Review: Tales Of Symphonia (Nintendo Gamecube)

Tales of Symphonia (GCN)
Genre: Roleplaying Game
Platform: Gamecube
Rating: Teen
Publisher: Namco
Designer: Namco

If there is one thing Gamecube owners everywhere could agree on I think we all know what it is: the lack of RPG’s for the system in comparison to other consoles out there, and even Nintendo’s own handheld, the GBA. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Gamecube as much as the next person, but I have always been a bit puzzled as to why Nintendo has always been so poor in the RPG element in the last two generations of systems. Part of it, surely, has to do with poor 3rd party development. The other part of it, in my humble opinion, is Nintendo’s reliance on its crutches: Mario, Link, Samus, etc. Personally the second reason there never bothered me much. I’m a huge fan of most of Nintendo’s top tier franchises. It’s one of the side effects of growing up with them I suppose. The first reason, though, has always bugged me. Luckily, though, change may be in the wind for supporters of the big N. Namco, a major 3rd party developer, has a few RPG’s that are going to be exclusive to the Cube and our subject for this review is the first one to come down the pipe: the long awaited Tales of Symphonia. This game is the first piece of meat thrown to the RPG starved Cube owners in quite some time and I have to say it’s pretty damn impressive, and definitely gives me hope for the future of the RPG genre on the Cube. So let’s get in-depth here and see just how Tales of Symphonia stacks up.

1. Story

The story that Tales of Symphonia tells is entertaining, I will not dispute that. It does; however, suffer from predictability and cliche developments that any RPG fan will see coming a mile away. Basically you are in the world of Sylvarant, and in this world the humans are always under attack by half elves who call themselves Desians. These halfings believe themselves to be above humans, hence the attacking, and subsequent enslavement that happens to some humans. The catch is that these half elves are seriously more powerful than humans, and as a result the battles really aren’t that much of a contest and mankind is pushed to the brink. However hope exists in the form of a girl named Collete, who is the Chosen. As you can guess Collete is the one who can stop the miscarriage of justice here, and in the process is the savior of mankind. You play Lloyd, who with friends, serve as Collete’s protector and escort on this journey. From there you can pretty much guess that the party adventures onward, fighting evil and making things safer for mankind in the process. Along the way you’ll meet more people, and you’ll get a pretty interesting mixture of characters when it’s all said and done.

While what I wrote above may seem a bit dry, it really isn’t. You have to experience the story firsthand to see that it really is decent and entertaining, and certainly on par with some of the better RPG’s out there today. The characters are interesting, although sometimes a bit annoying. However, when you remember that they are only supposed to be young teenagers it makes a bit more sense, since honestly, how many thirteen year olds would be mature and stoic when it comes to saving mankind? The story is just flat out good, and while no where near original, it still manages to entertain.

Overall Story Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

Ok, allow me to just say this right off the bat: Very rarely (read: never before) has a game impressed me so much graphically like Tales of Symphonia has. Now, given my love for Japanese animation, this really doesn’t come as a surprise to me. The cel-shading style of graphics used for this game are stunning. Every character is beautifully done up right down to the smallest detail. I was also impressed with the clarity that the characters, and indeed the entire world of Tales of Symphonia comes through in. Sharpness isn’t even a question here, because everything is so alive in terms of color and detail that I definitely found myself making comparisons to some of the more decently done anime shows I watch out there. My favorite part of the graphics though has to be the backgrounds. I’ve always been a sucker for backgrounds that have that realistic/painted look to them, and Tales of Symphonia does not disappoint me, because no matter the atmosphere or current environment your currently at in Tales it all still looks gorgeous and if you don’t stop to admire it then you will be missing out on one of the Cube’s greatest graphical achievements yet.

The cutscenes, as you would expect, raise the bar even more. The graphics of the actual in-game play and the cutscenes flow together seamlessly and make everything just that much better when a cinema pops up. Watching the cinemas is a treat, because while great cinemas are commonplace in games these days, it’s always nice to see a game done up in cel-shading get some high quality treatment. So, yeah, in short it’s pretty damn obvious that I loved the graphics of this game. If we lived in a world where games were judged on that point alone (and oddly some of you do, in fact, live in such a bizarre world), this game would get a perfect score from me. Still, even when you look at Tales objectively and completely it still stacks up very well, as we shall see.

Overall Graphics Rating: 10/10

3. Sound

Tales of Symphonia delivers some decent tunes that will keep you into the game, but will not stick in your head the way great soundtracks do. Still, it’s hard to find fault with Namco here, because these days many games have such bad sound quality, and here they really have done a nice job of providing a decent soundtrack for a big Gamecube release. It’s good music for Tales, and most of the time I thought it was very fitting for the current mood of the game. Sometimes I found myself a bit annoyed by a couple songs, but it happened very rarely. Ultimately, my philosophy about music in games is that if it doesn’t take me out of the game, or distract me from the gameplay process I’m perfectly fine with it. Tales doesn’t do either of those at all, and as a bonus actually has some really great moments musically.

The voice acting is also decent, which is more then I had hoped for. Voice acting is usually very hit or miss in video games, and any game that actually delivers some decent talent in terms of the VA’s definitely has a lot going for it. Overall the sound is definitely of a good quality, while still falling a bit short of great. I think the best way to describe it is by calling it well-rounded, and it fits in with the overall feel of the game very nicely.

Overall Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control

It’s interesting how you battle in Tales of Symphonia. As you transverse the overworld you will get in battles by seeing enemies (represented by blob like images) and then when you run into them you start a battle with a more detailed look at the enemies. When you battle you can control only one of your party members, but you can choose which one to really get a feel for everyone. I found myself using Lloyd the most, since it is always fun to hack and slash your enemies to bits. But if magic is your weapon of choice then you can do that as well, and of course other different skills that other characters have. A cool feature of this battle system is that if you have some friends over they can control the other members of your party for some more interesting (and ultimately more kick ass) gameplay.

The dungeons in the game do not function exactly the same as the overworld. Instead of blobs the enemies are represented by more accurate graphics, but the battling style remains the same. It’s addictive, fun, and even when you’re leveling yourself up it doesn’t get repetitive due to the very nature of the way you fight. It is pretty original when you consider the normal battling systems of RPG’s. It makes you become very active in the actual gameplay process, because if you do not pay attention you will not get off lightly. This game is definitely not as easy as today’s gamers may be used to, and as a result you need to keep your head in it at all times. Overall, the controls of this game are very engaging, yet not hard to learn and understand once you put some time into it. The controls fit Tales of Symphonia very well, and show that Namco definitely has the right idea here.

Overall Control Rating: 7/10

5. Balance

This is not an RPG for beginners. It’s not a game you can go into and just breeze you way to victory without any real thought process. You will need to train and plan out what you need to do once you know what’s going on in whatever part of the game you’re in. I like that though, a lot. If there is one thing I complain about (and if you read my Xevious review you know what’s coming here) it’s the babyish way gamers are handled these days by some developers in terms of difficultly. Tales of Symphonia doesn’t leave the gloves on, and it makes you earn your victories. If you don’t prepare sufficiently there are more then enough bosses in this game who will smack you around and send you back to train some more. So, I’ll say it as plainly as possible: if you hate challenges and like your games as nothing more then pretty graphic orientated messes then this game is not even remotely for you. However, if you are a RPG fan who owns a Cube and desperately wants a great RPG for that system then this is definitely for you. It’s challenging, fun, and when you lose, it just fires you up even more to get back to that boss or enemy and take him down as hard as you possibly can.

Overall Balance Rating: 8/10

6. Replayability

Depending on how engrossed in the game you become, you can spend anywhere from 30 to 70 hours with Tales of Symphonia, which isn’t too bad for any game. When you factor in the side-quests and what not that every RPG comes tailored with, Tales definitely makes your first run through one to remember. However, when I consider reasons to come back and replay this game right away I fail to really come up with any. You can play the game on a harder mode after the initial run though, and you can get some very cool kick ass items as well, but it still doesn’t make you want to pick this up again right away. Tales is the kind of RPG you may dust off a year of two from now and play again to remember how good it really is. It will stand the test of time and will be remembered as a great RPG, but it isn’t a member of the elite games that no matter how many hours you spend with them you still can’t get enough off their charm.

Overall Replayability Raying: 6/10

7. Originality

Well, like I said in the story section, the actual plot of Tales of Symphonia is nothing new, and exciting. It’s a time tested formula with a few plot twists that really don’t catch you by surprise. Still, that does not make it bad by any means. The plot still entertains and keeps you interested in the flow of the game, which means it does its job adequately. Where Tales of Symphonia really shines here is the battle system. While not ground breaking, it tweaks it just enough to really give it an original feel. The option to control any one of your characters, and also to have your friends play along with you is pretty cool, and gives the game some new dimensions of play. However, at the end of the day, Tales will not go down as the most original RPG ever. Yet on a RPG starved system like the Gamecube it is definitely a welcome relief, and a great start to hopefully a long relationship between Namco and the big N for some Cube RPG’s.

Overall Originality Rating: 6/10

8. Addictiveness

You’ll be hard-pressed to put this game down once you start it. The first time you play it, it literally becomes the center of your free time, it’s that good. You’ll find yourself thinking about getting back to it nearly all the time, and if your me college summer courses happen to be just the right time. The only problem is that once you complete it, that addicting feeling will go away, and you’ll be able to function again. Well, actually, that isn’t too bad, because after a solid week plus of Tales eating my life I was definitely happy to get away from it and resume being a productive member of society again. But the bottom line here is that Tales will keep you engrossed the first time around without fail, and that is the true hallmark of any great RPG that I can think of.

Overall Addictiveness Rating: 7/10

9. Appeal Factor

It’s obvious at this point that I have really enjoyed Namco’s Tales of Symphonia. There is little not to like about the game. It truly doesn’t lack in any category, and delivers a solid and well rounded gameplay experience. What really puts it over the top is that Tales is an RPG that is a Gamecube exclusive, and when it comes to the Cube and RPG’s the only other ones that come to mind immediately are Skies of Arcadia, the Phantasy Star Games, and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. Tales is the first Cube RPG to come down the pipe in quite a while, and in my opinion is head and shoulders above anything else that is RPG related on the system. If you own a Cube and like RPG’s stop what you doing and leave the screen as is, because you can finish the review later. You need to go out and buy it now, and then revel in the goodness that is Tales of Symphonia. Do it now fools! And if you don’t do it, I hear on good authority, that kittens may be eaten. Yes, that is how badly you need to get this game.

Overall Appeal Factor Rating: 9/10

10. Miscellaneous

What else can I say? The attention to detail, the great graphics coupled with an above average battle system and soundtrack make Tales the best RPG to be released this year (remember that comment is strictly my opinion, so please take it as such). It has all the qualities needed to become one of the better RPG’s in recent memory, and definitely is worth the time and money you will put into Tales. If you don’t believe me, then at least give this a rent, and at least give it a try. I really don’t see many people being disappointed with Tales of Symphonia, simply because is it such a polished product. If every RPG were this good we should be so lucky. This game will wet your appetite for more Namco RPG goodness, and the good news is that Tales of Symphonia may open the gate for even more Tales games to hit the Cube. And, with any luck, if this game sells well the Cube may see a bit more support from 3rd parties in general in the RPG department.

Overall Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

Story: 6.0
Graphics: 10.0
Sound: 7.0
Control: 8.0
Replayability: 6.0
Balance: 8.0
Originality: 6.0
Addictiveness: 7.0
Appeal Factor: 9.0
Miscellaneous: 8.0

Overall Score: 7.5