Review by Confusedbysoul
"A refreshing take on the genre"
Over the years I have become sort of a jaded RPG gamer. For a genre that is home to some of what many call the greatest games ever, it is pretty much a barren wasteland of clichés and cookie cutter gameplay. To me issuing out commands in a turn based format is not always a bad thing, but in many games this turns into a never ending series of using the largest and most lethal attacks over and over. Games have been able to get away with this by latching on epic stories that can take up to forty hours to completely unfold. This is something that causes me to be bored to death with the gameplay, but to trudge along to finish the story that I have become interested in.
Enter Namco's Tales of Symphonia, Part of the Tales series that has gained a cult following over the years. The game takes a refreshing approach to the genre with a unique battle system, and a story, that while nothing new, manages to keep you playing well over 40 hours. I admit, I have never played a Tales game before this, thus the entire experience was new to me. While the game is very solid, it is not without it's flaws.
The games story centers around a group your typical RPG types (Brave idealistic hero, Mysterious swordsman, Magic users, and so on) on a quest to regenerate a declining world. The plot starts off like many before it, and may even feel like you have been there before, but it does have enough plot twists to keep it fresh.
Tales Of Symphonia uses the ever so popular Cell shading technique that many either love or hate in conjunction with beautiful 3 environments that are able to maintain a hand painted look the harks back to the 16 bit days of RPGs. This look gives the game a very anime feel, but keeps the graphics low key enough to not be as in your face as other games that use Cell Shading. The only negative thing I can say about the graphics is in terms of the overworld map used for traveling from location to location. It looks like it's from a game that is 6 years old and does not blend well with the otherwise beautiful look of the game.
The game is scored by a typical RPG soundtrack that really has no memorable tunes, but works well as background music. I was never annoyed by a song, or thought any of the music was bad, just nothing to get excited over. The game also uses a fair share of voice work for it's in game cut scenes. This ranges from very good to tolerable. I have heard better, but I have heard much worse when it comes to voice acting.
The game's true soul lies in its unique real time battle system. The battles take place in real time allowing you complete control over the way you go about attacking. Standard attacks are carried out using the A button, while special moves and spells are executed using the B button in conjunction with the control stick. You also have the ability to block enemy attacks with the X button. Since the game is real time it makes it impossible for you to control your entire party at once, so the computer takes over for you. Using a set of AI commands that you can set before battle or change during; the other members attack on their own. This may seem like it takes a good amount of control away from the player, but with the use of the in battle menu that pauses the action you can order the other party members to cast spells or even set often used moves the C-Stick for seamless execution.
The battles take place in a 3D arena, however you are only allowed movement along a straight line. You can jump, backstep, and even break your fall when thrown back by an adversary. The game also allows up to 3 other players to take control of the other party members during battle. So while it may not make a great party game, anyone that plays RPG's while friends, or girlfriends watch will find this a great addition. The game includes a neat cooking system that allows you learn new recipes along the way that serve in increasing stats or healing your party.
If you are someone that is tired of endless menu driven combat, or someone that likes a bit more action in your games I cannot recommend Tales of Symphonia enough. Despite its flaws the game is a lot of fun, not to mention lengthy (I finished with just under 54 hours on the game clock). Gamecube owners should be happy with this game, as it is a lot better than many modern RPGs I have played on other systems, but its flaws keep it from being a true classic waiting to happen.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/20/04
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