Review by Crocomire
"Tales of Symphonia is one of the most gripping and immersing games Iíve played in a very long time"
Thanks for choosing to read my review for Tales of Symphonia on Nintendo GameCube.
I'll start right away with one of the most important parts of any RPG the story. We all know RPGs are known for their great storylines, but after you've played so many, things start to get a little samey. You start knowing what to expect and what's going to happen next. Tales of Symphonia changes all of that.
There exist two worlds in the game of Tales of Symphonia Sylvarant and Tethe'alla. Both worlds strive for the life force Mana. When one world is reaping in the Mana, the other world is draining away, suffering, dieing. In Sylvarant, a person with the Mana bloodline in them is selected as the Chosen of Regeneration who is destined to save their world and make sure it lives off the Mana once again. Colette, a sixteen year old blonde female, is the next Chosen of Regeneration and must go on a quest to save her dieing world.
Lloyd Irving is a close friend of Colette and insists he goes with her to protect her on the journey. Lloyd's best friend Genis, a skilful young magician, also accompanies them.
This isn't half the story though. There is a large company known as the Desians who use humans as experiments which they keep at what are known as Human Ranches dotted all over the world. Colette's home town of Iselia keep a treaty with the Desians that if their residents stay clear of the ranches, they won't attack the town. The Desians constantly try to attack Lloyd on his quest because he possesses a powerful orb known as an Exsphere. The Desians want it and won't leave Lloyd alone until they get it.
As all RPGers will know, there is more to the story than what I've mentioned. You aren't on a journey just to save Sylvarant and fight off the Desians. There is so much more to Tales of Symphonia than that. As you play, you will encounter new people new friends, new threats. You'll realise that the Desians aren't your only enemy.
Tales of Symphonia has it all emotion, betrayal, love, death... Everything you could ask for in a role playing game storyline is right here in Tales of Symphonia.
RPGers will be familiar with how this game works, but let me explain for those who haven't had much experience with an RPG before.
You take the role of Lloyd Irving and move him around towns. That's simple enough, eh? You can talk to anyone you want and enter the houses and stores with the push of a button. Talking to people is the key to progressing through the game as many people will offer you hints on where to go or what to do next.
When you exit a town you will come to the field map. At the field map, you are able to run around and explore the world of Sylvarant. This is how you move from one place to another. At the field map, you will also encounter enemies who you must battle in order to make your characters stronger. Unlike other RPGs such as Final Fantasy, you can actually see the enemies on the map and choose whether or not to fight them. Some enemies are unavoidable when they charge at you, however.
Battling enemies is very important though. By defeating monsters, you will gain experience points which will make your characters stronger and increase their health points. Not only that, but you also get money from enemies which you will need to purchase more powerful weapons and amor in stores.
Also new to RPGers is the battle system. Instead of turn-based battles, you fight in a real time 3D arena, controlling one of four characters you choose to place in battle. But as an awesome bonus, more than one player can take part in the action as you can assign other players to control other characters in your party during battles. This can be very helpful when you want someone to perform a particular attack or spell. And of course, multiplayer is always great fun. And seeing as we don't get it all that often in RPGs, this is a welcome addition.
Fighting is pretty simple in which you move towards or away from your enemy by hitting the control stick left or right. You can attack with the A button and perform specials with the B button. The special attacks consume technical points (TP) which slowly recover during battle. You can switch your enemy target by holding R and choosing the enemy you want to attack so it's pretty simple stuff.
I guess one of my upsets is that you can usually wade through many of the fights by simply mashing the A button. It has its advantages and disadvantages over turn-based battles a la Final Fantasy, but it's certainly nice to try something new over the same old style we tend to play with.
Your goal in Tales of Symphonia is to break the seals which are stopping the flow of Mana reaching the planet. Each seal lies at the end of a dungeon which you must bypass before you can take on the boss. Each dungeon is very tricky to get through as you must complete puzzles to open doors and create new pathways. The early ones shouldn't cause too many problems but as you get through the game, you'll soon see what I mean. For some reason though, I didn't seem to get bored or frustrated too much when having to complete these tasks. Some require a lot of thought but it's something RPG experts will love.
One feature of the game that game completionists will love is that you gain books which tell you the percentage of how many items you've found and the monsters you've defeated in the game. You'll know whether you've found every single sword or piece of armor when your logbook reads 100% for that particular category. I think it's a really neat addition to the game and RPGers will love this little extra if they want to try and find everything the game has to offer.
Also of worthy mention is that the game contains a synopsis that you can read whenever you like. This tells you the story of Lloyd's travels and is updated whenever you complete a critical part of the game's storyline. It's very handy if you've forgotten what to do next or when you didn't quite understand something in the game. Just check back in the synopsis and everything will be written down for you. It's something that proves very helpful and you'll be thinking Now why isn't this in every RPG?. Games are getting so big nowadays that you tend to forget what happened but having a synopsis really helps you out.
As for game difficulty, I think Tales of Symphonia does a fairly good job of it. I saw the game over screen plenty of times, mostly because of the bosses. The bosses are usually what provide you with the challenges. As with most RPGs though, you create your own difficulty. If you level your characters up for ages, you'll usually get past anything. But if you only fight the battles you're forced to fight, you'll struggle. Even if you do fight plenty of battles though, the bosses will still give you a hard time.
Length is another important factor when considering an RPG. On the back of the box it says over 80 hours of gameplay. I beat the game in just over half that time, but that was just getting through the story. Even after you've beaten Tales of Symphonia, there's more to do. If you start a new game after beating it, you can take over selected things from your previous game to start with in your new game which adds to the fun factor. And you'll definitely want to be playing through this game again. Of that I am certain. There's so much to collect and so many places to see.
As far as RPGs go, they make use of every button on a controller, and Tales of Symphonia is no different. RPGers will have no trouble in getting used to the controls but here's a rundown of what does what.
On the field map you move around with the control stick and open the menu with Y. In the menu you can assign weapons to a particular character and choose which characters will fight in battles, as well as a ton of other stuff. The A button lets you talk to people in towns and cities.
In battle, you move toward or away from your targeted enemy with the control stick and attack with the A button. By successfully hitting your enemy you can chain together massive combos by performing physical and special attacks to really deal the damage. You can learn some awesome special attacks which consume TP but they can prove extremely useful against those bosses. You perform the specials by using B. By hitting the control stick in different directions while pressing A or B, you can unleash different attacks, and you can assign which specials you can use in battle in the menu.
You can guard attacks from your enemies by holding the X button which reduces the damage you take from enemies. You can access the menu at anytime by tapping Y. From here you can use items to heal yourself or equip weapons or armor that proves more effective against the enemy you're currently fighting. Being able to equip weapons during battle is something that not all RPGs feature, but it can be very helpful in this game.
You can tell your other team mates in battle to perform certain actions by pressing the d-pad in different directions. In the menu, you can choose what your other characters will do, such as attacking the nearest enemy or staying back to heal. Seeing as you only control one character as the battles are in real time, Tales of Symphonia does a good job of still giving you control over the computer-controlled characters.
You can unleash a Unison Attack with the Z button. This lets you release a swarm of attacks from all of your party members one after another by inputting attack commands quickly. The R button switches between enemy targets and L cancels spells if you change your mind at the last second.
All in all, ToS makes great use of the GameCube controller. RPGers will be right at home with the controls with no problems. As for non-RPGers, you won't have too many problems. Battle controls are very simple with no command menus to scroll through. Just a simple tap of A and B mixed with some directions and you're away. Easy learning curve and some technical moves for the experts to master.
The ever-popular cel-shading graphic style is used once again here. All the towns and backdrops are bright and colourful, and look extremely beautiful. The character models are cel-shaded though, and they fit in perfectly with the rest of the animation.
I guess there's one thing that bugs me though. You are greeted with an awesome opening anime movie when you turn the game on. Those who've played Final Fantasy will know how FMVs play at certain parts of the game. Tales of Symphonia doesn't have any of this, but if you look at the opening movie, you'll see it's all made of clips that happen during the game. When you get to a certain part in the game you're thinking that an anime cut scene will kick in any moment because you saw this scene in the opening. But nothing of the sort happens. A few anime cut scenes are played during the game, but nothing from the opening that you would have expected. Players of Final Fantasy will be expecting these cut scenes; but sadly, it seems Namco aren't as mental about them as Square are.
It's not a problem because they don't provide much except for some nice-looking animes, but it'll be a bit of a disappointment to some. Especially if you were expecting them as I was.
An RPG's gotta have good music, right? Course it does, son. Namco have done a superb job with this soundtrack, but I couldn't help but notice the chanting in almost every area of the game. It's no problem, but you certainly notice it. It goes pretty well with the dungeon settings though.
As you might have imagined, ToS uses voice acting, as most RPGs nowadays do. I was really impressed with the quality though and it doesn't sound corny as some in-game voice acting is. The characters really do express emotion, hatred and love through their voices, and it really adds to the atmosphere of the game.
Final Word 10/10
Tales of Symphonia is one of the most gripping and immersing games I've played in a very long time. And that is saying something. As soon as I put it in that ToS disc 1, I could not stop playing. I just had to finish it the story was that good. It's a really dark storyline. People are constantly dieing, while others are betrayed and lied to. Discrimination plays a big role in the game, and you can't help but feel like Namco were secretly trying to get a message across to the world with this one. It'll certainly open your eyes a bit anyway.
RPG fans will absolutely love it though. It ranks way up there with the likes of Final Fantasy yet changes the formula so that you aren't playing something that feels old and samey. Those new to RPGs couldn't find a better place to start either. ToS has such an easy learning curve and there are a lot of advanced techniques to learn for the masters.
Tales of Symphonia is a work of art. Everything from the graphics, the music, the storyline. Everything that makes an RPG great, ToS has it all. If you have a GameCube, you definitely need to check this game out. It's one of the best on the system.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/16/06
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