Review by Kevin Cox
...Screenshots and movies do NOT do this game justice!
Hoo boy... where to start? Tales of Symphonia, the latest Gamecube RPG, is as wonderful a package as I have ever seen... and I've seen a LOT of packages, having grown up with the SNES!
This is the "eye candy" part of the game... and id doesn't disappoint one bit! The beautifully-done characters are animated very well, and they even have many humorous actions (Just wait until the second time you see Raine...). The world map is a bit blocky, but that's because the hardware of the GCN is being stretched to its limits displaying towns, villages, forests, mountains, deserts, houses, ranches... and enemies. Enemies are beautifully detailed in battle, as are your characters... I did not know that the Gamecube could produce such a gorgeous game, and I own Wind Waker and SC2!
From the music played in the opening anime sequence to the little tunes that indicate humorous moments, from the title screen to character themes... Motoi Sakuraba, who also composed Golden Sun, outdid himself! Notable themes from the first hour or so of playing include the opening theme, title screen, and the dungeon music. Yes, the dungeon music. Many RPG games have eerie music in dungeons, but Tales has a theme that evokes a sense of wonder. The music tracks, all 110+ of them, have distinct sounds, from Raine's theme, which is a beautiful wind melody that sounds very Japanesque, to the battle themes, which are a blend of classical instruments and heavy electric guitar lines... I wish the soundtrack for this game was easier to find! ...I almost forgot. This game has incredible voice acting! Granted, only about every other cutscene IS voiced, but the voices are superb, only adding to the richness of the game!
From the opening of the game, the characters are well-defined. You have Lloyd, who's kind of a slacker, but he cares for his friends. There's Genis, the 12-year old who is a genius in school. Genis's older sister Raine, the teacher who obsesses over any chance to unlock the secrets of the past. Kratos, a mercenary who is full of himself and works for gold, not justice, and Colette, the Chosen of Mana. It is Colette's quest to save the world... well, if she'll stop being a total klutz, that is! There are many more characters to meet over the course of the game, but these five are easily meetable in the first half-hour.
...Long ago, there was a war that nearly destroyed the world. The hero Mithos sacrificed his life to stop the war, causing the Goddess Martel to sleep from her sorrow over his death. She left the angels with instructions to wake her, as the world will be destroyed if she sleeps. That's a summary of the game's backstory from the first few minutes of gameplay... and the story just starts twisting from there! The oracle arrives to give Colette, the heroine, her mission... but things aren't right at the temple... This is a story that will suck you in and never let go, I'm only able to write this review because I took a break to eat!
The controls for the map, towns, and even battle are all quite intuitive, which is a very good quality for an RPG. Dungeons contain puzzles that aren't too hard, but might require some thought to figure out. In battle, you can order your teammates around with the Y button... or you can plug in up to four controllers and unleash chaos on your enemies with four people who won't waste their TP on odd moves that serve no real purpose at the time.
Implementation of Difficulty: 10
This is a hard part to describe... the difficulty increases at a good rate over the course of the game, yet some early bosses have enough HP to drag the battle on for a LONG time! Packing excess items is essential... you never know when they're going to be needed! Your characters will almost always run their TP (Technique points, used for non-physical attacks) dry given the opportunity to do so, so there are some options that let you say things such as "No techniques will be cast when this character has less then 50% of his/her maximum TP"... yet there are always about 7-10 options, and only one can be used at a time... so correctly micromanaging your characters is part of the challenge, as is giving them the right Title... That determines what stats the character will level up quicker. For example, Colette starts as a "Fledgling Chosen", but you can get her to become a "Klutz" almost instantly. That new title, which does not replace the old one, can be used to give Colette higher HP, Strength, and Accuracy upon leveling up, so it's a very useful one for her in the beginning because she doesn't have high numbers in those stats!
...I really have nothing else to say here. Tales of Symphonia is an amazing game that takes full advantage of the GCN's capabilities!
If you're new to RPGs, you should probably rent it first... but trust me, there's at least an 85% chance you'll get hooked on the story and want to buy it. If you're an RPG veteran, this is currently as good as it gets! Do yourself a favor and grab a copy!
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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