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Tales of Phantasia (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Tales of Phantasia (Game Boy Advance) review

"While the 'Kangaroo' incident is insulting to fans who craved a legit localization, it's not nearly as infuriating as wading through 20+ hours worth of dull, clunky battles with annoying voice acting. Namco should know better than to flip off their fans with weak ports and lousy translations."

There are those of us who didn't wait for a legit copy of Tales of Phantasia to manifest in the US. They jumped at the first sight of a fan translation online and downloaded it, eventually trading up the SNES version for a superior PlayStation ISO. Namco admonished them, and others flew to their defense: "Whose fault is that? You're the ones who decided not to release it here!" So Namco issued a logical response: they released Tales of Phantasia stateside! Now we can all delete our illegal copies and live happily knowing that Namco has graced us with a quality localization of one of their finest games...

Yeah, that was total sarcasm.

Tales of Phantasia screenshotTales of Phantasia screenshot

The Game Boy Advance port of Phantasia is adequate if you didn't have access to the Internet or don't fancy emulation. However, thanks to spotty localization, it does the story little justice. Namco and Browne Global Solutions, the firm responsible for the localization, aimed for an E rating, most likely because they wanted to move more units. The end result is clumsily disguised alcohol censorship. There's a scene in which our travelers binge drink and complain about hangovers in the morning. Oh, but what would children who aren't likely to purchase this game think if their heroes consume malt beverages? Instead of drinking too much, they're now 'eating' too much and waking up with 'stomachaches'. Even without looking for a citation to prove my assumptions (which I eventually did), I knew Brown Global had not-so-cleverly covered up a hearty party. What can I say except that I'm an ex-boozer; I know a party when I see one.

About halfway through the campaign, you encounter the coup de grace. For it's here that you read a prophecy foretelling the brutal apocalyptic war: Kangaroo. I'm hunting for one last joke to attach to that, but this one tells itself. As the story goes, Browne Global wasn't paying close attention when spellchecking their finished product. Instances of 'Ragnarok' transformed into 'Kangaroo', perplexing some and insulting others.

It's pretty bad when a fan translation with no financial backing outdoes one by a firm who specializes in translations. This either shows that Namco didn't care and wanted to crank out a port with the cheapest translation, or it was an honest mistake and they'll (hopefully) never trust Browne Global Solutions again.

Not that Tales of Phantasia was an amazing of a game to begin with. Decent, sure, but phenomenal? It doesn't compare to some of the great RPGs that came out in the 16-bit era. It was, as a certain someone would say, the humble beginnings of a great series.

Tales of Phantasia screenshotTales of Phantasia screenshot

It took an average premise, one of warriors chasing down a war-bent sorcerer, and turned it into a decent adventure. There isn't as much character growth as desired, but we do feel for them as they advance through heartache after heartache. Some bury parents or friends, and move on with their lives with a new sense of resolution. The plot gives us enough to like the characters, but not enough to love them.

There's a collection of great ideas to compliment the story, like the ability to cook foods that bestow temporary buffs, as well as restore HP and MP; an assortment of spells, summons and sword techniques to motivate you to scour every dark corner; and an action-based battle system for which the Tales franchise is known. Characters freely roam about a horizontal screen in battle, hacking, thwacking, and blasting each other with magic. There are no turns or waiting on action meters, you just mash the attack button while your mages fling magic until the enemy croaks.

Though this is Tales's bread and butter, it's Phantasia's undoing. Delivering attacks is not as fluid as it should be (and this is particularly so about the GBA version), and gives combat a clunky feel. Cress can only deliver two blows at a time before inexplicably stopping and staring at the enemy awkwardly for a second, sometimes running back to the party and away from the enemy. Only after you've crossed that awkward phase can you initiate another "flurry." You could belt out a sword technique and hope it isn't interrupted, but these puppies consume MP and aren't recommended for constant use.

It doesn't take long to develop a solid strategy and easily squash various monster contingents, even with the clunkiness. To make matters worse, you'll fight the same battles repeatedly and use the same strategies again and again with a ramped up encounter rate. There isn't much variety per dungeon where enemies are concerned. Battles begin to bore, and when that happens you might notice yourself trying to run more often--ironically because most of the battles are too easy and repetitive.

Tales of Phantasia screenshotTales of Phantasia screenshot

It isn't until near the end that the difficulty spikes and every fight pits you against multiple nuke-spell-slinging enemies. If you haven't properly leveled up, they'll blast you to kingdom come and laugh at your smoldering ashes. You're options are to rage quit or grind for a while. The former is an understandable choice, especially with the good-but-not-great story and all of the dull battles you've had to endure just to get to that point.

It might cause you wonder why one should even bother with the GBA version. Not only is it an inferior translation, but a port of a title that wasn't that great in the first place. While the 'Kangaroo' incident is insulting to fans who craved a legit localization, it's not nearly as infuriating as wading through 20+ hours worth of dull, clunky battles with annoying voice acting. Namco should know better than to flip off their fans with weak ports and lousy translations. The fans are Namco's life blood, and without the them Namco may find financing future titles rather difficult.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (February 10, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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overdrive posted February 10, 2012:

It was, as a certain someone would say, the humble beginnings of a great series.

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EmP posted February 10, 2012:

Your hearing aid is on fire?
board icon
overdrive posted February 10, 2012:

Why you! The audacity of you whippersnappers!

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