Review by Black_Crusher
"What do you give the game that has everything? A five!"
What do you get when you take excellent cell shaded-graphics and an amazing battle system and combine it with tons of cliched and unnecessary crap? Tales of Symphonia for the Nintendo Gamecube! I, like many other U.S. players, bought this game with little or no knowledge of the heralded "Tales" series but liked what it looked like. This is likely to go down as one of the most generic games ever made, and it's a crying shame since it had so much potential too.
UGH!! What can I say about a game that tries to encompass EVERYTHING? There was literally only ONE aspect of the story that caught me a little by surprise and you find that out relatively early on. We need to save the world for this one, but unlike games filled with decent and interesting characters, we get the same cookie-cutter RPG personalities that have haunted these type of games for nearly 15 years! A brash swordsman orphan? A ditsy cleric / angel? A quiet loner warrior? A kid mage? Blah! Even the one character you think will be good turns out to be just another summoner. And these are the people we have to travel with to rejuvenate the world of mana? Toss in a lot of generic and boring fetch quests and there you have it. No thanks!
But for what it lacks in story or originality, it blows the cover off when it comes to looks. An amazingly nice piece of art, they seem to have spared no expense aesthetically speaking. This attention to detail would be hard to rival, as even small and useless rooms in some random inn are given books, tables, wall ornaments, and rugs to name a few. You can't really interact too much with your environment, but that doesn't really matter in this game. And your shallow 1-dimensional characters are thankfully brought to life with superb character models and perfect animation. In fact I'd say that the animation might be this game's best feature. Enemies, backgrounds, and water sources also look just as amazing. There's even a long anime-style opening movie to boot! I can see where they spent most of the development funds on for this one. Well done here!
SOUND AND MUSIC: 4/10
You will also not be disappointed with the game's great songs, as they all fit nicely and aren't annoying. The battle songs (there are more than one) are maybe the worst of the lot, but that could also just be because I've heard them a million times more than the other ones. Sound effects do the job. It should be noted that there is a lot of voiceover work that spans the game. This is also likely why Tales of Symphonia (TOS) is on two discs instead of one. But why oh why must they always hire the same awful actors to do voiceover work on today's games? I find it hard to be sympathetic for Colette when I want to rip her head off for being so friggin' annoying! And your main hero Lloyd isn't much better. I applaud that they went the extra mile to give the characters voices, but next time please hire better actors!
The game handles perfectly, especially during the battle mode. You have certain skills / moves you can set up and perform on the fly and I never had any trouble getting them to work properly. The menu system has that certain "way too much" feel that pervades the entire game though, but we'll get into that in the next section...
It should be duly noted that the full 5 points of the gameplay score were awarded to the combat system, which I found to be one of the greatest of any RPG to date. Since it's the best we'll talk about it first. A good thing about TOS is that there are no random encounters, so to speak. While walking around you'll see representations of your enemies. On the overworld, they look like shadowy beasts. Everywhere else they look more like what you will actually fight if you run into them. By running into them either by accident or by choice, you'll enter the battle screen. It's here that you now have to fight your enemies in REAL TIME! Your characters actually move on a simple horizontal line, but it's done so well you'd hardly notice. By pressing different combinations of buttons and directions you perform the skills that you set up beforehand in the skills menu. Although the player has control over Lloyd, the other members of the party will follow your general orders that you give them such as "Don't Waste Magic". It's a decent A.I. that I didn't have any problems with. There's a gauge that gradually fills up as your battles wear on that determines when your guys can do a massive ultra attack too. As if the system wasn't great enough, you can also pick another character to "take charge" of in battles if you get tired of using Lloyd. It's a really refreshing way to have the battle system, and the most unique thing about TOS.
The only dark point of the battle system is inevitably the GRADE system. What is it, how does it work? Well, if you fight quickly and don't get hit too much you'll get some GRADE points. It's important to know that these points are in decimal format, so a GRADE award of 1.42 is actually pretty good. GRADE points are used to purchase EX-Gems from special merchants, and these in turn are attached to your characters and give them some minor skill / stat boosts for the most part. Sound good? It would be, but unfortunately if you don't fight as well as you'd hoped to the game will penalize you by awarding negative GRADE points. It doesn't quite create the balance they were going for, and it's more of an annoyance overall.
So why a 5? Although hard to quantify exactly, there is just... "too much" in this game. If it were all done as well as the battle system that wouldn't be a problem, but it isn't. You'll notice the unnecessary extras right off the bat. Just look at the way they handle character classes! Hey guess what, I'm a warrior! Oh, wait I just read this book so now I'm a teacher! Ah-ha! I read the book upside down so now I'm a scholar! Now all my friends got fed up with me so now I'm a loner! I'm not kidding here people, each character will have many, MANY possible class titles that you'll get throughout the game. This could have been GREAT, just look at the class systems of Final Fantasy Tactics or Dragon Warrior 7. But instead the only thing that distinguishes one class from another is what the character will gain upon leveling up. And the gains are MEASLY, and not worth the whole crappy million-title per character class system anyhow.
What might you notice next..? Oh yes! How about the pointless cooking system? Cooking, pointless? Not in Harvest Moon. Not even as a side game in Suikoden 2. But in TOS, all of your ingredients cost much more than a simple healing gel that you can buy from any store. If that's the case, why would you even bother cooking since most meals don't really do much for you that other items can't already. And you can only cook at the end of a battle. (I know that's when I want to eat the most, right after getting into a fight.) And they might fail too. FAIL at making a SANDWICH? And these are the guys who are going to save the world? Oh brother.. It's like the whole cooking part of the game was an afterthought they threw in for the hell of it.
Okay, well how about the numerous menus you have to wade through? Let's see.. Weapons, Items, Story Items, Armor, Stats, Ingredients, Quests, Skills, EX-Gems, blah blah blah.. Too much! This could have been put into an easy to read single menu but NOOOOOOO. I poop on this menu system! The one thing they got right is you can go and look up your quest journal entries to see where you left off at any time. This is especially helpful if you haven't played in awhile and forget what to do.
Weapon upgrades! Sound fun? Not really, the way ol' TOS does it. In order to acquire new weapons, you can either buy the 1 or 2 they sell at the store or upgrade an existing weapon with some of the materials you'll find on your quest (like a beast fang or silver ore). Take these to the blacksmith and provided you have the correct materials he'll make you a brand new weapon- that you will most likely see up for sale at the very next shop you come across. What's the point?! Why waste your limited stock of materials upgrading to weapons that you can buy later? The games I've played let you make NEW and EXCITING weapons, and they're not going to be found in any store. This is what makes them SPECIAL, and worth spending your raw materials on. A good idea gone totally to waste.
And if you really want another way to waste your money, you could always hire the cat people to go and see if you've missed any treasure chests in any given particular area. I ask again, why?? There isn't an overabundance of places to go to (a rarity in this game), so would it really be so terrible to have to go and actually explore the world for yourself? It's almost as if the designers are promoting laziness. Again the cat people are another needless extra in a sea of needless extras.
+Pretty graphics, but AMAZING animation- top notch!
+Good character and enemy models
+Easily one of the finest battle systems for an RPG ever
+A lot of game to be had, it's lengthy
+Weapons show on your characters
-Generic, boring, awfully long story
-Generic cookie-cutter characters we've all seen before
-The million title class system is ridiculous and was not done right
-A crap menu system
-BAD voice acting (except for maybe Kratos)
-"Grade" system penalizes on occasion
-A worthless cooking system
-A pointless Weapon upgrade system
-Hire cat people to find treasures.. so you don't have to!
-Too much of everything is sometimes not a good thing
You'll get your money's worth of a ton of generic content, make no mistake. Half-elves, Dwarves, Save the world, mana.. Wow, this has all been done many times before and much better too. Tales of Symphonia is straight up the best example of what can happen when developers try to toss everything into the pot and hope it all works. The "Too Much" factor. But you can't have a bunch of extras that don't go well together, or you'll bore your audience to sleep, especially considering that the game is a long one.
Excuse me while I grab my pillow..
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 02/20/07
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