Review by ShadowGuardian9

"Namco's 60-hour behemoth RPG for the Gamecube."

Remember Tales? No, probably not. The Tales game series has always been second to many of the other RPGs like Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star. It hasn't had a tremendous success outside of Japan. But Nintendo and Namco plan to change that by bringing the classic Tales of Symphonia over from Japan. Is it the Gamecube's best RPG yet?

The story picks up with aspiring hero Lloyd Irving, a lazy schoolchild who wishes to participate in a ritual where a “Chosen One” is taken to fulfill their destiny as the Regenerator of the World, in this case the land of Sylvarant. The Chosen, in fact, is Lloyd's clumsy classmate, Colette Brunel. She is guarded by Lloyd's bookish and mage teacher Raine Sage and mysterious mercenary Kratos Aurion. Upon hearing of him not able to join the adventure, Lloyd explores the local hideout of the Desians with his friend Genis, who also happens to be Raine's younger brother. The Desians use humans in horrific ways to Lloyd and the others, but only when someone gets killed does Lloyd possess the courage to help Colette on his own. The real challenge, though, is explaining the story in this review. You see, Tales of Symphonia's story goes off on so many tangents and so many plot twists that explaining the story any further would spoil something. Regardless, it's when the long (and I mean LONG) story is complete that you realize that the original story makes sense and is a triumphant mark in the RPG world.

The characters are developed brilliantly. Lloyd is your typical wanna-be hero, but early on he is denied the power of going on the journey. Genis is the kid brother of Raine but always seems to know what's right. Colette is a regular klutz and really doesn't understand what she's actually doing. I could go on, but identifying each character would take up far too much precious time. On the whole, the game doesn't just approach the cookie-cutter “save the world” theme. Romance, human existence, and all the other important themes you'd find in a best-selling novel come into the story. Characters change over time. Relationships form. The characters themselves become more important than the task at hand, which changes just as much as the characters do. Tales of Symphonia takes every chance to be different, but never underappreciates its core values for a good, well-thought-out story. It's a unique, thought-inducing, theme-creating journey that will no doubt be treasured in the future of gaming, and entertainment as a whole.

What has been the crown jewel of the classic Tales legacy is the constant innovation in the battle system. The classic turn-based, number-crunching battle system is not present in Tales of Symphonia. Every battle takes place in full real time, following the Linear Motion Battle system, as Namco eloquently calls it. Upon entering a battle, the controlled character moves on a linear axis with the targeted enemy, similar to that of a 2-D fighting game. Pressing the A button lets the player attack with basic attacks like sword slashes, and pressing B lets a player execute a special attack, a more powerful melee attack or magic and the like, where Technical Points (TP) are spent. Simple guards can be executed with the X button, with better guards earned later on. Though the entire concept seems simple to the point of ridicule, the combat requires well-timed attacks and strategic uses of items and skills in game. When the battle gets pretty tough, pressing the Y button brings up a simple menu to change techniques, use items, or designate how a character approaches battle. Changing targets can be used with the R button, which also stops the battle till the player begins it again. What's really interesting about the battle system is when multiple enemies appear and the player is forced to quickly decide how to approach the situation. The fact that up to four players can battle as a team (with the leader using the camera) doesn't hurt at all.

Outside of battle (and sometimes in), there's plenty of stuff to do in order to become a better hero. The Y button opens the classic RPG pause screen, where characters can increase skills with better weapons, heal using items, or decide which strategy to approach in battle. One inclusion is EX Gems, magical stones that can increase stats, emphasize a specific battle style, or the like. The game does well in approaching the classic trends of how each character battles. One's better with melee, another with healing, another with magic. It's a pretty standard fare. A major way that the game changes the gameplay is the use of Strike and Technical. Depending on how you use EX Gems, the characters will learn different types of techniques, a matter that comes useful in planning how each character battles. Strategies are set as how a character's role in battle. Do they attack from a distance? Do they emphasize magic or melee? These questions go on, but are supported by some smart CPU. How you set CPU strategies become key in battle. The CPU listen to the strategies to the utmost precision, so if you mess up, it's really not their fault.

Another unique concept of Tales of Symphonia is the Unison attack, a multi-attack barrage on a single enemy. Repeated attack charges the Unison meter. When full, pressing Z lets the player attack an enemy with the other characters being represented with respectable buttons. Pressing the buttons (or sometimes buttons and the Control Stick) lets characters rush in for TP-free attacks. Even better are possible Unison Attacks, where the characters team up for a stronger attack. Whether it be a lightning sword or a tidal surge of light, the Unison Attacks look great and can really benefit the dangerous world of the battlefield.

Typical exploration in Tales of Symphonia is brought through a huge field. Enemies are depicted as giant blobs. When met with the player-controlled character, battle begins. Exploring the field lets the player see significant alters to make exploring easier or see other towns for some fun side-quests. Thanks to a strong and accessible battle system, entering a battle doesn't seem to get old. There's plenty of things to do, and even when battling, there's a sense of difficulty and struggle at times. The battle system breathes new life into the random battles of yesteryear and is an excellent approach to the battles and exploration aspects.

When entering one of the many dungeons, the game takes a pretty straightforward approach. The dungeons' monsters aren't random; you will see them patrolling areas. It is good that the battles don't hinder the exploration much. The design of the dungeons range from clever to mildly frustrating. They don't seem to possess the same emphasis as the rest of the game. But the dungeons look great, can be quite challenging, and many of the puzzles are clever enough and don't slow down the game's pace at all.

One of the most entertaining parts of the exploratory game aspects, and the whole game in general, are the skits. Pressing Z in select areas lets the player see what the characters are thinking. Whether it be about Raine's cooking or Colette's duty as Chosen, the different ways the characters interact with each other makes the characters even more abstract. It's at moments like the skits where the player really gets to investigate how the characters express emotions and personality, something that many RPG's don't know. The reason that Tales of Symphonia succeeds is not only in the gameplay and exploration, but the characters actually take on lives of their own, and as a result, you begin to see the “role” in “role-playing game”. It's amazing how out of their way the developers and writers did to include such focus on the characters, but regardless, they did a phenomenal job.

The game's graphic capabilities, despite their colorful appearance, are actually quite good. Animations are smooth and clean; the colorful magic attacks and technique look incredible in battle. The game presents some breathtaking anime sequences; the opening sequence is worth watching over and over. They look spectacular, although the breathtaking anime sequence are rare sights throughout and only appear at a few points in the game. It's a shame, but they still look great. The characters take on some cel appearances, and on the whole, look great.

The anime cel style is complimented with big-name actors to perform the roles. Scott Menville, famous for the voice of Robin on Teen Titans, is a good choice for the main hero Lloyd with other famous anime voice actors like Crispin Freeman and Kari Wahlgren performing stellar roles throughout. The sounding off in battle does show some cool quips. The writing can be a bit melodramatic at times, and there isn't a huge amount of acting. The light-hearted skits really needed voice acting, as they are incredibly well written and laugh-out-loud funny. On the whole the sound is great; good exploration background music, good voice acting, and a majestic score round out an excellent collection of sound.

Pros
+ Interesting story full of plot twists
+ Nice cel-graphics and anime sequences
+ Good acting from big-name voice actors
+ Good character, monster, and boss design
+ Gameplay is enormous and full of side-quests
+ Battle system is accessible and versatile
+ One of the deepest and longest RPGs out there

Cons
- Dungeon design can get a little boring
- Anime sequences few and far between

RPG's really don't possess a tremendous amount of room to stand out in the crowd, but Tales of Symphonia is definitely one of the most unique and fun RPGs on any console, if not then the Gamecube. There's an incredible amount of depth in the combat system, but it always puts its best foot forward and isn't so convoluted or difficult to figure out. Along with a story that can in fact change upon certain decisions and skits that develop the characters even more, Tales of Symphonia is a long and incredibly interesting take on the long-used concept. Different decisions in story and battle make the entire game an unforgettably interesting story, even after the story ends. The game's drama-filled story is a long one, wrapped in some colorful graphics and big-name voice acting. Despite being a rare find on the RPG-deprived Gamecube, Tales of Symphonia is a rich story with an accessible battle system, plenty of depth, and a great presentation that anyone should check out. It's a heartfelt and breathtaking narrative that will not be forgotten not only as a Gamecube game, not only as an RPG, but as a piece of art, illustrating many concepts that other game still try to find. It's an amazing game and should be played by any true gamer.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 03/19/07


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