Review by CthulhuDreams99
A great introduction to a series that truely smashes anything by Square
A small introduction is in order.
I never had a chance to play many of the Tales games, it was a series that was popular in Japan and suffered from several poor localizations during the RPG boom in the heyday of the Playstation. About six months ago, I found a used copy of Tales of Destiny for peanuts really (the sum total of 300 yen, or about 3 dollars) and enjoyed it quite a lot. Because of this, several friends of mine were highly recommending the third Tales game, Eternia, and I got into because there was a port of it available for the PSP. As you can of course surmise by the fact that I'm writing a review, I bought it and finished it. What a delightful treat it was! Over the past few years, I've become very harsh concerning Japanese style role-playing games largely because Square refuses to make a new game or even update their game play to match today's standards. The Tales series gave me back that innocence that had been ripped away by lazy developers stubbornly refusing to get with the times. It is all because of Tales of Eternia that I feel good again about Japanese RPGs. So, let's shuffle along into my thoughts concerning this game.
Typically, most Japanese RPGs seem to have exactly the same story with superficial variations. Tales of Eternia does sadly fall into the boggy mire of cliche with the overall story, but it is within the presentation and small parts that the story really expands.
To summarize, You and your small group of adventurers must find out what's wrong and of course do something about it. Sounds like every other Japanese game, yes? Yep. But, unlike other Japanese games, the Tales series draws you in with character. Each character is individual, and you frequently get little glimpses into the characters motivations and desires through the use of skits. These skits vary from the humorous to the melodramatic and serious. The important point though, is you really get to know each of the characters.
Of course the game is linear, concerning the story, that can't be helped in a Japanese game. But overall, it has many interesting points, even analogies or parables that serve as a foil towards important issues in today's world, like racism, fanaticism, lots of 'isms' really. Overall, while the story doesn't stray far from Japanese standards, the story and characters are far superior to ANYTHING released by Square, EVER (in my opinion of course, feel free to disagree with me, in fact I encourage you to formulate your own opinion).
While I've never experienced this on the original Playstation, I'd say the graphics to my eyes were most acceptable. The animation seems very smooth, and of course the game feels properly nostalgic. All the sprites are faithful to what I have seen of images from the original. The animated sequences all look smooth and well done ( thanks of course to Production I.G., the same studio that animates many well received cartoons). The 3D sequences seem a little choppy, but I imagine that when this game was released they looked pretty smooth.
Overall, the game seems to look like a most acceptable port from the Playstation. I liked the overall look of the game, despite the glaring bright and pastel colours favoured by the designers.
The in-game battle effects were also very well done, particularly your sort of summon spells, powerful spells, and skills. The visuals, while slightly dated by today's standards, are still fresh and captivating.
I had no problem with the music. It sounded like one would imagine a visual adventure might sound, with the music changing in pace with battles and poignant moments. One small thought I had though was that perhaps the same battle tune was overused. I know this probably couldn't be helped in the original, but a little variety in the battle music would have been nice. There seemed like roughly 3 kinds of battle music, regular enemies, minor bosses, and major bosses. The ambient and field music though was quite variable, and each town seemed to have its own theme, which is very nice.
The voice acting was most suitable, and surprisingly enough, capable of really fitting each character. One sad point though, this port did not receive a full voiced version like some of the other Tales ports to the PSP. Which is doubly sad, because unlike most other Japanese RPGs, the voice acting was very pleasant and helpful towards characterizing each member of your party.
The sound effects were also very well done, and of course, mostly faithful to the original in the sense that it elicits the nostalgia of playing a great RPG on the original Playstation.
This is what really made me feel this series was superior to a certain series with a most oxy-moronic title by Square. Despite it being a game from roughly ten years ago, the Eternia remains true to other Tales games in adopting more active real-time battles. The linear combat system, as I am given to understand, was the special combat system developed by the Tales Studio for the series. Unlike games where you interminably wait to do any simple action that must be selected from a menu, when you press the buttons, you do it, NOW. No waiting, no pointless randomized attack order, you just do it real time. This also makes the strategy work more like a fighting game, and makes the action far more enjoyable than the same stale formula employed by Square in almost all of its titles.
Another great aspect of the game play is the constant breaking up of the monotony of the linear story with the inclusion of a veritable cornucopia of mini-games. While some of the mini-games are not optional, most thankfully are. Some can be more aggravating than others, but overall they provide a very nice break from the linearity of the story. Mini-games have become of course a huge incentive for popularizing the Tales series in general, and they won't disappoint you.
The magic system clings to standards naturally, elemental based with sort of 'summon spells', but the inclusion of the 'fringe' system I found to be really innovative. You can create various spells by storing the spirits in craymel cages, and each combination of spirits creates a completely different set of spells in cooperation with the opposing craymel cage. This does offer plenty of variability in play style.
Speaking of different play style, there are two characters you acquire later that have different rules for how you play with them, and this can also help to throw some spice into the variety of the game play.
The game, of course, is a port of an older classic, and therefore does maintain certain standards of the JRPG genre, such as the overworld maps, dungeon maps, etc. This is not a detractor, but further illustrates the sense of nostalgia in reminding the player of those times so long ago.
Due to the large wealth of hidden features and collection aspects, there is some replayability, however, this does not alter the story at all. This game might be good for an additional play through, but might not warrant multiple play throughs, unless of course you are completely smitten with the title. Then you might naturally wish to find each and every little collectible, and every little additional point of the new game plus feature (which really only adds a dungeon).
The game is fun, refreshing, and nostalgic. It is particularly well worthwhile for those who experienced the original English release of Eternia, where it was redubbed 'Tales of Destiny 2' and all the skits were removed. To most unfamiliar with the Tales series, this is an excellent, if not THE only, starting point to jump into the series and get a good feel for it. If you are debating the more recent releases in the series, definitely give this a go and you'll find your answer for whether or not you should invest in Vesperia. I did. This game might not be your cup of tea if you don't like Japanese RPGs, but it might be a better place to start if you are open to trying a Japanese RPG.
Overall, I scored this as a 9 out of 10, mainly for renewing my faith that at least some companies are still trying to make new twists to a tired and cliched formula.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Tales of Eternia (JP, 03/03/05)
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