What do you get when you mix the GameCube with a traditional RPG from the likes of Namco? The answer: a gay ol’ time. At least that’s been my experience with the newest entry into Namco’s niche popular Tales series, Tales of Symphonia. I’ve been gayin’ it up old-school style for going on just over 60 hours now and the only reason I stopped was because of time. Time. Stupid time. Deadlines. Stupid deadlines. So now I don’t get to play the game. I get to talk about it. Which is not nearly as fun. But, whatever.
Tales of Symphonia is a lot like Grandia 2, which is one of the best RPGs this side of Final Fantasy, in my opinion. The towns and environments share the same woodsy, cartoony yet organic feeling as G2. The combat system is similar in terms of dynamic grid positioning, allowing you to attack multiple enemies simultaneously with a single attack and vice versa. Voiceovers are only present during particularly relevant cutscenes. The list goes on. Yes, Tales of Symphonia is most similar to Grandia 2. Though keep in mind, I haven’t played any of the previous Tales games, so I’m speaking strictly from personal experience.
Quick rundown of the story:
You play as a guy named Lloyd, a kid, like 17 years of age. He’s not that bright but the heart of a warrior has he.
Lloyd must lead the ‘Chosen One’ on a quest of World Regeneration due to the lack of Mana in their world of Sylvarant.
The Chosen One, or Collette, is kind of like the love interest in the game, or at least the closest thing to it. They don’t ‘get it on’ or anything or whatever.
This journey of World Regeneration consists of Collette slowly being transformed into an angel. She must lose all her humanity and essentially sacrifice herself on behalf of the world.
But is Sylvarant the only world influenced by Mana? No, it is not. There is another world at stake here too.
Stuff like that.
The story isn’t the best, but it’s plenty adequate to keep you interested. And if the story isn’t to your fancy, then the combat system will be. Here’s where the game shines the brightest. Like a blinding ball of brilliant white light, the combat system will keep you mesmerized for hours and hours. And hours. Tales of Symphonia is a very long game. Like, pfff, super ass long. I was planning on completing the game before I wrote this, but that obviously ain’t gonna happen now. Yah, it’s long.
And fun! It’s truly a, ermmm, long and fun game. Hehe. Let’s talk about the combat system for a moment, shall we? It’s real-time, first of all. You almost always have four characters in your party that are on-screen in battle, though you can only directly control one at a time. Slapping the A button makes your character perform standard slashes with whatever weapon they have equipped. Hitting the B button performs special attacks that require MP. And tilting the analog stick in various directions along with the slapping or hitting of said buttons results in an assortment of different moves and combinations. The action is fast and frenetic, like a 2D vs fighting game, sorta. You assign different behaviors to your compadres and they act accordingly, casting offensive spells, healing, providing support, etc. There are a lot of AI algorithms to choose from so it’s all good.
There’s more to it then that though. Lots of crazy dynamics go into play when in combat mode. Spells can be interrupted with melee attacks or other spells. You can pause the action at any time to access a turn-based style menu, giving you access to spells, special moves and such, and items. Multiple enemies can be damaged with single attacks. Blocking, oh yeah! You can block. Hitting X blocks. You’ll do that a lot. It’s all very functional and responsive and most importantly, FUN.
You’ll visit various towns. Stay at their inns, of which there are usually more than one. Buy goods. Upgrade your weapons and armor. Chat up the local townsfolk. It’s all very traditional and down-home, only refined and better. This is a genre that, while remaining largely the same through countless iteration, is improving considerably from year to year and miraculously only gets better and better despite, or perhaps because of, the familiarities.
The game will drop hints every now and then, giving you direction if you seem to be meandering about for extended durations. At least, it did that for me, once. Towards the beginning of the game, I was meandering about and going in the opposite direction of the town I needed to go to in order to progress the storyline and a cutscene popped up between the main character and a supporting character where the supporting character explained exactly that; he was all “I see you’ve been going in the opposite direction you need to go, we should be heading south” or something to that effect. To me, something like that is worth mentioning. I mean, have you ever played an RPG that did that before? No, you haven’t.
The above description was a reference to what the game calls ‘skits’. These are optional little dialogue transactions that you can witness between your party members. Occasionally a little Z icon will appear in the lower right hand side of the screen, hitting the Z button will prompt a skit. These dialogues add a lot to the enjoyment of the game by giving you insight into your characters and their personalities and their unique social dynamics between each other and, like I said, they can also prove to be quite useful in what task at hand you have, ermm, in your hand, or, rather … ummm … they’ll help you do stuff, and stuff, or something.
Visually, Tales of Symphonia is a great looking game. It’s all in 3D and lacks the artificial polish of some RPGs lush 2D backdrops, but it still looks great overall. I thought it particularly impressive that the developer went to the trouble of immaculately detailing the rooms in the inn, despite the fact that unless you manually open the individual room doors and walk in, you’ll never actually see them. (When you stay at an inn, you immediately reappear at the front desk the next morning.) Even going so far as to insert NPC characters with their own back stories and personalities in locations that aren’t even necessary to be in. Mind you, all this is very optional and only pertains to the inns, which as you may guess, is but a single facet of the experience. Loading times between areas are nearly instant. Enemy encounters usually take a maximum of 30 seconds to wrap up. These facts, and others, are reasons that you’ll rarely feel, if ever, that the game drags on.
The sound presentation is above average, but nothing to write home to your moogle about. The soundtrack is fitting and gracefully sits in the background without even thinking about getting in the way. There is a wide cast of voice actors at the helm, solidly delivering lines with appropriate inflection and tone, though it’s kinda odd to see the characters, with their perpetually smiling faces, deliver lines like “that monster just destroyed my village” or “Collette, you’re bleeding!” or “I swear you will suffer for killing my mother!” Yah, they always smile. It’s weird.
Overall, Tales of Symphonia is the best RPG I’ve played all summer. I love that I’m loving an RPG on the GameCube. Now, to wrap this up. What to say. What to say. I really just wanna get back to playing the game, so I’m gonna make this short. Ok. Ummmm. Screw it.