Review by Careful_Crab

"A review from someone who playing Abyss first"

I'll come right out and say it: Tales of Symphonia is not the end all, be all RPG I was initially hoping it would be. I loved Tales of the Abyss (the game that came after Symphonia) and just finished playing through it a second time with my friend in tow. I picked this up, having fairly high hopes for it. And while it didn't manage to reach some of the lofty expectations I had for it, it is not a bad game.

--Story/Characters-- 8/10

The beginning is the game's biggest weakness. Not that it is bad, it's just not an immediate attention grabber. The Chosen of Mana must turn into an angel and go to all the towers of mana to restore the mana in the world so it can prosper. It sounds kinda like a Secret of Mana knockoff, which isn't bad in itself, but nothing terribly exciting happens here. The plot is fairly predictable, the characters very cliched (and a little over-the-top; Raine is an abusive madhouse!), like Lloyd the super dork hero, or Coulette the Chosen who feels obligated to save the world, and Genis the magician/uber smart kid. You eventually get out of the town and get to these towers to awaken the Angel within Coulette. Here it feels like a checklist of things to do, and the whole thing is slow-paced and very boring. I wanted to give up, but my friend insisted we continue.

And I'm very glad I did stay with it, because the game actually opens up some really cool plot twists and character development around halfway through the first disk. It's here that I admire Namco Tales Studio (the game creator) for putting things in the right direction. Instead of focusing on the fact that Coulette will die if she saves the world (which any RPG vet could see a mile away), the focus instead is on Lloyd and how he feels and reacts to this news. Suddenly our one-dimensional characters get some much-needed development, and start to feel like real characters instead of cliches. It actually amazes me how the Tales team can take some cliched characters and turn them into likeable people. Characters are presented with weaknesses and we get to see them overcome them. New twists and alliances are built and destroyed. Friendships are made. The game takes almost an entirely new persona for the better. It's like the slow beginning is a test to see if you'll stick around for the better things to come.

One particular example of this excellent character development can be seen at the beginning. Lloyd and Genis burn down their home village, iselia, and Genis kills a person who he was close to since she got turned into a monster. In any other game this is just used as an excuse to start the adventure. In Tales of Symphonia Lloyd and Genis never forget what happened at Iselia, and often refer to it later in the story, proclaiming they don't want to see that kind of incident happen again. So instead of a mere plot device, this example is used to help our characters make decisions down the road.

It's really the characters and how they react to the different situations presented to them that make this game work really well. Although most are based off some sort of RPG cliche, they are so well-rounded it doesn't really matter.

The only real weakness I can point at the game (other than some characters that are still annoying...but that comes with the territory) is that it's spiritual sequel, Tales of the Abyss, does all this and does it better. Moving backward in the series was a bit of a drag since it didn't get better than Abyss. This is a relatively small criticism, since it has little effect on the game itself.

To summarize, if you stick with it past the boring beginning you're in for a real treat. I admit at first I was afraid the game would never get interesting, and I'm thankful it did.

--Battle System/Gameplay-- 8/10

Multiplayer RPG.

That's all that really needs to be said, right?

Ok, maybe not, but there's no doubt in my mind that multiplayer is the biggest selling point of this game. It's a real-time RPG, so you execute moves in real time (duh). You can jump, attack, use techs, run, etc. Going into battle with your friends is a lot of fun. And it's made better by a simple but complex menu system that allows you to use items, switch characters, change AI tactics, and more. Combine all this with some tough enemies and you have a recipe for success. And it avoids making itself a button masher by using tough enemies and specific weaknesses, rewarding smart players. And with the ability to switch any character with any player, you can find a favorite or switch for a character specific battle.

One time a boss was weak to magic attacks. My friend and I were able to switch to offensive magic users, while having a AI decoy attacking while a healer kept us healthy from a safe distance since we commanded it too. If my friend died and we couldn't revive him, he could switch in the menu. Now that's a nice feature.

It really is all that and a bag of potato chips, but there are some weaknesses, some more troublesome than others. The biggest issue is the camera, which focuses solely on player 1. So if you are player 2, you are fighting in the dark unless you're going after the same person as player 1. Even worse is you can lose your position, becoming a liability on the battlefield. This isn't a huge dealbreaker, as you can get used to it, but it makes things far more difficult than it should be.

Speaking of difficulty, it's all over the place. Some battles are very easy late in the game and you are literally struggling to survive in the beginning. This problem generally sorted itself out later in the game, but the first few boss fights are really too hard.

A lesser issue is there's no free run. In Abyss, you could press a button and run anywhere in 3D. Here, you're locked in a 2D grid until you switch targets, and can only go forward and back. This isn't so much an issue with me since it also adds a layer of strategy to the title, since you can't let the enemy back you up against the wall, otherwise you're in big trouble.

Overall, a couple problems hold back an excellent fighting engine. Did I mention it's a multiplayer RPG?

--Graphics-- 6/10

The game uses a cel-shaded style for it's characters, and by comparison it's a bit underwhelming. Wind Waker looks better, and heck, I prefer Jet Grind Radio over this. It's the lack of clarity; the game has the tendency to blur the characters when they are abnormally close to the camera. What the...?

Fortunately the art direction and style get a big thumbs up from me. Done by the same man behind Tales of the Abyss, the characters have this endearing style to them that I like. Maybe it's the extensive color use, or the wonderfully drawn skits that populate the game. In any case, I really like it.

And for the environments, the game uses real-looking graphics. I'm not sure they mix all that well. Some locations look great, like harbor towns and forests. Others, like caves or machine places feel a little off since they don't meld, the characters stand out too much.

If there's anything I liked the game's graphics for, it's attention to detail. Every town is filled to the brim with decorations all over the place, from tablecloths and kitchenware to flowers in vases, every room has a lot of stuff. But this also contrasts with the less-vibrant dungeons, which pale in comparison.

To summarize, there's a mish-mash of good and bad here.

--Sound-- 6/10

Unfortunately the soundtrack here is a little too poor for me to like. Most music themes are bearable, some are annoying and a select few are grating. Oddly enough the sound effects were spot on and worked for everything, from slaps to slashes, the audio effects worked perfectly. And the voice acting? Absolutely top notch. I'm a particular fan of Lloyd's voice actor, who also plays Robin on Teen Titans. The only stinkers in the voice group are the non-main character group, and even then most are suitable.

Great sound effects and voice acting offset a bad musical score.

--Final Comments--

I find myself at odds with Tales of Symphonia. For every bad thing in the game, there's a good one to offset it. And vice versa. If you can get past the slow beginning, there's some real meat to the story. The combat is flawed but fun. The cel shading doesn't work while the art style does. Voice acting soars while music whimpers.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that Tales of Symphonia is a good game. It's has flaws like any title, but there's some good fun to be had here, especially if you have some other RPG friends to play with. The ultimate question is whether it's worth your time and money, and in the end I would say it is. I would recommend that any RPG players who can look past some of the titles flaws should try playing this game.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/04/08

Game Release: Tales of Symphonia (US, 07/13/04)


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