Review by RockguyKev

"Tales of a pretty average RPG"

I wasn't going to write a review for this game. Shoot, I hardly write any reviews any more. I've realized how pointless it is since 99% of the gaming population bases their purchases entirely on hype now.However, the completely undue praise this game has been getting has driven me to anger and well, here I am.

FIRST AND FOREMOST:
Read the following sentence once, then read it again to save us both a headache.

***Tales of Symphonia is a solid, perhaps slightly above average RPG, it is NOT a bad game and I do not claim it sucks***

That should cover me a bit from the nonsense I keep hearing from people responding to my opinions on this game...

Ok, the review.

Tales of Symphonia is the second major RPG released for the Gamecube (Skies of Arcadia being the other) and the first to be a system original. There are other RPGs on the 'Cube but c'mon, Lost Kingdoms? Please. Tales has receieved intense hype in the month before it's release and similar levels since the release. On a very active Tales message board (1500 posts active on average) I have seen about 4 people mention that the game has flaws. That leaves an insane number of people blinded by... what? Well, I'll leave that for my blog.

Story:
2/5
I don't usually rate the story of a game but this is an RPG afterall so...

Tales may have the worst story of any RPG I have played since the SNES. You play the randomly chosen hero (who, of course, wasn't really randomly chosen...) whose duty it is to save (oh, I'm sorry, "regenerate") the world by protecting the "Chosen." At the mid-point of the game the story shifts to a slightly less patronizing plot but by then you are hoping for so much that it falls flat.

There are 9 usable characters throughout the game and between all of them you can form approximately 2 complete personalities. The main character is the only one with any kind of back story and personality. The rest (especially the main 3 who follow you around) form the most lifeless travelling party in years. Your best friend in the game has really only one "scene" in the game and that lasts but a few minutes as his pointless crush on another lifeless character brings her into the party.

The "Chosen" who really should be important to the story (She is essentially a clone of Yuna from FFX down the last story device...) plays her role as a flipant 16-year old (gee, how old was Yuna...?). YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO SAVE THE WORLD LADY, QUIT ACTING LIKE A 3 YEAR OLD. Her inane and rampaging perkiness made me want to give up on saving the world altogether just so I wouldn't have to deal with her any more. I didn't care about her one bit whenever she found herself in peril.

Again, normally this stuff doesn't matter to me at all, but this is an RPG. You repeat the same game mechanics for close to 30 hours here, you'd better have something driving you to do it. The characters and story simply don't.

Gameplay:
3/5
People keep telling me that it is the battle system that makes this game worth playing. You know what? You're right... for about 10 hours, beyond that the unique system can't keep up with other cliched game mechanics.

First, the positive. The battle system is fantastic. I actually prefer the slightly slower and more tactical system in Tales of Phantasia but that's a small quibble. Battles occur in real-time with you having full lateral control of your character. By using the A button with the control stick you can unleash various combos that can be further enhanced by using your Techs with the B button. This leads to tons of possible combos which (thankfully) are all situationally useful meaning you probably won't be leaning too much on just one combo.

These battles can be played out with up to 4 players too which is cool. The problem (which I don't know how Namco overloooked...) is that the camera follows only the main character. The other three characters are relegated to either staying next to him or playing without being able to see their character. It still works out pretty well since it's not hard to use magic off-screen but it could have been so much better.

Without multiple players the computer takes over the others. You can give them numerous strategy sets to get them to act pretty well like you want them too. You can also give them direct commands (which they will sometimes ignore...) to have them use spells when you want. Mostly the AI does a very good job of protecting itself and you so I can't complain.

There are no random battles in the game as you can see your enemies (but not what type of enemies) before you fight. You can avoid them (mostly...) if you wish pretty easily. You also get a ring which allows you to stun them so you can walk by.

That's all well and good but there is a problem with the battles and that is pacing. Typical battles are very, very simple and easy (there is a hard mode available but then the bosses become ridiculous). This is why they lose some of the initial excitement after about 10 hours. There is no strategy required in your typical battles. "Well, I can just avoid them then right?" Sure, go right ahead. Then get massacred by the boss battles. The game has a seriously uneven difficulty curve. Regular enemies are pansies, bosses are really tough. This leads to the need for much power-levelling meaning you get to fight the non-strategic battles over and over again all the while learning no useful strategies since they require none.

Let me put the pacing in one last context.

You fight essentially the same enemies from hour 4 to hour 12. Then, when you get beyond that you fight those same enemies but with different colors. While the different color thing is a typical RPG convention, fighting the SAME LEVEL MONSTERS for 8 hours is not.

Ok, so now the bad. There are two major flaws in the gameplay here beside the battle pacing.

First, the game's story pacing. The typical sequence in this game goes like this:
1) Some guy in Town X tells me I need to learn about Y from Town Z.
2) Travel to town Z.
3) Guy Q in Town Z tells me to find item P (If you're lucky, he tells you where, often back in Town X but sometimes, they won't tell you at all).
4) Procede to Random Dungeon F.
5) Complete Random Block/Switch Puzzles A-E in Dungeon F.
6) Fight Boss N
7) Return to Town X
8) Later, Rinse, Repeat

Now, you'll say I'm being picky because this is the style of every RPG known to man. You know what? You're right. The problem is again, the pacing. The amount of time it can take to find out where to go in this game is stunning. I thought I didn't like the red arrow in FFX that always told you where to go, I'm wrong. I hate being told in very vague language to go to some town to talk to some guy who will then tell me where to go (or tell me to find another guy...) There are so many times in this game where you travel to a location only to be told "it's locked, let's go back!"

WHY NAMCO WHY?

I realize the world you made is really small but come on, I don't want to walk all the way there again. Give me a Chocobo or something for goodness sake. Put the story on a path and let me follow it without tons of backtracking please. If you want me to backtrack, put it some side quests so I at least feel like I earned something, sheesh.

My next complaint are the awful dungeons which also require plenty of backtracking. The dungeons in this game are tiny. They often take awhile because the puzzles, while usually quite simple to figure out, take forever to actually complete because you must push blocks everywhere and often return to the beginning of the dungeon to change your ring functions back and forth.

For comparison, I absolutely hated the sphere puzzles in Final Fantasy X. Every time I hit one I just felt ripped out of the story. I haven't changed that opinion. I hate them. The ToS puzzles aren't quite so bad but they are far more frequent. Every dungeon has these things. Why? At least they sort of fit the story device in FFX. In ToS I'm left wondering how any military unit could possibly function when they need to solve block puzzles just to leave work at night.

Graphics/Presentation:
3/5

The graphics are fine and in fact and quite good if you like cel-shaded anime styles. My problem here is the game's presentation. The story is told through bubble conservations almost exclusively. That's fine I guess if they are A) short and B) interesting. In ToS they are neither. Even worse is when the whole game stops and decides to tell the story by showing your characters faces in squares and then scroll some text underneath them. Who at Namco possibly thought this device looked good?

It is, in my opinion, the worst story telling device I've ever seen in a game. Thankfully, most of these scenes are optional because they are just flat out ugly to see. Some times they are forced on you though and they just drop the game's look and feel to awful levels.

The magic effects are pretty bland too. Even the summons which cost an insane amount to cast look pretty boring. The spells have to be graphically functional (since you can combo off of them) which probably hindered the animators but still, more could have been done.

Sound
4/5
Voices are well done, sound effects are fine. My only complaint here is the evil/tension music. It sounds like a mp3 frozen in mid-play as it repeats this awful drum sound over and over. My little brother honestly asked me if the game was screwing up the first time he heard it. It's that bad.

Overall
3/5
Tales of Symphonia, despite my criticisms, is a solid RPG. It is good in short bursts and I do really like the multiplayer in the battle system. The story and presentation though really drag it down. It is flat out not a top-level RPG and I say this as someone who has been playing RPGs since Dragon Warrior on the NES and has owned a Gamecube since launch day.

It is still the second best RPG on the GCN so if you're an RPG fan its a fine purchase. However, if you haven't liked RPGs before this won't change your mind and if you don't have a GCN already, don't bother.

Rent/Buy?
You won't finish in a rental unless you play like a madman but I still say try before you buy and put a good 5-7 hours in before you make a judgement because it does get repetitive.

Personally, I rented it through gamefly and and I won't be purchasing it.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 07/23/04


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