Review by darthjulian
The glorious (portable) return of a timeless RPG classic
The PSP is sometimes being regarded as a machine that can only provide ports of home console titles, preferably of old PlayStation and PlayStation 2 titles. While there is definitely some truth behind this, that´s not necessarily a bad thing, especially not when this means that we´re able to get our hands at some rare classics of the past, with "Tales of Eternia" being such a title that had the bad luck of arriving near the end of the life cycle of the PlayStation, but now it has another, well deserved chance to impress gamers with its unique and outstanding charm.
In "Tales of Eternia", there exist two worlds: Celestia and Inferia, both of them facing each other, and with Celestia "floating" above Inferia from an Inferian´s point of view. Both worlds are being separated by the Orbus Barrier, and contact between both worlds has been cut off centuries ago, with the inhabitants of Inferia mistakingly thinking of the Celestians as wild and brute monsters. However, one day, a young Celestian girl named Meredy is being sent to Inferia in a strange, rocket-like vessel, since the Celestians have found out that Celestia and Inferia are slowly but surely drifting toward each other, with the threat of both worlds crashing into each other being imminent, and it is Meredy´s duty to warn the Inferians of this danger and to collect the Greater Craymels, powerful summon creatures who might be able to prevent this catastrophe. Her vessel crashlands in the quiet and peaceful town of Rasheans, where she is being found by Reid Hershel and his childhood friend Farah Oersted. Being two kind-hearted persons, they decide to help Meredy, even though they are not able to understand a single word she says, and even though they don´t even know yet that she´s from Celestia. The three eventually leave Rasheans, searching for a way to communicate with Meredy and to save both worlds in the end. In a way, the story in "Tales of Eternia" is both traditional and fresh at the same time. The premise of young heroes having to save the world from peril is not exactly new and has been reused over and over again, but what really counts here is the way the story is being told. Several themes like friendship, loyalty, jealousy and even racism are being brought up throughout the game in an intriguing manner, managing to keep you hooked. The strong characters are also able to breathe some life into the story. You will indeed be able to relate to them quite well, since their personalities, their problems, their sorrows and so on will be explored deeply, for example during the camp scenes, where they share some of their opinions and beliefs with the gamer. There are also tons of hilarious moments throughout the game, especially early in the adventure when Meredy still is new to the world of Inferia, and she alone will manage to make you smile with her curiosity. The great characters and storytelling manage to combine into a wonderful tale that will keep you entertained while it lasts.
"Tales of Eternia" plays somewhat different than other traditional RPGs. Sure, you´ll still have to explore dungeons and towns the way you did dozens of times before, but there are some interesting twists that still feel fresh even so many years after the game´s initial release. First and foremost, there´s the battle system. As in each Tales game, you are not being provided with a typical turn based system or an active time battle system; instead, you are allowed to take direct control over your main character, which means that you can direct him over the 2D battle plane whatever way you like, and you can also execute attacks all by yourself. Your other characters are being controlled by the CPU, but you can determine a rough pattern of behavior for each character in the menu, for example that they should focus on attacks or on healing your party. Thankfully, the A.I. in "Tales of Eternia" is pretty good for its time, which means that your characters won´t run mindlessly into certain doom, so they actually provide you with some help and actually do heal you whenever you need it, so you can focus on your own character most of the times, which ia quite necessary, since the battles themselves are fast paced and action packed, forcing you to keep moving and attacking, and that alone won´t make you feel bored during the battles. Even though beginners might have some problems with the rather deep and complex combat system at first, the controls are perfect and fair, and there´s a dojo early in the game where you can learn everything about the fine details concerning the battles. You can also learn several techniques throughout the story, be it sword techniques for Reid or magic spells for Meredy, Keele and Farah, and from a certain point in the game on, you can also summon the Craymels, just like in Final Fantasy. There is much more to be said about the deep battle system of "Tales of Eternia", but it would take far too long to simply describe it here in this review - it´s something you have to discover for yourself, and experimenting with all the options and possibilities you´re being offered is a must, since the difficulty level in this titles is pretty high, with some boss enemies being relentless and merciless, so a good understanding of the battle system is essential. Outside the battles, there are some Tales-typical features as well, like tons of funny mini-games, like a ride on raft or a weird ball game, and while some of them are being implemented into the story, others are just optional, but a lot of fun nonetheless. The cooking feature also makes a return, which means that you are able to find the so called wonder chefs all over the world, practically one in each town, and if you find them, they´ll teach you new recipes, and using the right ingredients will provide you with useful meals in the end that are able to increase your stats or to heal certain conditions. For true RPG fans, "Tales of Eternia" is like a dream come true, and alone with "Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth", it´s definitely the best RPG the PSP has to offer so far, even so many years after the PSOne original came out in Japan.
Even though the original "Tales of Eternia" has already been released in November 2000 for the PlayStation, the visuals in the PSP port still hold up extremely well, even for the high standards of Sony´s portable console. Instead of a shallow and ugly 3D RPG of the likes of "Blade Dancer", "Tales of Eternia" represents a gorgeous 2D RPG at its best, resembling "Star Ocean - The Second Story" quite a lot in terms of artistic design and technical features. Each location - like dungeons or towns - in the game is being presented with prerendered, beautifully drawn backgrounds, which means that it is not possible to rotate the camera, but that´s not exactly a problem, since the view in each screen is always perfect, so you won´t get lost or miss an exit to the next screen. Fortunately, even though the backgrounds might be simply prerendered, they still feature some nice animations like a rotating millwheel in Rasheans, avoiding the illusion of a lifeless and cold game world and giving each location its own charm. The characters themselves blend into these prerendered backgrounds fantastically as well animated 2D sprites, even though at times, Reid´s walking-animation can seem a little stiff. The world map, on the other hand, is completely in 3D, allowing you to rotate the camera the way you like it. However, the world map itself is rather simplistic and not exactly spectacular, simply visualizing each location in a way that you´ll be able to recognize it. To be fair, though, rotating the camera on the world map has become more fluid in the PSP version, and everything looks much sharper now in general. The battle sequences take place in a 2D realm again, showing characters and enemies as wonderfully drawn and animated 2D sprites (that look much better than during town and dungeon explorations). Despite the fast pace of the battles and the high amount of enemies at times, the animations always remain constantly fluid, which is quite considerable in view of some of the spell effects that can take up the entire screen especially later in the game. The only aspect that has worsened a bit in comparison with the PSOne original are the battle backgrounds, looking slightly blurrier now, but apart from that tiny flaw, the game is just as beautiful as it was, or even better. The opening anime sequence, for example, features a much higher quality now thanks to the high resolution of the awesome PSP screen, and the entire game is able to profit from that. You also have to applaud Namco for having managed to avoid any load times in the game. No matter whether you´re entering a new screen or change into the menu, the load times are almost non-exist throughout the entire game, and in that regard, other PSP developers really should take a closer look at this achievement and hang their heads in shame. So, in general, one could say that the gorgeous "Tales of Eternia" is the living proof that 2D still has a lot of potential these days, despite 3D ruling the market.
The soundtrack featured in "Tales of Eternia" is just as impressive as the stunning visuals. Once again composed by Tales-veteran Motoi Sakuraba, each track in the game is able to emphasize on the current mood in the game, and especially the town and world map themes have a wonderful sense of grandeur, giving you the impression that the character really are on a fantastic and adventurous journey. I was a little disappointed by the battle tracks, however, as they are somehow missing the typical fast paced tunes of past Tales games. The battle music is more calm most of the times, and not as exciting and fast as usual, which somehow does not fit the fast paced battle system per se. The tracks are far from bad, but still slightly disappointing when compared to "Tales of Phantasia" or "Tales of Symphonia". Other than that, despite the lack of a truly outstanding or memorable piece in this game, the soundtrack gets the job done most of the times and provides this wonderful game with the fitting atmosphere, with the sound quality always being top-notch and of CD-quality. And then, we also have some English voice acting here in this game, the same as in the original American version of the PSOne "Tales of Eternia". Back then, it has been heavily criticised for the voice actors speaking their lines in a stilted and sometimes over-exaggerated way, and that´s partially true at least. However, the voice acting in general is not bad, since most of the voices fit the characters perfectly, and I really enjoyed some of them, especially Reid and his sarcastic tone most of the times. In any case, they are able to help telling the story of this game, and that´s what counts. Overall, "Tales of Eternia" serves for some magnificent aural delight on the PSP, and be sure to get on your headphones while playing!
If you´re searching for an enjoyable and deep handheld RPG, then look no further than "Tales of Eternia". It´s quite possibly among the very best RPGs ever released on any handheld console, and each department of the game, be it the visuals or the gameplay, has a level of quality that can normally be only seen on home consoles, and as far as PSP RPGs go, this is the best came you can get at the moment - together with "Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth" - and if you missed this gem on the original PlayStation, then there´s nothing that should prevent you from picking it up now. Whether you´re an RPG fan or not, "Tales of Eternia" will definitely be able to fascinate you with its gorgeous visuals, strong storyline and stunning gameplay.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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