Review by TripleJump
The Greatest RPG for the Gamecube (Which may not be much, but still great!)
Namco has poured out many great RPGs, and the "Tales" series is one series that you probably have heard of and played. Normally I was not an RPG fan, this game was the first true RPG I have ever played, so my review might be a bit biased, however, I have played several more after this game and it's probably less biased now. When this was released, the Gamecube wasn't doing too shabby, but it wasn't doing amazing either. It really needed something big to get it kicked. It also happened to lack a decent RPG, when out of the blue, WHAM! Here comes Tales of Symphonia to amaze us all!
Though not normally the main course of an RPG, the Gameplay in this is definitely the tastiest morsel on the game plate. There are a total of 9 characters playable in this game (however, you can only have up to eight of them in your party and four of them in combat). Which is good, any more than that and this would be cheap, and if someone dies you can replace them with another character who is fresh. As in most games, instead of making most characters even stats, you want to favor four of them, because the stronger they are the better.
As you play the game, you use a wide variety of attacks, magic and various special techniques to dispatch your foes. After you use the techniques many times and become strong enough, you learn better techniques. The battles will become easier with these. Though the better they are, the more they drain your Tech Points (or TP). When this runs out, you can either use an item, support spell, or simply pound the enemy for 1 per hit. This is handy, because I don't want to spend a ton of money on items all the time. The battles on the world map don't even have to be fought! In fact, in each dungeon and world map, you can see all the enemies wandering around and try to escape from most of them. You have the hopping mad ones (literally) who hop around for a second and charge at you, then still ones, or the medium always moving ones. Some have legs and others don't. The bigger and faster, the harder the fight. So if you don't have time, you can make your way around the foes. However, bosses may require the levels for techniques and stats.
Namco has a truckload of features to use in the battlefield and outside of it. You have a large amount of items in several categories (ingredients, armor, accessories, weapons, key items, etc.) which can be used in tens and hundreds of different ways, which is to be expected. The battlefield is fully 3D, while keeping that linear battle (everyone on the same line) feel. You choose a target and run at it. The angles can change depending on when you switch targets. The AI is not useless, and will keep a constant stream of techniques, spells and attacks going on the enemy. They will not use items, which is up to you to set down the commands for them. The commands are great, with a lot of depth. You can make people protect, attack from a range, attack the same as you, attack the least health enemy and more by setting an order, which can be saved into three shortcuts or kept for common protocol.
EX Skills are a great addition. You collect the Gems around the world and can set them to characters for special bonuses or skills, like longer combos, stat skills and more. These skills will mix with each other for even more skills! The next feature is grade. After each battle, a formula marks how well you did and gives you a number (positive or negative). Throughout the game, you can trade it for items at some places, or save it to the end. After you beat the game, you can start a new game with some amazing bonuses that you can purchase with the grade earned. Customizing weapons is also a neat feature. When playing, you will have your old weapons. Which most people just sell for a cheap price, right? Or you can simply use it with some other items you found throughout the game and make it more powerful. This feature is sometimes useful, but I found it go unnoticed most of the time.
Another unnoticed feature is the cooking feature. Each character has a different cooking level for each recipe. Recipes are found by searching for the "Wonder Chef" around the map. Each has a different effect, and they work best when you use a high level cooking character. The ingredients are bought inexpensively or taken from dead foes. You can cook after the battle to heal yourself or replenish TP. This feature was largely unused for me after my party had a healer and even lower after I made a bunch of money, because that's when I started to buy my healing items.
Titles are a great feature. Each character has around 20 titles, each gives a different bonus. Some will give you a new costume to wear, while some boost status. The costumes can be funny.
A very neat feature was being able to choose mini-parties at points where you have to split your party up to complete dungeons. The dungeons are largely solved by the "Sorcerer's Ring", an item with several functions (that changes depending on the level). These can be boring, hard and fun! Some are very challenging. The relationship factor comes in when you choose parties depending on where they want to go and where you want them to be. I'll talk about the relationship factor later.
Tales of Symphonia offers us multiple paths to take, sort of. You can go through different areas first as long as you end at the same point. Some ways are harder, and some are shorter. Tales had an amazing gameplay., which will amuse you for many playthroughs.
There is also a multiplayer mode, which only works during the battles, but is still fun to co-ordinate combos and such with friends as you do battle against the enemies. I myself have played this at one of my parties with several friends and it was a blast!
The story for Tales of Symphonia is an average cliche at the most. It's plotline isn't the most unique, nor is it the least unique. The best part of the storyline for me was the Character Development. Each had a great personality that was fun to get to know and learn about their past. To learn more, you can watch the optional "Z-Skits" which did nothing more than offer fun conversations between characters.
Tales features two or three huge plot twists (which I won't say here) that will keep you into it's medium rated story. Some of these will shock you, while some of these will make you say "Meh, this was coming" or "Wow! What a cliche!".
A good story feature was the relationship feature. You receive a number of options throughout the game and can choose answers that will influence characters into hating and liking you, making you side with different people. There are several scenes which are influenced by your top relationship person, and these decide your "soulmate". Some include rejecting others, and bringing the relationships down.
The story is mediocre for an RPG, but it'll keep anyone that doesn't have posters of RPGs and worship the games interested for the whole time.
Graphics and Sound
Being a Cel Shaded game (most well known from Wind Waker), the graphics aren't expected to be super amazing. They are nearly flawless, but they are also not amazing because of this. You can tell that the art is influenced mainly by anime and manga.
The techniques used (mainly the spells) look simply amazing when you pull them off and have you thinking "Wow! Did I just do that?" most of the time. Unfortunately, the emotions of the character's aren't really displayed through the body, but more through emotion bubbles. This is fine, but can sometimes look weird when a character looks barely excited by dialogue and going crazy, and vice versa.
The Sound is probably one of the greatest parts of the game. The music during the overworld, battles, towns and dungeons are simply AMAZING. I found myself humming these and whistling to these for days after I played it for the first time. They just don't get boring, and the composers and musicians are to be commended for their tremendous job!
The Voice Acting only takes place during the important scenes, but they are also amazing. Namco took the big name hollywood voice actors and had them record for this. So your favorite cartoon characters are probably in this one. Each character has a unique voice that is fun to listen to, and rarely will you hear a mistoned or "he should have said that differently" moment. The characters swear as often as men in a trucker convention, but it's not very strong. This adds to the intensity of the game.
These sections are the side dishes to the main part of our game meal.
Being an RPG, this is obviously a very long game. Technically, you could play this almost forever just leveling up and not going to the final battle. However, the game already boasts 80 hours of gameplay if you wanted to collect every last thing in this game. I believe this. Your first playthrough will probably clock in at about 40 hours. Then you will find yourself wanting to play again, to relive the experience and do more. The second time around, you also have the Grade Shop purchases, which will add even more fun to the game because you are now stronger (or weaker, depending on if you want the difficulty). I myself have completed around 9 playthroughs, which each came in at 30-44 hours. No matter how many sidequests or mini-games you will play, there will always be more. So this one will keep you going for a long time.
Buy or Rent?
This game is a player's choice game. This means that the price has gone down from 40+ dollars to $30 or below (canadian prices). This game is definitely worth this purchase, and it will save you money because you will be too busy playing this than purchasing other games. Renting it is unwise because the week probably isn't long enough to finish it. So you might want to trade games with a friend for a few days to play this baby. It's worth every last penny you part with.
This game is a great RPG that any gamecube owner will enjoy, even if you don't like RPGs. Buy it and pop it in, with two discs it will give you twice the amount of fun, don't forget to play with a friend!
Overall Score: 10/10
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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