Tales of Eternia - Reader Retroview  

Tales of Eternia
by GooseAss

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Stunning art direction and character design
+ Lots of fun secrets to find
+ Very engaging battle system
- Visuals slightly marred by scaling
- End game gets a bit repetitive
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   Namco is notorious for the seemingly arbitrary way that they choose which Tales games to bring to the US, and this one is no exception. It was released on the PSX as Tales of Destiny 2 in the US, but the PSP port didn't make it stateside, despite beingone of the finest games on the system. Fortunately for intrepid Tales gamers, they can simply import the European version thanks to the PSP's lack of region lockouts.

   Tales of Destiny 2 is actually a good title for this game, as it's essentially more of the same, but better in every way. If you're looking for something new or shockingly original, you won't find it here. You will, however, find an extremely solid game that delivers exactly what it promises to: lots of old-school, 2D flavor, a very engaging battle system, and a solid experience from beginning to end.

   The first thing that grabbed me about ToE is the spectacular character design and art direction. Every background, character, and enemy is dripping with detail and color. There are no bland tilesets, few palette swaps, or tiresome, reused dungeons (cough Rhapsody cough)- the craft here is breathtaking. Only the best looking 32-bit games like SaGa Frontier 2 and Legend of Mana eclipse it, and the gameplay in those titles was absolutely atrocious. And of course, the game has plenty of the trademark Tales anime sequences, all of which are extremely well-done.

Mash the attack button FTW Mash the attack button FTW

   The other point of distinction with the Tales series is, of course, the battle system. Unlike most RPGs, battles take place in side view, real-time environment that has more in common with Street Fighter than it does Final Fantasy. This suits me just fine, because I have the attention span of a gnat, and I get tired of turn-based battle systems very quickly. While only one character in the party is controllable at a time, the player can issue commands to the rest of the party at any time. It would be fair to say that the battle system can be button mashy, but there's also a fairly deep combo system for those who want it. I mostly just mashed the attack button, though, and did just fine.

   In addition to the battle system, the cooking system is a mainstay of the series, and makes an appearance here as well. Unlike Tales of Destiny's worthless food bag, though, cooking is very much worth your while in ToE. As your party travels the world, they'll learn several dozen different recipes. Preparing these dishes (from the cooking menu) will provide a variety of different benefits, from restoring HP to removing status ailments. With the amount of healing items your party can carry limited to 15 of each kind, cooking is an extremely valuable way of healing, and it's well worth the effort of tracking down the recipes and their ingredients before diving into a new dungeon. Of all the RPGs that have tried to implement a cooking, alchemy, item fusion, or similar system, ToE's cooking system is the best executed that I've come across, and it added a lot to the game for me.

   The audio, on the other hand, is best described as workable. I don't think anybody will be lining up at midnight to buy the soundtrack, but you won't be scrambling for a sharp object to gouge out your eardrums like you would if you were playing Chaos Wars. Some of the battle voices can be a little annoying, but it wasn't a dealbreaker for me. The battle and overworld themes are pleasant enough compositions, but aren't nearly as varied as I would like. The voice acting, though, isn't half bad. I especially enjoyed Meredy's voice, which perfectly captured her childlike, endearing character.

A lovely, but slightly blurry, interior A lovely, but slightly blurry, interior

   You could probably blast through the game in 25 or 30 hours, but if you want to find all the secrets, expect to spend 40-45 hours on it. My playthrough was somewhere in between those two extremes: I explored a few optional areas, characters, and items, and got through the game in about 35 hours with almost no grinding. Barring a few extra-difficult boss battles, the game keeps players on their toes without asking too much of them. There are lots of hidden items, recipes, and areas to look for if you're so inclined, including a few semi-hidden characters and the prerequisite uber-hard-endgame-dungeon. In particular, I loved finding the Secret Chef. You'll get to take the wheel of a few vehicles, including (naturally) an airship, a hoverboard, and even a submarine. The submarine is a particularly fun, enabling you to access underwater caves, lakes surrounded by mountains, and a host of other locations that add detail and richness to ToE's world.

   ToE's story is light-hearted and generally unremarkable: An alien girl crash-lands in a sleepy, country village and after rescuing her, a plucky-but-impetuous lad and his childhood friend are drawn into something much larger than they could have imagined as two worlds travel on a collision course with each other. You'll find the mystical girl, the wise old man, and all your other favorite JRPG archetypes in a quest to save the world from evil. There are a few twists, of course, but nothing terribly surprising. Yet despite the many cliches, I found myself completely engaged in the story because it's executed so well. All the dialogue is polished and well-crafted, the pacing is solid, and the locations are diverse. It's a lot like Lunar: you've seen it all before, but it's done so well that it feels fresh.

   That's really the best way to describe ToE as a whole. There's nothing you haven't seen before, especially if you've played other Tales games, but it's a whole lot of fun anyway. One of the things that I appreciate most in a good RPG is a true feeling of adventure, and that's exactly how I felt while playing ToE.

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