Review by cfamgcn
"Not the best RPG ever made, but you will remember it even in 10 years... and lots of cat-people too!"
Tales of Symphonia (ToS):
Enter in Sylvarant, a world in danger, a world facing extinction. There is a person called "chosen" who needs to go in a dangerous journey to get the mana flowing normally again. There is a tree of mana that is dying slowly but surely during a war.
In this story, the chosen is a girl called Colette, your best friend (you are a boy named "Lloyd", by the way). You basically set off on the journey to protect her. Along the way you'll obviously meet more characters and make valuable friends, and experience some (predictable) twists in the story...
If the storyline did not convince you (it probably didn't), maybe the fact that this is one of the few GameCube RPGs will. But that doesn't mean it is not good! In fact, Tales of Symphonia is a game you NEED to pick up if you call yourself a true gamer.
Why? You ask. Well, let's break the sections of the game and detail each one:
Not the most important aspect in a game, but affects it a lot nonetheless. The style used in this game is the famous "cel-shaded", which gives it a very anime-like look and feel. For the most part it looks really good, especially when fighting enemies in the battle mode. The animations are pretty good too, even though the frame rate sometimes may drop because of all the action in the screen.
You'll also be seeing some anime cut-scenes, which pop up when an important event happens, or just because some character has a curiosity about your life, or stuff like that. They are optional, so if you don't like them, you don't have to see them (you do so by pressing Z when the game tells you). I wish there were more FMVs, though! For the excellent art they present to us, they give us just an opening and an ending FMV (don't remember if there was something in the middle, though).
I should remark that the artist who designed the characters was Kosuke Fujishima, author of the famous "Ah my Goddess!" manga.
Pretty standard for a game of this kind. It was good, without being excellent. There are some awesome melodies (as the battle ones), as well as annoying ones (for example, where some people in cat costumes live). The voice acting is pretty standard too, but at least was not bad. In terms of sound effects, you won't hear anything new, but the quality is good.
Here is where the game shines. Picture your classic JRPG with a huge world, and add a action-packed battle mode when you encounter enemies. That is in essence what ToS is about.
For the classic JRPG part, you'll be going from town to town, talking with the residents, buying stuff, solving side quests, etc. This is well done, but nothing that will surprise you. In fact, I found this section of the game kind of limited, since they aren't many residents in each town anyway, and most side quests are rather boring (collecting stuff, give back). The dungeons are okay...
Wait, did I say the dungeons were okay? Forget what you just just read. The dungeons are really, really, really tedious. There is a lot of backtracking, and a lot of box puzzles. Remember how it was exciting to find some block in a Zelda game and move it to reveal a new room? Here the developers practically say "Here are three boxes. Have fun." and you need to figure out whatever they want you to do. And even if I don't have a very good memory, I do remember doing that more than once in almost every dungeon you'll find!
Oh! If you are lazy, you can even go to the point of hiring the cat people I was talking about in the sound section, so they can find the treasures that the world is hiding from you. I think that can get rather expensive, since there aren't that many treasures, and even the ones that you do find are not that valuable...
However, the battle system is really, really, really good. First of all, there is not a single random encounter. That means you can be lazy and just investigate the towns and stuff, but if you don't fight, the bosses will likely destroy you for not taking some time to train yourself in the art of fighting (no pun intended). Your enemies will look like some kind of shadowy ghosts, but will reveal their true form in combat.
With that said, you will most likely enjoy how different ToS is from most RPGs you'll find out there. When you decide to engage in battle, you'll be controlling just one character out of the maximum of four. Of course, the CPU will be controlling the other three, but don't think that you're doomed for that. You can actually give instructions to the CPU about how to control your party, to support you, to attack recklessly, to use healing magic when the character has suffered a lot of damage, and lots more. It just depends of the character you want to control yourself and the strategy that suits your personality.
Think about the battle system of ToS as a 3D fighting game. You'll have basic attacks which you can link together to deal more damage, special attacks, and even ultra-effective combination attacks, as well as jumping and blocking. It is up to you to experiment with the options that this gives you and train a lot to master the system. I can assure you'll have a lot of fun doing so, since you can even have other real people join you. The down side of this last thing is that they cannot do anything while you are exploring the world, just in battles. So, they could be... waiting a long time watching you play.
An interesting point you'll have here is the equipping of the EX-Gems, which basically give your character a new something in your stats (magic, attack, etc), or even a new skill. There are a couple of ways you can get them, like finding them in treasures in some dungeon... or adquiring them from the cat people... to do so, you'll need GRADE. But what is grade?
Grade is some kind of alternate currency the game gives you depending on your battle performance. Let's say you fought against a hard enemy and won without losing any HP. The game can give you a +2.38 (for example), which you can save to buy stuff like the mentioned EX-Gems, armor, and some other good stuff. But if you fight against a relatively easy enemy and you end up almost beaten, you can get negative grade (like a -0.59). So, what you have to do? Train a lot with the battle system, and you won't be seeing much negative grade. =P
I would like to mention (to finish this section) the "titles" and the "cooking" stuff. As you progress in the game, you'll probably do some things you'll be proud of... or not. These little things can actually give you a title, which will affect your stats. Isn't this interesting? For instance, if you get Colette to cook something in a determined place, you'll get a title which will affect your stats.
Now, about the cooking, I found it to be a mixed bag. At first it was kinda pointless, since the characters FAILED making a SANDWICH. Wait... what!? Yes, you read it right. However, as you advance, you'll get good recipes and the characters will get pretty good at cooking too as they gain experience. Still, you need to buy the ingredients, and you can only use whatever you cook at the end of battle, which is useful only when you've run out of healing items and magic. So there you have it.
This is a pretty long RPG. It will probably take you at least 50 hours to finish it the first time. However, you'll probably want to play it again if you are like me and try to get 100% in everything. You'll probably miss a lot of side-quests, cooking recipes and minigames... and the battle system in itself makes it worth the time. In addition, you can transfer some stats from your finished game so you won't have to start with nothing.
If you want to check it out, there is an anime based on this game too. At least you won't have to press A all the time to read the story =D
+ AWESOME battle system.
+ Nice graphics and art.
+ A long first quest which makes you want to take the challenge of a second quest!
- A predictable story.
- Pretty tedious dungeons.
- The voice acting is not that great. At least they should've allowed us to hear the Japanese acting.
So, the final words...
Although it can get pretty tedious and predictable at times, Tales of Symphonia is a great game. The battle system is addicting, exciting, and different from the other RPGs you'll find on the system (not that there are many, but still...); and the experience as a whole, even with the flaws I mentioned, is worth your time. If you can add this game to your collection, don't hesitate.
Final score: 8/10 - Great, and fun to play, even though some minor flaws can be annoying.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 09/15/08
Game Release: Tales of Symphonia (US, 07/13/04)
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