Review by Shachihoko

"Finally, an ORIGINAL RPG for the GameCube!"

Ever since the current 'generation' of consoles began, the system for RPGs has been the PlayStation 2; GameCube has gotten a few remakes, and I think the XBox has gotten even less in the way of RPGs than the 'Cube ... but finally, the drought is over for GameCube owners: a totally original RPG in the classical style has FINALLY been published! .... at least in Japan, but it'll be coming out in the US in April of 2004, according to the current plans.

Ironically, Namco isn't a company I'd ever associated with great RPGs. But then, I didn't really know the ''Tales Of'' series until I started reading about Tales of Symphonia; I'd heard some of the titles before, but Tales of Symphonia is really my introduction to the series - and a grand introduction it is, too.

The story begins about four thousand years after a war between two worlds: the heroes' world (presumably Symphonia, although it isn't actually named) and Dezaian, which was sealed off by the hero Mitos and the goddess Martel at the war's conclusion. The start of the game plunges the player right into the thick of things, as one of the main characters, Colette Brunel, is already known to be the ''priestess'' (written with the kanji for ''god'' and ''child'') who'll be responsible for re-sealing Dezaian and saving the world. The first cinema scene hasn't even finished before a bright light floods in through the windows from the temple north of town, revealing that the time has come for Colette to receive the prophecy which will herald the start of the next war ... except that somebody's attacking the village already, looking for the priestess, and so Lloyd (the main character) and Genius decide to accompany Colette to the temple to protect her along the way.

And the story progresses from there; I'm still pretty early in the game, so I don't know much of it yet. ^_^;

For the most part, Tales of Symphonia controls just like any other old-school-style RPG: you walk (or run) around towns, the 'world map' (field), and dungeons, occasionally encountering monsters or getting into other fights. However, the ''Tales Of'' series is unique for its combat engine, which Symphonia raises to a new level with the Multi-Line Linear Motion Battle system. The original Linear Motion Battle system, more fighting-game-like in design than the usual turn-based battles, is a staple of the earlier Tales Of games; Tales of Symphonia expands that principle into three dimensions, with the player selecting a target, moving back and forth to approach, and timing his (or her) attacks and defense for hopefully-optimum effect. Spells and special techniques can be mapped to the control stick and the C-stick, and are triggered by a combination of stick and B-button; other techniques and using items are handled through a menu (which does mean pausing combat).
And for a bonus, it's possible to bring other players in on the fun! The box shows that Tales of Symphonia is for 1-4 players; the extra players can each control one of the other party members during combat, although there's not much for them to do during exploration and puzzle-solving.

Tales of Symphonia is deliberately designed with an anime (Japanese animation) look and feel; no big surprise, since Fujishima Kousuke (the manga artist who created Ah! My Goddess, You're Under Arrest!, and eX-Driver) is responsible for the character designs. What may surprise some people, though, is the use of cel-shading as part of the anime-style look; personally, I think it's *very* nicely done, although the character models could be more elaborate.

This game shines in two major areas on the audio front, at least in my opinion. First is the music - maybe not quite Uematsu caliber, but good nonetheless. Greater than the music, though, is the voice acting ... which is limited to some cinemas (not even all of those, unfortunately) and the characters' calling out technique names in battle.
Oh, and the opening theme song, ''Starry Heaven,'' absolutely ROCKS. Unfortunately, the CD single for this song is on a copy-protected CD; I'm hoping that there's a full-length version on the ToS original soundtrack album.

Hmmm ... don't really have anything else to add here. I suppose I should comment on the language barrier, though: if you don't know any Japanese at all, it's going to be a substantial problem, although you may still be able to play through most of the game just by watching what happens and where you can go. Certainly it'll be nigh impossible to keep track of the story if you don't understand the dialogue, all of which is in Japanese - I don't know if they'll be dubbing the game into English for its American release, or just translating the text and leaving the original Japanese voices.
In short, if you don't know Japanese, you're going to have to wait for the American release. ^_^;; If you *do* understand Japanese, though - a year or two of formal study, say - you might find this game an excellent way to practice reading and listening to the language.

VERY good RPG, and an excellent choice for the GameCube's first original RPG! If Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles left a bad taste in your mouth, you'll find Tales of Symphonia very much to your liking ... just mind the language barrier, if not knowing Japanese is an issue for you.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 09/22/03

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