The year is 1991. I’m sitting at my friend’s house playing Final Fantasy II. We are taking turns switching off every hour so we both get chances to play. I am enthralled by the story and the game, this is one of the greatest gaming experiences of my young life.
At about this point I realized that it was actually 2004 and I was playing Tales of Symphonia. The problem with most RPG’s is that they have had the same plotline since the creation of the console RPG.
There is a boy. He is a goofy, good hearted, tough hero type. There is a girl. She is going to save the world, or some other such miraculous act of selflessness. Boy loves girl, girl likes boy but is dedicated to her task. Blah blah blah.
The most horrible thing about it is that I will always enjoy that type story. It is the ultimate young boy fantasy story and I think that a whole generation of us has grown up with the idea of that being the ultimate adventure romance story to strive for in your life. That does not make it any less stupid of a phenomenon.
Tales of Symphonia is probably one of the more enjoyable RPG’s I’ve played in a while. The gameplay in the game is complex enough to be interesting and fun but not so convoluted as to dissuade a more casual player from picking it up and having a good time. As I mentioned the plot is fairly stereotypical as far as the RPG genre goes, but it is pretty fast paced and it is done well enough that you’re drawn into the story and you want to keep moving forward...just in case something may surprise you.
In this particular incarnation of Namco’s Tales series you take on the role of Lloyd a good-hearted, well-meaning, goofy hero. He embarks on an adventure with his friend Genis and the focus of his affection Colette (the chosen) to save the world. Of course there is a host of other adventuring companions and many bumbling/sinister people trying to stop you from getting the job done. There is a race of Half-Elves living on the planet that rule over the humans of the land and are of course sinister and evil. They run human farms that are used to develop magic crystals that are set in the back of a person’s hand and will grant them special powers. Colette’s quest is to “Regenerate the world” and by doing so she will remove the Half-Elves from earth and free the humans from the yoke of oppression. There is of course an even more sinister evil hinted at behind the Half-Elves, and a secondary story that will throw everything up in the air and make it so that our heroes won’t know what the right decision to make is in a topsy turvy world gone mad.
Something that I have been enjoying in RPG’s in recent years is the move to more real-time combat and less of the standard turn based system. Which is great, as that is arguably the most boring part of any RPG ever made since the days of the NES. It’s also something which I think has turned many people off to the genre, as the appeal of walking back and forth in a field for hours on end interrupted only by the pushing of one button really fast so the battle is over with as quickly as possible so that you get that much closer to the next level, is lost on many new players.
ToS is balanced in such a way that I haven’t encountered a point yet where I have needed to stop and spend an inordinate amount of time experience farming to get my characters strong enough to move the game forward. This, I think, was probably a conscious effort on the developers part as the real time combat system is going to have you a little more involved then the, “clicking one button while eating a sandwich,” method that we are all used to. With the way the combat is handled it’s actually enjoyable to fight, so you do some extra building up of your characters because you feel like your taking part in the battles and learning new skills and tactics as you go along.
Something that could have greatly helped the game was the addition of the ability to play the game with 4 players. The problem with the system in the game is the way it was implemented. It seems that multiplayer was put in as an afterthought as the camera continues to just follow the first player around the screen during combat, (the only time having multiple people playing becomes a consideration) meaning that if any of your other players happen to move to far away from the first player character you’re off the screen and who knows what’s happening to you then.
Each character has the ability to set spells and techniques to various directions on the analog stick which are triggered by pushing the direction and hitting the special attack button. This allows you to set up combo attacks, which can also be shared out with the team members. Doing bigger combos results in more experience gained at the end of each fight, so it pays to have your characters all working one monster at a time trying to get the biggest combo possible for your team.
During combat, when playing by yourself, your other teammates are computer controlled, but you are given the ability to take a quick pause in combat and issue commands to the other characters. You can also designate who is attacking which creature giving you some modicum of control over the flow of the battle.
Weapons and equipment are fairly straightforward and standard in their use. Raising stats and proving little boosts to skills here and there, protecting against status ailments, potentially causing status ailments, that sort of thing. Nothing too outlandish there.
The graphics in the game are enjoyable, and on par for the Game Cube and above par for a lot of RPG’s. Cell shaded graphics, which I always enjoy, and a general sort of soft feeling to the look of everything, which I think is something that the Game Cube has done well since its release.
The sound, again, is nothing to rave about but there is definitely nothing wrong with it. Your standard electronically produced symphonic tracks along with spacey background ambience make for, well, a typical experience. Voice acting is done for all of the major character interactions. Whether or not having voice acting in an RPG adds or takes away from the experience I have a hard time making a call on, in some cases it works, in others it doesn’t. In ToS the acting is good enough that I am not completely annoyed and in general I’ll leave them turned on. Honestly though, in most cases it would be nice to play with the Japanese voices and just read the subtitles. God, what a geeky thing to say.
Another nice thing is the general lack of random battles, there are a few instances where a battle will come up without you knowing, but the enemies are generally depicted by little avatars wandering around the screen, which you can generally dodge if you choose to do so. Sometimes they will give chase and attempt to catch you, which is a nice change of pace from the random battle system and adds a sense of realism to the game.
Overall Tales of Symphonia is a fairly good RPG. Nothing stands out about it, nothing incredibly amazing has been done with it, but it is a serviceable and enjoyable game if you’re a fan of the genre. I’d recommend picking this one up and giving it a go, as I said, it won’t change your life, but it also won’t make you hate RPGs, which, is a pretty big thing to be said considering a lot of the crap coming out these days.