Tales Of Symphonia
Console RPGs seldomly come with something truly innovative or surprising. Just get one male teenager with blonde, pointy hair, an oversized sword and a female side-kick to help him during difficult times. Big, shiny eyes, loads of magic and a story about the end of the world usually do the trick. Tales of Symphonia does just that, but luckily enough in a fantastic manner, with some original elements and by adding some very welcome depth.
ToS is the newest episode in the series “Tales of”, an RPG-series that has a lot less fans over here amongst the mainstream gamers than let’s say Final Fantasy, but is very popular in Japan (where else). This doesn’t form a problem though as the storyline is quite easy to follow without knowing the background.
The adventures aren’t really surprising. We play as Lloyd but actually follow the way of Colette, a love of the Godess Martell, who has to fullfil an ancient predicament by opening a couple of seals that will restore the world to its old self. Due to the constant lowering amount of Mana, necessary for magic and life itself, the world is slowly but steadily heading down a deadly spiral which gets speeded up by the Desians, the bad guys in this game who want to get rid of the inhabitants of Sylvarant. It speaks for itself that you get help from your class mates, mercs and a bunch of magic users.
The storyline is told but cut-scene movies that use the engine, or by in-game dialogues that are done with suiting voice-acting but can be skipped if you want. Also extra conversations between the characters can be followed if you want and an icon will show the presence of such a dialogue. It can be activated by pressing the Z-button but sadly enough these are pretty static and can’t be skipped once activated. I quickly left these where they are so I could proceed faster in the game.
What immediately gets noticed in the positive sense, is the world that the gamecube in a convincing way manages to show on your screen: loving surroundings, beautiful houses, atmosphere, lots of colors and detailed finishing of flowers and characters. These latter were created through a cell-shading technique which makes thme look like a Manga character. Often this procedure is used whether or not the game would benefit from it but this time the graphics are really meant for this game. Except some strange effects due to the blurring technique you just have to be charmed by the visual aspect of Tales of Symphonia.
An RPG isn’t complete without lots of underground dungeons and a world map. Both are easily wandered through and what seemed strange to me at first but in the end was quite handy is that you can avoid enemy encounters if you want. Groups of villains and other vermin are shown by a figure (a worm f.i.) that moves over the screen. If you choose, you can walk around those in a wide angle and won’t have to fight which can save you some time. However, you will also loose the chance to gain some experience and levels, something you’ll need to win the final bossfights and survive key scenes. Still, these possibilities for choice are a good idea.
Another refreshing things is the “long range mode” where you can cross a large amount of ground quick and easy without loosing too much time with fights that are only meant to fill time. Especially in ToS this is handy since the world from the beginning can be quite completely explored even though you can’t do much at certain places at the start of the game. Very realistic but quite frustrating though as you can end up with a pretty unexperienced team in a dungeon filled with deadly monsters. I don’t need to tell you that this can end up quite painful.
Fighting is done in the typical 2D-style of the game. The confrontations are always fun, very quick and filled with action for the genre and at the same time easy to learn and deep enough to stay interesting. You have complete control over (mostly) Lloyd while the other members of your group kick ass on themselves. The A.I. of your fellow mates is truly amazing and you can set up the necessary so that they’ll do exactly what you expect them to do: melee attacks, stay behind, heal automatically, attack your enemy or concentrate on that opponent that you aren’t taking care of, and so on… To get everything out of this you’ll need to adjust these setting regularly depending on the adversary you want to take on.
You yourself can move forward and backwards from your opponent and in the mean time attack with the A-button (standard attack) and block with the very important X-button. To create some variation and spectacly (and of course damage points) there’s the B-button that controls the “Special Tech”-attacks. In combination with the thumbstick you can choose which of the pre-set special attacks you want to use. You’ll have to balance your attacks and defense well during the hectic fights if you want to get rid of the sometimes gigantically strong bosses.
As stated it doesn’t stay with these basic moves, you have some extra possibilities like the “Unison Attacks” where each party member will conduct a special move if you manage to do the correct button combination in a certain amount of time. However, you first have to fill a meter before you can use these during a fight. Next to that you can also call in the help of spirits, if you’ve found them and made them a friend. This should be enough of an explanation to tell you you won’t get bored when you need to take the sword at hand again.
Next to the many fighting, the exploring of dungeons and travelling through the land of Sylvarant you’ll also have to solve a puzzly now and then. Often with the help of a special ring that has changing properties depending on the situation that needs to be solved. A nice variation that never becomes frustratingly difficult and keeps the whole balanced. Other RPG-elements are amongst others the art of cooking, where you have to make nice appetisers with all sorts of ingredients and recepies. Also you can individualise your weapons. You can’t do that yourself though, your task is limited to collecting the necessary basic materials which you have to give to an NPC who will do the rest.
Next to the many potions and items is pleasant to see this console game has also done its best to bring enough depth to the gameplay. Don’t expect the most detailed and complex game ever though as that isn’t the ambition of the makers, bringing accessible entertainment on the other hand is.
Namco’s Tales of Symphonia is an accessible console-RPG with charming graphics, good sound and appealing gameplay, due to the necessary depth in the fights and the classic RPG-elements. Next to the standard story with obligatory plot twists and fun characters there’s enough fresh idea’s to keep the whole interesting until the end. That’s necessary because you get quite a lot of playing time: the two discs will keep you occupied for over 60 hours before the ending credits will roll over your TV screen. If you’re a fan of the genre and you have a Gamecube, you can’t let this laying around. If you don’t yet have a Gamecube but are looking for a fun RPG then this, together with Paper Mario 2, can be enough reason to get that GC.