Review by DarkKuja
"Best GameCube RPG? Yes. One of the best RPGs ever? Could well be!"
PAL 50Hz Review
Ahh...Christmas 2004 - possibly the best Christmas yet for European GameCube gamers - Metroid Prime 2, a sequel that topped the prequel for once, Paper Mario 2, a outrageous and funny RPG as well as Prince of Persia Warrior Within - a dark adventure. It was weird all this quality software coming out in Europe for Christmas - just two years before we were given the dreadful StarFox Adventures, while the rest of the world laughed in the face of Europe with Metroid Prime, safely in their stockings. Fast-forward two years and again the rest of the world had their new DS handhelds, but Tales of Symphonia came to soothe that. Again we got it later than the rest of the world, but hey, it was worth waiting for....
Tales of Symphonia (shortened to ToS) is considered a more or less sequel to the Japan only SNES RPG Tales of Phantasia - there are a few references all the way through to back this up. It was a sort of test by Namco to see if the GCN was still worth developing for. A test that failed and saw ToS released on the PS2 in Japan with a host of incentives. But Tales of Symphonia is still a brilliant game a game that so deserved to sell more
If I had to describe Tales of Symphonia in one sentence I would say: "a clichéd, beautiful, well made Japanese RPG"
Onto the main body of the review...
The main strength of the game comes through the brilliant characters. Each one of the main characters has a curious style about them, each one is distinct, and their cloths and appearance suit their personalities - take Lloyd and his red jacket-thing, it's brash, out going, yet conservative. Or Zelos and his cloths - his long red hair and pink shirt reflect his loud personality, his trousers and fancy shoes show his posh upbringing. The Cel Shading really suits the anime styling of the characters and generally suits the fairy tale like story as well. The characters were designed by a well known drawer - Kosuke Fujishima, he also did the art for Tales of Phantasia and Oh my Goddess!
Though its not all rays of sunshine here - each character has their own pre set animations for when they are talking - it will soon get dull seeing the same routine time and time again, and consequentially the character models seem to lack emotion or passion in an emotionally charged game. Also in many cut scenes, there is a peculiar and noticeable focusing problem on the characters that are out of the main centre of the action. Whether or not this is on purpose or not I do not know, but it does distract you from the dialogue and the action on screen
There are a few anime cut scene sprinkled through out ToS, all of which are stunning, shame there is only three
In battle, characters are animated beautifully, each person's weapon animation is individual - Zelos' distinctive sword slash and Regal's multitude of kicks spring to mind. The most work has obliviously gone in to the main character - Lloyd - all his base attacks look and feel different and a skilled player can combo some of his attacks into a funky ballet of slashes and thrusts. However all characters look amazing and graceful with a bit of practice - and it makes the game all the more enjoyable when you know you're defeating the enemies with style!
Though a special word has to go to the two main magic users - Raine and Genis. Raine and Genis are typical RPG "mages" and therefore heal and attack with a variety of magic - which is fantastically over the top. Every powerful spell from Genis is an explosion of shiny, pretty colour - especially one move, it covers the entire Battle-Field and ends in a flurry of a giant sword and electricity.
Even the enemies are well designed and animated beautifully - take the Egg-Bear for example, he stumbles and grabs and fights the way a giant bear might. Some of the optional bosses are weird and a spectacle to fight as well
Special word has to go to the Unison Attacks - these are special combinations of certain moves to create one Uber attack, again these are dazzling at worst
As you can tell, the battles are full of eye candy; however, this graphical splendour is brought down by the dull, flat and uninspired over world. Possibly the worst part of the game - it looks like a rejected part of a N64 game. Over words can be interesting - look at other RPGs for examples, obliviously the designers spent burnt their effort on other places in the game. Towns however are lovely. Each one has atmosphere cultivated by the music and the design of each one. Take Izold for example - a warm, soft sky, a small dock as well as a tiny little beach and the wavy, windy music build and WHAM! You are suckered in. Just magnificent
Towns are let down however by the reuse of NPCs...They soon get tepid and dull. Take the rough with the smooth, as they say...
So the graphics are a mixed bag, sadly
Well what can you say about the music? On the face of it, it is standard RPG blorks and beeps. But still it builds the atmosphere and is usually non-intrusive. There is nothing epic or suitably moving until the last boss and the credits however, which is generally disappointing. Sound effects are what you expect, again nothing special - swipes with a sword sound like they should.
Voices...uhh...this is such a debated subject, but generally, combined with the slightly wooded animation, the voices sound detached and tedious in the cut scenes. And then you find out the fact that the Voice Acting isn't that good. It's disappointing, considering that 2 or 3 of the Voice Actors also stared in Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Some characters are more annoying than others, but the voices still suit the character's personalities...In battle the voices work a treat, characters bark out the name of the attack they are using, and say when a attack isn't effective and such. It gets annoying, but still builds a sense of urgency in battle.
In conclusion, sound is more okay than bad or great
Oh. My. God. At this point in this review I feel like saying a bunch of cliched sayings such as "if you only get one game this year, make it be this" and "if you like RPGs get this!"
Tales of Symphonia's main grip is exerted over the played via its gameplay. It's involving, engaging, thoughtful but never overpowering. First of all the fighting. It's a simple system called "Motion Linear battle" or something like that. It's a pretty good description, because you fight with an enemy in a line using 5 selected moves, a standard combo and a Special move which combines a single move from each character fighting. It allows for a lot of depth and multiple combos. Its a lot fun more than a Turn Based System - you actually feel that you are making a difference in a fight, other than selecting a move from a list. In fact you will play through ToS again - just for the Battle System. If in other reviews you here complaints - don't listen - they are not good enough. Simple as.
The backbone of the fighting system is the T & S system. Using certain equip-able skills you can change what type of moves a character learns - T stands for Technical (lots of hits, low damage) and S stands for Strike (low hits, high damage). Again this allows for a lot of customisation and depth. You can just lose your self for a few hours just customising your fighters, trying out new moves and combos. Brilliant. Still with me? Because the equip-able skills that change what type of moves a character learn can be combined into even better skills. Once you have got your head around all that, you can start sculpturing your fighters. And once you have got them they way you like, the sense of achievement is amazing, It's typical RPG gameplay, but it's what keeps it interesting in my opinion.
Worried that it is alltoo complicated? Don't be, there is even a tutorial for you.
Apart from all this, ToS is your usual RPG fair, fighting, towns, speaking to NPCs and Dungeons. Dungeons are pretty boring - poorly paced with some truly dull and workman-like puzzles. These parts are dull, but you still keep fighting on, just for the story and the fighting.
Speaking of Sidequests though, ToS is amazing in this aspect, there are dozens of quests to take part in and enjoy, each rewards you differently, even if it's just a bit of dialogue it is still rewarding. Some Sidequests have you fighting evil demons, taking on a devil book, searching for a pirate. I don't want to say any more however - you need to discover them for your self!
So in conclusion, ToS has really good customisation for an RPG, pretty bad dungeons and puzzles though
Any RPG has to have a good story...ToS has an okay story...though you could ToS is the big fat mother of all RPG cliches. Optimistic young boy, innocent girl, strong but silent type - mysterious warrior, convict, sexist arrogant teenager. And there's betrayal. Lots of it. There's also discrimination and a bit of an obsessive sister-brother relationship - though not as bad as the one in Code Veronica! The ending is a nice conclusion, though. Overall it's not bad suppose, though it is twee, and fairy tale alike, if you will
Spread over 2 disks - it's a big game, if you rush it could take you under 40 hours...but if you take your time, do the Sidequests and such, it will take you to around 80 hours - I took me 100 hours my first play through. But seriously ToS will take around 3 to 4 play throughs to complete everything 100%, there is an incredibly long list of stuff to do. And once you finish the game you can start a "new game +" which allows you start a new game with a variety of new options. What could be better?
One last thing - this is without a doubt this is the best RPG on the GCN, buy it quickly since production will be winding down very soon, if not now. If you see it, get it without hesitation. If you can't find it, try to you can!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/01/05
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