Review by Carnival Nights

" RPG Gamecube Owners Can Call Their Own."

The last time Gamecube owners were able experience a truly great RPG was during the release of Skies of Arcadia Legends and that was such a long time ago that they felt it was time they needed a new RPG. The drought would go on for a very long time, but finally the plea was answered as Namco released Tales of Symphonia exclusively for Gamecube. Tales of Symphonia is the latest installment to the Tales series and the series is making its debut for this generation. The game has received much acclaim for its epic story, lovable characters, great cell-shaded graphics, and addictive combat system. This is something Gamecube owners have been waiting for and have finally been rewarded. The game takes many twists and turns in the storyline introducing you to a whole slew of interesting and just plain cool characters.

The most noticeable thing about this particular game is its anime cut-scenes and wonderfully well-done cell-shaded graphics. The cut-scenes are few, but are nicely well animated, but the only problem is that many gamers expected several anime cut-scenes through the game when in fact you can count the number of cut-scenes in one hand. Several complaints have been said about it degrading the game merely because of the lack of anime presented which is really ridiculous of those people. The cell-shading gives the world a very vibrant look with its very noticeable and colorful look and character designs are nicely drawn thanks to renowned artist Kosuke Fujishima.

The core of the combat system is entirely real-time action making it very fast paced and very addicting. After each battle the party is graded on their performance and depending on how well they did, they'll either be rewarded with a positive or negative grade. Performance enhancing usually relies on the amount of time the battle took, how many times special attacks and magic attacks are used, how big the combo count is, how many times the team has taken damage, and etc. thus making the player perfect their battle techniques and strategies if they wish to improve on the amount of grade received. If you want to find out what grade is then you wouldn't find out in this review because there's a change that it's a slight spoiler to the game. Battles are very chaotic so figuring out how to get a higher score is going to be a very difficult task when you first hop into the game, but as time progresses it shouldn't be much of a problem. As mentioned earlier, there are special attacks in battle that increase damage and there are also special unison attacks in which two or more members in the party participate in a grouped special attack thus increasing damage and adding some style and flare to the battle. A very entertaining sight and also fun for the whole party if done correctly, otherwise you just wasted a special unison attack.

Another new feature in the combat system which isn't traditional in RPGs is multiplayer. In order for other players to join in on the fun the AI combat for each of the other three characters must be set to manual. In single player you can automatically set the tactics and strategies each character should make thus making life a lot easier for you in the game, but of course there are AI issues sometimes such as characters running straight into the fray once they've used up all their TP instead of replenishing their own TP. The joy in multiplayer is that your friends are actually competent enough not to go bananas just because they've exhausted all their primary sources of attacking. It also gives the tactical advantage to the party since they can finally work as one unit as opposed to just giving out orders which are bound to fail sooner or later.

A small but annoying thing in combat is that everyone is restricted to just a 2D plane and although it is annoying it is also quite necessary if the jump command is to be used properly. It's possible that playing Star Ocean: The Second Story is what led other gamers to be annoyed of the 2D since SO2 was played on a 3D plane allowing players to move up and down along the map. For those that are familiar with the Tales series, the combat system will make them feel right at home since it's the same old formula.

The characters in your party have a very deep and extensive storyline thus adding depth to each one of them and making them very lovable. As always in most RPGs the protagonist is a very shallow and naive fellow, but as the game goes along they mature into a virtuous warrior. There are different to each character such as a sexy female ninja that always shows off her breasts at every chance she gets, a sexy female teacher that loves dancing, a young and intelligent smart mouth boy, a girl that acts like a ferret, and a few others making traveling a very comical and enjoying ride. There are some problems with the game's characters and sometimes it's painfully obvious that some characters are more than meets the eye. Take for example one character named Kratos. He joins the party saying he's a mere mercenary and the entire cast just goes along with it not even questioning him in any sort of way and just accept the fact that he's a mercenary. Another good example is Presea. She decides to go along with whatever the main character tells her as if she was nothing more than a mere puppet for anyone and everyone. Another disturbing subject is how boring the storyline is throughout the first thirteen hours. The storyline progresses in such a slow manner that it was torture just to play through it, but as soon as that thirteen hour mark is passed the game completely jumps straight into overdrive and delivers one of the greatest storylines of this generation.

Though it isn't very deep, there are character relations that involve both, Lloyd, the main character, and any other character that's part of his motley crew. There will be certain times in the game where Lloyd is given an option of saying certain things which can either hinder a relationship or improve it. Of course it will affect the ending, but nothing near to significant. There is also one instance where you'll have to sacrifice one character to keep another, but it's extremely disappointing since many Gamecube fanboys said the depth of sacrificing characters is deeper than Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic. Other than that, most of the dialogue and storyline will remain on its linear path.

For the most part, traveling is basic as in walking on a world map and later in the game being able to travel in flying vehicles, but there are quite a few secrets on the world map that allows character relationships to change along the way, but they are very few so expect questing to be very boring as you run into enemies which are present all over the map and in dungeons eliminating the annoying random battle part that plagues most RPGs. Another very boring part of world map roaming are the skits. They're text based scenes that occur on the world map that flesh out the story and the characters a bit more, but it's a pain having to wait for text to move along since you aren't allowed to, but luckily you can skip it entirely or you don't even have to view when prompted, but to fully understand current situations it's ideal to watch them.

The dungeons are varied and full of puzzles, but it's a damn shame that only one was truly enjoyable while the others were a breeze and sometimes boring and not needed, but was added merely because every dungeon had one. Almost all dungeons revolve around using an item called the Sorcerer's Ring which allows the ability to manipulate certain objects in dungeons. It's basically the essential piece to the puzzle that must be solved in each dungeon.

Enemy designs are very bountiful as there are several different enemy designs unlike other RPGs (namely the Final Fantasy series) where enemies are recycled and given a different color. Though it does happen, but not as often there are still a variety of enemies to face off against and some enemies are a complete shock since it's all part of the story.

There are many extras, secrets and rewards that make the game worth playing again at least twice which is always a good thing such as extra costumes, titles, mini-games, side-quests, and a specialty shop available only during a certain time of the game. The extra costumes alone are a great addition since it looks pretty cool on the characters, especially Lloyd. The titles are character specific and are given only when certain requirements are met and are actually useful in terms that they actually add on your stats or decrease it. There aren't many mini-games, but they are definitely worth trying since they yield valuable items only obtainable through those means only. This game has quite possibly the greatest side-quests ever. There are the basic side-quests that the party does for people out of the goodness of their own heart, but there are also certain ones that are character specific that give them an extreme amount of depth giving the player more appreciation for each and every single member of the party. There is even a side-quest that takes the entire game to finish and it is quite possible the most fulfilling side-quest you'll ever do in any game.

The game's soundtrack is like a trick-or-treat bag at the end of the night. You have your crappy candy and you got your awesome candy. This is the case with Tales of Symphonia's soundtrack. The town and dungeon tracks are excellent making towns come to life with its uplifting symphony and the dungeon themes really accentuate the dungeon's depth. The tracks really make you feel like it's a giant pit and you're in for a very long time completing a very arduous task. The really corny and very unpleasant tracks mostly consists of the world overview music along with the dilemma music which starts sounding off at the first sign of trouble with the very cheap violin playing. Voice acting is on mark with many familiar voices such as the voice actor of Robin from Teen Titans and the voice actor of Master from Metal Gear Solid, but sometimes the very sappy dialogue will just make you cringe and put your television on mute.

Though the game does have a its downsides the rest of the game is truly something epic that cannot be passed up by any RPG fan. Gamecube owners: You whined about it, you begged for it, you waited years for it and now you finally got it: An excellent RPG to grace the Gamecube. This game truly deserves all the hype and praise it has received.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/07/04

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