Review by Braben

"Much anticipated and ultimately disappoint, extremely disappointing."

It has been said that this is one of the best if not the best Tales of title to date, others said that this is the first worthy rpg for the Game Cube and, ultimately, it is also being hailed as the best rpg ever made. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, it is immensely beautiful and the introductory anime sequence is going to leave you salivating with excitement, but don`t get your hopes up too high because it has very little to do with the real game, very little.

Story 6/10:
Breezy, light-hearted, easygoing, predictable, silly, childish and badly paced. Also it seems to me that the developers weren`t really interested in what they were doing since they are not afraid of using as many cliches as possible, here you will find almost every single cliche you can think of.

It is also confusing and has loads of wasted potential written all over it, there is a ton of neat stuff on here, a lot of variety and a good amount of twists and turns, but in the end all of them have less depth than a bedtime story, with cut-scenes so breathtakingly cheap they are downright pathetic.

Here`s an example: if you get caught and end up in jail, how would you escape?, in Tales of Symphonia the way to escape is very simple, through the damn door!. What the hell!, not even terrorist leaders and politicians have escaped so easily and speedily!. I can`t remember the name of the prison but I would stick to ``Open Doors``, and the tagline would be ``let everyone pass ``.

Or the Coliseum, in Tales of Phantasia the Coliseum was a great event with lots of challenging battles, this time we just have to beat the crap out of three morons, rescue a girl and that is all, it takes about three minutes, and if we want to go back and fight well, we have to wait for the last part of the game, because it is only available near the end of the game.

There is another sequence where a facility explodes into flames, bah!, the explosion sucks, two sparks here some smoke there, please, light up a match and you`ll see a much bigger explosion.

And there is something I don`t understand, we are supposed be accompanying the chosen one in her quest to regenerate a decadent world, now, excuse me, but I can`t remember a brighter, greener land, filled with incredibly beautiful towns and a splendid blue sea with its marvellous beaches under a shiny sun. Yeah there are baddies wandering here and there, but aside from that, this could very well be a piece of paradise.

Finally, the game is divided in two worlds, but these two worlds are too alike, or well, exactly the same. The first time you travel the new world you think ``ok, let`s hope things get better now...`` wrong, you are getting you hopes up too high again.

Graphics 10/10:
The graphics are awesome, the mixture of 2D and 3D is just incredible, possibly the best one I have ever seen, specially the interiors, and thank goodness we can`t change the camera angles, but still, I think the overall look of the game is a bit monotonous, as I said before the landscapes are way too similar to each other, don`t know maybe it is just me. Also I think that with all the zoom-ins and zoom-outs there is no way to admire the beauty of the awesome battle arenas, but that is just a minor annoyance. The graphics are astounding anyway, no one can deny that, we need more rpgs with these graphics.

As usual, Kosuke Fujishima`s character designs are nothing short of amazing, during the anime sequences, menus, portraits etc they look awesome, but the in-game cell shaded models aren`t that good (both characters and enemies), I mean, their quality is high, but they doesn`t do his totally amazing designs justice, they are not stylised enough for me.

Now the graphics rule sure, but the character`s animations during the cut-scenes (the way they run, jump, fight... the way they move and act) is horrendous, and if we add the fact that most of the cut-scenes are pretty stupid due to bad dialogue and silly and predictable plot events, the result if both annoying and very ugly, but I`ll complain about that later.

Finally, and although there is more than in the previous games, there are not enough anime sequences, and they are widely separated from each other, and while long, there really isn`t very much to see, not to mention the game is so uninteresting that you don`t care in the end.

Music 7/10:
The music is nice and pleasant to listen to, the intro (not the main song) is excellent and there is a couple of nice town themes but aside from that it is uninspired and totally unmemorable. I am not saying the soundtrack is bad, not even close, but it won`t go down in history, and Motoi Sakuraba and Shinji Tamura are capable of much better.

The main song, Starry Heavens (with you are NOT going to find in the European version, go figure), performed by the group Day After Tomorrow, isn`t that good either, I mean, the first impression isn`t very good, and while it gets better with time, it just pales when held up against the previous installments, specially Tales of Eternia, which (in my humble opinion) features the best song of all time, Flying, performed by my favourite band, Garnet Crow.

The voice acting is pretty good but also tiring and insipid. Lloyd`s voice is horrible and very annoying, I hate the voice of that guy who dubs him and I am tired of hearing his voice in so many games. The rest of them are quite good anyway.

Gameplay 8/10:
It is really hard to rate the gameplay in some rpgs, and this is one of them. On the one hand the controls, character customization, battle system, etc are basically perfect, ok, but then, what about the boredom and terrible pace?, that is also part of the gameplay, and Tales of Symphonia`s leaves a lot to be desired in those areas.

The main reason for this lack of substance is that it looks like the developers didn`t know what to do to with all the plot elements they had, so they opted for the easy way out, a mixture of cliches and poorly executed situations and cut-scenes we have already seen (and way better) with silly and boring results. In brief, the cut-scenes are so lame, ugly, childish and predictable you might want to skip them altogether.

Sometimes it seems that they didn`t know what to do next, so they waste time with typical tasks such as finding a certain number of objects to do I don`t know what, or visiting towers to obtain all the summon spirits required for..., cheap excuses.

Here`s an example: one of our party members appears to be cursed, so they head to a library to find a way to remove the curse, ok, they look for it but there is no trace of it, ok, suddenly, one of the main characters stumbles and falls to the ground... what do you think is going to happen next?, of course the book they were looking for suddenly appears. Bah!, that is ridiculous, and the saddest part is that the game is filled with this kind of sequences, since the very beginning, anytime something happens it gets resolved in the most silly ways possible in a couple of minutes.

And what is the point in cursing someone in the middle of the game if you are going to release the curse within the next five minutes?, this is why pace is so sluggish, the game doesn`t arrive anywhere, specially at the beginning, and sometimes our next task or destination is not very clear, and reading the synopsis doesn`t always help.

In my opinion the battle system isn`t as good as the usual Tales of battle system. It is fun and fast, but it has a lot of flaws and when compared to the typical linear Tales of battle system leaves a bit to be desired. They are too easy and filled with useless spells and abilities.

The summon spirits for example, aside from the fact they are extremely ugly, unimpressive (all of them) and completely ineffective, we cannot call them whenever we want, and there is only one summoner in our group, conclusion?, summonings are totally, completely useless.

The special abilities (techniques) often do less damage than your normal attacks, there is no need to master our abilities (well, not exactly, but they are still badly done) and there is no need to travel around the world looking for them, we just have to fight to obtain them, where is the challenge then?, and I repeat, they are not specially useful, impressive or varied.

Once in battle we can switch to the character we want to control, too bad only Lloyd and sometimes Sheena are the only worthy characters, the rest of them have very odd and uncomfortable controls. Now, yes, we can play with any of them, but we can`t use all their abilities, how come? why?.

The Ex-Sphere system is almost totally wasted, there is a couple of nice abilities, but most of the time we get extra armor, more strength, magical powers, etc. The personal abilities are the most interesting ones, Zelos has the ability to obtain items from the female NPCs for example, but little else, nothing really special.

So, the gameplay is both excellent and hugely flawed, but the old school look, the fact that there are no zooms or weird camera movements (combats aside) and the beauty of the monotonous scenarios are simply irresistible to me, that is why I can`t rate it lower.

Replay Value:
Although the back cover says about eighty hours of gameplay, I have finished this game in forty hours or so. However, Tales of Symphonia is endless, I had to force myself to finish the entire game.

There is quite a lot of replay value in any case. We have the typical New Game + option, a hidden summon spirit, the Coliseum, a few silly and totally irrelevant sequences not necessary to completing the game, some secret weapons and items and a very stupid and boring mini game involving those even more stupid cats who find treasures and stuff. Finally the challenge, as expected, is very low.

Tales of Symphonia is a prime example of style over substance and honestly, I was tired of it before reaching the second disc, and although the second half improves on the first, I think this outstandingly mediocre title doesn`t deserve all the prise it`s received, and again, it is one of my biggest disappointments in ages.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 07/11/05

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