Review by Etrurianmage
"Arguably the greatest Role playing game of all time."
The title says it all. This is very possibly my favorite RPG ever released. And for someone who enjoys JRPGs as much as I do, that's really saying something. I remember when I first picked up the game for $10 about two years ago, I was expecting something mildly entertaining that would keep me busy for a few weeks. In the end, I got an amazing experience that created a love for this series and genre that I will probably carry with me for many years to come. But enough about that, lets go into a bit more detail about what makes this game so great, shall we?
Hey I didn't say everything about the game was great. But if somethings going to be mediocre, it might as well be something as unimportant as the graphics. I'm being pretty generous at a six since many things in the game look like they're from two console generations ago (the Playstation and Nintendo 64 era). However, the cartoon-like art style makes it look more natural and you likely won't find it to be a problem while playing. Also, there is nicely done anime artwork in the game as well as some anime cut scenes. These scenes are wonderful. Its a bit of a shame that you don't get to see any in game anime scenes until near the end but they are nicely placed in ways that make them impressive and add a nice touch to the areas that they are in. In addition there is an anime opening scene (before you get to the title screen) that lasts a few minutes and gives you a little bit of a background on some of the characters and lets you see them in action.
It's what you would expect from a Tales game- Motoi Sakuraba's wonderful work in this game is amazing and enhances the experience just as music in video games should. If you have played Tales of the Abyss or Tales of Vesperia, you know just what to expect-the perfect music to match every situation so wonderfully composed that the moment remains in your mind forever. "Decision" is a particular track that will always stand out as one of my favorite pieces of video game music ever. Any town in this game has music that matches the mood of that given town, be it the outset of your adventure, a hidden village inhabited only by elves, a large city resembling medieval society with the rich and the poor. Every cave or dungeon also gives you a feeling matching what it is (fire dungeon feels like a fire dungeon, water dungeon feels like a water dungeon, ect.) Last but not least, much of the battle music (especially the boss battles) is incredible. Fatalize, Final Destination, Last Battle-Decision; all wonderful tracks that really demonstrate what video game music can really do. The music in this game gives you feelings all the way through the experience, I could go on and on and give example after example. There's just that much to love about the music.
After a little over a mere month with the game, I had spent over 100 hours. Only about 50 hours of this was spent on the playthrough. There are side quests and plenty of them, but they don't take too long (some of them even go with no more reward than the fact that you just killed some time and you're now 15 minutes closer to death. Congratulations!) Yet, some can take you a few hours or so to finish which isn't bad for a side quest. There's also a sidequest in which you must retrieve some cursed weapons concluding in the toughest boss of the game at the end of it (can take a few hours), finding recipes and maximizing the cooking level of each character, and using the cursed weapons to increase attack power. I know what you're thinking, "Why in the bluest blazes of hell did you give a replay value section that you have mostly nothing but complaints for a 10/10?" Well I'm getting to that, the secret is that I DARE you to only play through this game just once once. I suspect that this game will be my next Fire Emblem 7 in the sense that I will rack up hundreds of hours playing through it because its just too fun to quit. I mean, I just recently concluded my fourth playthrough and I'm already thinking about another one. I'm not even as dedicated as some gamers who have played through a good many times more than I have and have reached the max time that the game will record. Does this say anything about the replay value?
The best part of this game's story is the pacing. It does a great job of having the player's goals constantly change, which results in the game really picking up pace a few hours in and not letting go until the very end. All throughout the game, the constant feeling of doing something important rather than just getting ready to do something important or taking on a prerequisite task to doing something important gives you get the feeling of an epic conclusion that you get from any other games. By the end of the game, the story has covered so much ground that that epic feeling you get from reaching the end of a long game is all the better. The characters, while very true to their respective archetypes (according to some, cliched), are some of the most likeable characters of any game I've played in a while. Special recognition to Kratos, Zelos, and Katz for being made of win. All of the characters are given the right amount of emphasis, and their stories become interesting without feeling worn out. The only things I can really to dislike about the story is the slander-fest interpretation of religion, which basically seemed to have no place in the game and felt like it was only included for the sake of needless trolling. And the viewpoints on morality/racism (while I did kind of like that these viewpoints on racism were there, they felt forced and eventually you just become tired of them.)
To quote a Tales of the Abyss walkthrough on this site that I think hit the nail right on the head: "Like all Tales of games, battles in Tales of the Abyss are all in real time and ridiculously fun." Just replace Abyss with Symphonia to make it applicable to this review. This game uses the basic "Linear Motion Battle System" that is used and modified in nearly every Tales game out there. Basically, you're on a line facing an enemy, and you have the options of running toward or away from them and jumping in 2-D movement. You can also use several combinations of your basic attack as well as techs, which deal more damage but cost TP to use. Some people compare this system to a fighting game, which I don't really find accurate but I guess some people see it that way. Unfortunately, there is no free-run option such as that found in later Tales games. However, you rarely feel limited by it and just a linear motion works fine in nearly every situation. Also, I have not had the same frustration at my ally AI that other Tales game seem to bring, which is always a plus. Skills used in battle are learned by combining base effects of EX gems (which are equipped on your character and give you basic improvements such as increasing your strength or mobility) to produce more complex effects such as not staggering if hit during an evasive maneuver or improving a character's status based on what other characters you bring into battle. It can be quite a bit of fun to experiment with various effects and see which ones you like. The overworld and towns...what can I say? They perform their functions of getting you into dungeons and battles rather well. The dungeons are a little on the short side, but are usually all the better for it so that they don't wear out their welcome. Most of them revolve around one central puzzle or a few variations of this puzzle that can be very much fun to figure out. All in all, the gameplay of this game is pretty much everything you could ask for from a JRPG- VERY fun battles, strategic options, clever puzzles, it's all there.
Overall: The game that made me a Tales fan and JRPG addict, I can not say any more than this: "Get this game!" Still my favorite Tales ever, and one of my top three games of all time.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 07/18/07, Updated 12/30/08
Game Release: Tales of Symphonia (US, 07/13/04)
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