Review by lockeman24
"Clearly The Definitive RPG For 'Cube Owners"
A while back, I went to my local video game rental store and, upon hearing that it was a RPG for the Gamecube (gasp!), rented Tales of Symphonia. I would not make the same mistake again. Beginning with the moment I placed the first disc in my Gamecube until the heart-stopping conclusion, one thought kept recurring through my mind: "My God, why in heaven's name did I rent and not buy?!?!?!?!" I did get my moneys worth, beating the game in a little over 40 hours over the span of 5 days, so I do feel qualified in writing a review, but first a word of warning. DO NOT RENT THIS GAME, FORK OVER THE $50 AND BUY IT!!!!! Believe me, it will be money well spent. Well, on to the review.
From the game's wonderful anime intro sequence, players will be swept away in the immersing tale of love, betrayal, compassion, and desire for equality that is the plot of the game. As you begin, you are introduced to a few of the main characters; Lloyd, Colette, and Genis. Then, it really takes off. Soon, you find these characters battling for everything they hold true to themselves, including their lives. Throughout the game, many twists and turns keep the plotline interesting, with nary a dull moment throughout. As one progresses through the game, you explore the lush, very green world of Sylvarant. Later, you meet up with more of the games 9 playable characters, meet memorable NPC's both good and evil, and progress through many towns, caves, and even the skies. Though aspects of the story will be familiar to many RPG gamers (save the world, protect the girl), somehow, ToS seems to put all those washed up, overused cliches into new light, partially by the superb...
As stated above, the characters in ToS are what take this game and elevate it into godlike status. Though the voice acting, while superb, can grate on ones nerves at times (especially Colette), the actors clearly fit the part of the characters, were focused on getting the job done right, and cared about the work they were putting into the game. All characters are fully developed and have quirky personality traits integral to RPG characters, i.e. Colette's clumsiness, but will to do good; Lloyd's gung ho attitude; Genis' timidity; and Kratos' loner status. All of these traits are brought out further in the small, mini-stories that are shaped throughout the course of the game. As stated before, there are 9 playable characters, but only 8 will be actively involved at any given time.
The anime/cel-shaded graphics give this game a crisp, clear view of the world. Though the overworld map has little detail, the dungeons and especially towns have a very clean look about them. The character sprites, well, look like they came straight from an anime cartoon. Wide varieties of emotions can be conveyed on the faces while speaking, and battle animation is nothing short of perfect. The music was a little lacking, leaving few memorable tunes, but no reason to turn off the sound and listen to something else. Sound effects too were rather run of the mill, with all your ususal clanks, grunts, and whistles. One rather nice touch I found in battles was the use of the characters voices throughout even the most random battles. Characters actually interacted throughout the battle, shouting words of confidence and support to each other while in a jam.
Ah, the meat and potatoes of the review. ToS is head and shoulders over any other leading competitor in the RPG market with its innovative battle system. Gone are the days of mindlessly pushing the action button and instructing multiple characters to fight aimlessly. No, in ToS, players control one character, default is Lloyd, while 3 other characters in the party are computer controlled and provide healing, attack, and magical support. Plus, special moves can be executed by holding the joystick one way and pressing the B button, providing excellent support to just plain attacking. Random encounters are also eliminated, as you can see any enemy on the screen and avoid it if you choose, doing away with countless random battles. Though you will have to do your fair share of leveling up, obscenely high levels are not required, making the games focus on the story more coherent and easy to follow.
The game shifts between dungeons, towns, and overworld travel. Without giving away anything, your partys first quest is to help Colette regenerate the world, which, of course, involves releasing 4 seals, which, naturally, means lots of dungeon crawling with a boss at the end. Though this can get a little repetitive over time, these dungeons are broken up very well by visiting towns, small quests in towns, wonderful story sequences in between. After the seals are released, the game takes a much more interesting turn that varies up the gameplay a little more and makes the game much more worthwhile.
Overworld exploration is, in my opinion, the only area that ToS is even slightly lacking in. You start out on foot, barely able to see much of the world around you and random encounters are much harder to avoid, as you cannot see some of the enemies and they will make a beeline for you, giving you no time to react. In order to ride around on Lloyd's pet, Noishe, and be able to see the world around you better, you must find guiding stones. Every separate area has a guiding stone, and until you find it, you are stuck walking. To make it bad, each guiding stone is hidden in some godforsaken corner of the region you are currently exploring, so first you must decide if it is worth the effort to go seek it out. Though travel gets a lot better in the latter potion of the game when you get airshiplike birds, in the beginning, travel is not much fun.
Man, is there a lot to do in this game!!!! Of course there is the main quest which will easily encompass at least 40 hours of gameplay on its own, there is, after that, the New Game+ mode (taken from Crono Trigger, but no complaints here!) in which you can begin a new game with your party from your previous game. Thats right. You can begin the game with level 60+ characters and solely focus on things you may have missed on your first runthrough. It is an astonishing way to keep gamers hooked for many hours after the initial completion of the game. The cooking system also offers an innovative new way to restore HP and TP, as the gummy like potions are rather expensive, forcing players to find alternate methods of healing themselves. Another great addition in the area of replayability was the book that chronicles every item you have and every monster you have seen, allowing for 100% completeness.
With only a few shortcomings in the areas of overworld exploration, and a few vocal lines that are just a little over the top, Tales of Symphonia is truly an RPG gem. With a compelling storyline, superb characters, and a battle system that is superior to any other RPG series system, this is a true gem that should be part of any gamers collection.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 09/03/04
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