I’m a huge Japanese role-playing nut. My phone is filled with JRPG battle themes and there was a point in my life when all I could play were JRPGS. I just generally love Japanese culture. Every single platform I own I have a JRPG in my collection of games. From Chaos Rings on my mobile phone to Valkyria Chronicles on PlayStation 3, I just can’t get enough of them. But there are some games that have eluded me over the years. I never really had a GameCube growing up so I missed out on a few awesome games. One of them was Tales of Symphonia.
This was supposedly the game that really put the series on the map and laid the foundation for the 3D games to follow. Now after many years and many ‘Tales of’ games later, I finally have a chance to see where it began with an HD remaster consisting of not only of the original Tales of Symphonia but it’s Wii sequel as well all on one disc.
The game takes place in a world known as Sylvarant where its land and people are sustained by an energy force known as mana provided by a giant tree. This limitless flow of mana however gave rise to magi-technology which caused a great war to break out. The war depleted the Mana supply thus causing the tree to wither and die. The angels, servants of the Goddess Martel, thus gave birth to a chosen human who will journey out into Sylvarant to regenerate the world and save humanity.
You take control of Lloyd Irving, a dim-witted yet earnest individual. One of your closest friends was born as the next chosen and you set out with her along with several other people on this journey to save the world. While the story does seem to be fairly cliché, halfway through the game the story really kicks off and it spins a web of lies and deceit that will have you hooked until the end, but it’s the characters themselves that really drives the story forward. If it’s one thing that really deters me from playing a game, is a cast of weak characters that are totally unrelatable.
However, I found myself growing to love each and every member of this jolly world-saving crew. The chosen one, Colette is one of the clumsiest characters I’ve ever seen, but her sweet and kind hearted nature and dedication to her duty made me genuinely want to protect her and keep her safe. Whereas our main protagonist Lloyd is extremely hot-headed and dense but has a strong sense of justice and is actually quite funny. Each character in this game is really well written and has a likeable personality which makes this 50-hour adventure really enjoyable.
Tales of Symphonia is your typical JRPG. You’ll travel from town to town, battle enemies in dungeons and trek across a huge overworld. Where the game really shines though is in all the extra meat surrounding the norm. Dungeons are extremely well designed with a number of puzzles to help keep each location fresh and engaging. Towns are bustling with NPCs to interact with and some even offer little mini-games which awards you with certain items should you be successful. There are even dialogue choices that affect how certain scenes are played out and those choices extend even further into branching paths that you can take early on in the game. While these choices are obviously not as grand as say Mass Effect’s, they are welcome and do make you feel like you are influencing parts of the story in some way.
The main draw of the series has always been its battle system, and while it has evolved over the years reaching near perfection in Graces f and Xillia, it is in no way any less fun. Battles are real-time and take place on a 3D plane but your character can only ever move on a 2D one meaning you can only move left or right. The free running mechanic was only introduced in later titles, so while battles does take place in a 3D environment , it still feels very much like Tales of Destiny or Eternia, which is in no way a bad thing.
You have your standard 3-4 hit combo which can be linked to a number of skills. Each skill can be mapped to a combination of the circle button plus one of the directional buttons and it has an associated level attached to it which not only determines its strength but also where in the combo chain it can be used. For example, you can start out by attacking the enemy with a standard 4 hit combo and on the final hit you can activate and link a skill of any level.
However, you can’t spam that skill as there is a recovery animation before you can use start attacking again but you can combo a higher level skill from a lower level one so a level 1 skill can be linked into a level 2 skill and so forth. The other party members are controlled by the AI (they can also be controlled by another human player which is a neat feature) which does a competent enough job of getting things done but you can also set up certain tactics for each member to follow such as prioritizing healing over attacking. You can also open up a menu during battle to manually select a command to give to a certain character.
Battles require you to be aware of your enemies in order to dodge or guard accordingly. Guarding has two forms; one is effective against physical attacks and the other against magical attacks. Knowing what type of guard to use when is a very important skill that will save your behind on more than one occasion. There is also something called Overlimit which is a state that a character goes into after taking a certain amount of damage. During this state damage is lessened and enemy attacks cannot knock you back or down. On top of all the above mechanics, there is also Unison Attacks, which is a powerful move that can be activated once the Unison bar is filled where you can activate skills from each character in an all-out attack at no extra cost to your TP (Technical Points).
There is a surprisingly deep battle system in this game but normal battles does boil down to button mashing at times. There is also a harder difficulty mode if you’re looking for more of a challenge. While normal battles are cake-walks, the difficulty of boss battles spikes tremendously in later parts of the game and you really have to hone your reflexes if you hope to have any chance of survival.
There is not much in the way of customization in this game though. Besides your usual equipment, skills are learnt automatically during battles and there are titles which characters can earn by meeting certain criteria that boost certain stats during battle and when a character levels up. Tales of Symphonia does however have what is called the EX gem system which is never really explained properly and it’s quite annoying as it is a bit of a complicated system.
Each character has 4 EX slots in which they can equip EX gems. Each EX gem comes in 4 levels and each gem has 4 different skills. Once you equip a gem you can never remove it and that slot is filled until you overwrite that one with another EX gem. Each skill that a gem provides doesn’t really do much on its own, but if you have certain skills equipped they’ll form what is known as Compound Skills which grants much better advantages such as increased mobility in battles and being able to run faster in towns. Added to all of this, each skill also has a type, S or T. When you have a majority of a certain type of skill equipped you will learn skills in either the T or S category, but this means little to the player as you don’t know really what type better suits the character at first. This is a neat little system but it does require some experimentation.
This game was released in 2003, and even though the visuals have been remastered, it obviously doesn’t look as good as some of the newer titles. This is especially apparent on the world map where things look particularly jarring. That said, this is by no means an ugly game. Towns and characters are brimming with colour and the world really feels alive. While character animation is quite stiff, they still look good and manage to bring their persona to life. The voice acting is neither here nor there. I wasn’t too fond of the English voice acting, but if you’re like me and prefer the Japanese audio then you’re in for a tasty treat.
Tales of Symphonia Chronicles features a dual audio option for voices that you can change on the fly. I played the majority of the game with the Japanese voices on as I felt it portrayed much more emotion than its English counterpart. I loved having this option and it was a major plus for me. The music was serviceable and falls into the typical Sakuraba territory, with a few exceptional songs, such as Fighting of the Spirit, but it does a great job of invoking those old nostalgic feelings.
Tales of Symphonia is an excellent JRPG and even though the graphics are a bit dated, its story and gameplay has stood the test of time and is testament to solid video game design. If you’ve never played any game in the series or like me you’ve missed out on this one, now is the time to go out and get this gem. The sequel however, is a different beast altogether…