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Tales of Symphonia Package Art
 GENRE
  RPG
 DEVELOPER
  Namco
 PUBLISHER
  Namco
 NUMBER OF PLAYERS
  1-4
 CONNECTIVITY
  no
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Tales of Symphonia

The long awaited GameCube role-playing game, Tales of Symphonia, has finally hit our shores. It has been an amazing year and a half, but we’ve made it all this way and finally have our hands on the game itself. For those of you who may not have been following the development cycle of Namco’s popular Tales series, Tales of Destiny and Tales of Destiny II were both released on the PSOne, several years ago. These two titles were met with some rather dismal reviews, especially the former, but still held the interest of RPG aficionados everywhere. The refreshing play mechanics and gripping storyline were great to break the ice of the usual random battle, turn-based gaming you’d find in the other RPGs that had saturated the market.

Enter Tales of Symphonia, the third title in the series to come stateside. Originally titled Tales of Phantasia, this game is easily one of the most anticipated RPGs on the Nintendo GameCube. With good reason, as well, because the amazing anime-inspired visuals and enthralling battle system have awaited gamers on the other side of the pacific for quite some time. Has it been worth the wait? Absolutely, without a doubt and, in all other terms of the phrase, yes!

visuals

Namco has used a graphics engine that most of us are already familiar with since the release of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Tales of Symphonia uses a powerful cel-shading engine which rivals Nintendo’s own masterpiece from last year. While the concept of cel-shading is still controversial, most gamers have already grown accustomed to it partly due to the success of The Wind Waker and party due to this game in particular.

It truly is amazing to see a game like this with a heavy influence on anime-based culture. The creating of the characters within a story like this is a very delicate process and the quality surrounding the entire world found inside of the game is just spellbinding. It doesn’t hurt that the character design is so close to genius it’s scary, though. Characters like Lloyd, Presea, and even Colette are each very colorful and unique.

The environments in this title are just beautiful, filled with life and personality. Cities always seem like thriving metropolises, desolate slums or somewhere in the middle. Other areas such as dungeons or other quest sites showcase some amazingly detailed work. It’s always a treat to walk into a new area just to see what it’s going to look like. Much like many other critics, there is the problems inside of the overfield, wherein your characters travel across the world map from location to location. The detail here is minimal at best and the camera can get fairly irritating. These problems hardly affect anything within the gameplay, but it is still worth mentioning.

audio

Tales of Symphonia breaks all the barriers when it comes to audio. The sound effects are produced brilliantly, but not as exciting as the more important aspects of the role-playing game genre: Music. Motoi Sakuraba does a phenomenal job of bringing the universe to life with rhythmic battle music and beautiful suites that captures the raw emotion and power of the storyline beautifully. You may recognize his work from Nintendo’s own Golden Sun series on the Game Boy Advance. He’s also working on composing Namco’s upcoming GameCube RPG, Baten Kaitos. Hopefully we’ll hear even more of his work in the future because it really is a stunning composition.

Along with the great sound effects and music, we’re also treated to some rather quality voice acting to go along with the great translation of the storyline. Lloyd, the male lead, is portrayed by the exuberant Scott Menville, who plays Robin on the Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans. He does an excellent job of working Lloyd into the story and hardly misses a beat. It’s hard to follow a plot like this and not over do it, but Scott does a fabulous job. Other contributers such as Cam Clarke (Liquid Snake; Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes) and Jennifer Hale (Alexandra Roivas; Eternal Darkness) follow their characters to the T and offer some great depth within the storyline. Of course, one could not forget the always enjoyable and incomparable Tara Strong who makes gold from all that she touches. After the performances she’s done as Raven in Teen Titans and of course Bubbles in The Powerpuff Girls, it’s no doubt that she’s nailed her part in Tales of Symphonia as the soft-spoken Presea. Call us!

gameplay

The experience had while playing Tales of Symphonia is, for lack of a better word, breathtaking. The depth and majesty of this title is like nothing we could have ever wished to grace the GameCube with its presence. Without touching too much upon the storyline, one could easily say that it follows the standard clichés and practically mimics Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy X within the first fifteen hours or so. What makes this storyline so much better than all the others is that the player can sympathize with practically every protagonist in the game, whether it be the dashing young fighter Lloyd, the charismatic cretin Zelos, or the silent but deadly Presea. The player feels something towards well-implemented characters like these which makes the quest to the end even that much more enjoyable. That’s what makes a plot that great; it isn’t necessarily the devices or dialogue, but the characters. After all, what good is a terrific back-story if you just don’t care what’s happening to these people? Speaking of dialogue, though, throughout the game you can activate skits, which are short conversations between the members of your party on particular current events. This is a nifty idea, but the pacing is shockingly slow and offers no voice work. Not a huge complaint, since you obviously have the option of not activating them at all.

As far as the play mechanics go, role-playing games have always been known for random battles and turn-based or active-time gameplay. Such is not the case here. In fact, random battles are a dying breed proven by Square-Enix’s upcoming Star Ocean: Till the End of Time on the PS2. Even Final Fantasy XII is getting rid of the random battles found predominately throughout the series. Tales of Symphonia takes one of the biggest steps in this regard and allows the player to view where potential threats are so that players can easily make their way around the enemy. Gamers who didn’t care for Sega’s Skies of Arcadia Legends’ every-two-steps-is-a-battle should be pleasantly treated in this title.

Speaking of the battles, Namco usually uses something called the Active Linear Motion Battle System within the Tales series. This was all well and good in the hand-drawn, two-dimensional era of the series, but times have changed. Today, we have the (wait for it) ML-LMBS. This stands for Multi-Line Linear Motion Battle System. Don’t worry; it isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds. As you control your characters in either semi-auto or manual modes, you’ll be able to attack multiple targets simply by swinging your pointy metal stick at them. You can easily just continue performing combination maneuvers on your target, but the real fun is the tech skills. By assigning a tech skill to a direction on your analog stick along with the B button, you’ll be able to pull of some devastating attacks on your opponent. This is especially useful in boss battles. Even more useful in these battles is blocking. Learn to love the block button, or the bosses in this game will cream you, spread you on a sandwich and consume your creaminess. You can also have slight control over the other party members by assigning them to perform certain skills or use items.

The battle system doesn’t end there, since it goes beyond just fancy acronyms and leveling up your party. It delves much deeper into the overall play mechanics of the game. As you advance through each battle, you’ll receive a bonus to your Grade, which all depends on your skill as a fighter. As your Grade becomes higher, you can trade some of your Grade in for special items or simply continue to increase it. You can also receive special titles either in combat or through side-quests in the game. These help boost certain aspects of your character’s statistics and can be extremely helpful overall.

Now, most of you are wondering exactly how long Tales of Symphonia is. Taking into account the amount of side-quests, skits, and other diversions, the average gamer may spend anywhere around 40-45 hours on the main quest alone if they don’t stray from the path. If you decide to do absolutely everything and search every nook and cranny, there’s no reason that you can’t get away with up to 70-80 hours of gameplay. This is easily one of the longest titles on the GameCube and will keep your thumbs rattling for many weeks to come.

multiplayer

The Tales series is most notable for bringing functional multiplayer to life within a role-playing game. Traditionally, RPGs are strictly single-player experiences since there is so much riding on the cinematic storyline and long, drawn out quests. However, you and up to three buddies can control one of the four members of your party within each battle. This feature is available from the start and offers plenty of incentive to have your friends come over and check out just how great this game really is. It isn’t much, but it’s a lot more fun to level up this way rather than by yourself. That being said, it’s better than nothing.

overall

Tales of Symphonia is obviously the best role-playing game on the Nintendo GameCube today. I’ve had the pleasure of playing through and reviewing games like Summoner: A Goddess Reborn, Skies of Arcadia Legends, and Evolution Worlds, but Namco’s masterpiece definitely takes the proverbial cake. The charming storyline, the captivating characters and the amazingly fun battle system all puts together one of the best RPGs on the market. When all is said and done, this game has easily broken its way onto my top ten favorite RPGs of all time. With that said, if you own a GameCube, there’s absolutely no reason you should not pick this game up. It is certainly not perfect and I deeply, deeply wish I could have given it a perfect ten, but what’s perfect nowadays? If you’re looking for anything closer to perfect, you’ll be holding onto your fifty dollars a lot longer than you’d expect. To put it simply, this is easily the closest to perfect I’ve seen on the GameCube. The best advice I can give to you is buy this game. Buy it now. A GameCube without Tales of Symphonia might as well be naked.

final score 9.8/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar Austin Starr
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"If life's not beautiful without the pain / well I'd just rather never ever even see beauty again"


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