Review by DarthMarth
"Without doubt the best RPG for Gamecube, and quite possibly one of the best games ever made."
When I first saw Tales of Symphonia prominently displayed on the front cover of one of my issues or Nintendo Power, I just passed it up without a second look as just another Gamecube RPG, having not played any other games from the Tales series. I sure was wrong. Not only is Tales of Symphonia not just another Gamecube RPG, there are almost no other Gamecube RPGs! (only Phantasy Star Online, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, and Skies of Arcadia come to mind) Tales of Symphonia is an incredible RPG in its own right, and stands out even more due to the Gamecube's relative lack of RPGs. Luckily, Tales of Symphonia is good enough to fill this gap entirely, with deep, engaging gameplay, great graphics and music, and downright insane replay value. It's easily the best RPG on the Gamecube, and in my opinion it even has what it takes to be one of the best games of all time! Now, to get closer and find out what makes this game truly great:
While one of the game's weaker points, Tales of Symphonia's graphics are still incredible. They are cel-shaded for the most part, with few glitches, and provide a cute anime-style look to the game. Don't let this make you think ToS is a "kiddy" game, however; its depth and complexity (and language) best suit it for older gamers. The characters and enemies in the game are all extremely detailed and look great. The environments are even better; they are incredibly detailed with touches that serve to make the game's world of Sylvarant extremely convincing, such as shelves of goods in shops or various knick-knacks in houses. The only real flaw with the graphics is an occasional blur, but this is very minor and rare, and doesn't really detract from the terrific graphics at all. The most awe-inspiring part of the graphics, though, are the spells. As your spellcasting characters get stronger, they'll be able to harness the elements with powerful, awesome-looking spells. Also worthy of mention are several masterfully animated cutscenes, like the intro movie or some scenes at the end of the first disc. (first disc, you say? More on that later) They look even better than most animes you see on TV, and you'll probably wish there were more in the game.
Sound is always an important part of games for me, and Tales of Symphonia doesn't disappoint. The game has an incredible score of music, with themes for every part of the game. Many are fully orchestrated and greatly enhance the feel of the game, like a 17th-century harpsichord melody or a sinister techno song for high-tech bases belonging to the game's villains, the Desians. The music reinforces the games incredible graphics and immerses you in the world of Sylvarant even more. Even the battle music doesn't get boring easily, despite how much you'll undoubtedly hear it. Besides the music, the sound effect of the game are great; you can hear individual footsteps, and different sounds are recording for strikes by all the different weapon types, from swords to axes to bizarre toylike weapons called Kendamas. Finally, Tales of Symphonia boasts something not any other games have, especially RPGs: voice acting! Over half of the various scenes in the game are masterfully voice-acted. This greatly helps to bring life to the characters and draws you even closer into the game's storyline. My only gripe with this is the game has some swearing in it, but this doesn't do much to lessen the quality of the sound.
Although RPGs tend to be known for deep, engaging storylines, Tales of Symphonia surpasses even this standard, quickly drawing you in with a storyline as deep as an ocean and filled with twists and sidequests. The basic story is this: the game is set in the world of Sylvarant, peaceful, yet troubled. For a long time, the world's supply of mana, the essential force required by all living things, has been slowly seeping away. If the mana is not restored, all life will eventually fade away. The game mostly follows 3 characters, at least in the beginning. Colette Brunel is undoubtedly the most important. She is the Chosen of Regeneration, destined to go on a journey to unlock seals all over Sylvarant to regenerate the world by restoring its mana. The main character, however, is Lloyd Irving, a childhood friend of Colette's who accompanies her on the journey. He is headstrong and a bit of an idiot who often rushes into things without thinking, but this is slightly stereotypically balanced out by his younger friend, Genis Sage. Genis is a child prodigy with a tendency towards being a know-it-all, but joins Lloyd and Colette, supplying powerful magic to the party. It sounds fairly unoriginal, but once you begin to start experiencing the game, things quickly get much more complex. Within a few hours, you'll probably be dying to find out what happens to Lloyd, Colette, and Genis next. As the game progresses, you'll run into a multitude of plot twists and new characters to join your party, like a mysterious assassin, an even more mysterious mercenary, or a loudmouthed, arrogant, womanizing, and downright hilarious party animal who provides constant laughs. The only problem with the storyline is that the numerous twists and turns may make it hard to keep track of things later in the game, but this doesn't matter too much; a "synopsis" feature lets you read summaries of all the major storyline events at any time. With that said, be ready: you'll have a hard time putting this game down due to its addictive storyline, and its even more addictive gameplay.
Why must GameFAQs only let me go up to 10!? Everyone knows that gameplay is always the most important aspect of a game, and luckily it's by far Tales of Symphonia's strongest point. I might have been satisfied with Tales of Symphonia even if it had a traditional RPG engine, but Namco went a step further (actually, many, many steps further) and delivered innovative, incredibly fun gameplay. (at least for me; I've heard it's no surprise for long-time Tales series players) The most obvious difference to a veteran of games like Golden Sun or Pokemon like miss the combat system. Unlike the aforementioned games, or even Paper Mario (with its cool, timing-based system), Tales features full real-time combat; instead of simply facing the enemy party awaiting orders, your group of adventurers is involved in intense combat with them all the time. It's up to you to move around the battlefield and attack, block, or use special abilities/spells, called "techniques." You can choose four of your party members to battle at once; obviously, controlling all of them simultaneously is impossible. You choose one to control (if you have friends over, each can control one character) and have the computer handle the other 3. Note how I said "choose." That's right, you can control any of your party members, and even switch between them in-battle! Luckily, the game's AI system is extremely advanced and will rarely cause frustration. The computer players fight with skill, efficiently using techniques and blocking attacks. As if that weren't enough, you can fully customize the computer's strategy for each player, disabling too-costly or useless techniques to avoid them being used, setting the computer's basic behavior, and changing customizable orders with the touch of a button. In effect, you still are practically controlling all four active party members. You can even specifically order computer-controlled characters to use specific techniques or create shortcuts to them with the C-stick. Another unique touch Tales has that sets it apart are Unison Attacks. After progressing far enough in the storyline, your party gains the ability to simultaneously use devastating techniques in unison and can even combine their attacks to form new ones. This would be a great touch, except that the Unison Attack controls for your active, player-controlled character are the same as their normal ones, so you may have to remap some techniques before pulling a U. Attack off. Other than the exemplary real-time combat, little has changed in the classic RPG formula; character's hit points and technique points are displayed on the bottom of the screen and serve the same purpose as in most RPGs.
In case you couldn't tell, there's an incredible amount of strategy in Tales' battle system. While fighting, you must take into effect the speed, range, and damage of your attacks and techniques, and the attacks of your enemies. While it's possible to squeak by with simple button-mashing, it's best to form combo attacks by linking a technique to your regular attacks. Besides the regular techniques, which are used instantly, there are also spells, visually impressive moves that can devastate enemies from long-range with elemental damage. While powerful, they take a while to charge and the user must be protected to avoid monsters from interrupting the spell. Also, you make hitting enemies easier, you must lock onto one, causing your character to always face towards or away from it. You can easily switch targets with R; combat pauses while you do so. All these things and more combine to form one of the best battle systems I've ever seen, with incredible depth and fun. It's one of the best reasons to buy Tales of Symphonia, but not the only one.
There are also many innovations outside of battle. Unlike many other RPGs (except Paper Mario), Tales of Symphonia doesn't have truly random encounters; enemies can be seen out of battle and, in most cases, avoided. They can also be stunned with the Sorcerer's Ring, a handy little magical gadget that is also used to solve puzzles throughout the game. Being able to avoid combat if wanted is very useful, though it doesn't always work. The other noteworthy out-of-battle feature in the game is the concept of EX Skills. By equipping certain Gems, characters can gain new powers in and out battle. Another system that can serve to customize and power up your characters is the Title system. By meeting certain objectives, doing minigames, reaching a certain level, or just going through the storyline, characters can acquire various Titles. Most of them increase the stats your character gains when they level up, making them more powerful over time. As few just serve to be funny, and others are costume Titles that change character's appearance.
Tales also has plenty of the one thing every RPG needs: sidequests! As you progress through the game, dozens of sidequests will become open to you, such as optional boss fights, minigames, quests to get rare items, or simply events that add to the storyline. Some are short, while other are extremely long, like an optional boss that can be fought 3 times throughout the game to get powerful items, a "Red Light, Green Light" game (yes, you heard me right), or a bizarre, incredibly challenging dungeon contained in a cursed book. The sidequests add a lot more replay value and fun to the game.
Play Control: 9/10
The play control in Tales is sharp and responsive, both in and out of battle. The only real problem with the control is your inability to move horizontally around an enemy in battle, but this is a necessary sacrifice; with out it, you wouldn't be able to jump. Except on the overworld map (which works much like it always does in RPGs), there is no camera control to speak of, but this almost never gets in your way, and any obscuring of items by objects is usually intentional to make them tougher to find. There isn't much else to say about the play control, except that it will likely never get in your way.
Like in most RPGs, difficulty isn't much of an issue in Tales. In most of the game's challenges, some simple training will make things easier. There are still some huge, potentially frustrating challenges, but not enough to detract much from the game. (most of them are optional)
Tales has the best replay value of almost any game I've ever seen. As I write this, I've already racked up a play time of over 90 hours just before the end, but I plan on playing 3 more times to get everything! If you're a completist like me, plan on spending months with Tales!
If you have a Gamecube and any interest in RPGs AT ALL, buy this game! You won't be disappointed. Even if you don't like RPGs, Tales could be enough to interest you in the genre. If you don't have a Gamecube this game is a great reason to get one. (along with the other NGC classics, like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Metroid Prime) Tales of Symponia has so much more replay value, you'd probably spend more money renting it than buying it anyway!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 09/13/04
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