Tales of Symphonia - Staff Retroview  

Ascent and Decline
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

40 to 55 hrs.


Rating definitions 

   Though a fun game and a worthy entry into the traditionally high-quality Tales series, Tales of Symphonia has a number of flaws which prevent it from being a fully enjoyable title. Its strongest points have to do with its combat system, a modified version of the Linear Motion System which the series has always relied on, while its weakest points reside in its plot. Put simply, the plot is an overcomplicated mess which tries far too hard to be all things to all people. In all, Tales of Symphonia is one of the better titles on the admittedly sparse roster of GameCube RPGs and a fun game to play, but the story bogs it down unnecessarily and can make it hard to enjoy.

   In the past, the Tales series has used a combat system known as the Linear Motion System, which was similar in many ways to a 2D fighting game. Tales of Symphonia uses an evolved form of this system called the Multi-Linear Motion System. Essentially, it takes a 3D playing field and slices it into 2D sections, opening up a new line of combat depending on what enemy is being targeted. The most direct line between player and foe becomes the new field of battle.

   Other than the addition of a third dimension to the playing field, the M-LMS is highly similar to its two-dimensional predecessor. Basic attacks and Techniques are still handled in the same way, though the addition of shortcut buttons is certainly a welcome inclusion. Character AI is solid and fully customizable, allowing for a wealth of options and a number of presets which can be switched on the fly in battle. However, for all the effort put into streamlining combat, the game isn’t really difficult enough to warrant it. Issuing multiple commands to individuals per battle is rare, and switching party orders more than once, even during the game’s more difficult fights, is nearly unheard of. Overall, it’s a fun, complex combat system which is reasonably easy to pick up and highly enjoyable, though not without flaw.

Hectic combat is by far this game's best feature Hectic combat is by far this game's best feature.

   The plot of Tales of Symphonia follows the adventures of Lloyd Irving and his companions as they attempt to regenerate the dying world of Sylvarant. It's also the thing which bogs this title down the most. While its characters are an interesting lot, with well written and amazingly voiced dialogue, the overarching plot in which they travel is needlessly long, overcomplicated, and at times incomprehensible. It takes bits and pieces of themes like self-sacrifice, prejudice and the darkness inherent in the human heart and tries to use them without a coherent idea of how they should be linked. The result is a mish-mash of a story that doesn’t really go anywhere, and ends up rendering itself pointless through a lack of any real consistency.

   Music by Motoi Sakuraba is much as it always is; Mr. Sakuraba uses a very recognizable and predictable style, and consequently his work is usually easy to spot. His work on Tales of Symphonia is probably not his best work, but it is a bit more orchestral than is normal for Mr. Sakuraba. Overall, it isn't a bad soundtrack, but it is far from amazing. Other sound effects are pretty much par for the course, effective but hardly standout. However, the voice acting, which makes use of a number of well-known and well-respected actors, is amongst the best in recent memory.

The few cinemas ToS has are quite good. The few cinemas ToS has are quite good.

   Whereas other Tales games used hand-painted backgrounds and sprites, Tales of Symphonia makes the leap into fully polygonal characters and environments. The end result is a surprisingly effective mimic of the older style, though a bizarre blur filter on character models limits the overall effect. Character and monster design are both solid, though it can be a bit cliché at times.

   Tales of Symphonia is a modestly long game, clocking out between forty and fifty-five hours. The game does have an unusually high number of side quests, most of which don't really have any reward to them. Still, they add something to character development and give obsessive-compulsive types something to fidget with.

   Given that the Tales series evolves far slower than most others, Tales of Symphonia is something of a big deal. The combat system has always been central to this series, and moving away from the LMS even slightly could've been a very bad move for the Tales Studio to make. However, the M-LMS is every bit as fast paced, enjoyable, and pleasantly hectic as its predecessor. Still, combat alone doesn't make up for ToS's numerous flaws in plotting. What it comes down to is a question of how important plot is to the individual player, as Tales of Symphonia's weak story has the potential to ruin the experience for those who find it central.

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