Review by Galactus21

"Tales of Symphonia gives out a false apparition of brilliancy."

When Tales of Symphonia was first announced, I was truly excited about the mere thought of another potential rpg for the Gamecube system. I followed the game when the game was still called Tales of Phantasia. From the very first screen shots, I was amazed by its unique art direction that left me in an aphonic state. Through its apparent extravagant nature, my interest level and affection for the game was at an all time high. The simple look at its ravishing and alluring cell shaded art direction sent a feeling of ebullience and enthusiasm throughout my body. At this point in time, I did not own a Playstation 2, so one could hypothesize the feeling of a starved and deprived rpg fan. I had my fix with Skies of Arcadia Legends, but that was not enough…it can not be enough…I need rpgs, it is the every essence to which I play games. So one can imagine that any news or videos regarding Tales of Symphonia, I took with absorption and my excitement would be rekindled. The wait was a long journey in itself, the anguish and agony that I was feeling quickly turned to rekindled love and ecstasy when release date came.

Some may wonder why I held off on a review for such a long period of time. I had a review up, but it was poorly written and it was written before I developed a better understanding of critical thinking and writing. I did not give Tales its proper due, I had written a review after playing half the game. I had made 2 major mistakes, one, I should of known better then to write a review on an rpg based on half the game, two, the game did not live up to my high expectations and my poorly written review lacked any enthusiasm and coherency. At the moment that I stopped playing, Tales was lacking in story and in character development. These are two major core mechanics that I consider essential to any memorable rpg. Questions arose in my mind. Had I fallen for the hype? Did my deprived state skew my perception so much that any rpg would seem like a masterful work of art? Was the story just a slow development? These were questions that I pondered and through my disappointment, I stopped playing the game. However after purchasing a Playstation 2 and playing an assortment of rpgs, I broke out of my deprived state of mind with more clarity. It was time…it was time to go back to the rpg that for so long I loved. However this time my interest level dropped off and no longer would my expectations get in the way of a clear judgement.

Save the world again, but this time without the flair and dramatics

Tales of Symphonia, hereby denoted as (TOS), is an rpg from one of the more famous series in Japan. Much like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, Tales has developed its pool of loyal fans. While not as big as the before mentioned series, Tales does have its own unique and artistic outlook that has differentiated itself from the rest. TOS follows the life several characters. The story is based around a tree called Mana. Long ago this tree withered away and every now and then a chosen one is selected to regenerate the world. It just so happens that Colette is the chosen one. She along with Lloyd, Genis, and Kratos are the initial characters. Along the way one will meet more party members, but I ended up using this team more often then not. This is definitely not a problem because for most rpgs, one probably ends up with a set team. Anyways, the Desians are threatening the world in which we live in and in order to save the world, Colette must regenerate the world.

There is one area where TOS excels more then other areas and this area is its real time combat system. The action captures the essence of a real time combat system and the game's frantic and fast pace battle system keeps the game fun for the most part. The combat system offers a nice break from the traditional turn base systems that I have been playing for quite some time. While the battle system is quite good, the problem with this is the repetition of mashing buttons. The combos are rather limited and one will find oneself mashing a single button to pull together a small chain of combos. However, one thing that is rather neat is the ability to finish the attack with a special move. Lloyd, the character, which I controlled, offers various special attacks that allow the player to end a combo with. Other characters also have special attacks, for example, Genis is the magic wielder in the group and Genis has a variety of magic attacks.

In my mind an rpg's story is essential to the quality of that rpg. For the most part, TOS has a nice story, but in all honesty the story comes off as arid. The very beginning, the game does a great job at introducing the concept in the story, but over time the story just gets rather tedious. However there are a few shining points in the story. One will find a few plot twists here and there, but none of them is overly significant. TOS's story comes off as a bit forceful ala Xenosaga. Japanese rpgs have always had cliche stories, but it is the manner in which it presents itself that dictates the heroic and overall grand feeling that one feels when a story is well crafted. The basis to TOS's story is there, but the execution was poorly done. Now TOS's story is by no means horrendous, but it is quite lacking and rather tedious at times. Another premise on why the story is a bit lacking is the vibe that the characters emit. The characters are dull, plain and simple, there is no other way to describe it. They are lacking personality and emotion. What is left is a dull and uninteresting band of misfits. I chose the word misfit because the characters seem to try to be something that they are not. Colette, while the chosen one, is a bit clumsy for her own good. The developers tried to offer some comedic scenes with her clumsy nature, but in the end the developer's execution fails at coming off as comedic. Lloyd, along the lines of Yuri, Kalas, Squall, and Tidus, is the hero in the story. However unlike the before mentioned names, Lloyd comes off as a childish and a character that is lacking any epic qualities. One redeeming factor for TOS's story is the fact that it does have a coherent nature. For the most part the story makes sense, but nonetheless the story is poorly crafted. The story for the most part seems vague and a bit clunky.

Meaningless Syntax

Another factor that makes TOS's story lacking is the fact that there is a bunch of meaningless syntax. Throughout many of the game's in game cut scenes, the syntax is extremely tedious. What is worse is the fact that the player cannot skip them. While players can hurry through them, the long lines of syntax will surely be repetitive to some extent. Whenever a player is on the field, some words on the bottom corner will show up and when this happens, the player can press the Z button and more meaningless syntax will come up. However, in all fairness, one does not have to watch these optional scenes. However if one is to provide it, I feel they should do it to the best of their abilities.

TOS's dungeons are quite fun. There is a good variation of enemies and the variety helps to keep the game fresh. The game's dungeons are not overly difficult, but at times the player can expect to level up a bit before proceeding. In these dungeons, the puzzles are a bit easy, but for the most part, the dungeons offer nice little breaks in between the action and the repetition of syntax. For the most part, one can expect to face a boss at the end of these dungeons. At times the bosses can be difficult, while other times they are quite easy. The bosses depend on how much one levels up and what level one's characters are. For the most part, the dungeons were fun, and it offered some nice puzzles along the way to break up the action and the syntax.

The enemies in this game can be seen on the screen. In other words there are no random encounters. There are pros and cons to this. The pro is definitely being one's own decision on whether or not one wants to engage the enemy. The con is the fact that one can see the enemies; one could start to ignore the enemies and end up with characters that are weak. Random battles forces one to level up so to speak. On a side note, the enemies on the screen do try to engage you when the enemies spot you. It is better for the player to try and fight the enemies because if the player ends up with a relatively weak team, then the player's team will have a bit of trouble with the bosses. So it is better to level up one's characters slowly rather then doing it abundantly.

TOS's level up system is quite basic. Much like other rpgs of its class, its system offers experience points. With each level a certain amount of experience points must be accumulated. When a character levels up, the character will increase his/her statistics. Throughout the course of the game, through experience, the character will learn new special moves. One will know when a character learns a new special attack when the character displays it automatically during battle. As I mentioned before, I encourage players to level up because it will help you in the long run. With each new level, a character will get more hit points. This will increase their life bar and allow them to last longer in battle. However, even with that said, a player will occasionally find that it isn't enough. In a situation like this, the player can use items to heal a party member. The items are rather basic; one will have healing items, items that bring back magic points, and other miscellaneous items.

The world map for the most part offers a good amount of exploration. The world map is fairly large and filled with enemies. Sometimes it gets a bit tedious to go from point A to point B because of the vast array of enemies that are present. Even though one can avoid them, at times avoiding them is fairly difficult. At times there will be several enemies blocking a small passage. The world map's proportion also allows the player to do some side quests along the way. Like any other rpgs, exploring your surroundings and interacting with non-playable character will add to the overall experience. However in TOS's case the lack of meaningful syntax really hurts the game's interaction. With the lack of any redeeming factors, the game's interaction is sorely lacking.

Gorgeous cell-shaded graphics

TOS has a beautifully crafted graphics engine. Sporting some very beautiful and lush cell shaded graphics; the game brings its surroundings into perspective. TOS sports a variety of hues that shows off TOS's colourful and gorgeous environments. The character models for the most part look very good. The cell-shaded graphics fit them very well. The game runs very smoothly and is locked at a steady frame rate. The towns look exceptionally well and bring out a strong sense of cohesiveness found in may villages or towns.

TOS has a solid soundtrack. For the most part the music brings out a nice jive that the player can feel throughout the adventure. However at times the music does become a bit of a chore to listen to. During some of the dungeons, the music fails to set a mood. With some variety in the music selection, the musical score is more then solid and anybody that plays this game can enjoy its catchy tunes. The voice acting on the other part is…well a bit lacking to say the least. Perhaps the main reason why I felt the characters were so dull is because the character's voice work can seem a bit out of place. For example, Colette comes off as someone who is rather timid, she is also shy, but at times her shyness seems to make her character lacking in a sense. I cannot find the right word to describe it, but something is missing that is keeping the voice work from clicking. Perhaps it is the lack of emotion that the characters seem to have or maybe it is the fact that they fail to set a mood. Regardless of the reason, TOS simply fails to provide a cast of character that makes this game's storyline interesting. Whether it is through a lack of emotion or the inability to set a mood, TOS simply does not have the voice work that allows one to fully enjoy its characters.

The game's overall length is more then enough to satisfy its customers. Providing a meaty quest, the game's length will more then keep you occupied. The game's length varies, depending on how many side quests or how many battles you partake in. On average the game can be beaten from anywhere between 40 hours to 80 hours. Again it all depends on how you play it and how much of the game's extra curricular activities that you want to be apart of. One thing is for certain, the game provides a meaty quest, but how much fun the game is depends on the person. To me, someone who plays rpgs for story, I believe that the game's overall atmosphere is somewhat lacking and really dampens the experience. I have seen many who have enjoyed TOS much more then me, so it depends on the person. To me the game is lacking in areas that I consider essential to an rpg's success, so the game might be long, but how much you enjoy that time with the game will vary.

Tales of Symphonia offers a nice little adventure that Gamecube owners are craving for. I know I was simply because of the lack of rpgs on the system. From the game's beautiful cell shaded graphics to the game's frantic battle system, the game presents itself quite nicely. My major gripes were the characters lack of emotion; the lack of an epic storyline, and the overall atmosphere was filled with boredom. Did I absolutely detest TOS? Absolutely not, the game offers a meaty adventure that was well worth my money. Does the game have its flaws? Definitely, but even with all that I have said, TOS, is still a game that has enough solid rpg fundamentals to keep this game enjoyable.

An average tale

From the title page, one will probably infer that I hate the game. This is simply not the case. I have played many rpgs that I have liked more then TOS, but overall TOS is still more then solid. TOS is neither an exceptional game, nor is it a horrendous one. The best way to describe Tales is that it falls somewhere in between. Tales is simply average, common, and lacks any redeeming factors that push it over mediocrity. Perhaps another reason that I found TOS rather uninteresting at times is because I recently finished an rpg that I absolutely loved. Shadow Hearts: Covenant was everything an rpg should be in my opinion and playing Tales soon after that might of affected my judgement a bit. Even with that said Tales is still lacking many essentials that rpgs must have to be great. While lacking in some areas, TOS does have enough rpg fundamentals to keep it from totally sinking to the bottom pits of the ocean. In the end, TOS is an rpg that will soon fall into the depths of obscurity. While the fluidity of the combat system and at times the coherent story keeps TOS from being horrendous, TOS ultimately fails in luring the gamer into the life of the characters, coupled with a vast array of meaningless syntax that is tedious and monotonous, Tales of Symphonia is simply as average as it gets. Cramming a game full of meaningless syntax that lacks any emotion or entertainment sends Tales on a downward spiral that it never recovered from. With the lack of rpgs on the Gamecube, fans of the genre can overlook some of these flaws and find some enjoyment out of this game.

Pros
+ A meaty quest
+ Large world map for the player to explore
+ A solid battle system
+ Beautiful cell-shaded graphics
+ A solid soundtrack

Cons
- A lot of meaningless syntax
- The characters lack any emotion
- The storyline lacks an epic adventure
- Voice acting portrays the characters as dull and uninteresting
- The game fails to draw the audience into the life of the characters
- TOS is severely lacking in areas that I consider essential to any rpg
- Repetition of mashing buttons on a few occasions
- Tales of Symphonia ultimately give out a false apparition of brilliancy

Graphics - 9/10
Gameplay - 6/10
Sound - 6/10
Value - 6/10
Presentation - 7/10
Overall - 6.6/10


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 04/01/05


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