Review by Jolteon
"If you can forgive a few flaws, get this game!"
After reading most of the rabidly overzealous reviews of this game, I actually felt compelled to compose my first ever review for Gamefaqs.
As of my sitting down to write this, I have only logged approximately 3 and a half hours in the English version of Tales of Symphonia. If you're looking for a detailed review of the game's plot, look elsewhere. My intent is instead to outline the major differences between this and the Japanese version, and the specific gameplay issues that arose during my first few hours of play. I'm hoping to give anyone brave enough to read through all this some idea of what to expect, not from the plot, but from everything else.
First off, the most notable differences. Fans of the JP version, or even those of us who never played it, but have been watching the game's development and promotional media closely nonetheless will first notice that Starry Heavens is no longer the theme song. Indeed, there doesn't appear to be a theme song to speak of. The most obvious reason for this is that Day After Tomorrow is no doubt a fairly expensive license, and Namco did not see the need to relicense the song for the English version. Second, and possibly for the same reason, Tales of Symphonia is dub-only. Something that I was personally somewhat disappointed with. Enough so that I'm willing to devote a whole new paragraph to the subject of voice acting ^_^
The cast of voice talent for the JP Tales of Symphonia was, by all accounts, quite impressive. Lloyd was every bit the overeager young hero. Collette was clumsy yet sure. Everyone had a voice that matched very well. However, with talent of this caliber, there comes a hefty price tag. So I assume that it is for this reason that Namco chose not to include an option to play the game with the original team of voice actors.
The English team, while certainly quite competent (Cam Clarke perhaps being the most notable cast member), just doesn't quite capture the characters as well as I'd have hoped. My best guess is that the scenes were recorded separately for each character, because most of the time, it really didn't seem like they were talking to each other, so much as simply reading their lines off the script. The individual actors can't really be faulted for this, and they do an admirable job of giving personality to those that they are voicing, but it lacks context, and something pretty major is lost along the way. For example, very early in the game, a temple is attacked...as fellow villagers lay dying in front of them, Collette and Lloyd seem relatively unconcerned about the whole affair, and in fact appear much more amused by the 'bright light' coming from the roof. Also, during the numerous 'skits' (scenes that can be triggered by pressing Z during normal gameplay when prompts appear at the bottom of the screen) are not voiced at all, when originally they had been. In essence what I'm trying to say is that while the dub was not 'bad'...it really isn't good either.
Really, those are the only major differences I can come up with right off the bat between the two, so I'll just move on to more general issues. Starting with the battle system. The battle system itself is fantastic. It's one of the few games for which I can honestly say I enjoy raising levels. Up to 4 players can take part in battles, and even if you don't have friends around, the AI does a fair job. Unfortunately, you are 'graded' on every single battle. Be it a boss fight, or a low-level skirmish, your every move is being scrutinized, and you really have no idea how. There are plenty of theories, and after a good deal of practice, you'll have some idea of how 'not' to mess up, but a lot of the time, you'll feel like you're earning or losing grade points arbitrarily. The range of Grade that you can potentially earn or lose is pretty wide, but generally it'll fall between -2 and (+) 3. That's right, you can LOSE grade with each battle. As a general rule, winning quickly and avoiding damage is the way to go, but the guidebook does not tell you what Grade is based on, and there is also no way to tell how much you have earned. It isn't listed in the menu, and the only way to find out what you're at is to try and spend some (the Grade shop lists how much you have left).
Next, the camera system. ToS uses a fixed-camera system for most of the game, and consequently, you'll find yourself wishing you could turn the camera just a tiny bit so you could see whatever has caught your eye a little better. This problem also comes up on the world map, where you can pan horizontally, but not vertically, which makes it so you have to keep a close eye on the map in the corner at all times.
Back to the subject of skits. Lack of voice acting for the skits aside, it's very frustrating to be on your way out of a zone, only to notice too late that there was a message at the bottom of the screen, and that you can either reload your game, or just miss out on whatever skit you were supposed to see. It would be nice if they could be retriggered, or were at least more obvious.
Finally, the graphics. Personally, I think the graphics are very well done, stylish and quite impressive. But I'm sick of people saying that "OMG they are the best thing I have ever seen!". They aren't. They're simply well-suited to the game.
Tales of Symphonia is a game that I have been looking forward to for a long time, and I plan to fully enjoy every minute of it. There are a few things that I really wish had been left in, and a few things that I wish had been changed, but that doesn't mean that it isn't still a cut above most of the other RPGs you'll see out there. Anyone with a Gamecube and a decent attention span owes it to themself to buy, not rent, this gem of a title.
As I said before, I'm not trying to call this a full review, as I have only played a little ways into the game. But I've played far enough that I can safely say that anything likely to annoy me already has, and that after seeing all that, I still can't wait to get back home and play it some more. If you can forgive ToS its minor flaws, you can look forward to 80+ hours of genunine enjoyment.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/19/04
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