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Tales of Symphonia (GameCube) artwork

Tales of Symphonia (GameCube) review

"RPG titles simply don't surface much on the GameCube. The few that do trickle in every now and then are always welcome, even when they are not really all that great (example: the "remix" of Skies of Arcadia, which was not a terrible game but certainly not completely compelling). Tales of Symphonia, however, manages to stand well on its own against some of the classics.... "

RPG titles simply don't surface much on the GameCube. The few that do trickle in every now and then are always welcome, even when they are not really all that great (example: the "remix" of Skies of Arcadia, which was not a terrible game but certainly not completely compelling). Tales of Symphonia, however, manages to stand well on its own against some of the classics....

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been playing through Tales of Symphonia for a second time. The first time I played it was a rental, and since I didn't want to get butt raped by late fees, I pretty much rushed through as fast as possible. I knew that I'd purchase it after playing for only a few minutes, and before I had even beaten the game for the first time I was already looking forward to when I'd play through it again.

My very first impression of ToS was, "Haha, Liquid Snake is the narrator."
My second impression, which followed quickly after the first, was that the graphics are absolutely breathtaking. The colors are extremely vibrant, and the cellshaded look of the characters is an excellent design choice. As with all cellshaded games that I have played, the awe-factor doesn't take long to disintegrate once a bit of time is spent within the world, but that certainly doesn't mean that it isn't pretty. The animation itself isn't too grand, but it is not really noticeable until you see some of the narrative a bit stunted here and there during scenes that require the characters to do things other than walk around and talk. Many of the scenes that involve various types of aggression outside of battles are laughable, but it is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

The quest itself is perhaps as deep or as shallow as the person that plays it. I am sure that many would be quick to point out the many cliched elements of the plot, and they'd be right to a certain extent. There is a very large amount of familiar material here, but I cannot possibly put this game down for any of it in the end. Why? Because almost every time that Tales of Symphonia borrows an idea, it puts the idea to use 100% more efficiently than what it seems to be inspired by. Consider it a catalogue of the most top notch cliches ever conceived. If that still bothers you and you aren't up for a pretty massive dose of melodrama, then this game is not for you.

There is indeed plenty of melodrama to be found here. There is much personal reflection by the characters, and once in a while it seems as though the entire game was built around the idea of conveying a message. It gets a bit preachy at times about the ignorance of discrimination, but I was totally into that. To me it is a lot better than something like say, Lunar 2, where all of a sudden the game turns into an advertisement for "The Power of Human Spirit(tm).". ToS, as bright and colorful as it is, spends a great deal of time delving into the true sickly nature of humanity, and it really gets an applause from me for staying consistent with its theme from start to finish.

The first time I played it, there were a few parts where the story would drag for small periods of time, but it wasn't that big of a deal because there was the always "it could get better at any moment" (and it always did) factor. The second time through, these diversions in the story are a lot more boring than they already were and just seem like filler. The redemption for this flaw is that ToS is a fairly nonlinear game when it comes to certain areas. There are many occurrences in which you can perform a series of events in any order, and you can drastically change a few story points by switching things around.

The music is just kind of there. Some of it is pleasant, but much of it is pretty bland. Near the end, a new "evil" music theme pops out of the blue, and that is definitely the most interesting of all the songs in the game. There is a great deal of voice acting during most of the important events, and it is for the most part dead on. As for other sound effects, I didn't really notice them. Nothing repulsive, but not memorable either.

Like the previous Tales games, the battle system is a bit unique. You control one character in a party of four (with three other players and controllers, battles can be 4 player) in a vibrant pseudo realtime environment. Techniques and magics can be assigned to various button combinations, and you are given a lot of control over in what ways a character will upgrade as the game progresses. Fully customizable "orders" can be preselected and activated with a press of the D-pad during battle to set the way your party behaves during conflict. A properly leveled up team will not have to worry as much about such strategies, but I found it helpful on some of the tougher optional bosses to execute the command plan, "whoopass", in order to fully take advantage of my parties' ability to, well, whoop ass. All in all, the fighting is fast and fun, and never really gets all that terribly redundant.

I wish I could say the same for the dungeons. I often found myself rather depressed by some of the mediocre puzzles. Most dungeon puzzles are solved via the Sorcerer's Ring, found early in the game. It serves a new purpose in almost every new labyrinth. It's functions range from projectile fire that can light torches to sparks that can electrocute things to.... uh, you get the point, right? The puzzles in Tales of Symphonia that actually do break the mold a bit tend to be frustrating and monotonous. There is one puzzle in particular late in the game that involves manipulating fish into transporting a fruit through a dangerous pond full of predators. It is definitely one of the biggest buzz kills that I have encountered in an otherwise enthralling RPG. Thankfully, most of the dungeons tend to be fairly short.

The negative stuff is officially out of the way.

There are all kinds of extra things to do. There is an impressive number of optional subquests that fill in gaps in the character backstory, as well as plenty of mini-games and other diversions. I did find much of this to be terribly hokey, like the Altamesa "theme park". When I heard about it, I was filled with mental images of FF7's Golden Saucer, but I was pretty amused when I found out that all it showcases are the attractions: tea cup ride and ferris wheel. Oh yeah, and the casino that you can do absolutely nothing in except for talk to a few pointless stragglers. Definitely some wasted potential, but no biggie.

I think one of the best things about Tales of Symphonia is that when all was said and done, most of the characters felt like actual people to me. There are a couple playable characters that I never really connected with, but for the most part I was really feeling for these guys and gals. They were my friends by the end of the journey, and that is a way cool feeling.

One neat feature is that throughout the game, all of your selected responses to the characters determine how much they like you. This can even cause some romantic situations with some of the characters. It is not really an innovative idea, but it is a lot more interesting here than I have seen it used in other most other games.

In conclusion, Tales of Symphonia is a solid game. It has a small variety of flaws that don't really get in the way of the entertainment value, but do prevent the title from being an indisputable masterpiece. It is worth playing through more than once if you care about the characters and wish to see how they react differently to various events depending on who likes (and dislikes) you most. There is also a very sweet feature after completing the game that allows you to buy a variety of components with your GRADE (based on battle performance), for use next time you start it up. These include carrying over levels, money, items and a plethora of other fun things. 'Tis the best "new game +" since "new game +" was invented. This kind of system adds a superb amount of potential replayability. All in all, the only type of RPG fan that I'd deter from this game is the kind that cannot stand games that stick to old ideas. There really is nothing refreshingly new here. It is an orgy of tried-and-true concepts that are brilliantly combined, but I could understand how that just wouldn't cut it for some. For us that can appreciate a good twist on an old formula, Tales of Symphonia is a respectable joygasm.

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Community review by atra_vortex (April 05, 2005)

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