Review by buruburu1

"A Great Example of Tradtional Japanese RPGs"

Graphics (27/30, judged by system)- This title is a roller coaster, visually, soaring to wonderful heights and very ugly lows. It begins with a nice animated intro—so far so good. But it's really compressed. Not so good. The game's characters are cel-shaded, which was typical of the era. That said, they are really nicely done. They animate nicely, and look sufficiently high polygon. The enemies similarly are cel-shaded, but their quality varies, with the humanoid enemies generally looking the best.

The towns and dungeons are a mixed bag. Usually, the towns are interesting and nice-looking. There are however a few places where the landscapes, in particular, are a little weak—built very obviously as levels to travel through than natural outdoor areas.

The game really falls down however on the over-world map. As ugly as the over-world generally is in 2d games compared to town sections, that's how ugly the 3d over-world is here compared to the areas you actually adventure in.

The battles often feature 8 or more characters total running around, casting exciting spells and so on. Mostly, the frame rate holds up fine, although a few of the biggest spells do cause the game to slow down a bit during the most busy battles.

Cut scenes are often scripted using simple portraits with only the most minimal animation. The quality of these illustration varies a bit, but generally, since there are scenes using the 3d game engine, you really wish they'd all been given the treatment. The difference makes the portrait-interaction cut scenes feel disappointing.

Sound: Fx/Voice (9/10)- It is a little amazing that I would rate a game's sound this high when it has voiced characters and voiced cut scenes. Yet, here I am, giving it a 9. In general the sound is nice, the battle sounds exciting varied and well-recorded. The voicing, while the acting is awful in about half the instances, is usually pleasant in the sense that the casting is generally fine. The voices of the actors are easy on the ears, even if what they say can be dumb. There are one or two boss creatures who have incredibly annoying voices, but they are a minority. I can't give this section a full 10 since the over world is almost devoid of sound effects.

Sound: Music (10/10)- Composed by a talented team, the score here is a real highlight of the game. There's lots of variety, memorable songs, and a variety of styles. The composer of the Tactics Ogre series brings in a medieval drama, while on the other spectrum there are a number of tracks done in the futuristic, synthesized pop feel of many games done in the era. They're recorded great and are a joy to listen to. The over world and battle themes, while not the greatest tracks, managed to maintain some interest late in the game.

Game play: Length (15/15)- When you switch to disc two somewhere about 35-40 hours, you will think that this is one crazy-long game. You'll find, however, that the game is in fact winding down at that point, and for me the game wrapped up at 55 hours. I'm also someone interested in doing many side quests and trying to clear each area of treasure. There is an option to restart the game and carry over a portion of your progress, which is a great idea, and to do so at a different difficulty. I know the hardcore have played through this game a dozen or more times. However, I didn't find the game compelling enough to try this any time soon. Further, I was perfectly happy with 55 hours.

Game play: Story (4/5)- It's a little unfortunate that the young teenager who saves the world continues to survive as a dominant story in Japanese-produced games, but here it is again. What is here, however, is a story that develops quickly and progresses nicely. What begins in a classroom, setting your teeth on edge with its cuteness and childishness turns into race wars, humans being farmed and destroyed by oppressors, a second planet joined at the hip to yours, but unknown by most, and so on. Characters come into your party, to a total of 8. A few are kids like the main character, but others are far more interesting, with more interesting back stories. Mostly, they are a very charismatic bunch. It's simply too bad that the story once again centers on characters so young, which hobbles the emotional responses and dialog choices unnecessarily—even late teenagers would have rendered the rest of the story much more alive.

Game play: Game Design (27/30)- How to describe a complex RPG without laying out the manual all over again? There is to be found the typical speak-to-villagers, gear up, explore, hit-the-dungeon formula, for sure. They're all handled fairly well. The weak spot is in the over world travel, which was done away with in the sequel, apparently, as an admission of this issue. It's ugly, and especially early on, is confusing—the camera can be rotated, but the focal length is such that you can only see a small portion of the map at first. You'll visit a landmark, step back out to the world map, and not realize necessarily that your compass orientation has been reset, which disorients. Enemies are visible on the world map (and in dungeons), and many of them can be avoided if you like, doing away with the random battling that can be vexing in so many RPG titles. Unfortunately, the little animated monster icons which represent these battles are ugly and not very helpful in terms of understanding what you might be avoiding. They don't even look like any of the actual creatures.

Battle is a 4-character affair, and the heart of the game. You control one main character in real-time action battles, and can set your allies' strategies. They think surprisingly well, such that you'll usually have a very capable healer in your party, and able attackers helping you out. You really do feel that these computer controlled characters are your friends, doing things that you would have them do, by and large. It's a great effect and really does make battles a joy to behold and participate in. I should note that multiple players can join in during battles and take control of individual characters, if they choose—a fun option, but not one I used. You'll favor some characters, but will be forced often enough to swap in others from your 8-character roster. And in the end, you'll find they're all quite fun to play with.

The game's dungeons are a mix of maze and puzzle elements, often including block-pushing, but sometimes being far more ingenious. The unique Zelda-like challenge present in each dungeon makes each one feel fresh, and the fact that they don't drag on in length keeps the game moving smoothly.

Those with a collector's bug will find many things to pursue, and this often becomes a main reason to replay the game. I did find the cooking skill (and subsequent recipe hunt) to be not very useful, and the least interesting aspect of the game.

Along the way, you'll encounter the odd mini-game here and there, which breaks up the story a little, none of which are terribly interesting however.

What you do have is a very nicely balanced battle system, an interesting story characters you actually like, and a very nice flow of pacing. All in all it amounts to a really pleasant game that ends at just about the right time, when you've explored so much that exploration loses its shine, and so the game begins to funnel you towards the end-game.

Final Thoughts: One of the Gamecube system's best titles, even almost 10 years out it still retains its qualities and makes for a fun play almost two generations later. Grab it!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/01/12

Game Release: Tales of Symphonia (US, 07/13/04)

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