Review by WishingTikal
"A forgettable tale, but not a forgettable quest"
I was never really thrilled by Tales of Symphonia when I first saw it (I was when I heard about it though), cel-shading never really appealed me, although I must admit it goes well in some games. I played Tales of Phantasia and I was expecting Tales of Symphonia to feel like it, but it really doesn't at all. ToP felt epic, ToS doesn't. There's something about it I dislike, graphics or story maybe, but it didn't prevent me from liking the overall game.
I'll go straight to the point, Tos's storyline is poor. Very poor. Although the characters are very likable and each has their own personality, the storyline is something you'll want to forget about along the adventure. Sure, there are some plot twists near the end, and each character has its own storyline, but the main story is not worth buying this RPG only for that. Sometimes it just really feels childish and uninspired. I really wish that the storyline had been a bit more serious. I've seen worse though.
The greatest aspect of the game without a doubt. You start off the quest in Lloyd's hometown, where the Chosen of Mana, a clumsy girl by the name of Colette, starts his journey to regenerate the world accompanied by her professor and a mysterious mercenary. Eventually, Lloyd and his best friend, Genis, join the Chosen One's group and together, they travel through Sylvarant, their world, in order to fulfill their quest. Each character is in possession of an Exsphere, a mysterious device that takes a large place in the storyline. This device allows your characters to equip Ex Skills, which boost your characters' stats and allow some bonus during the combats. You can choose yourself what Ex Skills you want to assign them by finding Ex Gems and using the correct ones.
Another aspect of the gameplay is cooking. Thorough the journey, you will often find the Wonder Chef in towns and cities, who always hides himself in various locations. Each time, he will tell you how to cook some new dishes. Although this feature is pretty useless (I rarely ever cooked), it's a nice addition. You can buy the ingredients or get them from monsters and at the end of each fight, you can cook something for your characters to replenish some health.
Let's take a look at the quest now. Like any other RPG, you travel on a large world map, enter dungeons, solve puzzles, and enter towns, buy some armor and weapons, then sleep at the inn. ToS is no exception. ToS's dungeons though, are very restraint and small. Hopefully, the puzzles are very clever and interesting. There's a lot of treasure chests to find, and the boss battles are huge. Towns are small too, but there are many things to do in, so it makes up for it. During your traveling, apart from the dungeons, you will also travel through a lot of environments, like mountains and forests. Traveling on the world map can sometimes be boring, but at least you can avoid the enemies, which can be seen on the world map and in dungeons (no random encounters). Later in the game, you'll even be able to cross the seas by boat and to fly above the world map in plane-like devices and travel to a parallel world to Sylvarant.
But what really makes ToS stand apart from the other RPGs is its combat system. There are 9 playable characters in ToS, and you are free to choose which character you want to control. Whenever you prefer controlling a magic user or a swordsman, it's up to you. The fight takes place in a screen apart from the one you move in, like in turn-based fights, except that it's all real-time. You can move the character with the control stick, attack with the A button, defend with the X button, and use techniques or magic with the B button. Each character has its own techniques, and by equipping different Ex Skills, you can have different techniques. You can also bring up the menu with the Y button to use items or change the strategy. While you control your assigned character, the other characters on screen are controlled by the game depending on the strategy. For example, if you are running low on health, characters with healing spells will automatically heal you if they have enough TP (technique points). The other characters can even be controlled by your friends if you have enough controllers. No other RPGs have that fast and fun combat systems.
The last thing I'll cover are the summon spirits. Thorough the adventure, you will need to make pacts with the summon spirit of each elements (fire, water, ice, etc.) and they can be used in battles afterwards. Sheena, your summoner character though, requires to be her overlimit in order to summon spirits. And the fact is, getting in her overlimit is hard, so you'll most likely never use any of the summons. Pretty disappointing for something that takes a major place in the game. Except for some downpoints in the gameplay, ToS plays like a charm.
Ah, cel-shading. Apply it to the right game, and it can do wonders, but apply it to the wrong game, and it'll destroy the whole feel of the game. ToS is somewhat between the two. The cel-shaded graphics give ToS a kiddy atmosphere, already amplified by the non-serious storyline, which I disliked at times. The least I can say is that it goes well in that RPG. Now if I look at the graphics from a more technical way, they are really good looking. Some of the areas' graphics look hand drawn and this is something I like about cel-shading. They are always full of little details and attention. Some minor defaults I noticed though is some thin black lines that appear in the background when you move your character around in dungeons, although it's barely noticeable. The world map is also really plain and never changes during the whole game, except in the desert and snow field. I found the draw-distance to be a bit weak too. It feels weird to see a big mountain pops out in the close horizon when you're traveling. Take aside these little downpoints, and while not breathtaking, Tos has really pretty graphics.
Soundwise, ToS doesn't have an epic score. Or at the least, a very forgettable one. There's some nice tunes thrown here and there, but that's all. The music is not bad at all, but not very great either. You'll enjoy listening to it during your play, but once you turn off the game, that's it. Now the last thing is the voice-acting. Some would have prefer they keep the japanese voices, but for once, the english voices are not bad at all. All the voices are very appropriate to the characters, and the voice-acting is very well done. You can actually feel the characters' emotions through their voice, it's not just monotone text reading. Of course there are some exceptions, especially the NPCs, but the main characters have all great voice acting.
Replay Value 9/10
You can't get more replay value than this. First, the main quest is an average of 40 hours. Add all the sidequests to this, and it could go up to 80 hours. This is for your first play though. You see, ToS is not a game you play once. It requires many plays (at least 3) to complete all the sidequests to 100%. I played the game for 200 hours and I'm not even done yet. And I still feel like playing even though I played it 3 times already. The main side quest is probably the Collector's Book. This book records every items you find and carries over to your next game. Finding all the weapons, armor, accessories, items and food is pretty long. There's also the monsters list, which require you to fight every single enemies, and some are hard to find. Another thing is the figurines book, in which you collect characters of the game. The last thing are the titles, which your characters can earn for completing certain tasks and give them stats boosts when they level up. One of these titles even require you to find every single treasure chests in all the dungeons. So as you can see, ToS isn't lacking replay value.
While ToS may not be perfect, lacking on the storyline side especially, it is a great RPG. The quest is fairly long, there are plenty of well-thought puzzles, dungeons, lands to travel to, sidequests, and an entertaining combat system. Plus, you never get stuck, you can always check the sypnosis to see where to head next. Sure, the game could have had some amelioration in some aspects, like music and the world map, but it has a so solid quest and gameplay that it makes it a pleasure to play. I undoubtedly recommend its buy to any gamecube owner, may it just be for its combat system.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/02/04, Updated 09/21/04
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