Note: I will often make and post reviews on this blog, all of which are of Gamecube games. Most reviews will be for GC exclusives, but some will be just for games that either ran better on the Gamecube, or were important to its history.
Tales of Symphonia is the first 3D entry in Namco Bandai's "Tales" series of Action RPGs, and was an exclusive for the Nintendo Gamecube in all regions except Japan, where it received a shoddy Playstation2 port. The game takes advantage of the Cube's power to make a beautiful game for the player to explore. Is the game a triumph of the highest caliber, or does it fail because Namco Bandai never localizes anything and hates their fans, not even giving them the Tales of Vesperia PS3 port, or Tales of Graces, or well over half the games in the series? ...Sorry about that.
Tales of Symphonia is an Action RPG, so instead of just sitting around, navigating through menus, and selecting attacks in turn-based format, you are actively participating in the battle in real time. Also, unlike most RPGs, there are no random encounters. All enemies can be easily seen, avoided, or confronted visibly. The battle system feels much like a 3D fighter [a genre in which Namco has quite a bit of experience in], in that you can string together combos by timing your moves correctly and teaming up with other characters. You also use special attacks that can be mapped to the B button + different analog stick directions, and the C-Stick. It makes battles very fast-paced and fun, with an infinite number of ways to fight. A nice little feature exclusive to Symphonia [surprisingly never brought back in later installments] was the Unison attack, which was a gauge that filled up as you fought, and when it filled up completely, you could hit the Z button, and unleash hell. By which I mean, you can assign different attacks to party members for use in unison attacks, and as soon as you hit the Z button, you must start as many of these attacks as possible before the gauge empties, and all the attacks would be performed at once, creating a flurry of attacks. Sometimes, doing certain unison attacks in a row will trigger an even bigger combo between two or more characters, causing massive damage, and most likely stunning the enemy for a brief period. It also just looks awesome. The battles never get boring; I found myself intentionally running into enemies just for the fun of the fight. Yes, the battle system is certainly one of Tales of Symphonia's most standout features.
As is a common feature in the Tales series, multiplayer is available in battles, allowing 4 players to fight at once. I can attest to this being very fun, having beaten the game both alone and with a friend. When playing alone, you can go through battles like you would in a normal ARPG, but when a friend comes along, you add a whole new level of strategy to the game, allowing you to work together to do some really neat tricks and combos. As I stated before, up to 4 people can play at once, effectively make the game a "party" RPG.
Outside of battles if pretty standard fare for RPGs; you go around, exploring towns and the overworld, talking to people and gathering info. Not much to say here, except that I should mention that there is a nice system in the game for cooking meals. The meals require ingredients which can be bought cheaply or found free. The meals heal the whole party, and their effectiveness depends on the recipe and the person cooking. You learn new recipes as you explore each town, and cooking can become a very useful tool if you use it right.
For the most part, I was impressed with Tales of Symphonia's story. It starts off in the land of Sylvarant, in a small village called Iselia. Here is where the primary characters live. Lloyd Irving, the main character, is friends with a girl named Colette Brunel, who is destined to become the "Chosen", the Half-Human, Half-Angel being that will go on a journey to save Sylvarant. I don't want to spoil too much, but let me just say that the first third of the game is devoted to this portion of the story. The game starts off with this standard, run-of-the-mill story; what everyone expects from your average JRPG. However, it soon grows into something far more complex and enthralling. I honestly didn't think the story was anything special until I got past the first couple dungeons. But, trust me, Tales of Symphonia's story is something to behold when it is in full steam. I spent many sleepless nights playing the game, just to see more of the plot. There are times when the game does something somewhat cheesy and melodramatic, but I really had to think about when they were, and even then, they were few and far between. What I am saying is, if you want a good RPG story that will really suck you in and keep you clinging to your Gamecube controller, look no further than Tales of Symphonia.
I didn't fully appreciate tales of Symphonia's musical score until I saw the soundtrack as a whole. I was absolutely shocked to find that there is a total of 83 songs in the game! It is truly amazing how they fit such an extensive soundtrack into 2 Gamecube discs. Thus, it is rare to find the same song in two different locations [unless they are the same type of building, of course]. The music has a lighthearted yet majestic tone; reminding me a lot of the music in the Dragon Quest games. Most tracks are mellow and fun, so as to not distract from the rest of the game. But, the music mirrors the events quite well, and each track provides a spot-on musical interpretation of the events at hand, which is very effective in immersing you in the game. It won't blow your mind, but tales of Symphonia's soundtrack is still one of the better overall soundtracks I have heard in a game. There's not really much else I can say about it, so I'll let the music do the talking. Here's one of the songs from the game:
The art style for Tales of Symphonia was largely up in the air during development, due to it being the first game in the series in 3D. So, Namco decided to employ a semi-cel-shaded look for the game, an art style that has since become a common trait in Gamecube games. The character models look beautiful, and are very expressive, with each character having multiple animations for their emotions. It really feels like the expressive sprites of games like Final Fantasy VI or Suikoden II, but in 3D form. The backgrounds and locations are also very detailed. I always found new things that I hadn't noticed before when I re-entered buildings. That level of craftsmanship and care taken into each area is spectacular. I suppose that Namco really wanted to show what the Gamecube's next-gen graphics could do when designed by the right people. It is a beautiful game to see, with the only graphical downfall being that the game does not support Progressive Scan mode; something I think would have really helped the game. The environments are so detailed that the standard 480i resolution causes them to sometimes be blurry, and I am unable to see some very small things clearly. Other than that, Tales of Symphonia will make your 'Cube feel good about itself.
Tales of Symphonia is currently selling at Gamestop for $20. Not the best deal you will get on a used game, but in my opinion, it is worth every penny, because the game's length will more than justify the cost. Tales of Symphonia markets itself as a 40-hour game, but it is really selling itself short. You will easily get around 60-80 hours from the story alone, as long as you're not doing a speed run. I personally spent around 150+ hours on my first playthrough, going through everything I could, and I still wasn't able to complete every side-quest! Think about it. For $20, you could buy a bunch of okay games that will last you a total of maybe a week, or you can buy one incredible game that will last you several weeks. Which one would you rather have?
As I said before, there are a huge number of side quests in Tales of Symphonia; all of which give you cool extras throughout your game. A good number of side-quests' rewards involve things called Titles, which, when equipped, give your characters bonus points and abilities when leveling up. It is a nice little system that gradually pays off depending on your play style. Speaking of which, the special attack progression system is really something else in Tales of Symphonia; it is a bit more of a realistic system than you would expect. Instead of just learning set new moves when you level up, the game instead determines your character's new moves based on what types of moves you use most often. For example, if you use magic more often than physical special attacks, you will learn more magic, and vice-versa. It makes you think more about how you want your characters to level up, and what to make them fight with. All these things add unprecedented levels of depth to the game, and make it all that more enjoyable of an experience. I could go on about each subsystem and all the side quests of the game, but I think my keyboard would wear out if I tried. Also, I should say that this game was so popular in Japan that a special edition Gamecube was released for the game!
Tales of Symphonia is a game for the ages, and is definitely one of the best adventures you will find running on Nintendo's lil' powerhouse. It has everything you could want in an ARPG, and is in the top of its genre because of that. You will not get easily bored of Tales of Symphonia, and I have a feeling you will like it as much as I did. If you have never played an RPG before, this might even be a good place to start, due to the simple-to-learn, hard-to-master combat system. I would definitely recommend this game to anyone who plays games, as it is one of the classics of the Gamecube's era. Buy Tales of Symphonia. Right now. You will not regret it.
Overall Score: 9.5/10
This is lisalover1, going off to play some Tales of Legendia after all this talk about the Tales series.