," and a few new in-game bits of artwork when performing special moves.
Finally, "Tales of Symphonia Chronicles" will get a $99.95 special edition, which includes figurines of protagonists Lloyd, Colette, Emil and Marta. The set will also come with an original novel and the soundtracks to both games. 15,000 copies will be available, and Baba anticipates that they will sell quickly.
The "Tales" franchise may not have the cachet of a "Final Fantasy" or a "Persona," but it's still going strong after 15 years.
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