Review by CanuckGamer04
"The best (albeit almost only) RPG on the GameCube."
Every once in awhile, there comes along a game so great, you just can't pass it up. Tales of Symphonia for the Nintendo GameCube is, without a doubt, one of those games. Released in 2004, it soon established itself as the premiere RPG on the console (although it didn't have much competition). Only a year later, it was put on the Player's Choice titles and is now available for a mind-bogglingly good $20.
If you have played almost any game in the Tales series, the battle system will be nothing new to you, but if you haven't, here's the gist. Battles take place in Real Time on a 2D plane, which allows you to adjust your direction according to enemies' positions. You control 1 character in your party of 4, and can set your other party members to follow a certain battle pattern depending on the enemy you are facing. The character classes are typical of RPGs; You have your Physical fighters, Mages, Summoners, and so on, and they each learn various skills and techniques (or "Techs") as they level up. Once you complete a battle, you'll gain your EXP, Gold (or Gald as it's called in the Tales games), as well as a thing called "Grade". Depending on how fast and efficiently you defeat the enemy, you will gain a certain amount of Grade, usually 1-2 per normal battle, and you can use your accumulated Grade to buy Bonuses like 2x or even 10x (!!!) EXP for your next playthrough.
Out of battle, you'll traverse a vast overworld in which battles are not random, like in most RPGs, but really whenever you'd like them to happen. You see your enemies on the map as little blobs of shadow, and as soon as you come into contact with them, you start the battle. It's not always easy to avoid when you are low on health though, as they will chase after you and can run much faster. Later in the game you will gain transportation such as a boat or a flying machine, allowing you to bypass enemies entirely. Dungeons in ToS are not really anything special, usually just simple block-dropping puzzles and the like, but it's never a disappointment, the real bread and butter are the battles.
In Tales of Symphonia, the story focuses on Lloyd (although you may control and battle as other characters). He is a young man who lives in a small town near a Human Ranch, a place where evil half-elves called Desians capture humans and enslave them. One day Lloyd and his best friend Genis are caught trying to help an old woman escape the Ranch, and that leads to the burning of Lloyd's hometown and his expulsion from it. This coincides with a klutzy girl named Collete's quest as the "Chosen One" to travel to the Tower of Salvation and save the world from losing all of its Mana flow. The two stories are woven into one deep and intricate plot of deception and racial acceptance, which twists and turns so much that you'll never be able to expect the next thing that happens.
The graphics are very unique, instead of trying to be overly realistic, they take a Zelda: Wind Waker-like approach, with cel-shading, which turn out excellent. In the sequel, they are reverting to fancier anime graphics, which I just don't think works as well for a Tales game. The music, while not the greatest and most standout in an RPG, is very solid. All of the tunes fit with the surrounding and do their job just fine.
I don't know about other's experiences, but I replayed this game so many times I have lost count. In addition to it being an all around enjoyable battle system and deep story, like I mentioned before there is the Grade Shop to buy new advantages once you start your "New Game+". Heck, to get some of the things in the Shop, you have to play through the game 2 times without spending any Grade, just to reasonably afford them. Also, if you have 4 people/controllers, you can actually have each of you controlling 1 character during the battles, which is a neat team-oriented experience.
My final recommendation is... why the hell haven't you bought this game yet? It has over 40 hours of main-story gameplay time, as well as tons of sidequests and secrets, not to mention the motivation to spend all your hard earned Grade and being able to play it again with a bunch of cool features added! This is definitely one of the top 3 games on the GameCube, and one of my favorite RPGs of all time. I've gotten so many hours of enjoyment out of it that it's only fair I pass on the knowledge of this wonderful, engrossing experience. It's $20 you will never regret spending.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 10/13/08, Updated 10/27/08
Game Release: Tales of Symphonia (US, 07/13/04)
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