The Tales that stay with us are the Tales that call us to action.
19 years ago, I walked into a Blockbuster and discovered Tales of Symphonia, a game which I carry with me to this day. It was the first JRPG I ever played, and it was the first game that forced me to treat video games as a form of storytelling before all other functions. I played it more times than I can count or remember on my Nintendo GameCube, so much so that the story wove itself into my DNA, driving my subsequent taste in games in ways I recognize without completely understanding. It left me with a love not only for video-game stories, but also for Namco Tales Studio, the powerhouse behind a pantheon of thoughtful, passionate, unapologetically intricate JRPGs for almost 30 years.
Over the years as I’ve studied and published on the storytelling of video games, I’ve kept the Tales games away from With a Terrible Fate because the games felt too close to my source code as a gamer to analyze or share with others. But last month, after 19 years, Bandai Namco released a remastered edition of Tales of Symphonia—calling old and new generations of gamers to save Sylvarant, and calling me to revisit a series at the heart of how I think about gaming, literature, and the world. By way of answering that call, I offer “Tales of Praxis”: a series of weekly reflections on the Tales series as landmark works of interactive storytelling, in the spirit of With a Terrible Fate’s series like “The Legacy of Final Fantasy VII Remake,” “A Comprehensive Theory of Majora’s Mask,” and “Now Loading the Video Game Canon.”
The series is as much a personal reflection as anything. It doesn’t promise to be a complete retrospective, touching on every Tales game in chronological order. I’m replaying those Tales games that impacted me as a gamer and a philosopher of video-game stories, and I’m offering thoughts about that impact—sometimes small thoughts on moments in Tales of the Abyss, sometimes large thoughts on the trajectory of plotlines in Tales of Arise. There’s no unifying thesis tying these studies together, except for the feeling that these stories have a special way of involving the player, calling the player to action, despite being the sort of video game that superficially focuses more on complex character motivations and relationships than on player actions. In that same spirit of action, as I replay Tales of Symphonia for the first time in at least a decade, I invite those who are interested in studying the series to follow that activity on With a Terrible Fate’s Twitch channel, M/W/F 7pm-10pm ET, starting Monday, March 6th. While we’re starting with Tales of Symphonia, I hope that we might adventure through a wide range of the Tales games together to better understand and appreciate the nuances uniting them and distinguishing them from each other.
If you’re lucky enough as a child to find a story that connects you to the personal world of its characters, and then connects that personal world to the cosmic concerns of living, you will seek out that connectivity in everything you do from then on. Join me on a journey through my library of those stories.