Namco’s 2003 Tales of Symphonia is along with Sega’s Skies of Arcadia, pretty much the only RPG star in the dry RPG dessert that it is the Game Cube. The long running Tales series carries a lot of prestige with it, so it is my pleasure to say that Tales of Symphonia does not disappoint and lives up to the reputation of quality that the series has been known for.
But is it the best RPG on the ‘Cube? Is it worth buying a ‘Cube if only to play this game? The answers to those questions are no and not necessarily. While this might sound bad for a system that only has two or three actually good traditional RPGs, in close inspection you will see that, the reason this game is not the best in the system is because it has the misfortune of competing with Skies of Arcadia, and unfortunately the game plays too much like Radiata Stories and Star Ocean 3 for PS2 owners to venture into the GC waters. However that being said…used Gamecubes are a dime a dozen these days, and Symphonia is a far better (and bigger) game than Radiata Stories, not only that I would say that it is even money with Star Ocean 3 in terms of quality and depending on how long you have been playing RPGs, you might actually see Symphonia as the superior game of the two for a few reasons.
One of those reasons is the easy to pick up gameplay, unlike Star Ocean 3 which tests the boundaries of hardcore, because of the complex battle system and item making system. Tales of Symphonia keeps things simple by focusing more on “fun” rather than on frustrating battle systems and character building mechanics that other games use.
In Symphonia you simply level up by fighting battles, this is the way to earn battle Tech skills, which are preset to button combinations in the controller in order to unleash powerful attacks. Besides leveling up Symphonia stays true to the genre by making shops the next necessary stop in order to fully maximize the character’s stats. Shops Sell weapons, Armor, and items. There are customization shops, and a rare cooking skill. Both the customization shops and the cooking skill feature are more side distractions than anything else. Really they are there for the sake of being there but nothing truly special is gained from them and I was able to see the credits in 39 easy hours and I only died once and it was not in the last boss (it was actually at the beginning of the game in one of the field battles, where I ventured too far and was overwhelmed).
The battle system is as easy to learn as RPG battle systems can get. It’s a fully fledge action RPG engine, which means you don’t wait for turns and neither do the bosses, Lloyd (the main character which I controlled 99 percent of the time, except in rare instances in which the party was split into two so I had to control another character. But there is an option that allows the player to control any character of their liking.) as I was saying Lloyd can slash and do tech attacks a the touch of a button he can also block (an amazingly un-useful feature which I never used) , and run back and forward in a straight line and there in comes my main gripe with the battle engine. Unlike Radiata Stories in which you could move anywhere you pleased, in the battle map, in Symphonia you are forced to move in a 2-D plane even though the battle fields themselves are rendered in full 3-D. This means if a boss traps you in a corner you are in for a butt load of damage.
Again the difficulty of the game is on the moderate side as long as you level up often, you should be able to mash button your way through the game, as long as you have Raine in your party to heal your party up. As I mentioned before the success on battles heavily depends on leveling up, upgrading your tech moves repertoire on the Tech Attack menu, and on equipping the latest Equipment available. There are also other things like Gems you can equip on the menu that will earn you some useful abilities and the use of Unison Attacks which I also never used.
Symphonia follows on the footsteps of most 8-32 bit classics by featuring a huge fully fledged world map for you to explore at your leisure and this is one of the reasons why the game is vastly superior to Radiata Stories, as the sense of exploration and discovery is in the game. You have a few forms of travel one is riding your dog like creature like a horse, and the other is the Rheiards which are like bikes that fly, in other words Symphonia’s airships.
Enemies can be seen on the screen for most of the time, and are usually easy to avoid though I wouldn’t recommend this if you are to level up enough to complete the game successfully. The game features plenty of dungeons, all of them containing at least one major puzzle which sometimes can get frustrating but for the most part they are doable with out much head scratching (except the one in the anti gravitational field which was sort of hellish).
Save points are always right before a boss fight or major event which is convenient to say the least. There are numerous chests hidden across the world with goodies, and many side quests, the game harkens back the glory days of exploration. The game while it plays and follows a traditional RPG blue print has a dungeon and combat system that resembles that of an Action RPG, in the vein of Zelda.
Musically one thing will come to mind for veteran RPG gamers, the Star Ocean games. From the moment I began playing the game one thought in mind became as clear as a sunny day and that was that the game sounds suspiciously a lot like Star Ocean 2 and 3.
There is a good reason for this, as I suspected from the moment the familiar music stormed my ears, the Star Ocean games and Tales of Symphonia share the same composer Motoi Sakuraba. This is both good and bad. Good because the man is a reliable composer and I have always liked his style of music, and bad because, really Tales of Symphonia could have easily passed for a Star Ocean game based on the music alone. That being said I liked the music, Sakuraba is up there with any good RPG composer you can name.
The voice acting is as expected these days; good, however that being said I think its about time we raise the bar a bit. Games like Kingdom Hearts have actually hired “Professional Hollywood Talent” but not to great effect as the quality of acting in that game is similar to what is presented here in other words good, but not great. Some how the best acting I have seen so far in an RPG has come from FFX. The cast in Symphonia is an experienced one I recognized some of the actors names and voices, but I thought Colette was too mellow and lazy in her approach when she should have been more dramatic at some points, I hated Genis to tell you the truth but more on him later. The one actor that impressed me was the guy that played Regal.
It is about time voice acting is taken a bit more seriously I hope we can get better voice quality in upcoming RPGs like Kingdom Hearts II and FFXII.
Graphically Symphonia is very pleasing to the eyes with crisp cell shaded characters and bright full 3-D environments. While the world map, truth be told, looks like it could have been done in the PS1, the fact that it has a real time world map in this day and age in which world maps are more or less extinct , is commendable.
The game is beautiful from beginning to end, every town and area is impressive, both technically and artistically. The character design is top notch except Genis who is twelve and looks four and Presea who is also twelve and looks eight, now I know this is how anime characters are usually designed, but good god, I have seen scrawny twelve year old boys, and non developed twelve year old girls but the girls certainly don’t look eight and the boys certainly don’t look four. Other than that the character design was top notch, however that being said there wasn’t much originality to say the least and that is something that has made FFVII,VIII,X character designer Tetsuya Nomura THE MAN, every character the man designs is unique and unforgettable the same cannot be said for the designs here, Zelos was okay but the rest of the cast is forgettable as I have seen all of their designs somewhere before.
My only other complaint visually is the fact that FMVs only play at three points during the whole 40 hour quest, and for brief periods of time, which is okay but I would have enjoyed a more cinematic experience.
Last but not least is the story, two things must be said here, if you are a veteran RPG player, you will most likely see the story as a “blah!” rather than the “Wow” that people who have played few RPGs will probably say upon finishing the game. Every possible cliché in the book is here, and the game’s story seems suspiciously like a lighter, less serious clone of FFX’s Story to a degree and there in lies the problem.
I played this story already in a better game, I simply did not buy Lloyds love story with Colette, as it was too weak and at times childish, there was a point where the story was taking a slightly different direction from FFX, but then before the theme of becoming an Angel could be fully realized, the game shifts gears and begins to throw plot twist after plot twist, some which were good, some which were ridiculous and most which were predictable. I knew how the game would end the moment I began playing it, I knew the whole mystery about the two worlds too, and I knew who was Lloyds father from the moment the topic was brought up.
To the game’s credit it even though it throws in a lot of sub plots and twists and turns everything made sense at the end. But the story as far as originality goes doesn’t do much better than the mediocre Legend of Dragoon. And yet unlike Dragoon I actually enjoyed playing every moment of it because of the smart writing and likable characters.
Zelos was my favorite, a Pretty boy and self proclaimed ladies man who seems to get a crush on anything that walks and has a skirt, not only that he has some pretty hilarious one liners. Some how however every girl in the party he flirts with hates him, except Colette who is too stupid and naïve to really hate anyone.
Colette is the dumb blonde in the game, who is always tripping and falling down, and apologizing for everything. She was some what modeled after Yuna ( a cheap Yuna clone at that).
Then there is Kratos, who at first seems like a total bad A@% but as the game passes you begin to lose respect for the man and take him for what he is ( a frustrated Auron clone).
Presea however is interesting, and the way she continuously rejects Genis is pleasing, plus she also has one of the cooler background plots in the game.
Regal also equally mysterious is likable and wise, one of the better characters in recent RPG memory. Genis who I hated is a the stupid little frustrated boy who I found useless in combat, and sounds like a girl to tell you the truth, his sister is supposed to be an intellectual Elven hottie but a her dress isn’t sexy, and her attitude and lack of emotion is annoying.
Then there is also a summoner in the group ( I know they couldn’t have copied FFX more if they had tried) who is more concerned about trying to make Zelos feel bad than anything else. Finally there is the hero Lloyd, who like every other stereotypical hero has a dark past of sorts, that he doesn’t know about and has the carbon copy attitude of Tidus only that Tidus was smarter. Lloyd is pretty dumb which makes him funny to a degree.
The story begins in Iselia a small Village with Colette the chosen of Regeneration ( think Yuna the chosen summoner) coming of age, and about to begin her journey in order to release the seals so that she can become an Angel and Regenerate the world. (Think of Yuna’s Pilgrimage for the final Aeon). When she goes to release the first seal she is attacked by the Desians ( the opposing faction to our chosen party and our enemies for most of the game) and the party is saved by Au- I mean Kratos. After these events Kratos, Colette and Raine leave on the journey leaving, poor Lloyd and Genis behind. Both of them are kicked out of Iselia for interfering with a Desian ranch and have no choice but to go after Colette and friends.
That is the basic set up of the story during the first two or three hours. From there the story will develop into an epic world saving quest that is cliched as they come but a story that is saved by the wonderful character development (hint: read the optional story bits that pop up now and then, for maximum enjoyment and understanding of the characters.)
The story does the job, I am perhaps being too picky, however if you are a Story buff like me you will be slightly disappointed to see how predictable and stupid the story can sometimes become.
However I was entertained, and while nothing memorable ever happens in the game, besides Zelos one liners, and a few other hilarious moments, it is worth playing through once if you already beat the superior Skies of Arcadia and own a game cube.
I got the sense that the writer didn’t really wanted me to feel for the characters as much as he wanted to make me laugh at them at some points, because when everything was said and done I didn’t care if Colette died or not, and the same can be said for every other character in the game.
FFX, this RPG Tales of Symphonia unfortunately it is not. But it is a good long Satisfying RPG, that will likely appeal more to beginners, due to its ease and funny anime like story, than it will to hardened veterans who have seen the story here told in numerous other games.
Gameplay: 9.0-Easy to learn and entertaining action based battle system, and exploration gives the game high points here. Smart puzzles in the dungeons. However a lot of times one could wander around lacking direction as the game doesn’t tell you sometimes where to go next and it is a huge world.
Graphics: 9.0-Good Character design, awesome looking environments, sadly the camera cannot be controlled by the player During towns which is Something Arcadia could do two earlier and the world map while its there and you can rotate the camera in it looks like it belongs some where in the 32 bit Era.
Music: 8.5-Sakuraba does it again. But the game sounds too much like the SO games to earn a 9 here, the voice acting is good but not great.
Story: 8.5-Cliched as cliched can get, however this is another game that proves that you can have a cliched predictable story, but if you have smart dialog and great characters, those two things will pull you through. However can anyone tell my what happened to the chosen’s fake party? I am pretty sure that the sub plot is part of a sub quest, which is a shame because I really wanted to kill the four annoying fakes.
Addictiveness: 8.0- A must play if you own a gamecube the first time through. With so many other RPGs out there waiting to be played like Grandia III is hard to say whether I will every play this game twice.
Overall: 8.7- The second best traditional RPG in the gamecube, Skies of Arcadia is easily superior. That being said Arcadia is one of the greatest games of all time, so there is no shame in that, Tales is cheap now a days and it is worth a play through if you own a game cube, the fast paced battles make it one of the more enjoyable and quick paced RPGs out there.