Tales of Symphonia Review (Gamecube)
Tales of a Good Game
RPGs can be compared to large novels or lengthy films in terms of scope, potentially turning many people off from even attempting them. They are the genre most people will tell you they’ve played while never actually finishing most of them. This kind of thing doesn’t happen with epic must-see films but then again, films aren’t 80 hours long. For me, if I can get into a game within the first few hours there’s a good chance I’ll see it through to the end. Tales of Symphonia is such a RPG.
While the Gamecube is certainly not known for it’s RPGs, Tales of Symphinia is probably one of the better known titles for the system, and there’s a good chance you’ve heard of it already. If you haven’t already explored the epic RPG on Nintendo’s purple box, is it still worth checking out now?
The world of Sylvarant is suffering terrible droughts, storms, and earthquakes due to a steady loss of Mana, the energy source that is needed both for magic and to support life itself for the entire planet. As crops begin to wither and hardship sets in, the people turn their hopes to the Chosen, a servant and messiah of the Goddess Martel, who can reverse the ills of the world by completing the Journey of World Regeneration and transform from being a human into an angel. In order to regenerate the world, the Chosen must travel from continent to continent, awakening the elemental Summon Spririts that sleep at ancient shrines known as “seals.” With every seal released, the Chosen comes closer and closer to becoming an angel. Once the Chosen fully transforms into an angel, the Goddress Martel will bless the world for their kind offering and the world will be regenerated. The Chosen of this generation is Colette Brunel. She travels with main character, her childhood friend and love interest Lloyd Irving, her former schoolteacher and healer Raine Sage, Raine’s younger brother and Lloyd’s best friend Genis, and a mercenary and excellent swordmaster named Kratos Aurion.
As the game progresses, many revelations are made about World Regeneration and the hidden plots that complicate the scenario. To explain more would be to spoil the game’s experience, which is at least half of what makes any RPG worth playing. The plot is overall similar to Camelot’s Golden Sun, so if you liked that game you’ll love this one.
Character models themselves are rather primitive. All characters only have a handful of animations and facial expressions, and all carry a “default” expression of a rather silly smile, which is best ignored as it sometimes can get in the way of the plot.
The game’s handful of animated cutscenes look brilliant, and were but a taste of what we would see in the Tales of Symphonia OVA made many years later.
Technically, the game does unfortunately not support progressive scan, but it still looks rather nice with the rare Gamecube component cable or a Wii with component cables.
On a side note, I’ve always loved the font used in the English release. It’s clear and easily readable, and also slightly stylized.
Tales of Symphonia has one of the best soundtracks in years. From the composer of Tales of Phantasia, Motoi Sakuraba would later go on to create more impressive work in games including Tales of the Abyss, Valkyrite Pofile Lenneth, Eternal Sonata and many more.
The tracks in Symphonia range from your typical action fare to high fantasy music. Thrown into the mix are a few remixes of classic Tales of Phantasia songs including “Fighting of the Spirit“.
As great as the OST is for the English release, a great rift exists between the opening for the International and the Japanese versions. Instead of a rather uninsprited instermental tune, the Japanese version of Tales of Symphonia opens with the absolutely fantastic J-pop song “Starry Heavens” by Japanese band Day After Tomorrow. Check it out now.
In addition to the music, another real strength of Tales of Symphonia is the voice acting. Throughout the entire adventure, every bit of dialogue regarding the plot is fully voiced by a team of professionally trained voice actors that bring the game to life. Even the annoying characters (read: Colette) have excellent voices.
The voice acting truly blew me away when I first heard it as I wasn’t expecting there to be any. See, while it is common in RPGs now, back when ToS was new this was mostly unheard of, espically considering the Gamecube’s 1.5GB storage limit. Admittedly, it is likely because of the the large amount of voice data that Symphonia requires two Gamecube discs in the first place, but the fact remains that Symphonia is one of the most expansive games with a considerable amount of quality voice acting for a 2003 title.
As with most of the other Tales games, Symphonia features non critical casual conversations amongst the party members called “skits”. Skits are accessible by pressing Z when a skit title appears on screen. Each skit consists of gif-life character portraits with a text dialogue appearing below them. Although the Japanese version fully voices these skits, they are sadly silent in the English version. It wouldn’t be until the next Tales games to be localized where we’d finally be treated to voiced skits. There are dozens and dozens of skits throughout the game.
The only real negative about the skits is they only appear once and can only be reaccessed at the very end of the game. The skits proceed automatically wither you’ve read everything or not. Give me some control over this guys!
Tales of Symphonia is a 3D RPG that is heavily rooted in oldschool design; you visit towns and buy items, weapons, armor, travel the land battling monsters to level up and gain money (called Gald in the Tales world) until you reach new towns where you again buy items, weapons and armor while progressing the plot further.
What makes Symphonia different and such a blast to play is that unlike most lengthy RPGs, the battles are real time action based, similar to what you would find in a fighting game or a Beat ’em Up. The Gamecube’s non-existant load times mean battles are quick to engage and once in battle, you can go nuts on enemies unleashing attacks and magical techniques.
Once again Tales games are more unique than other action RPGs as in battle, although you can have up to four characters in your party, you will always be controlling the main character Lloyd only.
See, Symphonia allows full control of your character in real time but at the sacrifice of being able to command your team like chess pieces in Turn Based Strategy RPGs. Instead, the computer AI will take control and give commands to the other three characters as you control your character. The computer will do a fairly good job at deciding what to do and you’ll find that it’s usually okay to let it decide, but you can still go through menus to manually override the AI and give commands if you choose to do so. Alternatively, simply plug in one, two, or three extra controllers to turn Symphonia into a four player RPG! How cool is that?
Symphonia’s battle system itself is extremely similar to the original Tales of Phantasia’s, as even in a 3D space you attack enemies on a 2D plane and input magic commands by pressing B and a direction. Magic points are measured in Technique Points (TP) and are drained whenever you unleash an a Tech move. Unlike just about every other RPG though, TP is partly restored upon victory, or also when you attack enemies with standard, non magic based attacks. A careful balance of both is needed to avoid constantly using items to restore TP.
As the Gamecube controller offers more buttons than previous Tales games on the Super Famicom and Playstation, players can now give command shortcuts to the C-Stick for things like healing, support or attack magic from other party members. Doing this gives Symphonia this amazing amount of control over the party in real time no other RPG has yet matched in my opinion. There’s also a pile on Super Move similar to the one found in the Persona games!
Adding even more depth to the battle system is that Tales of Symphonia encourages and rewards quick, decisive battles by grading the player after each battle withimaginatively enough, Grade points. Grade points are a mostly unused currency that you accumulate over the course of the game and are only used upon the game’s completion.
After you beat this most epic of epic RPGs, you will have the option to play a New Game Plus. The Grade points you’ve accumulated over the course of the game allow certain bonuses to incise players back again for a second playthrough with things like a 1.5 EXP gain so you level up quicker, being able to hold more items, carry over your extensive haul of Gald and more.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say at this point that Symphonia’s battle system is the heart of the game, and why it is so worth playing.
The controls for Tales of Symphonia fit the Gamecube controller wonderfully, and smartly use each button as you would think would make the most sense.
Control Stick: Movement
C-Stick: Move Overworld camera, short cut for up to four Artes (called here “Techs”)
L: Delay Techs
R: Change Target (hold to select a target)
A: Confirm menu choices, advance dialogue, preform basic attacks
B: Cancel menu choices, preform “Tech” magic
Y: Open Menus
Z: Group Attack
Very little can be found to be frustrating about Symphonia due to many smart design choices in development. No matter if you are on the overworld or in a dungeon, all enemies can be seen and thus avoided. There are absolutely no visible load times, the game is for the most part moderately easy as long as you level up regularly, and the game has excellent pacing. There are a few occasional head scratching puzzles, but none that will have you giving up in in frustration.
Availability & Price
Tales of Symphonia is one of the few Gamecube games to retain much of it’s original value. Expect market prices of between $20-35 for the original, or slightly less for the yellow label Player’s Choice version. It is completely playable on a Wii, assuming you also have a Gamecube memory card and a Gamecube controller.
Tales of Symphonia is the direct prequel to the original Tales game, Tales of Phantasia, and is a great starting point if you have never played a Tales game before. Although Tales of Phantasia takes place long after Symphonia, there are many references to names, places and even events of Symphonia present in the original game.
Tales of Symphonia was not the first Tales game to be translated and released in the west, but it was the first to be highly successful, to the point that it appears in just about every top 10 Gamecube game lists you can find. The success of Symphonia spawned a port to the Playstation 2 in Japan, but unfortunately the west was never to see a translation.
Years later, Namco released a sequel called Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World for the Wii, which serves as a better bridge in the time gap between Symphonia and Phantasia. The production staff isn’t the same, and it is generally looked down upon when compared to the other Tales game that was released at the time, Vesperia for the Xbox 360. I’ve yet to finish Dawn of the New World, so I have no real opinion on this matter.
-Excellent Voice Acting
-Extremely likable characters…even Collete will grow on you through the game.
-Good story that fills in connections with Tales of Phantasia, the first Tales game ever made.
-Fun and dynamic active battle system fighting much less of a bore than most turn based RPGs
-No Random enemy encounters, anywhere!
-Quick load times
-Lengthy game time
-Plenty of sidequests
-At times, the graphics can be rather poor, characters rather stiff, issues with framerate and other minor graphical imperfections
-Collette is annoying
-Although it can be played with up to FOUR players, this isn’t really a multiplayer game unless you have a sibling or roommate willing to experience the entire game along with you. Just don’t try pulling Symphonia out at parties.
-Some parts of the story are…dumb
-The improved PS2 version was never released in English
Tales of Symphonia is an absolutely epic RPG and is without a doubt one of the finest games to grace Nintendo’s little indigo box. It largely helped jumpstart Namco’s Tales of series in North America and is fondly remembered for it’s excellent production values. If you don’t already have this one, it’s a great reason to pull out a Gamecube or run a Wii in Gamecube mode.
It has been called the Gamecube Final Fantasy VII. If those words don’t tell you this is a game you must have none will.
Yggdrasill still gets my pick for most bad-ass pretty boy. Dat hair.
Platform: Nintendo Gamecube, Sony Playstation 2 (Japan only)
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: July 13, 2004
Developer: Namco Tales Studios
Also from the developer: Tales of Phantasia, Tales of the Abyss, Tales of Vesperia, Tales of Symphonia 2 Dawn of the New World
Game Length: 80-100 hours
ESRB Rating: T
Buy or skip: Buy