Review by GBishop
"Tales of Destiny has just enough going for it to keep it above mediocrity."
Namco wasn’t trying to rewrite the book on RPGs when they produced Tales of Destiny, the sequel to the Super Famicom game Tales of Phantasia. It features many elements that veteran RPG players will be very familiar with, and for the most part, Tales of Destiny puts it all together reasonably well. It may be too much of a 16-bit throwback for some Playstation gamers who hold the newest Final Fantasy titles up as the pinnacle of RPG gaming, though. For the rest of us, there’s plenty to both like and dislike in the game, but overall it’s a fairly solid effort.
The hero of Tales of Destiny is a young adventurer named Stahn Aileron (or, if you don’t like that name, you can change it). He’s a total sucker for helping absolutely anyone he thinks needs assistance, and he is atypical for RPG heroes in that he doesn’t like to rummage around through people’s stuff without permission. There’s a long and detailed background story involving several different factions that competed for world dominance, and what comes around apparently does go around, because the losers of that confrontation, the Aethereans, are looking to make a comeback against the then victorious E’rthers. Stahn turns out to be the main hope of the E’rthers for keeping their civilization alive, and he’ll meet up with all sorts of interesting characters that will assist and hinder him, including the Swordians, weapons that possess intelligence.
I can’t say I found the story in Tales of Destiny to be all that great. It’s riddled with so many RPG conventions that it seems a bit cliché. The game is extremely linear for present-day RPGs, so your Destiny is set in stone. It takes around 30 hours to go through the entire game, but the last 5-7 feature so many redundancies in plot that it looks like Namco just ran out of ideas for the final stretch. Despite these problems, the characters in Tales of Destiny are a very interesting and varied bunch, and they definitely make up for some of the deficiencies in the storyline. This game contains a ton of text to sift through, even for an RPG, so don’t even think about picking up this game unless you can sit still for all that reading.
The biggest strength in Tales of Destiny, and the main reason I found myself compelled to complete the game, is the fantastic battle system, which Namco has dubbed the E-LMB System (Enhanced Linear Motion Battle System). I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it in an RPG. Essentially, it’s a real-time battle system where all the action takes place in a 2D plane, similar to side-scrolling hack-and-slash games of yesterday. You only control Stahn directly, and the other characters in your party (up to 3 companions) are assigned orders and strategies to carry out. The controls are simple but effective: one button, in conjunction with d-pad movements, is used for normal attacks, and another, also with the d-pad, handles special skills, which are more powerful attacks that often will hit more than one opponent. Special skills use Technical Points, which are Tales of Destiny’s version of magic points. Magic spells also use TPs, and they are carried out via menus that you can call upon during battles. A certain number of TPs are replenished after every battle, depending on your experience level. Winning fights nets you the obligatory money (here known as Gald) as well as something called Lens, a resource that you can sell for Gald at certain shops. It takes a while to really get the hang of this system, but once you really get going, it’s a lot of fun. I wish more RPGs would adopt this sort of approach, but that’s probably not going to happen.
As far as the weapons in the game are concerned, Tales of Destiny has borrowed some ideas from Final Fantasy VII. Only characters equipped with a Swordian can cast magic spells, and each Swordian can be combined with Aura Discs (think of it as Materia), which increase the number of spells the character can use. It isn’t nearly as complicated as Final Fantasy VII’s setup, so it doesn’t take long to figure it out.
There are two map screens in Tales of Destiny, which is pretty typical for RPGs: regular and global. The regular map screen is where you investigate the towns, shops, caves, etc. I wasn’t too crazy about the Global Sphere Map (that’s the overworld map), which I never felt showed enough of the terrain for getting around easily. It’s also not always clear where exactly you can walk on this map, and that can lead to some unnecessary and bothersome random battles.
It seems to be a prerequisite nowadays for RPGs to be littered with side-quests and bonus games, and Tales of Destiny is no exception. I actually like the extras in this game, including a reworking of Namco’s The Tower of Druaga. Most of the bonus material is pretty well hidden, some of it to the point of obscurity, and most people won’t find the good stuff without a FAQ handy.
The graphics in Tales of Destiny are rather unspectacular for RPGs these days. It’s all made up of 2D sprites, and special effects are kept to a minimum. Most of it looks like it could have appeared on the Super Nintendo, but that’s OK by me, since RPGs aren’t supposed to be about flashy graphics and fancy lighting effects. There is some anime-style cinema scenes at the beginning and end of the game, which makes for some good publicity shots, but it doesn’t really do anything for the game itself.
While its graphics aren’t that impressive, the audio department for Tales of Destiny is superb. Japanese press and gamers marveled at Tales of Phantasia because of the large amount of voice work the producers crammed into the cartridge. It may not be as impressive a feat to do that with the CD format, but the voice acting (all in Japanese, of course) is still plentiful and effective, most of it occurring in the battle sequences. The music in the game is also excellent, a great mix of fanfares, haunting melodies, and up-tempo battle themes. There are also some classic Namco tunes that put in appearances in the game. It’s all great stuff, and the game has a Sound Test mode accessible from the title screen, where you can listen to all the game’s music (and the voice work, too) as much as you want.
What you think of Tales of Destiny really comes down to what you think of its unique battle system. It has to carry a large load due to the lack of creativity in other parts of the game, so if you don’t love it, the game on the whole may seem like a waste of time. I happen to think it pulls it off, but prospective buyers should try before they buy if at all possible.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/05/00, Updated 11/05/00
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