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Gamecube Preview - 'Tales of Symphonia'

by Paul Reith on June 5, 2004 @ 2:31 a.m. PDT

Enter a world of beautiful cel-shaded graphics and high-quality Anime cut scenes by renowned artist Kosuke Fujishima. Command real-time battles in a unique 3D battle system that gives you full control over the characters. Execute and combine hundreds of special attacks and magic spells. The line between good and evil blurs in this immersive, emotionally charged epic adventure where the fate of two interlocked worlds hangs in the balance.

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Namco
Release Date: July 13, 2004

Pre-order 'TALES OF SYMPHONIA': GameCube

Lagging far behind the Japanese release, a build of Tales of Symphonia in English is on the horizon. Fourth in the Tales series, Namco’s release exclusively for GameCube will be a rare RPG offering for the platform. This build is more than just translation, as Namco is rebuilding the story and interaction to make it more relevant to North American gamers. All things considered, this title should be liked by many RPG fans on the GameCube platform.

Last fall, Tales of Symphony debuted in Japan, with worldwide media coverage despite the fact it was released in Japanese. Without even knowing what they were doing, journalists felt that it was worth writing about. The new build in English is very much the same, so the essentials of the Japanese build hold true for the English edition set to hit the market in July. You will still find the same classic anime styling with 3D cel-shaded enhancements, and every other function, setting and mission. What has changed is the feel and presence, now built around the American market.

The plot is based on a prophecy: "Once upon a time, there existed a giant tree that was the source of mana. A war, however, caused this tree to wither away, and a hero’s life was sacrificed in order to take its place. Grieving over the loss, the goddess disappeared unto the heavens. The goddess left the angels with this edict: 'You must wake me, for if I should sleep, the world shall be destroyed.' The angels bore the Chosen One, who headed towards the tower that reached unto the heavens, and that marked the beginning of the regeneration of the world."

From this opening narrative, you get the gist of the mission. The main character is Lloyd Irving, a schoolboy in a small town. You awake from a cat-nap, jarred from your bliss by your professor, Raine Sage, who is expressing her amazement as to how you can sleep standing up in her classroom. This basically sets the theme for your character, and the classroom contains most of the members of your posse for the mission. Colette Brunel, the Chosen One, is your stereotypical blonde schoolgirl, fluent in the Angelic language, yet ditzy and a bit of a clutz. Lloyd’s sidekick is Genis Sage, the innocent sweetheart student in the class. Completing the roster when everything gets settled into place, you pick up a mysterious mercenary named Kratos, with the cliché soft-center. So, with the essential team of brain, muscle, heart, goof-off, and the Chosen One, we have the makings of a good RPG team.

Tales of Symphonia begins well, and even gives you a little side journey to learn the interface and prove your worth to be part of the team destined to bring about the regeneration of the world. You find out that Colette is not the first Chosen One to attempt this journey of awakening Goddess Martel, and that a rather insidious group called Desians appears to be the primary force for the degeneration of the world. This degeneration is related to several seals that separate this world from a dark, evil world beneath. Not only has life been tougher without the giant tree of life-giving mana, but the seals between the two worlds appear to be failing. Colette’s journey to regeneration will take her to each of these seals, where the team will defeat evil and renew the seal. The culmination is in reaching the Tower of Salvation, where Colette will climb the stairs to heaven, and awaken Martel from her sleep in the center of the earth.

With the main plot exposed, there are still many side missions, games and other diversions that will keep you distracted. Namco claims over 80 hours of game play, but when you reach 15 hours, don’t be surprised if you can’t possibly envision completing it in 80 hours. There’s just too much to learn and do. Thankfully, your partners are more astute than you. This has to be the most annoying feature in the beginning, but it becomes pretty handy to have brighter folks around you as the game progresses.

Visually, Tales of Symphonia is both pleasing and in need of some improvement. The towns and combat scenes are pleasing, consistent with a carefully constructed anime environment. In keeping with that theme, detail on the characters, buildings and terrain is excellent, but moments remain where everything looks very 2D. Another detractor from the 3D feel is that the camera angle is fixed in this build, which undoubtedly will cause some frustration. Combat scenes are 3D, but individual character attacks on enemies are linear, essentially a 2D activity. The overworld is underdeveloped in this preview build, as the pop-up attackers are hideously coarse figures that look more like a lump of coal than any actual opponent in the game. However, this level ironically has the adjustable camera angle. Finally, much of the text that pops up is difficult to read, both from font choice and background imagery.

Audio development has the potential to be sensational. Namco has actually chosen voices with acting skills to provide inflection without being overly dramatic. You may even recognize the voices, as some have been in other popular games. The dialogue of their conversations has been translated and adapted to our language and culture, but proofing and refined sentence structure still awaits. With that said, the dialogue is well developed, and there are helpful 2D skits involving your team to give you better understanding of your missions. The real surprise is the excellent musical score developed to be complimentary to game play, significantly improving the experience.

Overall, the game play as an RPG is good. With too many variants to keep track of and so many options, character development is intriguing. Include necessary weapons customizations and spells to find success against the bosses, and this game is downright mind-boggling to master. Actual control and operation is sufficient, but currently only the overworld really feels analog. This is more of an aesthetic issue, as digital movement control is actually helpful in traversing some of the more difficult areas in temples where seals are located.

Tales of Symphonia will be successful on GameCube. With so few quality RPG offerings for the platform, gamers are less likely to be finicky. Combined with the well developed plot, characters, graphics, and audio elements, a good game will make it. If Symphonia’s combination of strategic button-mashing fight sequences with the intellectual challenge of manipulating development and upgrades is well received, it may very well be a hit.

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