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Namco delivers what is easily the best RPG of 1998
By Fritz Fraundorf, Reader Reviewer
Hunted nearly to death by the cinematic RPGs and their high-powered hype rifles, the oppressed traditional RPGs called a meeting of their elders and placed their power inside a lone weapon known as Tales of Destiny, and... wait, why am I writing this nonsense? Let's just say that Tales of Destiny is a welcome addition to a dying brood of true, traditional, RPGs.
As with any traditional RPG, Tales of Destiny's strength lies in gameplay. The game features an unusually large cast of 10 characters (9 normal and 1 secret), each with unique abilities and their own value. The game is also loaded with secrets, mini-games, and side quests, including an entire 60-floor bonus dungeon. From playing tag and cooking meals (note: those are two separate activities ^_^) to planting crops and shooting down enemy ships, ToD's variety is matched only by Breath of Fire 3. There's enough secrets here to keep you going for a long time after you beat the main game, which is long to begin with.
What really stands on out, however, is the game's battle system. Simply put, ToD has the best battle system ever in an RPG, period. Rather than choosing commands from a menu, you actually move one of the characters around and execute various special attacks with button combinations. The other characters are controlled through a menu; don't worry, you still have complete control over them -- and with the aid of an item you get in the second dungeon, you can even have second, third, and fourth players control the other characters. The whole system is basically a cross between Secret of Mana, Xenogears, and a fighting game, and would make this game worth buying just by itself. The only downside is that once you've given it a try, you'll never want to go to back to turn-based battles.
The only real gameplay flaw in Tales is that some of the dungeons are just too long. This wouldn't be all that much of a problem by itself, but there's only 3 or 4 different kinds of enemies in each dungeon, meaning you'll end up fighting the same guys over and over and over. Not all the dungeons are like this, however, and you can run from any battle, making this more of a nuisance than a serious flaw.
Although gameplay is ToD's focus, it holds up well in other departments too. The music is well-composed, although the sound quality and depth is rather poor (there's never more than 2 or 3 instruments playing at a time, and they sound pretty MIDI-ish). The town themes, in particularly, are really catchy and stick in your head whether you want them to or not. Overall, a mild thumbs-up in the music department, but a big round of applause for the full sound test feature.
As for the graphics... forget what you may have elsewhere; ToD's graphics simply would not have been possible on 16 bit. The backgrounds feature an unprecedented level of detail, with doors that actually swing open instead of disappearing, tree leaves that blow in the wind (and cast shadows of them blowing in the wind), rivers you can see your reflection in, and even store windows you can see through. The characters graphics aren't quite as good; they're not bad, but certainly not up to the standards set by BOF3. This is somewhat offset by the fact that you can actually see the weapons and shields you equip, a feature I'd like to see more of. Another feature that definitely needs to be used more is the very cool world map -- for the first time ever in a game, it's an actual globe that rotates as you move, realistically scaling objects in and out of the horizon. You have to wonder why somebody didn't think of this before.
Storyline-wise, Tales steers clear of the usual cliches (there is no Corrupt Evil Empire or Big Bad Demon King in this game), but too much of the plot involves chasing the bad guys around the planet or running fetch quests (the Boot Disc mission comes to mind). The actual plot is excellent; there's just not enough to it. On the other hand, the characters are all very well-defined, with distinct personalities and clever dialogue.
Unfortunately, the dialogue is slightly marred by the lame Working Designs-style jokes that crop up occasionally. There aren't nearly as many as in an actual WD game, however, and the rest of the dialogue is very well-written (nobody "gets a good feeling" here), so I guess I can't complain too much. There's a few other problems with the translation, though -- the spoken dialogue between your characters on the world map was removed, and the song in the intro was replaced with some instrumental music that doesn't fit the accompanying visuals at all. Namco does deserve kudos for keeping the original Japanese voices in battle ("HOT TOMATO!"), though.
Translation issues aside, it doesn't get much better than Tales of Destiny. With beautiful hand-drawn graphics, loads of secrets, actual challenge, and cool characters, the only thing this game is missing is some attention. So here's some attention right now: buy this game! Tales isn't just any game. It's why you started playing RPGs in the first place.
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