Tales of Phantasia - Staff Review  

How Not to Port
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

40-50 hrs.


Rating definitions 

   The Tales series has a long and venerable history, most of which has passed North America by for one reason or another. The series started with Tales of Phantasia way back in 1995, when the Super Famicom roamed the Earth. Tales of Phantasia was extremely impressive for its day, featuring full voice acting, a theme song complete with lyrics, and a fast-paced combat system that played like a fighting game, but didnít manage to make the journey to the western hemisphere until now. Though the game suffers a bit from its age, its real problems are technical. Tales of Phantasia has very bad sound quality, an extremely poor translation, and a visual style that tries to squish together the look of the original SNES and PSX remake with mixed results. Though the underlying quality of the game is undeniable, technical issues relegate Tales of Phantasia to being just another example of the strained relationship between Namco and North America.

   The combat system used by most Tales games is known as the Linear Motion Battle system, which works like a little like a 2D brawler with RPG conventions mixed in. To explain; when combat begins, the player is dropped into a 2D playing field with player characters lined up on one side and enemies on the other. The player can advance and use Techniques, Magic, or other attacks to string together combos, much like a fighting game of old. The system does a very good job of eliminating the idea of alternating turns associated with turn-based combat systems, and feels very free-form and active. The combat system does go a little slow in the early parts of the game, but it picks up significantly as the player collects more characters and more varied forms of attack. The only real problem with the game is in a lack of control over the AI of allies. Whereas other Tales games presented a wealth of settings that allowed for a great deal of control, Tales of Phantasia has only a few. It never really becomes a major issue, but it can be irritating to have allies wasting TP, or to have to manually reset every AI setting after every boss battle.

   The LMB system routinely provides the main draw of this series, as the story presented in many Tales games have been somewhat substandard. Unfortunately, this is one place Tales of Phantasia doesnít break with tradition. The plot has a very simple setup involving the quest for revenge of one Cress Albane, which in time becomes an attempt to save the world, but it tosses its characters around without any real direction and some very cliche motivations. The characters themselves are reasonably likeable, but the translation makes it very difficult to get a feel for them. It also takes some liberties with the plot presented in the original game, attempting to tie it in to Tales of Symphonia, but these are largely unsuccessful and, if anything, take away from the original feel of the game. They also have the effect of making it feel unfinished, as the game ends on a highly inconclusive and cryptic note for those unfamiliar with Tales of Symphonia.

The world map's Mode7 graphics made the trip intact. The world map's Mode7 graphics made the trip intact.

   As for the translation itself, there are simply too many errors and changes to have it feel like an acceptable adaptation. Certain scenes have been altered to make the game more kid-friendly, such as exchanging "sake" for "snack," but the biggest problem in the translation is the homogenization of the characters. For most Tales games, the actual happenings in the story are of secondary importance to the characters, and Tales of Phantasia is no different. However, the translation alters or erases large parts of the characters personalities, to the point where they cease to be unique. In the end, the translation kills the story through a simple lack of interest in the characters.

   The problems with Tales of Phantasia have a definite theme to them. While the underlying design of each aspect of Tales of Phantasia is quite solid, they are executed with a lack of technical excellence that plays havoc with the overall experience. This is clear nowhere quite so obviously as in the gameís audio, in the music and voice acting in particular. The voice actors themselves show a certain amount of talent - not spectacular, but certainly not horrible. However, static-filled audio combined with the repetition of a limited number of clips makes the voice acting very hard to listen to. Thankfully, the game allows players the option of turning voice acting off. The music suffers similarly, with very bad sound quality and poor instrument emulation marring one of Motoi Sakurabaís finest soundtracks.

When in doubt, call out the giant hammers When in doubt, call out the giant hammers

   This GBA iteration is actually the second remake Tales of Phantasia has seen, and its visual style combines aspects of the Super Famicom original and the PlayStation remake. It isnít completely unsuccessful, particularly considering the somewhat lacking character design present in the original, but the end result is a little fractured. For example, the field visuals are extremely detailed, full of minor details such as grass blowing in the wind or ripples on the water, but the menus are simple white-on-blue text. The only real gameplay-affecting issue with the visuals is that the contrast level can make it difficult to see properly in some of the darker dungeons, but the disjointed visual style is a bit of a black mark on the game, and could certainly have been avoided.

   This version of Tales of Phantasia is significantly easier than the SFC version, and shouldnít present a whole lot of difficulty for the average gamer. It is, however, a reasonably long game, taking around 45 hours to complete. The game also has one or two very involved side quests which may pad the completion time out a bit, but the gameís habit of poor prompting has the same effect.

   The Tales series has always had a somewhat mixed relationship with North America. Missed sequels, altered translations, and theme songs removed time and time again have bred a certain level of irritation amongst the series' fan base. While receiving Tales of Phantasia after having been denied it for so long may go some ways towards soothing this disappointment, the fact is that the GBA remake of Tales of Phantasia simply isnít a very good version of the game. Though the overall design is quite good, technical issues and a rough ride through the translation process make it difficult to enjoy, and in the end the game is just outclassed by later, more technically proficient Tales games. In the final analysis, Tales of Phantasia may be fun for the die-hard Tales fans who have not yet had a chance to play it through imports or other means, but, for other gamers, Tales of Phantasia will most likely not be worth the effort.

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