Tales of Destiny - Retroview

A few feathers too light
By: Phillipe Richer

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 8
   Music & Sound 6
   Originality 6
   Story & Plot 4
   Localization 6
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Easy
   Completion Time 25-35 Hours  

Spanking the dog with a sword should make him understand.
Spanking the dog with a sword should make him understand.
Tales of Destiny

   Namco's most reputed series, the Tales series, debuted in North America in 1998 with the coming of Tales of Destiny for the PSX. The previous game in the series, Tales of Phantasia, which first established the series' trademarked Enhanced Linear Motion Battle (E-LMB) system was sadly stranded in Japan. ToD reprised the excellent battle system of its predecessor while trying to provide an even more engaging storyline, but the trip across the Pacific deplorably plucked a couple feathers off of ToD's plumage.

   A thousand years ago, after a cataclysm had befallen the planet, a battle was waged against the Aethereans living on their floating Aeropolis and the helpless E'rthers stranded on the desolate surface of the planet. The discovery of a new type of energy called Lens gave the Aethereans the superiority in the war up until Aethereans scientists defected to the E'rthers side and blessed them with magically infused sentient swords called Swordians. Those who harnessed the power of the Swordians, the Swordian Masters, succeeded in their quest to defeat the Aethereans once and for all. Having played their part in history, the Swordians entered a deep slumber up until a certain Stahn Aileron and a couple of formidable warriors once more grasped the power of the Swordians who had awoken after sensing a terrible calamity. The planet's destiny now lies within the power of the new Swordian Masters.

   ToD employs Namco's patented E-LMB system, where allies and foes are all placed on a single horizontal plane. Although you are able to somewhat dictate the actions of any comrade by using different targeting options, the only character you can truly control is Stahn. You move Stahn using the D-pad and attack either by thrusting, slashing, or air-slashing with the attack button and some directional arrows. You can set up to four special skills, which use up Technical Points (TP), to be used by pressing the special skill button and an arrow. Thankfully, your allies replenish a bit of TP at the ned of each battle. You cannot link your normal attacks to form combos, so battles will consist of many sneak-and-run attacks combined with onslaughts of special skills. If you want to use items or demand a special action from one of your party members, opening the in-battle menu will stop the fight to give you plenty of time to select what you need.

   The A.I. controlling your allies can be configured to a number of personalities which get the job done but often use more TP than you'd like them too. Your party's formation can be arranged at will outside of battle, and the L1 button even allows you to instantly reverse your formation in battle, allowing you to get endangered allies out of harm's way quickly. There is of course a whole assortment of armors, weapons, and accessories to be found within the game. Winning battles will provide your party with not only exp. and money, but also with some precious Lens which you can exchange at certain places for more usable items. Battles in ToD are very interactive and fast paced, although the lack of strategy is somewhat saddening. To be successful, simply be equipped with strong enough armor and gang-bang the enemy until he dies. It's not a big deal to me when battles occur in real-time, but I admit that it does render random battles much more enjoyable. Still, the Tales series demonstrates that there is much work to be done on that particular setup of fighting.

If only we had been blessed with the 255 world map character conversations...
If only we had been blessed with the 255 world map character conversations...

   The menus are very well organized and presented in ToD. Setting up your party's formation, special skills, and equipment is done with ease, while the great pieces of artwork shown in the status menus are always appreciated. The option to configure the controller as you please makes the battles very intuitive as well. Also, the ability to only carry 15 items of each kind adds an extra bit of difficulty to the game. The world map is easy to navigate, the topdown view in towns and dungeons makes your surroundings clear and unobstructed, and shopping presents no hassle.

   The music accompanying the gorgeous anime opening is very good, as is the normal battle music. However, the near entirety of the soundtrack, composed by Motoi Sakuraba and the Namco Sound Team, is much too impersonal and forgettable. Town and dungeon compositions are decent, but probably won't entice your ear drums all that much. Also regrettable is the near total lack of emotional tracks, since unless my memory fails me, I don't recall hearing any good guitar solos or tear-jerking piano compositions while playing. Not the worst soundtrack ever but definitely not the best either.

   Sound effects are almost (if not completely) nonexistent on the map. Nevertheless, once in combat the game gets much livelier. Characters will scream their fury assertively in every instance, while there is plenty of weapons clashing and ice spikes crashing to keep you awake. The best part in all of this, something which many people don't appreciate, is the fact that the game retains the original Japanese voices for the battles. Comments, spells, and post battle bragging are all spoken in Japanese. Whether you comprehend it or not, you have to admit that it's very spirited. The sound quality leaves a bit to be desired though.

   At first, the plot appears very promising. An ancient war for supremacy of the planet, destructive weapons scattered beneath the oceans, and talking swords should all create one intriguing plot, right? Well, that's not quite the case. The major events in ToD develop very slowly, much like the plot of a good old SNES RPG. Some people are abusing a newly found power and it's your party's business to investigate just who is causing all this carnage across the globe. Sadly, the number of plot twists is kept barely at a decent level, while the game stays mostly at a predictable rhythm of a town followed immediately by a dungeon. In short, it's the standard stuff. I personally lost interest in the game at certain points, but the good character chemistry is what made me cling to the plot.

Ladies and Gentlemen: pretty boy Stahn Aileron.
Ladies and Gentlemen: pretty boy Stahn Aileron.

   For the most part, the characters do offer a good deal of personality. The relationship between Stahn and Rutee (to name only one) seems pretty genuine, while most characters have a good motive for tagging along. What would've helped the plot tremendously, and what has very sadly been removed in the US version, are the 255 conversations between characters on the world map. In the Japanese version, characters often started talking to one another, sometimes about irrelevant stuff, others about the events ongoing, which gave the game and the characters much more depth and personality. Once you complete the game, you can listen to those voice samples in the option menu, but it simply isn't as captivating when taken out of the game. A shame, because how hard is it to put subtitles really?

   Aside from that big omission, the folks at Namco did a good job with the localization. While they avoided a lot of work by not redoing the voice acting, hearing the original Japanese voices is more of a treat than an aberration to me. The dialogues sound fairly casual with each character speaking according to their own personality. For a game released in 1998 the result is surprising, though not astonishing by any means.

   Like many other RPGs, once you've gone through ToD in about 25-35 hours, the main reason why you would be compelled to play the game again is your attachment to the plot or the battles. Since you can only truly control Stahn in battle, the gameplay loses some appeal once you've acquired all his special and sacred skills. There are a couple of side quests, near the end of the game of course, but they can easily be completed on your first time through. If the voice acting hadn't been chopped off, I would've surely played the game once more only to hear more conversations.

   The game has a true anime-like appearance, especially during battles. The characters are drawn in a super deformed (SD) style, complete with good facial expressions and rather fluid movements. Spells and skills look good, and the backgrounds contribute well to the atmosphere of the battles. Outside of combat though, the game looks very reminiscent to a bunch of SNES RPG, only with slightly better visuals. Towns and dungeons are somewhat appealing, but the graphics simply look rather dated. If you're an old school kinda guy/girl, you'll feel right at home with ToD's graphics.

   There isn't really any glaring flaw in ToD. The whole game is solid while the battles are very entertaining. The plot is rather unmemorable, but all it needed is a small spark, a little something that would've made the game truly unforgettable. Perhaps if the characters spoke like real people, if they started talking casually on the world map for the simple enjoyment of it all... oh right, they did. Sarcasm aside, keeping the voice acting intact wouldn't have changed everything, but it wouldn't have hurt.

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