Review by ViralMonkey

"ToS delivers the needed drive for the starving Gamecube RPG environment"

The first time I stumbled on this excellent Gamecube game was at Electronic Boutique. I was looking for a good Role-playing game for my Gamecube because I had always been a fan of RPGs. Fresh off finishing "Golden Sun: The Lost Age" for the Game Boy Advance, I was dying to find a new RPG to play. I looked on the shelves and stumbled upon a newer looking game: Tales of Symphonia.

Of course, I did not buy it, because I had a problem: what if this game did not meet up to my standards? I had previously tried "Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles" for the Gamecube, and, I found it lacking. What if this game was doomed to fail my high standard? Should I buy it or not?

After being sorely disappointed with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, I decided against my better judgement to leave this title alone. A few weeks later, I told my good friend about the game I found at EB. He was interested, so he bought the game to try. Needless to say, he spent the next three weeks with his brother playing this game four hours a day everyday. That's a whopping eighty four hours! By the time I asked him to borrow it, he was already halfway through his second playthrough. I made a bet: I promised him I would be done in half the time it took him to finish the game. My targetted time: 40 hours. He told me about a few sidequests, and I agreed I would do all the sidequests he noted on the checklist. Of course, he didn't tell me to do all the sidequests in the entire game, just a few major ones.

So as I started the game, I was immediately hooked. The battle-system was easy enough to get into. I took a while to absorb the introduction to the story, and rushed head-on into playing the game. The first day alone, I played seven hours, and I was nowhere near one-eigth of the game. Thirty three hours to go. I knew I had to hurry. By the time I returned him the game six weeks later, I have done all he told me to do, but it didn't take me my targetted goal of 40 hours. It took me sixteen hours more. Nevertheless, I coughed up my bet of twenty dollars after failing to complete it on time. All my friend said after that: "I told you so".

The plot of this game is relatively complicating. At first glance, the game seems like a normal RPG: a party of heroes and heroines set out to save the world. However, as you progressed through the game, the story goes through plot twist after plot twist. A closer look into this RPG shows that the game isn't as simple as it appears. By the time you reach disc two, you'll be scratching your head and wondering what would happen next.

There are many aspects to this great game that make Tales of Symphonia a savior to the Nintendo Gamecube's lack of good RPG's.

First, the graphics are okay. Most of the scenes are cel-shaded, giving Tales of Symphonia a cartoony-look. However, there are a few scenes where they are drawn out Anime-style (for example, in the Intro before the Start Menu, there is a beautiful one minute-plus scene to open off the game). The characters were drawn out vividly. The scenery and environments are great! There are environments ranging from towers to floating cities to underwater bases. The places in the game are all unique and creative.

Secondly, the sound and music were great. The music may be repetitive at times, but it was definately fitting for this style of game. What irked me the most was how some scenes had voice-overs, while others did not. Originally, the Japanese version even had voice-overs for the skits in the game. However, this proved to have taken MASSIVE amounts of loading time, so after furthur consideration, Namco was wise to leave out unnecessary voice-overs. Still, it would have been better if some mandatory scenes had voice-overs, rather than some having voice-overs, while others lacking it. However, the voice-overs that ARE included in the game are terrifically voiced. The lines actually have some emotion in it, unlike some other boring voice-overed games. In my opinion, Tales of Symphonia outdoes the competition in voice-overs. In-battle, there are voice-overs, but some of the voice-overs at the battle start are sometimes VERY annoying. It bugged me that while casting the techniques, the quotes the characters say are repetitive. Some are suited, others are not. For example, Genis says "Pancake time" when casting a particular Earth-element technique. WHAT KIND OF PLANNING IS THAT? PANCAKE TIME? It sounds like he's making waffles or something. Other than that, the sound and music were great.

Thirdly, gameplay-wise, the game was tremendously fun. You don't have to worry about replay value for this game: the sidequests and "unlockables" would cover for that. For example, one of the sidequests lead up to unlocking arguably the most powerful weapons in the game. However, these weapons are VERY weak in the beginning and require massive amounts of time to make them strong enough because the potential power is dependent on how many enemy kills you have made. Having said this, this would take more than one playthrough to pump up the power, meaning it'll take at least three or four playthroughs. No need to worry about this game boring you: there are a total of eight different ending scenes, so if you're a storyline fanatic, you might find different storylines fun to take time to go through. There is an enormous amount of "skits" you can trigger. Some are amusing, some are sad, some are just plain old boring. But it is still fun to read the skits to furthur comprehend some parts of the storyline. Unlike most RPG games, Tales of Symphonia's battle system is real-time and "free roaming", meaning you control your specific character to fight. You move your character around, you tell them to defend by holding the guard button, you tell them to give items to others. Everything is yours to control! Leveling up and experience gains are not solely dependent on the enemy's exp rate. However, combos and other different factors also affect how much experience you get. There is also something called "Grade", which you will need to buy Ex-gems and/or customization material, but preferably use to buy different options in the Grade shop after you beat the game. After you beat the game, you may choose to start a new game, but, using the grade you accomulated through the last playthrough, buy special features like 10x Exp and Max HP. This is definately a good thing to invest and spend time in!

The game introduces a nice, original travel vehicle: the Rheiards. These flying machines are definately creative and provide a fast way to zip across the large continents of Sylverant and Tethe'alla.

There are many techniques for each character to unlock and try out on enemies. From Lloyd's Sword Rain techs to Sheena's Summon techs, there is a variety of different spells and techs sure to please a wide audience range.

The bosses have a just-right difficulty level: not too easy, but not tremendously hard.

Tales of Symphonia has an Ex-gem system that can compliment the abilities of all the playable characters. Throughout the game, there are Ex-gems hidden in chests and waiting to be dropped or stolen from enemies in battle. These Ex-gems can, in the right combination, boost up the abilities of the person who equipped them. For example, Raine has an EX-skill called "Concentrate" that requires 4 higher-leveled Ex-gems. This EX-skill allows her to continue casting spells EVEN IF SHE IS INTERRUPTED BY AN ENEMY THAT HAS HIT HER, meaning that if she was casting a very powerful spell, she won't be interrupted and have to start all over again. This is definately a smart feature.

Tales of Symphonia also has a Colisium feature, so if you're itching to perfect some fighting skills, it is a good place to go and gain experience. You can even win some rare prizes from the higher-level colisiums! There's also an easter egg for those who have finished Advanced Party Colisium, but I will leave it up to you to find out.

If you're a serious collector and like to collect everything in the game before you say you've fully beaten it, here are two cool features for you: Monster List and Collector's Book. I guarantee you would need at least two or three playthroughs before you can one hundred percent completely finish both of these things 100%.

Before I stumbled onto this incredably huge RPG, I had no idea what this series was about. Tales of Symphonia was the first "Tales Of" series game I have ever played, and I know I would be hooked on the series for the years to come.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/24/05

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