Tales of Symphonia was one of the most successful Tales games to ever grace the now-aged Playstation2 and now-defunct GameCube, and it saw a followup, oddly enough, on the Wii with Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. The games were so popular, in fact, that they’ve given rise to books, manga, audio dramas (Japan only, sadly), and four anime films. The two games have been remastered in HD and brought together again for the PS3, now titled Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. Fans of JRPGs would be well advised to join me in this review—I have a few good tales of my own to regale upon you.
If you’re unfamiliar with Namco’s Tales series, you should know that none of the games—barring those with the same name—are actually related to each other in terms of story or characters, so you can easily pick up one Tales game and play it without needing to have played any other. Tales of Symphonia tells the tale of Lloyd Irving and his buddies who are out—as usually happens in JRPGs—to save the world. In this case, it means restoring magical energy to the world. The key this time is a girl named Colette, a Chosen One who needs perform the necessary task of saving the world. If you’re bothered by the aversion of the trope of having to seek out the chosen one, worry not, it gets better. The saving of the world has to be done via a series of Temples that Lloyd and co must escort Colette to so that she can perform the sacred ritual to unseal them. The second game deals with the consequences of the decisions your characters make in the first game, but instead of playing as Lloyd, you take the part of Emil, one of Lloyd’s previously-mentioned friends.
Since the game is an HD remaster and not an actual remake (new coat of paint vs a whole new house), much of the game is almost identical to the original, barring the game’s graphical overhaul. One of the nicer additions is that you now have the option to listen to the Japanese voices instead of the (terrible) English ones. Furthermore, if you’ve a passing familiarity with the Japanese language, there are a fair number of nuances that you’d pick up on over the English translation that don’t quite make it. For some reason that I’m unable to fathom, the English voicework for JRPGs always seem worse than that of other games, usually by an order of magnitude, so the Japanese voices is an incredibly welcome addition.
What eventually pulled me toes and all into Tales of Symphonia was the interaction between the characters. The majority of the main story doesn’t carry the character development well, but Symphonia’s thrown in a large number of option dialog interactions, which show the way the characters are growing. It makes you care so much more for the characters, but is something that you’d miss entirely if you didn’t bother with it. The biggest annoyance with these optional sections, however, is that once you’ve initiated them, they’re unskippable. Which means that, if you died and reloaded your game and you trigger the interaction again, there’s no way to hasten the wordy wordy along.
While the story is fairly run-of-the-mill, it’s the game’s battle system that made it famous. Tales of Symphonia was one of the first games to feature a real-time battle system in an RPG, compared to the multitudes of turn-based battles in other JRPGs. Battles are fairly fast and while initially a case of “mash the button until your finger goes through the controller!”, with nary a bit of strategy in sight, it soon changes nature to a more graceful fingering of the buttons as upon a piccolo, as you alternately attack, defend, and plant special attacks and defences. While you only really control one character in battle, you can customize the actions and controllability of your allies. I advise that you become familiar with customizing the AI, because they’re about as useless as floppy drives otherwise. The battle system’s beauty, though, is that you don’t have to spend endless hours grinding if you’re skilful enough on the buttons. Just a little grinding for flavour will do.
Much of the game takes place on the overworld map, and here is where Symphonia’s shortcomings become evident, and would have benefitted from some reworking. The draw distance, for instance, is still very much the kind of thing you’d expect from the PlayStation 1, never mind the PS2 or GameCube. In fact, it’s a surprise I was able to find cities and locations on the map at all, considering that you’d have to be all but tripping over them before they show up out of the fog.
Random battles show up as black…blobby things that wander around the overworld like demented pools of oil on legs. What’s amusing is that you can happily avoid most battles by running around the pools of oil, but then they get upset and hop up and down frustratedly when I do avoid them. And then I feel guilty and go back to them with “ok, I’m going to kill you just this once, understand? But no more, because then I’ve got important things to go do, like save the planet”.
Overall, I enjoyed Tales of Symphonia (and Dawn of a New World to a lesser degree, mostly because the main protagonist in the second game is such an annoying tit), and with 80-odd hours of game (and 30-odd in the second game), there’s a lot of a game to go through. This is fairly standard fare for a JRPG, though. Any shorter would be shameful. It’s got a few age marks, such as the inability to skip cutscenes, but there’s much to be charmed about. Any fan of JRPGs will be gloriously entranced by it, and any RPG gamer worth their salty chips will already know about the game’s claims to fame and have it lined up already.
Final Score: 8.5 Symphonic Prawns out of 10
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Age Rating: PEGI 12 (some bad language and cartoon violence)