Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Tales of Series's Skits

The Tales of series has, in several installments, employed a fun little story-telling device known as Skits. Basically, every now and then as you're adventuring through a Tales of game, there'll be little message on the screen indicating that you can watch a Skit. You press whatever button the game uses to activate it, and a small conversation occurs between the characters, using little profile pictures or near-full-body official art to visually accentuate the text and/or voice acting of the scene. These side scenes are almost always optional, and only rarely have any influence on the game play.

I basically just have to give a complete thumbs-up to this system. First of all, the fundamental idea of it is one I highly approve of. Adding dialogue between characters throughout the game cannot help but cement the characters' personalities, keep them relevant and in the mind of the gamer (since there are plenty of occasions in most RPGs where certain characters can get left behind as the plot progresses without them), and provide extra opportunity for character development. Save for the rare occasions when the RPG's writing staff are clearly total incompetents in all aspects of plot and characters and every single thing they add to the game's content only makes it more heinously stupid (think Wild Arms 4, or Final Fantasy 8), adding dialogue, monologue, and/or narration to a game can only benefit it. By adding in these optional conversations, Namco (the series creator) gives us a significant amount of extra content that fleshes out the characters and their relationships with each other--and the fact that it's optional is a good idea for practical aspects, because that way gamers who don't care about such things can skip it altogether and save themselves the time.*

So the idea is good by me. But it bears mentioning that the execution of that good idea is very effective. Several of the Tales of games use the visual aspect for all they're worth. Tales of Legendia uses official game art of each character in the conversation, and changes their expressions and poses to properly match the emotions that the character is expressing, or the actions that they're taking. Tales of the Abyss and Tales of Symphonia do the same thing, only with small profile pictures, with any larger art only occasionally being used. Tales of the Abyss, however, makes more use with the profile pictures than I would have thought possible. The little profile picture box will, during the conversation, move in small ways that are strangely effective for expressing what the character's doing during the talk, and how they're feeling. For instance, during a conversation between, say, the characters Luke and Guy, a third character like Anise might have her profile picture over to the side, and it will begin to slowly move toward the other 2 talking faces in a way that perfectly indicates that Anise is creeping up on them to eavesdrop. Another example would be that if someone in a conversation is yelling about something, their profile picture may pulse a little, expanding a few times as they're hollering. This, when working with the text and facial expression, emphasizes the idea of the character's increased volume and anger/enthusiasm. With a range of very simple movements, Tales of the Abyss emphasizes the characters' actions and feelings to make the Skits seem more realistic and interesting.

The Skits are a great idea that's done very well (at least, in the Tales of games that I've played). I wouldn't say they're beyond the possibility of improvement--Tales of Symphonia and Tales of the Abyss each don't have voice acting for their Skits, which is a nice addition to the Skits in Tales of Legendia, for example, and Tales of Legendia really could have had more of them--and more significant ones, too (ToL's Skits were activated less by plot events, and more by incidental things like certain things having happened in the last battle, or a character equipping a certain item). And the Tales of series aren't the only RPGs out there with a similar system--Final Fantasy 9's Active Time Event system is very similar, and perhaps even better overall. But even if they're not perfect nor completely unique, they're definitely very good and a rare treat, and I really appreciate what they add to the gaming experience.

* Although I have to say that if you don't care for plot or character development and feel like it wastes your time, your decision to play a Tales of title was not well thought-out.


  1. Character development is awesome :P

    Something to think about though the orginal Jap version of ToA actually had voice acting but for some reason this was left out of the English relise (including the 3ds one)

    Also Tales of Vesperia did have eng voice acting (and is very creative with the box placement)

    Then we have tales of graces which is kind of strange with the cut ins

    After graces the skits are standard

  2. The skits bond cast members together in ways the plot either shouldn't have to, or simply cannot. It fills a hole I have with most RPGs, in that a group can go traveling for tens of hours, spanning weeks, months, and even years in-game, without a progression in relationships to show for it. The skits ARE that progression; while the plot may be fixed and mostly focused on Serious Business, the skits show the characters becoming progressively more familiar and comfortable with each other. I can't see the early game's Jade Curtiss joking about eating Mieu, or the early game's Anise being so elaborate about Asch cooking for Natalia with a hilariously dramatic romantic subtext. I may not care for the story and writing and all the double standards within, but damn is it hard not to like the characters themselves.

    Something I noticed in Tales of the Abyss, is that even though the skits aren't voiced, the text is more or less perfectly synced to the mouth movements, complete with pauses. It's hard to notice if you're reading the lines the whole time, or just don't care, but if you do pay attention, the effect is downright entrancing. It's as if the skits were voiced, and and had the sound taken out later. Either this was indeed the case across the board, or the skits show a disturbing attention to detail.

    1. I noticed that myself, actually. Could definitely be that the skits were voiced (Tales of Legendia's were, as I recall), but I wouldn't be surprised if they really were just THAT well-orchestrated. Either way, it's a great effect.