Review by Pervan

"A fun but ultimately shallow experience"

I have finished Tales of Symphonia and revised parts of my review.

I have been eagerly awaiting Tales of Symphonia for months, though I have never played a Tales game before. Tales of Symphonia is worth the wait.

Gameplay: 25/35 (Above average)

Tales of Symphonia uses a rather unique battle system. The player can see the enemies on the world map or dungeon map, and once he or she runs into them, the battle begins. Battles take place on medium sized maps. Enemies can move freely; however, players can only move side-to-side on the line on which the enemy they have targeted stands. The player fights by pressing A and a direction on the control stick for normal attacks, and B and a direction for special attacks. Mattering on whether the player has manual or semi-auto mode activated, his or her character will either attack where the character stands or run up to the enemy and perform the command. Players can string together a few normal attacks, a level one special attack, a level two special attack, and a level three special attack for massive combos. It plays out like a fighting game, and it is extremely fluid and fast paced. Magic users use magic the same way as fighters use special attacks, though most spells have a long charge up time. If the character using magic is attacked during this time, he or she will have his or her spell interrupted. Magic users are best left to the computer—they are an extreme bore to control. Players can also guard against enemy attacks by holding X, though holding it too long may result in a guard break, leaving the player defenseless. Items can be used by opening a menu—which pauses the game. The menu also allows the player to change special attacks or magic and change the AI of their allies. (The player only controls one character.) The AI is very competent, though nothing matches having a human player with you. Mattering on how well the characters perform during the battle, they are given (or have taken away) GRADE points. GRADE points can be traded for certain items.

Multiplayer can be played with two to four people. It is extremely fun, though not very well thought out. The camera only focuses on the first player, so other characters are often left off the screen unless they are attacking the same enemy.

The leveling system is pretty standard, though the player can control his or her characters' stat bonuses by changing the characters' titles. Titles are earned through minigames, when certain requirements are met in battle, or by seeing certain optional story scenes. Unfortunately, the customization offered by titles is a bit of an illusion. There are often titles that are clearly better for a character. Besides gaining stats when they level, characters may also gain new special attacks or magic. Special attacks and magic can also be earned by using weaker special attacks a certain amount of times. This can sometimes be very irritating, as that certain number can be three hundred or more. Just which special attack will be learned matters on whether the character is strike type or technical type. This matters on what EX skills the player has equipped. EX skills give stat bonuses or allow the player special skills, and they can be learned by equipping EX gems. Each EX skill is either T type or S type, and characters will become T type or S type mattering on what the majority of their EX skills are. This allows the player more customization over his or her characters, though not nearly as much as one would desire.

Cooking is another unique part of Tales of Symphonia's gameplay. In most towns, there is a man named the Wonder Chef hidden. When the player finds this man, he will teach him or her a new recipe. Recipes have certain effects, such as healing HP or TP (Tales of Symphonia's form of MP) and/or raising stats. Food may be cooked once per battle, and the player is allowed to do this right after the battle or from the status screen, provided he or she has the ingredients needed for the recipe. Some characters are better at certain recipes than others, and the more they cook, the better they will become. As they become better at recipes, the characters will be able to use other ingredients to increase the recipes effectiveness.

Tales of Symphonia does not have as many sidequests as other RPGs, but many of the ones it does have help contribute to the characters and the story. There is a form of New Game +, too, which adds some replay value. There is a relationship system that affects a few story scenes, but more could have been done with it. As far as I can tell, it does not affect the ending at all. Some scenes are mutually exclusive of one another, so replaying the game can give the player a chance to see all the scenes. All in all, Tales of Symphonia's replay value is decent.

Tales of Symphonia is a joy to play. The battles are extremely fun, fluid, fast paced, and last very little time—even tough boss battles will last only a few minutes. Unfortunately, Tales of Symphonia does not offer very much difficulty. It will be a breeze for anyone who has played similar games, such as the Star Ocean series or Valkyrie Profile, before. There is a hard mode for anyone wanting more of a challenge, though I have not tried it. The problem with it is that the game can be beaten with little difficulty through sheer buttonmashing. It is fun, but there is next to no strategy in it.

Story: 12/25 (Average)

Tales of Symphonia is about a girl named Colette, a naive, klutzy girl who is rumored to be a half-angel, that was named the Chosen from her birth. It is her quest to regenerate the world by breaking the seals on the power of mana and becoming a full angel. Then she must wake up the goddess Martel who will bring mana back to the world and destroy the Desians, evil half-elves that torture humans. She sets out to do this with her best friend, Lloyd (the main character), an unintelligent boy with a strong sense of justice and morality, Genis, Lloyd's elfin friend who is a young, sarcastic genius, Genis's sister, Raine, a pessimistic genius who is obsessed with ancient ruins and artifacts who tries to keep a sense of realism in the party, and Kratos, a mysterious mercenary always trying to give the rest of the party advice. Later more characters join, but it would be a spoiler for me to say who they are.

The first part of the game plays as though the writers tried to pack in as many cliches as possible—nearly every bit of the story has been in at least two other RPGs. At about fifteen hours into the game, the story starts to become more original and introduces more complex themes. There are many twists in the story, but, unfortunately, they often offer only a change in the cliche the story follows. Besides that, the foreshadowing lacks any sort of subtlety, making many of the twists blatantly obvious. Sometimes it feels as though the writers themselves could not keep up with the twists of the story—some of them are not very logical considering the rest of the story. The villain of the story is neither a villain that the player can feel sympathetic for nor a villain that the player cannot wait to fight. The villain is fairly generic. The themes of the story are very unclear. Characters will talk about what they believe in but then do something entirely different in the next scene. This may sound like I really dislike the story, but that is not true. It works, and it makes the player want to see what will happen next. It does not offer many new experiences, but there are many well-done parts. Unfortunately, some of the scenes that are supposed to be emotional come off as corny and melodramatic. However, this does not make it much different than any other RPG. It may have a lot of flaws, but it does do plenty of things right. The story itself is fairly mediocre, but the characters are above average.

Most of the characters of Tales of Symphonia are very likable. Skits (optional conversations between the characters about events going on in the story that can be triggered by pressing Z when the title of one appears) add greatly to the characters' personalities and develop them. The characters are nowhere near as cliched as the story, thankfully. While many of them have cliched traits, they usually have combinations of traits not used before. The characters are very well developed.

Graphics: 12/15 (Very Good)

Tales of Symphonia uses cell-shaded anime-style graphics. They fit very well into the atmosphere of the game, though people who dislike the anime style will not enjoy them. The graphics are usually bright and colorful, though not to the extent of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Unfortunately, the artists did not use the cell-shading to portray emotions on the characters' faces in most of the scenes. Also, a blurring effect is used in some cutscenes to create a sense of depth. While it does succeed sometimes, other times it looks like a graphical flaw because it simply does not work. There are various other graphical flaws in some scenes, such as parts of a character's clothes going through things they should not. However, with these few exceptions, the graphics are beautiful and fitting. The anime FMV that is shown before the title screen is simply stunning, and the other anime scenes shown at certain times in the story are very good as well. The world map graphics, on the other hand, are ugly, just like every other RPG's worldmaps.

Music: 8/15 (Average)

The music is not outstanding, but it works. There is sad music for sad scenes, happy, lively music for towns, and dark, mysterious music for dungeons. It is all fairly standard for an RPG, and nothing really stands out. Throughout the entire game, I found two songs that I really liked, and one of them only played a few times, and the other only played during the ending. However, nothing really hit me as particularly bad, either. The soundtrack is somewhat disappointing, considering its composer, Motoi Sakuraba. He can do far better, as demonstrated in, say, Valkyrie Profile.

Voice acting and overall feelings: 8/10 (Very good)

The voice acting of Tales of Symphonia is very good. The actors emphasize the right words and portray emotion. Besides that, there is a load of it—any even vaguely important cutscene is voice acted. Unfortunately, the skits are not voice acted (Apparently, they were in the Japanese version, but this was removed when it was translated due to time constraints), and there could be more battle quotes.

Overall: 65/100 (Above Average) Converted to GameFAQs' standards: 7/10

ToS is a fun game, but ultimately nothing new. Everything in it has been done before, and there is nothing terribly deep about it. It is worth playing, but it is nothing incredibly good. Relax, have fun, don't try to focus too much on its flaws, and you will have some good, mindless fun.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 07/16/04, Updated 02/14/06

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