Tales of Symphonia
by Polly



RPGs, like anime, are an absolutely fucking saturated market nowadays. Believe it or not, there used to be a time when Squaresoft was actually a good company that put out decent games. Believe it or not, there used to be a time when you only had one or two games to look forward to a year if you were into RPGs. Believe it or not, you were lucky if you could find one other person in your city besides you that actually enjoyed RPGs or even heard of them for that matter. Yes, RPGs, like anime, used to actually be good. Then along came Final Fantasy VII. The game that changed console RPGs forever. I enjoyed the hell out of Final Fantasy VII, and I think it's one of the best PSX RPGs (if not games), but it opened the floodgates and created this insane fandom that has singlehandedly ruined me on RPGs (like anime). Final Fantasy fanboys/girls are the scum of the fucking Earth (like anime fanboys/girls). And yes, I think they should die too. Mindless Japnophile fucks.

Since Square fell off the wagon (beginning with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within), it's been on other companies' shoulders to release RPGs that are actually good. Namco has been one of the few companies to actually do that. Their "Tales of" Series (having roots on the SNES) has spawned quite a few great chapters. Tales of Destiny on the PSX was a really amazing, action-packed, and well done RPG that carried its nostalgic look over to the 32-bit world. Tales of Destiny 2 (Tales of Eternia for you Japanophile fucks), was a damn fine follow-up that, like its predecessors, didn't quite gain the attention it deserved in the States due to lack of promotion and probably because it didn't look as flashy as the games it was up against. Tales of Symphonia for GameCube had been out quite a while before it was announced for the states and for some time it didn't look as if the game would even make it. Well, it was released last year, and the wait was well worth it.

Tales of Symphonia is a game that remains pretty faithful to its roots. It's chock full of deliciously vibrant backgrounds, interesting characters, a long and well-told story (even though it's extremely cliche), and the same real-time battle system that fans of the series should be extremely familliar with. You play the part of Lloyd, and to make a long story short, it's your job to escort "The Chosen" around the world, because it's her job to save it. Thankfully the story doesn't remain this simple, as you get dragged kicking and screaming into many, many (read: many) side quests that help introduce new characters, and help you get to know them even more. There are your typical twists and turns along the way and I really enjoyed every one of them. The characters really bring out this simple storyline and make it shine by having personalities that are very memorable, causing you to really become attatched in some cases.

All the characters are very well cast in terms of their voice actors. Everyone sounds like they should and all of them give fairly good performances. Some of the emotional stuff feels a little forced at times, but thank god there's no "HA! HA! HA! LETS LAUGH!" Final Fantasy X bullshit.

The audio all around is pretty good. I'm usually not much on videogame soundtracks, but I really enjoyed the tunes that Tales of Symphonia has to offer. Lots of cool synth and orchestral kinda stuff mixed with some techno-rock-ish material for the areas it's appropriate in.

Tales of Symphonia's graphics are very pleasing to the eyes. Characters are very flashy looking with that anime style and backgrounds are just beautifully vibrant. Even in the darkest of areas, the colors always stand out so well, while still conveying that where you're at is dark. All the characters are cel-shaded, which I thought was appropriate as they fit in so well with the environments. They don't display a whole lot of animation. Just some basic facial expressions, normal walking, and some gestures, but they get the job done just fine. Graphics in combat are just as flashy. Enemies are huge and exaggerated, special attacks are animated very nicely, and magic spells just flood the screen with bright flashy colors that aren't really that distracting at all. My only complaint is that in dungeons and during cutscenes there's a lot of blurring on portions of the screen for things that aren't even really supposed to be out of focus. Looks kinda ugly and muddy to me.

The game moves along at an okay pace. You're not pounded into submission with 30+ minute cutscenes. Instead you're fed bits and pieces of the story after every dungeon or so, making it feel very old-school. And you'll visit quite a few towns and dungeons. Towns all have their own personality and charm, and dungeons are nicely put together relying on the series' tradition of solving puzzles, then fighting big ass bosses to progress. The puzzles range from fairly simple to being mild brain-teasers. Nothing you're gonna tear your hear out over, but you will have to rattle your brain in a few places.

Tales of Symphonia's combat has you controlling one character, while the computer takes control of the other three in your party. And surprisingly, it does a damn good job of it too. You can give your party members lots of different commands on how to partake in battle, such as healing only or all out attack, and you can change those commands on the fly during battle to best suit your situation. All the combat happens in real time. You control your character's movement and all of their attacks. Special attacks and spells can be mapped to the D-Pad and C-Stick for easy access and setting up the right combination of attacks can lead to some hideously long and damaging combos. Characters also have Unity Attacks with one another once certain conditions have been met that do insane damage and light up the screen with tons of graphical flair. The whole combat package is just fun, and a hell of a wonderful departure from turn-based nonsense.

Tales of Symphonia doesn't do a whole lot that other RPGs haven't done already, but it manages to do all of those things right. It's not an overblown Final Fantasy-esque production, but the storyline and combat are engaging enough to make it a damn good buy especially since the price has dropped significantly.






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