Tales of Symphonia
Page 1 of 2Platform: GameCube
Pros: Fantastic action-based battle system; excellent cel-shaded graphics; strong characters; will appeal to non-RPG players; just plain fun
Cons: Middling story and music; technically underwhelming
It’s been a while since we’ve got one of Namco’s Tales series in the states, which came out to middling reviews and dismal sales. In the three years since the PSone release of Tales of Destiny II, a lot has changed both in technology and the RPG market, and Tales of Symphonia adapts wonderfully. This would be a world-class RPG on any platform, but really stands out amongst the GameCube’s virtually non-existent RPG library.
A Tale of Two Worlds
Colette was born the Chosen of Mana, a girl born to save the world of Sylvarant. With the aid of childhood friends Lloyd and Genis, Colette must embark on an epic pilgrimage to release the mana seals around the world to regenerate it. But all is not what it seems. Another world, Tethe’alla, is bound to Sylvarant and will go into decline if Colette completes her mission. With her worldview shattered, Colette and her rag-tag team of associates resolve to find a way to end the two worlds’ parasitic dependence on the other for a truly lasting peace.
Tales of Symphonia’s story is long and twisty, but will likely feel familiar or even clichéd to fans of RPGs and anime. It could also use an editor, too, as there are an awful lot of clunky, unchoreographed cutscenes to move the story forward. Fortunately the game’s cast of characters is pretty likable and there are more twists to the plot than a ‘50s sock hop, which helps make these complaints minor.
The Action Man’s Thinking Game
The Tales series has always favored an action-oriented take on battle, and Symphonia is no exception. Enemies are visible on the map and can be danced around, and once you come into contact with one the battle begins. Almost completely real-time, the battles play out more like a simple fighting game than an RPG, using lots of button-mashing, blocking and simple, customizable commands to execute a wide variety of special attacks. Early in the game you’ll also gain access to the unison attack, which stops time momentarily to let your characters combine their attacks with predictably devastating results.
While you’ll only control one character at a time, the AI handles the other three pretty well. Customizing the spells the AI uses is a snap, and specific commands can be issued to override the AI for particularly dire situations. Finally, you can choose to control any of the game’s characters, each of which plays completely differently. From the battle-ready Lloyd to healer Raine, each character can appeal to a different type of player.
All in all, the battles are certainly the game’s high point, and are so much fun that they might even win over non-RPG fans with their blistering pace and simple play mechanics. Perhaps the game’s only battle weakness is the summoning system, which requires a character to take a lot of damage and be in “over limit” mode before performing a summons.
Of course, Tales of Symphonia isn’t only button-mashing. The RPG overworld has all but disappeared from many of today’s biggest RPGs, but Symphonia’s got two. Scattered about both worlds are plenty of dungeons to explore, each of which focuses on a particular kind of puzzle solving, and some of these can be pretty devious. There’s plenty of character customization, as well, letting diehards fine-tune their characters’ equipment, special moves, stat progression, and special skills. Your characters’ repertoire of special moves can also be developed in many ways, which will alter your play style and unison attacks.
A Journey into 3D
Tales of Symphonia marks the series first true foray into 3D, and pulls it off wonderfully. Sporting a cel-shaded anime look, the game’s environments, characters, and monsters are all wonderfully and distinctively modeled and animated, with plenty of giant, glowy spell effects to fill the screen. The 3D implementation plays a large part in making combat such a silky-smooth delight, as well.