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Gamecube Review - 'Tales of Symphonia'

by Geson Hatchett on Aug. 10, 2004 @ 1:32 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


Tales of Symphonia starts out as a generic role-playing game, with generic characters, a generic plot, generic quests, and a not-so-generic battle system.

A few hours in, though, everything else catches up, and it’s all very, very cool.

You play the part of Lloyd Irving, a headstrong kid who has no living parents and was raised by a foster-dwarf. He’s got a friend named Collette who, out of nowhere, becomes the “Chosen One”, an honest to goodness angel, and the only hope of the world’s salvation. Only thing is, no one knows exactly what this “salvation” entails, and the last Chosen One met a rather grisly end. Ho-hum. These two kids and a motley crew (because, as you know, an RPG must always have a motley crew) are out to save a world that either doesn’t know they exist, or doesn’t want their help.

On the other side of the coin are the Desians, your basic evil empire out to control the world—only they seem to have already done it. Using the power of species prejudice (and advanced weaponry), they’ve enslaved much of the human race, and left the others to cower in their little villages and towns in fear. They also have strength in numbers, which presents a problem for our heroes, because even should they do their hero thang and save a city, there’s nothing stopping it from getting burned to the ground in retribution.

Therefore, welcome to the role-playing-game that, even in the midst of all its magic, divinity, hocus-pocus, and sometimes confusing backstory, keeps itself down-to-earth and rational. It’s a breath of fresh air for a story or a character-type to repeatedly swerve from cliché at the last minute. This thing’s got more twists than a stick of licorice. RPG writers, for the love of God, take notes.

The main selling point of this title is its gameplay, which is a good thing in its case. Tales comes packed with a unique fighting engine that allows you to attack the enemy in real-time, with only the barest use of menus. Multiplayer capability makes things incredibly cool in this regard, but it is by no means the game’s focus; it’s largely a traditional single-player epic. Still, if you have some friends with you, you’ll be able to kick more but and link more attacks than you ever could with your team being controlled by the CPU; that alone is worth a few experiments with more than one controller.

The game also comes packaged with a variety of mini-games and extra power systems such as the cooking system (which allows multi-purpose items to be created without spending hard-earned cash), the weapon customization system (which ensures that you will never make any money selling off your old stuff again, because hey, you never know when it might come in handy in the creation of some rare item!) and the ability to change a character’s overall fighting style and attributes (sometimes by simply changing your given title of nickname). Some of these are strange, some are innovative, and some seem borderline needless, but all of them are welcome, and learning these systems will only allow your characters to kick even more butt in the end.

Another nice feature is the fact that the game saves your progress and your current active quests and subquests in an easily-trackable log, much like in Knights of the Old Republic. If you’re away from the game for a while, looking at that log will quickly get you back into the swing of things and let you know what’s still on your agenda.

Tales, when all is said and done, does more things right than your average RPG; and features things that should already be in your average RPG. This would be enough in and of itself, but wow, look at that—it’s eye-candy, too.

This is one of the few cel-shaded games that looks just as good in motion as it does in still pictures. I’ll avoid the “it looks like you’re playing a cartoon!” cliché this time around, but considering that anime mimicry is this game’s graphical theme, it really shows through here. Heck, the lips even move (and inflect!) in time with the characters voices. Outside of the characters, you’ve got every color of the rainbow here, shining brightly, and then some. Spells flare, swords glint when swung, just about everything is a wondrous spectacle, even in the midst of high-speed battles. I have but two gripes, and they both have to do with the overworld screen. Sometimes the draw-in on the map gets a little annoying, because it’s quite close to your character; also, while it’s great that you can see enemies before battling them (something else that really needs to be standard by now), they probably could have done better than denoting them as simple black blobs. We see actual creatures in the dungeons proper—why not on the map? Still, these do little, to deter from the gameplay and overall appearance.

Remember what I said about animation being the driving theme as far as graphics were concerned? Well, it applies to the sound as well—specifically, the voice-acting. The cartoon-watchers in the audience are going to trip, multiple times, because just about every character is voice by a cartoon VA you’ve heard before (Lloyd’s and Collette’s are the most recognizable for anyone who watches the Teen Titans cartoon series). Namco shelled out major bucks for professional voice talent, and it shows when the time comes for the characters’ feelings and motives to be conveyed to the player. The soundtrack is decent as well, but the voice acting (which hits much more often than it misses) is what really stands out here.

Tales of Symphonia, along with Skies of Arcadia Legends, stand together as the Gamecube’s role-playing tour-de-force (I count Crystal Chronicles as a nice diversion at best. Sorry.). It’s a refreshing take on the role-playing genre with a lot of work and love put into it. Its presentation is top-notch, and it shows that the Gamecube, when given a chance, can really shine with whatever you throw at it.


Buy this sucker. It’s got “diamond in the rough” written all over it.

Score: 9.0/10

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