Tales of Symphonia
Review by 1wingedangel45
"It's cliched. It's been-there-done-that. And yet it's still an award winner!"
The year was 1997. Final Fantasy 7, originally supposed to be an N64 game but was made into a PS1 for the ability to make full motion videos and advanced graphics, revolutionized RPGs by being in 3D, changing the way we see them. Since then, many RPGs cashed in on the 3D RPG genre without being just mere cash ins. Some innovated RPGs like Kingdom Hearts, which mixed the more recognizable Disney with the unrecognizable Square-Enix characters. But some are Tales of Symphonia, and I mean it in a good way.
Not as popular as Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts, Tales of Symphonia had tons of RPG/anime cliches seen in not only various other RPGs, but also the other "Tales of" game that came before it: Phantasia, Destiny, and Destiny 2. If you pick up this game and attempt to find anything innovative, all you'll find is nothing new whatsoever. But despite these cliches, at least this game, as well as the other games I've never even played in my life, was well polished, well done, and very touching. This game, like other RPGs that were cliched yet fun anyways, was a good example of how to mix the same old, same old with actual fun, sympathetic characters, powerful and good reasons for the heroes and villains to kill each other until one of the sides die, and battles that will make your heart race fast enough to give you a heart attack. Now for the review itself:
Story 8/10: Even though Lloyd Irving is the show stealer and thus the main character, almost a lot of the story focuses on Colette, the fabled Chosen One destined to regenerate the world by breaking some seals like walnuts. However, if Colette saves the land of Sylvarant, the other land known as Tethe' Alla will die away, causing a chosen of that world to break some seals in Tethe' Alla to steal back the mana, the source of all life, Sylvarant retrieved. Thus, later on in the story Lloyd, Colette, Genis, Raine, and various other allies they join with along the way will attempt to find a way to save both worlds without having one sacrifice the other. Yes, in many RPGs and anime, there's always some seal to break for almost any random reason. Yes, the main hero also happens to be a male whiney teenage sword wielder. Yes, there's also some bisexual relationships. It also has some "tree of life", some failed attempts at mixing sci-fi and fantasy together, some religious and mythological references, Dwarven Vows, elves and half-elves, the same old touching themes from various other anime storylines, some side-switching, and the like. But still, you'd have to give it a chance. Why? Because there are tons of twists and turns along the way. What starts out as "break these [insert number of seals here] to save the world" eventually becomes something more, and more. And not only is it something more, but that something more is also more cliched. Trust me, I've enjoyed the story and characters, especially Kratos Aurion, the strong silent type who constantly judges Lloyd for being an inexperienced swordsman. It's well written, and most, if not all, of the characters are likable and charming.
There are also skits you can start up by pressing Z when the Z button icon appears at the bottom left screen when outside of battle. During these skits, you can watch your party members interact with each other, either further developing the story, revealing some more things about the different characters, or giving out hints on where to go or what to do. Some are serious, and some can be really funny. There are also skit points hidden in the two different world maps. Some of them only appear when you have a certain character in your party. These skit points are much more special because when you access them, you're given two different dialogue choices. Pick the more polite choice and Lloyd will not only develop more of a bond with a certain character, but allow the player to learn more about that character. Pick the rude choice, and Lloyd will only offend a certain ally of his (although that doesn't mean they'll start liking him less to the point of not liking him at all; they'll still just be friends with Lloyd).
Gameplay 8/10: Many Japanese RPGs have given up a world map because they're too easy to get lost. But who cares if they're too easy to get lost in if they're so open-ended? That's when ToS avoids that by having not one, but two world maps to explore. It's got treasure chests hidden throughout the world. It's got skit points so that you can learn more about the different playable characters. It's got towns to go shopping and resting in and dungeons to explore and fight monsters. It can also be explorable by land, sea, and air. And all of these are still seen in other Japanese RPGs before it. In the world map and various levels, enemies are visible on screen. So instead of being constantly nagged by stupid random encounters, you can just see an enemy and avoid it. However, without fighting anyone, you won't gain any experience points, money, and/or items. Thus leads to the fighting. When in combat, it plays in real time, just like Phantasia, Destiny, and Destiny 2 before it. When fighting enemies, you and three other allies controlled either by the super-smart AI or your friends beats up the various foes and heal each other with many different weapons, spells, and items. There's an A button for the normal attack, a B button for the special attack/spell you've asigned your character with, an X button to block in order to reduce damage from foes and prevent yourself from staggering, and a Y button to bring up a menu to pause the action and use items, abilities, to change equipment, or to flee if it's not an event battle or boss battle. There's also a unison feature, which I don't really use much but it's there for those who like double team attacks. When you perform certain actions or get hit by an attack, a unison metter slowly fills up. Once it's full, you can press Z and perform certain button combos to have your party members onslaught your enemy/enemies. After each battle, you're rewarded with money, experience points, grade points to spend on customization materials (so that you can use them to make new items at customization shops for free), and items. Also, if you have ingredients needed to cook certain foods, you can cook foods to restore your characters' health, tech points, and status, by pressing the X button after battle.
But just to let you know, like in various other Japanese RPGs, there is little to no character customization, so don't expect to teach Lloyd Irving healing spells. The closest thing to character tweaking, however, are not only experience points and equiping new weapons, armor, and accessories, but also EX skills which increase a certain stat or give them special bonuses either in or out of battle. There are also titles, which you can change in the status menu, that determines your characters' growth patterns when leveling up.
Plus, the main story path is over 35-50 hours long, with that combined with various side-quests lasting for more than 60-80 hours. So with that plus the great fun factor, expect to lose sleep, break up with your loved ones, lose your job, forget to eat, kill your brain cells, forget to pay the bills, and horribly massacre your own life. If it weren't for the same things seen in other RPGs before that and the limited character tweaking, it would've gotten a 9 or 10. But still, an 8 is a great score, making me a huge fan of that game.
Graphics 8/10: It's pure cell-shaded anime-style. Some of the character animations are a little jerky and strange at times during cutscenes or battles, taking away some of the mood to the game, but at least it doesn't get in the way of the fun. It's powerfully fruity colored, so don't expect any of the same bland grays and browns seen in the more realistic RPGs like Final Fantasy 10. The characters also look very charming, especially Kratos and his young looks despite being a middle-aged man.
Sound 8/10: I didn't see why no one liked the voice acting. Sure the good voice acting and the poor jerky animations didn't match each other, but at least it was cool listening to Crispin Freeman, AKA Albedo from Xenosaga (another Namco RPG like Tales of Symphonia), lending his voice to the wise-yet-troubled ex-conman in cuffs, Regal Bryant. Also, expect the same slicing sounds and so on seen in other anime and Japanese RPGs. They maybe "been-there-heard-that", but at least they're nice. The music is also well done, although it's not Nobuo Uematsu or Yoko Shimomura, but still it's good.
Overall, if you're a big fan of cliches seen in various anime and RPGs, this game is for you. Hell, this game is for me as well, because I'm a huge fan of anime and RPGs, no matter how cliched they are. But those who prefer something innovative for once should either just try it out and give it a chance or ignore this game completely and go for another Namco game like ToS, called Katamari Damacy. It may have gotten an 8 for the minor problems I've described, like the cliches, but at least it's brilliant.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/05/06
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