If you didn't know I'm a pretty big fan of the Tales Series, I buy every single mothership title and import as often as I can. In fact, I've imported Tales of Veseperia, Tales of Graces f and Tales of Xillia. Every game in the franchise seems to progress the franchise to a better future - something that should be expected of a series.
However, one thing I've noticed is that at its core the Tales Series sticks to a very formulaic archetype. The same stereotypical male lead that needs to heavily develop, the villains that have moral ambiguities who have a hurt past, and the same repetitive combat structure with little to no variations. Each Tales game might appear to be different and you can definitely make that argument. I look at it like this. Using the analogy of a human body, while the bones (core ideas and infrastructure of the game) remain the same, the outside skin and inner workings of the body (the gameplay mechanics that build around said ideas) are different.
What's so wrong about this? There's nothing wrong. In fact, the Tales games have been known to get great reviews because it's good at what it does. Even I review them with fairly good comments. Once again, it all goes back to the idea of improving though. The developers have every reason to stick to the same old tried and true formula. After all, if it ain't broke, why fix it? Well, just because it's not broken doesn't mean you can try and "fix" it. Perhaps the word fix implies a prerequisite of being broken but I look at it differently. I look at it as a way of fixing things that can possibly get broken over time. This means that everything has the potential to improve! So what can be changed? Well, below are five things that I think the series can change, add, and or remove. Some are small nitpicky stuff but others are large changes. It's not in any particular order by the way!
1. Transitions in and out of battle/Exploring the world
This first is actually two ideas - I know I'm sort of cheating but hear me out - that work with each other quite well. As of now you travel around the world and there are enemies scattered throughout your path. Once you run into them you quickly transition into a battle arena; and you exit the arena once you end the fight. This is sort of how many traditional JRPGs work. Final Fantasy, Star Ocean, The World Ends With You, and more. The battles don't happen on the map but they displace you into a battle arena. Now, this isn't bad but wouldn't it be cool if you saw the enemies in the world and as you run into them, without having a transition, you just automatically get into it like an action RPG?
Now I understand that changing this up means reinterpreting the series entirely - I know. However, what I'm asking exactly is that. The combat can still be the same but it would be cool to have the battles and the world around you be seamlessly connected. The game can still utilize the same old combat system and make it work around this mechanic. However, this brings up another issue: the size of the world
If we're going to make the world more combat capable then this means that the maps need to be a lot larger than it is now. Currently the paths are narrow and the maps are designed in a way so you can't fight on them. It's understandable why since the battles actually take elsewhere, why does the travel area need to be so big? It doesn't. However, the idea I proposed earlier needs to be complementary with bigger areas and maps to support such a feature. This means more vast and expansive areas that are in tradition to WRPGs, ala Skyrim? Well... maybe not exactly but something along the lines. Granted, I'm not asking for an open world Tales. I'm just asking for something refreshing.
2. More dynamic shopping/thriving economy
One aspect that I feel lacking in almost any RPG I play is the idea of buying. While combat and storytelling have evolved to be more complicated as time passed, shops have seemed to improve little. It feels somewhat gamey. It's a simple routine of go to new place, buy stuff, sell stuff, done. Nothing complicated, nothing to crazy, nothing dynamic. It's very boring. Now, I'm being vague and very general about this. I also know that there are games that are exception to this rule, but many RPGs to fall under this, especially JRPGs.
Tales of Xillia took a different approach to how shops worked. You can trade in materials to further evolve the shop. This would allow for new goods to flow in and older products would be discounted accordingly. It's a nice concept on paper but it was a very shallow system that seemed almost stripped of parts. I felt like it was meant to be something greater but the developers just hacked it to make a streamlined shopping experience. I want to game to make me feel like shopping matters and have it deliver a meaningful in-depth system. I don't have solid ideas sorry, but if it didn't change, I'm sure it would be nice - even if it fails, trying is better than nothing.
3. Change the narrative structure
Now, this one is debatable. I understand that the stories for Tales games are designed in a way to appeal to a specific audience. I respect the developer's decision on this. However, just because you change up the story doesn't mean it can't appeal to the same audience.
Right now the story lacks any dramatic plot twists, themes that are cliche or somewhat childish in retrospect, and characters that fit the typical anime trope. "Hey, that guy looks suspicious. He's probably a traitor." Guess what? He is a traitor. It's hard to be surprised and wowed by the stories in the series. However, it does come with its own benefits. Because everything ties to a central overarching theme, the narratives tend to be coherent for the most part. However, the lack of originality is what I'm trying to get at.
I want a character that has a backbone rather than realizing that the foundations of his beliefs are weak. I want a cast of characters that are interesting to me and I can relate to. I want the party to not complement each other perfectly but a group of people that have to travel together because they have a common goal, despite their misfits. What I'm trying to get at is that you can take all the stereotypical anime stuff out and still get a story that will cater to the same audience. Sure you might lose some people because it's no longer anime-esque but chances are you'll get new people too.
4. Put back the title system from Graces/Leveling/Customizing
Tales of Graces f had an awesome character progression system. It had a grid of a 100+ titles. Each title had up to 5 abilities you can learn from as well as a benefit to having the title equipped to your character. However, if you only want to learn 2 of the abilities then you can just learn them and move on to a different title. It's a very unique customization system that allows for various styles of customizing. You can level up titles to unlock all the Artes first or you can level them in a way so you unlock everything. It's up to you. This dynamic encourages a deep mix and matching of different combination of titles in various orders for a unique experience.
Sadly, this system was only on Graces and it's a bit disappointing that the customization system gets changed after every new installment. Even if the new games don't adopt this customizing system, it would be extremely nice to see something drastically new for a change. Leveling nowadays feels like all numbers and I feel that it shouldn't. However, for a game that relies heavily on numbers I could be wrong...
5. Make side quests/stuff enjoyable
One thing I enjoyed about Mass Effect 3 - much to my chagrin - is the set of side quests that it offered. It immersed me into the world and made me care about my companions. Not only this but it introduced me to new characters and I also felt like I cared about them? Why? It's because it wasn't some boring old fetch quests or seeing a mini-narrative skit telling me to do some pointless task. Make the objectives more compelling and create a system where the game rewards you for taking the time to explore it. Don't make it a chore.
In addition make the skits more... enjoyable. I'm not saying that they're enjoyable now but they could be spiced up. Make them more cinematic. Present them in a way so it has more personality or style. Lastly, I'd hate to add the conversation wheel but do something so you're not just watching a segment of an anime. Engaging the player is the key.