Review by Aegis Shield
"An experience best left... cherished!"
Ahh, Tales of Symphonia. This title is what GameCube owners such as myself have been talking about for months, as we're starved for a decent original RPG. I honestly haven't discovered an RPG so much fun to fight, explore, or just wander about aimlessly since Secret of Mana.
Concept and Story
Once upon a time, there was a tree which was the source of all mana. A great war ravaged the land and caused the tree to wither, so a Hero, in all his martyred glory was sacrificed in order to replace it. Grieving for the Hero, the Goddess Martel disappeared and went into a deep slumber.
The story begins with a girl being born named Colette, whose divine birth gave her the title of "Chosen One" or "The Chosen." Her duty is, to put it bluntly, thus: Save the human and other existing races from wicked slavers and literally 'regenerate the world.' To aid her in her journey are the Elvish siblings Genis, (A literal genius, which happened to be his Japanese name) Raine, (Genis' big sister, and just as smart) the mysterious swordsman Kratos, and the hero of this story, the hilarious Lloyd Irving as well as several others... Yes, it's not exactly original, and a lot of it seems to be horribly cliche, silly, or just downright cheesy to read at times.
The story's presentation is aided through mostly optional skits, which for the most part are optional. When triggered, they depict a brief, anime-ish dialogue sequence that helps boost the respective characters personalities, usually providing some comic relief, while sometimes also giving you hints or directions to help further your journey. Through the use of special skits, one can develop a relationship with that respective character; different relationships will trigger different responses, and ultimately, will help shape the ending.
The story is riddled with cliches, almost out of spite for other RPGs you could say, but it does it's job well enough. With plenty of character depth and growth to be found, a gamer will be hard pressed to not take a liking to the somewhat small cast. The dialogue is fairly light hearted, and often times humorous (especially with Lloyd's antics), yet underneath all of that comic humor a darker tone can be detected. Dealing with such issues as racism and self-sacrifice, and offering plenty of plot twists, Tales of Symphonia's story is not only one that breaks the stranglehold of the cliches that plague it, it is one of those that most certainly will not be forgotten any time soon.
Presentation and Audio
Tales of Symphonia makes use of cel-shaded character and enemy models rendered into a 3D setting strongly reminiscent of titles like Harvest Moon. One could consider Tales of Symphonia's vibrant environments to be akin to those found in a watercolor painting; this is not a bad thing, mind you. The cel-shading is bright and crisp, although I have an occasional slightly blurry screen when Lloyd starts running or performing other actions sometimes. In a cutscene, sometimes the models wave their hands and bodies around in a goofy way (Which I hope is nonintentional). Another little graphical error that bugs me a bit is that sometimes, a characters model will be "running" during a cutscene, yet they move as slow as molasses. The overworld can be described simply as thus: expansive, yet somewhat bland. All in all, though, the environments and characters are breathtakingly detailed; this is some fantastic use of cel-shading, and I'm looking forward to more developers taking advantage of this technique in the future.
The audio, however, I'm simply hooked on. Featuring talented music directors like Motoi Sakuraba (whose work includes titles such as Golden Sun), one knows there's going to be a pleasing audio experience at hand. Seriously, if there is a soundtrack available to this game, purchase it now. I applaud all who had a hand in delivering upon this pleasing soundtrack, despite the fact that it most unfortunately wasn't orchestrated. Towns in this game have lively, bustling themes, while dungeons and ruins contain sinister melodies, and place like small villages have soothing, tranquil tunes that are pleasing to the ear. I give my utmost respect for the instrumentals and effort put into this title, it's that good. This game does feature voice acting from such talented individuals like Cam Clarke and Tara Strong. Despite the strong cast available here, some NPCs can be considered somewhat bland and lifeless; I'm not a big fan of Colette's voice , either.
Gameplay and Difficulty
Tales of Symponia brings it's own brand of classic gameplay from it's earlier titles and expands upon it tenfold.
Basically, 1-4 characters fight in a 2d plane through real time action. Combos are easily linked, and many skills/magic, most unique to a particular character, are unlocked as you progress through the title. ToS does support multiplayer, so you can have up to four players fighting baddies at the same time. The skills are fully customizable, and you can switch their combinations with no trouble whatsoever.
Fighting is relatively easy and gorgeous to watch, but button mashers will have a very hard time with this game. To be honest, Tales games are strictly for those who can take control of the situation as it's approaching, and must be able to respond quickly with near-exact precision. You won't have much time to pore over a boss or major enemies like in a Final Fantasy game, so beware.
When playing solo, the other party members are controlled through a very customizable AI system. You can change every character to your preferences and they will perform to the best of your wishes during a fight. However, there will be the odd time that a magic user such as Raine will somehow run to an enemy, bash it around a bit, then retreat rather than staying in the back casting spells like I ordered her to. Such things aren't too bad and aren't common at all, but can be extremely annoying during a boss fight.
Tales of Symphonia brings back the need for having food, and expands upon it by giving you the ability to cook your own meals on the fly. As you progress through the game, different foods to be used in recipes will be required, and every meal has it's own effect. For example, make a Sandwich to heal a small amount of HP or cook an Omelet to negate poison for the entire party. Every character has their own particular tastes and cooking abilities, so putting forth more effort into cooking food by adding extra ingredients will result in a more desired effect. There is a vast amount of foods to be learned through the elusive Wonder Chef, and each particular food item's effect will differ depending on those who cook it. Not to mention that a food's curative properties can be boosted through optional ingredients as well. It's one of those things that looks relatively minor on the surface, yet offers more than a little depth to the mix.
Tales of Symphonia also incorporates a nifty little system dubbed as "Grade." That's right, you're being judged on how well you perform during battle. The Grade system judges you on things like time, repetition, and skill bot h offensively and defensively. This can be a considerable hindrance to button mashers, a technique I most definitely would not reccommend for this title. Through the use of Grade, one can purchase things such as materials to craft items with or bonuses (after your first playthrough) that will help increase the replay value drastically.
The difficulty?? I've honestly had little trouble, , but don't expect this game to be a walk in the park. There are plenty who will put up a good fight, especially the game's optional bosses.
Bonuses and Replay
Tales of Symphonia, to put it bluntly, is a massive game that took me around forty five hours to complete the first time through with the majority of the side quests uncompleted. Through the choices you make and the relationships you develop with your characters, replay value is increased exponentially. Simply put, you're going to be playing this game a lot in order to absorb every little nuance about it.
There is an exceptional amount of side quests available in the game. Some tie intricately with the plot, and others are more light-hearted and fairly simple. The amount of secrets in this game is nothing to sneeze at either - it always seems like once you feel like you've done everything, something yet pops up for you to do! This is more than standard RPG fare in terms of sidequests, and I applaud Namco for incorporating them.
To an avid console RPG player such as myself, it is a must have. To fans of different genres, it's worth playing through renting or owning as well. Tales of Symphonia has shaped up to be a worthy contender for Game of the Year status last year, and quite possibly one of my favorite titles of all time. Despite the minor flaws in the execution of the graphics, as well as some of the more irksome cliche's in the story, Tales of Symphonia still shines with a brilliant luster in practically every noteworthy category.
Final Score: 9.25 of 10 (Rounded down to 9 on the GameFAQs scale)
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/25/05
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