Review by Putingrad

"The most fun I've had with an RPG in awhile, just what the doctor ordered for the Cube, and a vast improvement over the previous Tales installments."

My experience with the Tales series has never been too good. I didn't enjoy the first Tales of Destiny at all, and Tales of Destiny II (Tales of Eternia) I found to be mediocre at best. When it was revealed that Namco would be making a Tales game exclusively for the GameCube, my expectations certainly weren't set too high. Maybe it's for this exact reason that I enjoyed the game as much as I did. Simply put, I was simply amazed at how much I enjoyed Tales of Symphonia (ToS) considering my past experience with the series. I bought the game mainly for the fact that there was an RPG drought during the summer of 2004 (and I certainly love my RPGs…), and that my GameCube was in desperate need of some use around that time. I was pleasantly surprised from the very first moments of the game. It felt like a Tales game, played like a Tales game, looked like a Tales game; make no mistake, ToS is a Tales game in every sense of the word, but somehow for me it just felt like the game was done with much more fluidity and panache than the previous installments.

Story/Characters – 8

Simply put, it's full of cliche, but it's never felt so right before in an RPG. The story and characters are traditional and cliche in every sense of the word, but never before has it been done this well and so enjoyably.

The characters are the most colorful I've seen in awhile, and are truly the backbone of the game. No character is left undeveloped, and each one plays a perfect role in the overarching story and game world. The depth present in the cartoonish characters was quite stunning. It is no small statement to say that, although ToS is immensely entertaining to play, it is the characters that are the true support structure for the entire game. Their quest is truly one that is forwarding each of their own respective motivations, and no character is simply a “tag along.” The story isn't as great as the characters are, which hurts this score slightly. Just to reiterate what was said earlier, the story is very cliche, but it just feels so right. I never lost interest in it, and the pacing is some of the best I've seen in an RPG, never getting slow or too fast, but maintains a steady course throughout the game. The story isn't even that lighthearted, despite the cartoonish nature of the game, and contains a number of interesting twists and points of plot progression.

The dialogue does have a tendency to get corny at times, but it doesn't annoy you like it does in many other games. The range of emotions in the game is large, and each scene does a good job in swinging your emotions on one side of the spectrum or another, and many are quite touching. This helps you keep an interest in the story and the characters, and this never lets up, coming to a climax in the ending sequence which is one of the best I've seen in an RPG, and left me feeling like I had truly completed something, unlike many endings which almost make you feel cheated.

In a genre where localization and translation can often break a game irrevocably, Namco has done a truly impressive job of localizing the game, which is absolutely chock full of vocals and dialogue. It was certainly not an easy task for them, but the game shows no signs of a shoddy effort. Namco is quickly making a name for themselves in the field of localization, as the mammoth effort of Xenosaga showed us a year before.

Graphics – 9

The graphics of ToS border on a 10, so I had to debate with myself for a minute what I was going to put here. In the end, I have to go with a 9 because there are is one issue that really irked me. But first, let's start with the good – and there's a whole lot of that in the graphics department. The graphics are cel-shaded, and simply gorgeous. This is the best cel-shading I've ever seen. The characters are amazingly bright and colorful, simply gorgeous to look at, as are towns, dungeons, and monsters. The character design is great, an essential aspect in making great characters, which ToS of course has. Towns are beautiful and lively, and the dungeons are varied and incredibly interesting. The opening animation is wonderful, and immediately hooks you and prepares you for the experience to come.

As for the very minor issue I have with the graphics – it is the use of a blurring technique in cutscenes that is designed to attract attention away from one part of the scene, and have you focus on another part. Unfortunately, this was instituted very poorly in my opinion, and I couldn't help but notice it every time a cutscene utilized this.

Sound/Music – 8

Motoi Sakaruba is easily the most overrated (and over-employed for that matter) videogame composer in my opinion, and he does the music for ToS, as he has for the rest of the Tales games. I never liked him in the first place, with the one notable exception being Valkyrie Profile's OST, and ToS's OST is one of his even less enticing works in my opinion. It's typical bland and mediocre Sakaruba, with some exceptions. If I was judging this category just by the music, it would be a 4… but one aspect of the game's sound is the best to come around in awhile…

… the voice acting and battle sounds. The voice acting is simply great, never gets bland or dull, and is a blast to listen to. Very professional quality, and a HUGE step above the absolutely atrocious voice acting of Tales of Destiny II (Tales of Eternia). The battle sounds are phenomenal as well, a huge variety of voice clips for all stages and aspects of the fight. The quality in these two parts of the sound pulls the Sound/Music score up to a solid 8.

Gameplay/Battles – 10

Could it be… am I dreaming? Am I actually giving a 10 to an RPG's gameplay and battles? Fortunately, I've not gone crazy… ToS's gameplay is just that good, and that enjoyable. This is truly the most fun I've had playing an RPG since Kingdom Hearts and Grandia, two of the very few other RPGs whose gameplay makes it up into the 9 and 10 range for me. The game world is wonderfully constructed, and a blast to explore through. I would watch with eager expectation as to what new locale I would be entering, what new character I would go to meet, who the next boss is that I'd be facing. From deserts, to secluded villages, to forests, and every landscape in between, trekking through the game world never gets old. Also notable is the that the all-too-frequent and annoying random encounters of the past Tales installments are gone, replaced by visible enemies which are actually entertaining to fight.

Now for the battles; what can I say, they're wonderful and typical Tales, but somehow more appareling for me. The battles are all in real time, not turn-based, and share some similarities with Namco's famed fighting games.. They are fast-paced, adrenaline-filled, and just plain FUN. Enemies are varied and interesting, although on the normal difficulty somewhat lacking in challenge. The optional hard mode (that you can switch to any time) is quite difficult however. There are a large number of special moves for each characters, as well as general attacks and spells. Each character has a use and is invaluable to the party. One interesting aspect of the battles for me was that it seemed nearly every action and move had a use, except for the skills which you got earlier in the game which become outdated, but those are replaced by more recent ones. Battle sounds and voices as I said earlier are numerous and enjoyable, with even bosses having a large repertoire of voice clips, which I felt added a lot.

Replayability – 7

I've already somewhat felt the urge to replay ToS just for the sake of how much of an enjoyable and fun experience it is. The game isn't abounding with sidequests and secrets, so there's not much in that department. I can easily see how someone would want to replay the game again however.

Overall – 9

ToS exceeded every expectation I had set for the game, and I was very pleasantly surprised given how lackluster I felt the rest of the series was. Colorful characters, stunning cel-shaded graphics, perfect plot pacing, highly enjoyable gameplay and battles all add up to make ToS a real winner, and just the type of game that the GameCube needed. After ToS, The Tales series has worked its way out of despondency for me, and I'm certainly now ready to give the Tales series a second chance in the future. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/05/05

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