Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Alfa System
Release Date: July 17, 2007
Perhaps some explanation is in due order, to get this out of the way and make the review that much more focused. For those not knowledgeable about Namco's Tales series, it all started in 1995 with the Super Famicom Tales of Phantasia in Japan. The series has since been renowned for two things in particular: its engrossing, character-driven plots, and the Linear Motion Battle system, which turns random battles into a vaguely fighting-game-like experience. While the series has never been as popular as the biggest names in the RPG genre, the Tales titles have acquired a cult-like following on both shores that has only been bolstered by the superb Tales of the Abyss for the PS2.
The series, first tied together by the Narikiri Dungeon subtitle, and then later by the Tales of the World main title, has always been slightly ... different. The first games were in the style of the various randomized dungeon crawlers such as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and even the archaic PC game Rogue, allowing players to dress up as — and in turn gain the skills and abilities of — their favorite Tales characters, in sort of a demented cosplay RPG theme. Later additions to the series scrapped that and instead went for just having those characters join you as allies.
Knowing this, it makes it much easier to determine if it's a good idea to read on. Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology is the first game in the Tales of the World sub-series that has reached American shores. If you aren't a fan of the series, be prepared to cast a confused glance at all these strange people and wonder what the heck they're talking about. A fair deal of the character background information is assumed knowledge, as it's all touched upon in the characters' respective games.
This is a game for the fans, folks — that's what I'm trying to get across.
Sadly, Radiant Mythology doesn't do much at all to draw in those not "in the loop," with a story that seems stilted and sometimes cheesily forced. The planet of Terresia is in trouble because its World Tree is in danger of being chomped on by an otherworldly being known as The Devourer. Naturally, since the World Tree is the source of all of Terresia's mana, it can do more than just sit there and grow leaves. The player is all but unceremoniously dumped into Terresia — a "descender" born directly of the World Tree itself, appearing fully formed and with an appropriately concealing suit of leather armor. It's all vaguely Athena-esque.
Quickly, you're whisked under the wing of a guild named Ad Libitum (why yes, I can tell you're Ad Libitum-ing it, Namco), a group of heroes looking to stop the evil of the Devourer and help out the patrons of a sheltered, tyrannized town by the name of Ailily in the process. Thus, you're dragged into a plot of intrigue and myste– aw, who am I kidding? The plot, at least for the first few hours, is merely an excuse to get you roped in with all sorts of characters from Tales games of past. It does pick up after a while, but it never feels fully fleshed-out into an actual compelling story.
Radiant Mythology delivers on the fan service, however. Ad Libitum is a collection of characters from pretty much every Tales game out there, including a few possibly unfamiliar faces from the Japan-only titles Tales of Destiny 2 (the version we got was a re-titled version of another game) and Tales of Rebirth. Not everyone will join your cause on the battlefield, but all will be crucial to the story and help you along the way. A fair portion of the emphasis seems to be slanted toward Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Destiny, with only a handful from the other games in the series.
Really, while your guild is an excuse to get as many Tales characters as possible under one roof, it's also the core of the main game. Radiant Mythology almost feels like an MMORPG without the massive or multiplayer parts in that you take quests, fulfill quests, and repeat. While the quests that advance the plot (helpfully distinguished by purple text and a star) have a lot more depth, the normal quests you'll be doing consist of "kill x amount of this monster" or "get x of this item."
Yes, Radiant Mythology is indeed 90% fetch quests. The rest of the quests not covered by plot or fetching items are (often frustrating) one-on-one duels with the Tales characters you've come to know and depend on as reliable members of your party, except supercharged. It's not nice to have Kratos from Tales of Symphonia suddenly doing three times as much damage to you as he'd do to a monster, and suddenly sprouting 26,000 hit points.
But what of the battle system? The random battles have always been the series' claim to fame, and it's no different in Radiant Mythology. The game takes the Flex Range Linear Motion Battle system from Tales of the Abyss and puts it to good use. The d-pad moves your character around the 2D plane with you and your enemy, while the analog stick is used for a Free Run, allowing you to dodge and move around with ease. You have three buttons to focus on: one for normal attacks, one for special skills (or Artes, as they're called in this game), and one to defend. The battles initially seem very much about hammering the X button to win, but that sort of mindset will punish gamers in the later stages where enemies are tougher, hit harder, and know how to sidestep your moves.
Walkabout is limited to dungeons and the inside of houses and other specified areas in-game. Moving throughout towns and around the world map is driven by menus, adding to the odd fetch-quest feel of the gameplay, since there's not much to do aside from dungeon roaming and bouncing from quest to quest. There's also a crafting and harvesting system similar, again, to an MMO, allowing you to pick up raw materials, refine them, and make tools as well as augment your existing equipment. It's fairly in-depth, but nothing out of the ordinary. Luckily, the skits — character-driven interactions between characters — are just as common as in other Tales games, though their separation from the main character leaves you feeling like you're controlling a soulless pair of eyes as the rest of the world moves and adapts around you. Not helping matters is the obligatory (yet surprisingly deep-voiced) animal mascot Mormo, who acts as an annoying mouthpiece for your character throughout the game.
With the negatives predominantly out of the way, let's get to the positives: the game is beautiful. While the character models still show a bit of early-PS2-era blockiness, all the backgrounds are gorgeously drawn, even if the colors for each area tend to be a little on the monochromatic side (green forest setting, brown mine, red volcano, etc.) and the characters all move with a fluidity rarely seen in RPGs.
In addition, the sound is top-notch. The soundtrack, while remaining fairly quiet and withdrawn, shows a talent not seen in many games of this day and age. The sounds are all clear and appropriate, and the voice acting is as good as or better than most games localized from Japan. While there may be a few gripes about specific actors or casting choices (i.e., why is Mormo so deeply voiced?), none of the actors really sound like actors, and that wooden sound you get out of most RPGs isn't present. The one exception is the voices available for the protagonist, which alternate between "bearable" and "my ears are bleeding."
Yes, I said voices, as in plural. One of the biggest draws to Radiant Mythology is the customizability of your character. It's rudimentary, with a few hairstyle choices, voice choices, and a pick of gender, but it's much more than the Tales series has seen yet, and helps to remind you that your character is truly yours. In addition, you have a pick of classes, starting with the basic Warrior, Thief, Mage, and Priest setup found in many RPGs but then gradually branching out into jobs you may remember from other Tales games, such as Magic Knight and fist-using Fighters. Each character not native to another Tales game that you can get in your party has a paper doll model, where the equipment you put on changes your appearance visibly.
Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology isn't a bad title, but it's not appealing at all to people who haven't already played all the other games in the series. It's blatant fan service, and it doesn't try to be anything more; while the battle system is a lot of fun and the skits are entertaining, there simply isn't enough here to keep a casual gamer interested, especially once things devolve into the endless grind of fetch questing. If you've played and loved the actual Tales games, go ahead and give Radiant Mythology a look; it's likely to bring a smile to your face time and again. If this is your first experience with the series, though, you might want to start off with one of the console games in the series. You'll get far more enjoyment for your money.