Tales of Symphonia Remastered Review
The Tales series is another long-running JRPG series that has attracted a following in the West since the 1990s. First released in the west in 2004, Tales of Symphonia was a landmark RPG and bold new direction for the series that is till felt nearly twenty years later, boasting memorable characters, an intriguing story, and colorful 3D graphics. In 2013, the game was released for PlayStation 3, packaged with its sequel, Dawn of the New World. Ten years and a PC release later, Bandai Namco brings Tales of Symphonia Remastered to the latest console generations. However, while the mechanics and presentation hold up, the blatant disregard for the title and lack of quality-of-life improvements renders this an accessible, yet entirely inferior version of Symphonia.
The game sees players control Lloyd Irving, a young man who accompanies his childhood friend Colette on her pilgrimage to regenerate the world of Sylvarant, a world slowly in decline due to the gradual depletion of the planet’s mana. Where the world was previously under assault by a race of beings called Desians, they were sealed away by the goddess Martel. Unfortunately, as the source of mana has faltered, so has the seal; as a result, the Desians have re-emerged and have been abducted humans for labor camps and experimentation. They are joined by the duo’s friend Genis, his elder sister and schoolteacher Raine, mercenary Kratos, and eventually a cast of others who join the group on an adventure that goes considerably further than it first appears.
Symphonia features a number of interesting and innovative story twists that still excite twenty years later. The threat the Desians poses is immediate and dangerous, and the stakes only continue to grow as layers of the story are peeled back. The story beats become increasingly wild, especially in the last third of the game, but the bonds between characters help ground the story’s emotional center due to the strong characterization between Lloyd, Colette, and the family they have chosen for themselves. This deep characterization is partly due to the skits between the party. These chats will go over story events, but also personality quirks and qualms between characters. Short, sweet, and almost entirely optional, the skits provide depth to each character while also infusing plenty of humor into the mix. The end result are relationships that feel organic and entirely earned by the time the credits roll.
Combat is governed by the “Multi-Line Linear Motion Battle System”, with players controlling one character while effective AI controls the remaining party. Each character utilizes a unique weapon type and together provide a diverse array of fighting styles, which are complemented with the use of arts in the form of battle techniques or magic spells. Combat is enjoyable without being overwhelming, and offers a surprisingly intuitive mix of 2D combat and 3D movement, the lineage of which is still seen in modern iterations of the series. This system is not perfect, as it can be difficult to negotiate combat when enemies approach from multiple angles, making it difficult to attack one enemy while defending from a second at the same time. Battles are expected to be turned over in short order with an emphasis on blocking enemy attacks and landing effective counters. Players can button mash to some effectiveness, but true back-and-forth strategy yields
Tales of Symphonia has a timeless art style that engages the player and provides a vibrancy to the locales the characters explore. Years — and a number of upscaling filters — later and the colors still pop off the screen, if now a bit muddled. Lush jungles and arid desert landscapes serve as exciting backdrops for dungeons and villages alike. The game still looks beautiful, even as the cel-shaded effect has been scaled down. While the level of attention to detail in towns and villages is impressive, the overworld is drab, as the world itself is poorly modeled and enemies are represented by greyish blobs. The soundtrack for the game is primarily composed by Motoi Sakuraba and Shinji Tamura, with contribution from Takeshi Arai. The presence of Sakuraba is strongly felt, with some stirring battle anthems and a range of lively village themes that are wholly pleasant, if not entirely memorable.
Aside from the many skits, there are other optional worldbuilding efforts that heighten immersion for eager players. There are a number of mini-games and sidequests, least of which are a global hunt for a Master Chef who masquerades as everyday household items. When accosted, he provides a new recipe and ingredients. It’s exciting to come across a new town and eventually discover a marginally out of place item, to be rewarded with a recipe for a meat pie. This sidequest feeds into another component: cooking. By discovering and preparing a number of meals, Lloyd and company can attempt to recover a bit after each battle so long as they have the requisite ingredients.
Symphonia also features spatial puzzles throughout nearly every dungeon, requiring players to push blocks, manipulate elements with the Sorcerer’s Ring, activate switches, and the like. Each puzzle is well-designed to feature variety and accent the varied aesthetic of each dungeon, resulting in exciting puzzles that are elaborate without feeling inordinate. This game is full of thoughtful and carefully implemented design choices.
For the many strengths Tales of Symphonia offers to gamers, this Remastered release suffers from peculiar issues. First, it features a locked framerate of 30 FPS, whereas the GameCube release ran at 60 FPS. It is not a fatal flaw, mostly an annoying one, but it still feels like a cop-out, especially given the other performance issues introduced along with it. Other minor quibbles detract from the experience, including messy or missing battle transitions, compressed graphics, and bloated loading times. Players should expect to spend time on a loading screen before and after each battle, when entering or leaving towns, or completing most actions. Newcomers to the title might not find these issues off-putting, but any Tales veteran who is playing this game a third or fourth time will find themselves more puzzled by this development than by anything they encounter in one of the dungeons.
The performance issues, combined with no other tangible benefit from the release, make this remaster is a tough sell. The base game is a seminal experience, so much so that the game’s DNA is felt within the series two decades on. This specific release, however, is perhaps its worst, and comes with a significant question of value. The last time this game was released for consoles, it included a second game, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. Failing to include it, while also charging a premium price for this remaster feels both confounding and anti-consumer. The 2016 Steam release has everything this release offers, and costs half the price.
Tales of Symphonia deserves to be available to the widest audience, yet the lack of attention or care demonstrated here is troubling. Remastered feels like a cheap and lazy port, and that alone makes this version disappointing, despite the strengths of the game itself. Why should gamers reward these tactics when there are remasters of PSP games and more recently, other GameCube games, that are truly modernized? There was an opportunity here to release the definitive version of Symphonia on modern consoles for fans and first-timers. Instead, Bandai Namco has doled out an inferior port of a decade old re-release at double the price it is sold elsewhere. If the math doesn’t add up to you either, don’t worry: the PC version is still available.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
A classic Tales game, now on the Switch
A port of a port of a port, in this day in age?
Inexplicable new loading times?
Lack of Dawn of the New World makes for poorer consumer value