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Tales of Symphonia (GameCube) artwork

Tales of Symphonia (GameCube) review

"When you hear the word GameCube what is the first thought that seeps into your brain? Nintendo franchises pummeling it out in Super Smash Brothers Melee? Probably. A demonic Spanish-speaking farmer advancing towards you, pitchfork in hand, straight from Resident Evil 4? Maybe that too. An RPG though? Never! This is quite true as the poor Cube, or even the ill-fated Nintendo 64, never saw many games from the genre. In a small handful of RPGs, maybe 40 to 50 tops, a few stood out as ..."

When you hear the word GameCube what is the first thought that seeps into your brain? Nintendo franchises pummeling it out in Super Smash Brothers Melee? Probably. A demonic Spanish-speaking farmer advancing towards you, pitchfork in hand, straight from Resident Evil 4? Maybe that too. An RPG though? Never! This is quite true as the poor Cube, or even the ill-fated Nintendo 64, never saw many games from the genre. In a small handful of RPGs, maybe 40 to 50 tops, a few stood out as excellent, or at least above average. Tales of Symphonia was one of these games.

One of the first things you notice going into Tales of Symphonia is the games very unique graphic style. Beautiful landscapes and character models are achieved by using fixed camera angles and cel-shaded graphics. Stacking atop the cel-shaded graphics is how they are presented, this is one of the few games on the market that manages to use cel-shaded characters and environments but does not have the typical childish cartoon-like flare, every visual and animation feels as if it were pulled straight from the heart of a stylish Japanese anime.

Sadly this does not mean perfection though as one problem really plagues the entire game. Certain areas of the screen have a blur effect to them not making any cut scene look better in the least. This effect causes your eyes a bit of strain and looking at it for to long can easily give you a headache.

The game begins inside a school house with a history lesson explaining the current situations facing the land of Sylvarant. There is a steady decline of mana, the world's source of power, and life is becoming almost unbearable each passing day. Thankfully though a young blond teen named Colette, The Chosen One, is ready to set out on a journey to rid the world of Sin so the people of Spira can live life happily for a few years until the next Chosen One is needed to survive... Wait, wrong game isn't it? Herein rests one of the greatest problems with the first 10 hours in Tales of Symphonia. The plot is quite cliche for the gorgeous production value and satisfying gameplay.

You control a band of rag tag adventurers, lead by the thick-skulled Lloyd Irving from the small village of Iselia, who must help Colette obtain angelic powers and awaken the Goddess Martel. You travel around a small continent looking for elemental themed dungeons (fire, water, etc) clearing puzzles along the way, and ultimately fighting a boss at the end of each temple. This long repetitive process lasts a ten grueling hours before the main plot begins to pick up. Characters change their allegiance, a new world is discovered, and all of what you've known becomes a lie. Oh and you lose one of your closest friends in the world. Around this mark the plots pacing picks up dramatically and becomes one of the better stories told in the RPG genre.

What really adds to Tales of Symphonia's story over anything else is almost flawless characters. Each and every key character is visually appealing, has a wonderful voice actor, and has rich personalities. While the well executed cut scenes build upon this, the voiceless skits really display everything a character has to offer. These occasionally pop up in the lower corner of the screen where you can push the Z button to read a short dialogue sequence between characters. They are also completely avoidable as well so you can pick whether or not you wish to immerse yourself fully or not.

The Tales series staple battle system is an oddity as it takes the fast paced combat from Action-RPGs and incorporates into a more traditional RPG system. All battles can be seen ahead of time on the world map indicated by a creature roaming around, some giving chase while others sit there casually as you pass by.

The battle system named the Linear Motion Battle System is simply an Action-RPG on a 2D plane. You take control over one of four characters who fight in each encounter with the simple goal of killing everything in sight. Each character and enemy has their own separate 2D line on which they fight to avoid any run-ins among the other combatants. Depending on who you fight with (as you can control any of the 9 main characters) will determine what you do in combat, however, most of the roles are more or less the same. The Half-Elf siblings, Raine and Genis Sage, both have the ability to use magic as their primary means of damage dealing. Other characters however must depend on offensive attacks and skills to dish out the highest amount of damage they can. You do this by using a combination of normal strikes and special attacks to make the biggest combo possible. While this is a very nice attempt to keep things fresh you will often find one set of moves that surpass the others in terms of power and will use it for hours on end. This works in a very skill-tree sense akin to many other RPGs. Depending on which skills you use will determine which new abilities you learn, thus limiting yourself to one style of fighting.

Outside of combat you will often find yourself solving puzzles with the use of a special ring called the Sorcerer's Ring. Almost every dungeon the ring receives a function change but still serves the purpose of puzzle solving. Default it shoots fireball-like objects that can stun enemies on the field map and light torches. Variations of its function include: shrinking the party to a smaller size, shooting electrical balls, and shooting an extended fireball.

While this is a nice touch it suffers from the same repetitive feel of combat. Almost all puzzles involve some sort block pushing to cross a gap or open a door from the very first dungeon to the very last of the game. The majority of the ring functions only contribute to this problem as they are used as means to reach the block you need to push, or remove some object obstructing the path of the block. By the end of the game puzzles are very tiresome as they are the same old thing all throughout the game, thankfully though, they are all relatively simplistic.

Aside from the overly-easy battle system and tiresome puzzles there are a multitude of ways to customize and upgrade your characters. Each character can use up to four of the power-gifting Exspheres to raise various stats or you can change the character's title which determines what stats they are strong in and which suffer; and sometimes even changes their appearance, though this is only for show. Besides working with their personal statistics you can also spend time remodeling their weapons and armor into newer models and level a cooking skill. The content packed into Tales of Symphonia is quite amazing given the main story will take the average player anywhere from 35 to 40 hours to complete their first time through.

Tales of Symphonia was a great RPG given the RPG-starved GameCube. While the plot pacing and difficulty is random for the first ten hours, if you can drudge through that the rest of the game is a great experience, albeit a simple one. The overall production style given the games time frame is almost unmatched and there is still plenty to do after playing through the main plot. For the GameCube it's a great title, though given the competition overall its not the best but still worth owning.

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Community review by Zenax (October 14, 2007)

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