Review by Chaos Control
"Tales of Symphonia shines with brilliance!"
...but partly because it is the only Tales game to reach the Gamecube. Namco's Tales series is a collection of role-playing games especially popular in Japan, but not as much in America. Tales of Symphonia may initially look childish and unusual to those who have never touched a Tales game, but this game will surprise all those who play it with excellent game play and even better replay value. In Tales of Symphonia, gamers will be introduced to a crew of strange characters wielding odd weapons. Many scenes in the main storyline are voice acted to perfection, the characters are popular and likeable, and the battle system is real time and action packed. All these elements combine to create a satisfying RPG experience. The opening movie is beautiful and gives a good idea of how amazing this game is!
As spectacular as the opening anime movie is, it is one of the few anime scenes you will see in the entire game, since there are like 4 total. Don't let the opening fool you though; many of the scenes are not actually related to the story. That said, the story in Tales of Symphonia is quite long and will make you run all over the world. While the story is very linear and tells you exactly where to go after any given event, there are still an abundance of side quests that you can complete. This game is easy to follow and to enjoy.
You will be running to all of the game's cities and dungeons eventually. All the cities are unique and special in some way. The townspeople often repeat the same phrases over and over again, which is a little disappointing. Don't think you'll be running all the time, though. You will eventually gain the power to travel by boat, although that is extremely short lived because soon after, you will gain the power of flight. Yay!
The actual storyline is very dense in the sense that you have to dig deep and understand what's going on, because there won't be somebody to explain it in detail. You will find that although the graphics and script make this game look cartoonish, it is actually very serious and presents many recurring themes. The game will teach many important lessons that people today still have not learned, including racism and discrimination. Not only that, but the concept of death is not lightly taken. Not unlike past Tales games, cities will be sacked and destroyed with civilians killed. Some minor characters that appear helpful at first will die. Tales of Symphonia is not a game for the weak of heart.
All the characters have deep backgrounds that bring them together. Most of these personal histories are depressing ones, however. I will not go into detail about each individual character, but it seems like everyone's past has some death of a loved one, so much that it doesn't seem natural, or even possible. As you progress throughout the game, you will learn more about the backgrounds of each character, as well as the motives of the bad guys.
As an extension to the basic storyline, you will be able to view "skits" after particular events. Skits feature some of the current party members talking to each other about events that occurred. The skits aren't voiced, but they are animated so that characters will have funny facial expressions and hilarious conversations. The only bit of concern here is that you can't fast forward through any skits, so if by chance the skit you are viewing is a long one, you are stuck watching it from beginning to end.
Those who have played Tales of Phantasia will be happy to see the return of the Summon Spirits. There is a particular character in the game that can form pacts with these Summon Spirits and summon them for battle. While these spirits are strong and effective in battle, they won't be used often in battles.
New to this game is the ability to change the ending... kind of. In the game, the main character, Lloyd, will have to find a "soul mate", which is one member of the party. These relationships are based upon answers Lloyd gives to questions and whichever characters he chooses when "Pick a party member to do X" types of situations arise. Lloyd will develop an intimate relationship with that character and have several meaningful conversations with them as the game progresses. Disappointingly enough, there really isn't any romance, although there are little budding friendships that have to potential to go even further. One of these scenes will affect the ending party members you will have to complete the game.
Overall, the story is interesting enough to continue playing. There are many twists and turns, so there is a compelling reason to find a resolution for the story. All the story elements of an RPG are present, like a buildup and climax. I found that the story was still interesting after multiple playthroughs.
The game play is vastly improved from Tales of Phantasia, and I think it is one of the best on the Gamecube. The world is huge and full of many new concepts to explore and master. New players who have never touched a Tales game could feel a little overwhelmed to understand all the concepts and controls.
One returning concept from past Tales games are titles for each of the characters. Titles have a nifty description and level up effects as well. They are obtained for each character by completing side quests or just by progressing through the story. Titles will have different effects on what stats grow faster as you level up. Other titles will have no effect on character growth, but instead will let you view your characters in costumes, ranging from battle costumes to bathing suits(!). The funny thing is, when a character, especially a female one, walks into a snowy village wearing a bathing suit, the villagers will actually make comments like, "How can you walk around dressed like that!". There are many titles of each of the characters, and some of the titles do have difficult requirements to meet. Titles will often be rewarded at the end of side quests, so it is possible to miss some side quests due to the length of the main story.
But the fun doesn't stop there, it only gets a little bit more complicated. Your characters can now equip something called "EX-Gems". Each character can equip up to 4 gems, and there are 4 gems in all, level 1, 2, 3, and 4. These gems are found in treasure chests or bought in-game. These gems will enable in and out of battle skills, like running faster out of battle, and not being staggered when casting a spell. Each character has a "Personal EX-Skill", which have helpful out of battle effects like reducing item shop prices and receiving items when talking to woman. These EX-Skills can also be combined to create even better effects, so find that combination that suits your battle style!
Speaking of battle styles, there is a somewhat new one in this game. The battles are all in real time. Your character is always locked onto one enemy, although you can easily switch targets with the press of a button. When locked onto an enemy, you can only run in a linear, 2D pattern. You get used to this over time, but it does present difficulty when dodging enemy spells as flexibility is limited.
After a battle, you will earn "grade" based on how the battle went. You earn points for having high combos and not getting hit by enemy attacks. These grade points can be used to purchase upgrades for further playthroughs or can be used as currency for in-game shops.
You can also cook after you've won a battle. You will obtain various recipes for foods like pizzas and quiche. Successful cooking will have various effects, like healing or recovering from status effects. After cooking one recipe for a certain number of times, you will "master" it. If you master every recipe with one character, something special will happen!
There is also a concept of overlimit configured in this game. After taking X number of hits, or other effects, characters can build up an invisible overlimit bar. When the invisible bar is full, the character will automatically enter overlimit mode. In this mode, the character is surrounded by a black aura. Any damage dealt during this time will be reduced by half. The character also cannot be staggered and has reduced casting time. Certainly a good effect, but overlimit doesn't occur enough to be a major impact in battle. Certain special moves are also only usable during this time.
And speaking of moves, there are a LOT of them in this game. Each character has level 1,2 or 3 techniques and spell casters have basic, mid, and advanced level spells. Characters gain these moves through leveling up or by completing side quests. Characters can also link attacks together in a chain. The order is a level 1 tech, followed by a level 2 tech, and ending with a level 3 tech. Certain EX Skills will allow a character to mix up this order at will. Using these techs, you can form a basic party with one or two melee attackers, one spell casting mage, and a healer.
And oh boy, the techs can only get more complicated from here. Characters will learn different moves based on their fighting style. They can learn moves branched out into two categories, Strike and Technical. Each of the EX Skills a character has equipped will either be Strike or Technical, and whichever is the majority will make the character lean more towards Strike or Technical. At first, this will be very confusing to understand, so gamers will often refer to guides for help understanding.
The best looking skills of all are the Special Techniques. Known as Hi-Ougis in Japanese, these are your special attacks, and you can recognize them by a little cut portrait of the characters face. Unfortunately, there are only three of them in the US version, while the Japanese version has at least one for every character. Nonetheless, these special moves do look very cool and are the strongest moves out there, but they can only be used during overlimit and have many restrictions on them. You won't be using these moves very often, a little disappointing.
You can also perform Unison Attacks, which works after you fill up the Unison Attack gauge. To trigger a Unison Attack, the initial hit must connect with an enemy. Afterwards, each character will be allowed to perform any one attack and use it on a defenseless enemy. Spells do not require casting here! Sweet! As an added bonus, if two of the characters perform specific moves, an extension of the unison attack will occur, resulting in a Combination attack where two moves are combined to form an even more devastating move! Awesome!
Keep in mind that you can have up to 4 members of a party participating in a battle at a time. Your party will have a maximum of 8 people in at the same time. Which gets me thinking. When your party of 4 is defeated, you get a Game Over screen. Nothing surprising, but what happened to the other 4 members who didn't fight. They die as well? Well, in any case, having 8 people fighting in the same party means you can easily switch out injured members low on HP.
Like any RPG, this game offers a slew of items and weapons to be used in and out of battles. There are the standard swords, staff, bow, and spear. There are also shields, armor, bracelets, and gloves that you can buy for defense. The gels are back, and they are the potions for your adventure. Each character can also equip two accessory. These accessories can be found in treasure chests, purchased in shops, or dropped by enemies. Some of them have rather interesting effects, like reducing spell casting time and doubling experience earned!
This game can also get a little frustrating will all the dungeons. Often, the story line will throw you in some dungeon filled with obscure puzzles and a boss lurking at the end. It is very easy to get lost or miss some items without referring to a guide. These dungeons are styled like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. There are many tasks to complete in a dungeon you sort of have to figure out by yourself, although the game will give you hints here and there.
Tales of Symphonia has pretty good graphics for the most part. The game's environments all look pretty sharp, like the deserts and snow lands. The towns and cities are all unique and look cool, whether it be the snow or the beautiful blue sky. The battlefield also reflects the environment or dungeon you are in, so that is certainly another plus. The anime style scenes, although there were only a few of them, were beautifully done and impressive. Even the enemy and character battle sprites look decent. Character appearances in battle will also change depending on the weapons equipped.
The camera angle zooms in automatically at good times, and show character close-ups or some detail to pay particular attention to. This is built much like a cartoon and allows you to observe body language and little details that make game play shine. Characters have little emotion bubbles too, like hearts or explanation points that add a bit of expression to the game.
The only bit of lacking here are character models during cutscenes and the such. Facial reactions are anime style, and are funny to look at. The character design is detailed, colorful, and expressive, but they are blocky and seem unnatural. Many times, when a character turns its head, the hair will go through parts of the body or other obstacles. Techniques and spells look great for the most part. Generally, the graphics are above average, but still slightly underdeveloped, probably due to the limits of the Gamecube.
The sound quality is satisfactory as well, and adds a nice touch to the game. The standard sounds are here, with the sound of footsteps, swords, and spells. The voice acting is a definite plus, and it's very well done. The entire storyline has voice acting! The American voices sound very convincing and expressive. The in-battle voice acting is well done as well. The entire game is filled with so much emotion, from the serious chanting of the most damaging of spells to anger when a party member falls in battle. The sounds of battle are all present. Characters and enemy alike will scream when hit. At the conclusion of a battle, characters say some particular quote or finishing statement.
The music should not be left out either. Many of these songs are orchestrated for effect, and are pleasing to the ear. Some of these songs are worth taking out of the game and listening to in real life! These tunes all kick in at the perfect times and gives Tales of Symphonia some of the best music I've heard from a video game.
This game will have you playing for a long time, even without side quests. Just blindly going through with the story can take a good 40 hours and with side quests, maybe 60 hours. The time is well spent, however. A good portion of the time will be spent in battles. Battles with random monsters take about 5-20 seconds each and boss battles are even longer.
After you've played through the game once, there is a high desire to replay it again. You can visit the Grade Shop to buy stuff to make your next playthrough easier. Good upgrades include multiplying experience earned by TEN, doubling grade earned, and allowing you to carry up to 30 of one item. Even those people who did not really enjoy this game would want to play it a second time since the game offers so much more. In fact, one would even play this game three times or even more!
I would recommend that you definitely buy this game as soon as possible, regardless of price. This is the Gamecube RPG that you just can't miss because it combines many elements of a good game in a smooth and exciting way. This game shouldn't cost too much by now, and it is worth every cent. The Gamecube is not known for many spectacular RPG's, and Tales of Symphonia is one of the best, so you better not miss out!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 04/09/07
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