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   Tales of Symphonia - Retroview  

A Symhpony, not a Cacophony
by tylerwillis

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
variable
COMPLETION TIME
50 to 100 hours
OVERALL

4.5/5

Rating definitions 

   Tales of Symphonia is a breath of fresh air for RPG-starved Gamecube owners. Not fresh in the sense of being a completely original game, indeed it unashamedly borrows from other RPGs, but fresh in that it is an epic adventure of grand proportions in a well-executed and lovingly detailed environment.

   The Tales series is rather long-running in Japan, but American releases have been somewhat sparse. Symphonia follows in the series’ tradition with a tweaked battle system of real-time frantic play.

Would you like dragon-fries with that? Would you like dragon-fries with that?

   The story follows the exploits of young Llyod Irving and his cohorts, notably Colette Brunel. Colette is the Chosen One (one to every generation – just like Buffy) of Sylvarant, destined to save the dying world from mana depletion. Unbeknownst to their party, Sylvarant is a world connected in a symbiotic relationship to another world. While one flourishes, the other perishes. Llyod vows to save both worlds and must face dangers on an epic scale in order to fulfill his dream.

   While the story is somewhat unoriginal and bears a superficial resemblance to Final Fantasy X, it is very well executed. It certainly could have been deeper; more attention is paid to character development than plot development, but enough twists and turns abound to keep even hardened cynics entertained. Some few FMV cut scenes are sprinkled throughout the gameplay.

   Characterization is deep and thoughtful; the characters grow and change throughout the story. Interactive skit elements, in addition to the main storyline, add to the story depth. Numerous sidequests will allow the player to further the discovery of the two Symphonia worlds.

   Perhaps the best feature of Symphonia is its easy to pick-up, but hard to master battle system. Players will actively control one character out of the group of four, and assign a general strategy for everyone else. Of course, it is very possible (and sometimes needful) to assign specific commands to specific characters during the course of battle.

   Battle is real-time in a multi-planar environment. Characters will orient on a specific enemy and attack on its plane – sometimes hitting just that enemy, sometimes striking a group. Noticing the distance relationship between enemies (and friends) plays a large role in the strategy, especially when it comes to the casting of multi-target spells.

On my count, throw the Holy Hand Grenade. On my count, throw the Holy Hand Grenade.

   Apart from basic attacking, characters learn a wide variety of skills and magics, mostly unique to each character. Further, the type of skills learned by each character can be customized by choosing EX skills, provided one has the appropriate EX gem; these skills in turn can be combined to form new skills. The combination possibilities for a single character in terms of skill/magics are quite numerous.

   Strategy can be set for each individual team member, ranging from “do nothing” to “attack with everything.” Positions can also be assigned, and the AI is relatively good at following orders. The party can also perform unison attacks after filling the unison gauge; this attack allows a free assigned hit from each character and can combo to form special attacks that do massive damage.

   After battle, one character can be chosen to cook for the party. These meals will have a variety of effects, from general healing to curing ailments. New recipes are discovered throughout the adventure, and each character has their own skill level; some characters are great chefs while others will barely avoid poisoning the party. Ingredients are also scattered throughout the world.

   Another important aspect of Symphonia is its usage of titles. Titles are gained either through the storyline or by completing certain requirements or a mini-game, etc. Unlike most RPGs, these titles have a direct impact on the characters by influencing which characteristics are upgraded at a level-up. Some titles even change the outfits of characters.

   Some of these titles can be quite frustrating to obtain, requiring an absurd amount of time in mini-game play. Completionists should take note: it is impossible to complete and see everything in anything less than three full playthroughs. While there is significant replay value, Symphonia is not a short game by any standard; not being able to achieve every title on the first (or second) run may leave some frustrated. Fortunately, the game does offer a break for those going through multiple times: GRADE is earned in every battle and can be used to purchase bonuses (keeping titles/skills/money) for the next game. Masochists should also note that GRADE can be used to make the next game even harder.

   Visually, the game features a cel-shade on 3D backgrounds. Cel-shading is something either hated or loved, but Symphonia utilizes the art to render a gorgeous and breath-taking vista. Aurally, the soundtrack is an excellent effort and provides perfect ambiance for most sections of the game. Voice acting is definitely a cut above average with numerous veteran actors lending their considerable talents.

   Tales comes highly recommended to all Gamecube owners. Indeed, it might be enough reason to purchase a Gamecube.

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