Tales Of The Seven Seas is at its heart and soul an action-platformer game, though the game mixes a variety of genres, including puzzling, open-world exploration, shooting, visual novel, and RPG elements. The OTL games it most resembles are the Genesis/Saturn games Beyond Oasis and Legend of Oasis. The game is a level-based game, but after the initial two levels, the game opens up completely, allowing players to select from a variety of missions, called “chapters”, at all times. There are seven playable characters in all, and the character you play as depends on the chapter. Some chapters allow you to play as any character, some allow you to choose between certain characters, and some force you to use a specific character. On the chapter select screen, which takes the form of an overworld map that your ship can sail around to access playable chapters (marked by Xs on the map), most available chapters won't advance the story. The game tells you which ones do before you select them, it also tells you what chapters will no longer be available if you select a chapter to play, or what ones will become unavailable but available again later on. If you play the game straight through, you'll play through 24 chapters, though there are 110 playable chapters in all, there's no way to play all the chapters in a single playthrough but if you use a guide and follow it exactly, you can play through all of them in two (most players will take about four or five playthroughs to play through everything, though some chapters are hard to access). Gameplay usually takes the form of action platforming segments where you either explore a level and battle enemies, each of the seven characters has their own weapon and plays a bit differently. Though characters don't actually level up or obtain different equipment (you can get stronger within chapters by collecting power-ups or through the right dialogue choices), when you attack an enemy, damage numbers will appear and the character you're playing has a life bar. There are no “lives” in the game, when you die you return to the checkpoint which is usually close by. The game isn't very difficult, though some puzzles and bosses can be quite tricky. The game instead plays a lot like a “choose your own adventure” book (which Naughty Dog says they were inspired by) that allows you to take the path through the game that you see fit, using the characters and advancing the storylines that you want to see. It relies more on character and story-based gameplay rather than challenging action, and for this it's widely considered a game ahead of its time. The game features a large soundtrack, and a lot of fully voiced dialogue (the game would become one of the first to utilize professional voice actors on a console, Sony had confidence in the game and shelled out the money to hire them). The graphics are considered average to above average for the SNES-CD, not much 3-D is utilized but the 2-D backgrounds and detailed character designs are highly praised. Nintendo publishes an official strategy guide for the game, at 236 pages it's Nintendo's largest strategy guide until significantly into the Ultra Nintendo's lifespan several years later, and it's largely considered better than Prima's strategy guide which doesn't include maps for most of the chapters and doesn't cover them all in the detail Nintendo's guide does.
The storyline itself concerns seven young people who are introduced at the start of the game. They are...
- Erick: The “main” character (if the game truly has one, Erick is the character who's ending you get if you take the straight-forward path through the game with no side missions), Erick is your typical courageous hero who wants to explore the seas for purposes of adventure and fun. However, when it comes to actual battles and danger, Erick is a bit of a coward, so he'll need encouragement and strength from his friends if he is to fulfill his dreams. Voiced by Jason Marsden, who had also recently finished starring in A Goofy Movie.
- Dona: Dona is a beautiful rogue of Spanish heritage, she is a wannabe pirate and raider who is quite capable in battle and very headstrong, though she doesn't suffer fools easily and Erick's cowardice is a bit of a bother to her. She becomes somewhat conflicted when she realizes that her pirating and theiving have real consequences. Voiced by Maria Canals, the game becomes her first voice acting performance of many.
- Victoria: A beautiful blonde debutante who runs away from home for a life of adventure on the high seas, Victoria seems to have bitten off more than she can chew but she's extremely well educated (in addition to being a prim and proper rich girl, she's also the team's closest thing to a “tech nerd”), despite having a bit of a spoiled attitude she has a truly warm heart. Voiced by Olivia D'Abo, known largely at the time for playing Karen on The Wonder Years, though by 1995 she'd started branching out into voice acting.
- Creel: Creel is a boisterous young man who enjoys partying, rum, and punching people, not necessarily in that order. He quickly bonds with Erick and the two become close friends, he helps Erick to find his true courage, though he also sometimes gets his friends into a lot of trouble. Voiced by Will Friedle, at the time mostly known for playing Cory's older brother on Boy Meets World.
- Albert: Albert is an escaped slave from a Caribbean plantation, despite his rough life he has a very sensitive and gentle demeanor and greatly appreciates his new friends. He and Dona are probably the team's most experienced navigators, Albert spent lots of time studying sailing in secret while planning to make his escape, and he takes to the seas quite quickly. He and Victoria greatly distrust one another but not for reasons you might think. Voiced by Giancarlo Esposito, whose other recent work included the 1993 video game Meteora.
- McKenna: A young girl, the youngest of the seven playable characters, McKenna is a bold sneak-thief who spends her time stowing away on ships and stealing food and treasure, though she's currently racked with guilt over an event in her recent past. She and Dona form a sisterly bond over the course of the story (though she can also form a bond with Victoria if you take the right missions). Voiced by Tara Charendoff, who was at the time largely known for doing voices in Canada as a child actress during the 1980s and was only just recently performing in American productions.
- Jack: A young boy, one year older than McKenna, whose entire family died in a shipwreck, he's distraught over all of this when he gets stuck with his six companions, he's the only one who didn't choose the life of a pirate but he and McKenna bond over the course of the game and he also learns a lot from Erick and Albert as well. Voiced by Toran Caudell, who would later go on to voice the main character in 1996's Dog Dash.
These seven characters are brought together at the start of the game, when a massive hurricane destroys the various ships that the seven are on, all but Jack having boarded or stowed away on the ships in search of new lives of freedom on the seas. The seven wash up together on an island, (seemingly) the only survivors of the various shipwrecks. The first two chapters involve them meeting up and getting to know each other (in a sort of tutorial) before they find an enormous wrecked pirate ship on the island. They work together to fix it up and become a pirate crew, exploring the high seas. After Chapter 2, the game fully opens up and you're free to embark on whatever chapters you see fit. Though you'll eventually have to choose the mandatory story-advancing chapters (which may or may not change depending on circumstances), the side chapters you embark on change the characters' relationships. At any time, you can enter the pirate ship and visit the various rooms, talking to characters as any of the playable characters you have available (for example, you can talk to Victoria as Erick, or Albert as McKenna, any combination you desire, and certain dialogue scenes open up chapters or provide power-ups for the next chapter you play). Sometimes certain characters aren't available on the ship (Creel passes out after a mission, Albert temporarily leaves, Victoria gets kidnapped, etc.), limiting dialogue choices at certain times. At other times, there are additional NPC characters on the ship that you can talk to. The dialogue scenes on the ship almost always aren't voiced (though very important ones occasionally are), it's usually in-chapter dialogue that's voiced (again, saved for more important scenes). The path you take through the game largely depends on the relationships the various characters have forged. It's sometimes difficult to know what choices do what, though the game is designed in such a way that if you like a certain character, the game will largely trend toward focusing on that character more (you get more side missions that involve them, they become available to play in storyline missions that they usually wouldn't be, etc.). It's extremely intuitive for its time (Naughty Dog conducted extensive playtesting to make sure) and one of the game's most highly praised systems. Ultimately, the game's storyline eventually leads up to a final confrontation with the main villain, Admiral Schark, a vicious warlord who seeks to bring all of the Moonlight Islands (the archipelago where the game takes place) under his control. Depending on the path you took through the game, Schark's main subordinate and sometimes the location of the final battle will change, along with the gameplay of the final battle itself, but all paths lead up to a battle with Admiral Schark. The game has seven endings, all of them are happy endings but the ending you get will focus on whichever of the seven characters you had more affinity for during the game. The ending that is considered “canon” is Erick's ending, though all seven endings have largely the same events, it's just focused on a different character.
Released for the Super Nintendo CD on September 25, 1995, amidst a slew of excellent reviews (of that year's games, only The Legend Of Zelda: The Ocarina of Dreams had received better reviews up to that time) and a good amount of pre-release hype fueled by Nintendo's enthusiasm for the game. The game exceeds its own lofty sales expectations. Though its launch-day sales don't exceed Killer Instinct's, its launch week sales do and its launch month sales exceed Killer Instinct's significantly, making it one of the biggest surprise successes of 1995 in the world of gaming. Word of mouth is excellent, the game is covered in the mainstream media and it even kicks off a mini-pirate fad that triggers a spike in the sale of pirate costumes for that year's Halloween. Along with the spike in ninja costume sales (due to the Power Rangers beginning their “ninja” arc earlier that year to co-incide with June's feature film), it becomes known as the Halloween of “pirates vs. ninjas”. The game is largely credited with undoing the damage that Cutthroat Island had done to the pirate genre in mainstream entertainment, and would help to kick off a slew of pirate-themed media in the months and years ahead. For Naughty Dog, the game's success is quite encouraging, and the sequel is immediately placed on the company's “to-do” list behind their upcoming sidescroller Dog Dash. The company was at the time wavering on what would later be known as Crash Bandicoot, trying to decide whether to attempt to make the game for the SNES-CD or to target it as a launch game for the Ultra Nintendo. The success of Tales Of The Seven Seas made that decision for them. Crash Bandicoot was Ultra-bound. Tales of The Seven Seas 2 would take its place as the company's last SNES-CD game, targeted for release in 1997.