Review by VdeBoule

"Fun combat and competent dungeon design make this otherwise mediocre JRPG worth playing"

Tales of Eternia was my very belated introduction to the Tales series, and I can sum up my first impressions as "this is just like Star Ocean"—they're visually similar, both have action battle systems, both have Motoi Sakuraba soundtracks, and both compensate for cookie-cutter stories with good gameplay. I know Tales of Phantasia was the first game in this mold, and I only bring this up to explain its appeal—these series really are two sides of the same coin, and I can't imagine liking one but not the other.

Tales of Eternia's battle system is perhaps its greatest strength. It is superficially similar to Star Ocean's, though deeper and more nuanced—you go into battle with a maximum of seven skills equipped instead of two, and with the greater emphasis on timing, defense, and combos, it ends up feeling more like a beat-'em-up. You'll probably want to stick to using Reid (the main character) for most of the game, as all of his best skills are unlocked by using other skills a certain number of times, but the option to control any of the other characters is there, and there are some accessories and skills that can only be used if you are directly controlling one of the other party members. Manual combat (you have the choice of automatic, semi-automatic, or manual) is unfortunately disappointing as it renders one of your skill slots effectively useless—pressing up + skill button will more often than not cause you to jump instead of triggering the skill assigned to that button combination. I would have chosen manual combat if not for this flaw, though semi-automatic offered enough direct control to satisfy me.

The magic system is fairly novel as well, consisting of various equipable Craymels (elemental spirits) that grant your mage specific spells and abilities and can "fringe" with each other to unlock new spells and abilities. There is a fun (though initially confusing) strategic element here, as the availability of spells depends on how you distribute Craymels between the two mage party members. If you want Keele to have one of the Water Craymel's best healing spells, for example, he cannot also have the Ice Craymel—but the Ice Craymel has some of the best offensive spells in the game. It's a delicate balancing act that becomes even more important if, like me, you choose to use only one mage in your party later in the game.

The dungeon design is also surprisingly good—there is at least one puzzle in almost every dungeon, and even a few fun puzzle-centric dungeons. The puzzles aren't all good (I hated the mine dungeon that requires you to constantly backtrack to the entrance to swap items, and at one point there's a "slot machine" of sorts that's more difficult than it needed to be), but I'm happy that they're at least THERE—I loathe lazily designed dungeons that amount to nothing more than mazes with treasure chests at dead ends. I'm happy to say pretty much all of Tales of Eternia's dungeons are interesting and memorable, even though none are of Zelda or Alundra caliber—the final dungeon does have a throwback to Alundra's devious ice pillar puzzles, though!

As far as the storyline goes, it's your standard save the world stuff starring catchphrase-spouting anime archetypes. "Funny foreigner" Meredy shows up toward the beginning of the game and remains intensely obnoxious throughout, though thankfully the rest of the core cast is inoffensive, and even occasionally likeable. Tales of Eternia is still one of those JRPGs you'll want to play in spite of—rather than because of—its story, though. A large portion of the game is voiced, and the voice acting is mostly competent—Meredy's terrible accent (which nobody else in the game, even people who speak her language, has) and flat readings of some ostensibly dramatic bits prevent me from praising it too heavily, though. Also one scene toward the end of the game plays a different scene's dialogue for some reason, though this is kind of hilarious.

Overall, Tales of Eternia is the sort of formulaic JRPG you've seen a thousand times, but it's definitely one of the better formulaic JRPGs out there, and at 50 hours my first playthrough, definitely enough to satisfy you if you're in the mood for this sort of game. The engaging combat and above-average dungeon design were enough to spur me to power through the few rough bits and complete the game, and I'm glad I did.

One final important note: if you decide to buy Tales of Eternia, be aware that early copies suffered from a game-breaking glitch that caused it to freeze at the aforementioned slot machine puzzle. The only sure way to know whether or not a copy is glitched is to look at the PSP Update version included on the UMD—if it's 2.50 or later, it's glitch-free.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/13/12

Game Release: Tales of Eternia (EU, 02/10/06)

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