Tales of Symphonia Review

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It’s been a very long time since I’ve played through a new JRPG, and by new, I mean new to me.  I started Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch about a year or two ago, but I never finished the game.  Before that, my last JRPG was probably Final Fantasy XIII, which I also did not finish.  That being said, I didn’t have high hopes that I’d actually get all the way through Tales of Symphonia, but something kept dragging me back to the game.  I definitely was determined to finish this one.

The story is long, deep, and full of twists and turns.  It’s not bad for being yet another “school kids set off to save the world” story.  While predictable, it’s still fun to see the story unfold.  The characters that join your party on the quest to save the world…worlds?…are all fleshed out and have interesting back stories.  Some are more irritating to watch onscreen than others. Collette, the “chosen one”, bugs the hell out of me.  She’s clumsy and constantly apologizing for everything she does.  Lloyd, the main character, is your prototypical anime determined swordsman who isn’t very bright.  The other characters round out the cast pretty well, and you’ll latch onto at least one of them as your favorite.  I don’t want to get TOO into the story because I really don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t played the game yet.  It’s enjoyable.

I played Tales of Symphonia on the PS3, as I mentioned before.  This game was originally released on the GameCube, then ported to the PS2 in Japan, and finally remastered in HD for the PS3.  The game looks pretty good.  It’s colorful and lively and does a good job of using that cel shaded look that was popular during the GameCube era.  Tales of Symphonia isn’t the best looking game for the PS3, by any means, but it’s still pretty and you kind of forget that this is a game from the previous generation of consoles.  The anime cutscenes that are sparingly sprinkled throughout the game look VERY good, but they are few and far between.

The music in Tales of Symphonia isn’t bad, but it’s less than memorable.  I honestly couldn’t remember any of it after any of my play sessions, even when I tried.  You’d think that a game with a musical reference right there in the title would have had more interesting music.  The music does fit the situations your party encounters, and the music is never irritating or grating, it’s just…there.

The meat of the game, the battle system, is a lot of fun, and is probably the reason I was able to remain hooked throughout the entirety of the playthrough.  This isn’t a turn based RPG like so many games in the genre.  Instead, it’s almost an action, hack and slash, or beat em up.  The enemies encountered on the map take you to a battle screen, where you can bash away, or take a more tactical approach.  You have options on how you fight, and I like that.  Some battles require you to plan out your attack while others will be won by simply hacking away at the enemies as fast as you can.  You are able to give your party characters different AI strategies, and they all work pretty well.  For example, you can have your magic users focus on attacking from far away, or join the melee.

The part about Tales of Symphonia that I absolutely could not stand, was navigating the overworld.  If there was some way to better control the camera, I couldn’t figure it out.  The camera sits in a 3rd person over the shoulder view of your character, and zooming in or out doesn’t work very well.  This gives you a very hard time in searching for locations on the map.  You are able to find little rock outcroppings which are referred to as “waypoints”, which gives you the ability to ride on your mutant dog.  When riding your dog, Noishe, the camera switches to an overhead view.  This is a bit better, but you still can’t pan or zoom, and the camera is fixed too low to make out anything in the distance.  Piloting the vehicles you obtain later in the game is even worse.  The boat feels like you’re constantly sliding on ice, making you miss your destination, and turning the vehicle is excruciatingly slow.  When I obtained access to the rhiards, or the jet bikes that serve as this game’s airship, I was hopeful that the control would be better.  It’s not slippery like the boat, but the turn function is still very slow and irritating.  It’s a good thing that this is only a minor part of the whole experience, but it was frustrating enough for me to get mad at the game.

Each dungeon requires you to solve a few minor puzzles, which is actually pretty fun.  You obtain a “Sorcerer’s Ring” early in the game, which allows Lloyd to shoot a smart burst of fire.  This burst of fire will stun enemies on the dungeon map, and can break certain objects or flip switches.  In many dungeons, you will be required to change the function of the ring to take on different puzzles and obstacles.  This is actually pretty refreshing and gives you more to do in a dungeon than just fight and search for treasure.  I really enjoyed this aspect of the game and I was glad to see it implemented.

I enjoyed Tales of Symphonia.  The game kept me hooked throughout, which is kind of hard to do these days.  I usually get fed up with games like this after a few hours of gameplay, but Tales of Symphonia kept me playing.  I would recommend this game to fans of the JRPG genre, but if you’re more of a Western RPG type of gamer, you may not enjoy it as much.  You can grab this game for very cheap on the PS3 right now, so that’s probably your best bet to play the game.  It was originally released for the GameCube, but that version is a bit harder to find these days.

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