"Sometimes you're retrieving an item. Others you're rescuing someone who got lost, or delivering a goody he or she needs, or scavenging for materials at an item point. No matter how you look at it, though, you're no more than an errand boy (or girl) engaged in one long series of fetch quests."
Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology is beautiful. As you wander through the sprawling corridors, you'll feel like you're in an actual dungeon. The artists didn't forget the small things that give environments personality, like pools of water that look almost like you could actually swim in them, or moss along the walls that looks strangely soft and inviting. You're deep inside a labyrinth and you know it. Monsters also look great, with animations that reveal what attack might come when. Spell effects meet the franchise's usual high standards, and the character portraits that advance the plot are easy to love. No, people aren't likely to ever spend much energy critiquing the game's visual polish; they'll be too busy complaining about the tedium.
Before I talk about that, though, I should mention that the plot is quite good. As the story goes, you've been summoned to the world of Terresia. Crafted out of the branches of a sacred tree, you are the world's one true hope against a terrible threat known as the Devourer. This monstrosity wanders from one planet to the next and leaves only desolate wastelands in his wake. Your new home is his picnic blanket. Throw in a few extra twists like a self-serving politician who keeps his citizens locked within a doomed city and the plot is plenty engaging. Certainly, that's not where the game's problems lie. What makes Tales of the World tedious is the actual gameplay.
Consider the guild system, which replaces the epic RPG fare for which the Tales series has always been known. When you venture into one of several dungeons, it's because you accepted a mission from the guild. The point of your trek is the trek itself, not the adventure that might lie on the next city or through the next forest. Sometimes you're retrieving an item. Others you're rescuing someone who got lost, or delivering a goody he or she needs, or scavenging for materials at an item point. No matter how you look at it, though, you're no more than an errand boy (or girl) engaged in one long series of fetch quests.
Even if that doesn't bother you, though, there are other considerations. Though there are numerous heroes from past Tales games that can be recruited to aide you, forming parties of adventurers is a constant hassle. Having favorite characters around you loses its luster because you have to work so hard to keep them there. Each time you successfully complete an objective, your crew abandons you. Some won't even join you in the first place if they don't think highly enough of you, and others will ignore you unless the plot requires interest (such moments also happen to be the only time characters really do anything that justifies their presence in the first place). In some cases, you could be reforming your party every three or four minutes. Some might argue that such requirements are innovative, but I say they're just annoying.
Once you form a group and arrive in a dungeon, new issues arise. Though environments are beautiful, there aren't enough of them. You'll spend most of your time wandering the same few hallways, battling familiar monsters as you try to guess which twisting passage leads to your objective. The developers tried to improve matters by allowing you to see your foes ahead of time--and thus avoid them--but they forgot to provide sufficient space in which to do so. Random battles surely wouldn't have been any worse. Here, you could get to the end of a passage with a group of enemies chasing you, only to find that you've hit a dead end and now must battle through a gauntlet of encounters in order to escape.
Tedious and overly simple battles don't help matters, either. For the most part, you can come through each fight in excellent shape by--and I'm not exaggerating here--mashing one button. The system tries to fool you into thinking it's complex by allowing you to run around enemies dodging their attacks or blocking them, summoning powerful spells and weaving through lethal beasts, but ultimately it's all for show. Repeatedly tap the 'X' button and you'll do everything you need to, whether that involves chasing after an adversary on the other side of the combat area or pulling off a dazzling combination of sword strikes. What good is a deep combat system if the game doesn't compel you to use it?
Between battles, dungeons break up the monotony by supplying you with item points where you can spend some of your time. If you have brought along some tools for digging (implements that for some strange reason are disposable and must regularly be purchased or found), you can look through soil or bits of shrubbery for ingredients and items that will allow you to craft tools, clothing and delicious recipes. The problem here--and you had to know by now that one was coming--is that the item areas work at random. Sometimes you'll waste a tool and get nothing. Others, you might come away with an armful of useful stuff.
So, what do you do with your treasure once you find it? You craft it. Tales of the World features what in other games would be called 'alchemy.' You mix ingredients and the result is something new and exciting. Well... maybe. While trying to turn bread and butter into 'toast,' you might accidentally create 'burnt toast' instead. Each item you try to create could go horribly awry, meaning that you just wasted ingredients that took forever to find. This system effectively forces you to save before each bit of crafting. Worse, you must repeatedly create the same few items before your skill level will rise enough to try your hand at something more interesting.
Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology gets old fast. Every time the developers throw in a cool idea, it gets fumbled. The result is a competent yet uninteresting game that will likely appeal to patient or novice gamers but will only serve to frustrate those who feel that they should be able to enjoy an RPG without making concessions to design blunders. If you're a fan of the series and the main reason you want to play is to experience a beautiful adventure with familiar characters, you'll probably like this outing well enough to see it through to its conclusion. Everyone else should tread with caution. Though there are worse RPGs on the system, this isn't the game that franchise fans deserve and it isn't memorable for any of the right reasons. Get your Tales fix elsewhere.
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 13, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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