GAME NAME: Tales of Symphonia Chronicles
DEVELOPER(S): Namco Bandai Games
PUBLISHER(S): Namco Bandai Games
GENRE(S): Action RPG
RELEASE DATE(S): February 28th, 2014
If you had the power to change and save the world from evil, destruction and perhaps from itself, would you do it? It’s the same question every RPG asks, but like any good role playing game, the original premise, the original question, changes throughout the game and what you’re left with is a, hopefully, inspiring and memorable tale. The Tales of Symphonia Chronicles
games are very old, but there’s a reason why they were brought back to life as an HD collection. The pertinent question is then, do they stand tall in a world with a new generation of consoles?
After playing both Tales of Symphonia
and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World,
I can see why they were brought back to life. Most of the characters (note that I said “most”) are interesting, funny, charming and witty. They grow on you, and you begin to think of them as dear friends. Each character has a part to play and is pivotal to the main storyline. Though both stories begin a tad uninspired, and are a little clichéd, they both manage to twist in unexpected ways (though the second game twists far closer to the end). These stories are special and filled with a certain whimsy that a few modern RPG's can’t seem to grasp. I should note that the game is just an HD upgrade, not a remake. However, with it appearing on the PS3, some controls have been altered to suit the six axis and it works beautifully.
Tales of Symphonia
This is the first, and longest, game in the two part Chronicles and is easily the superior one. You play a band of misfits trying to save the world of Sylverant, a world that is dependent on mana to survive. Unfortunately, the amount of mana available is dwindling and someone needs to do something about it. The cause of the depleted mana is the death of the world tree – a tree that resupplies Sylverant with mana. In this world, there lies a prophecy (like with all other RPG's) that a Chosen will help regenerate the world by bringing forth a new world tree. The Chosen is Colette, an annoying and naïve teenage girl. Early in the game, she is sent on a journey to save Sylverant by going on a pilgrimage to visit the various temples across the land. Each temple houses a new gift for her and changes her bit by bit into an angel. Along her journey, she is accompanied by her two classmates, Lloyd and Genis; a mercenary, Kratos; her teacher and Genis’ older sister, Raine; and, eventually, Sheena an unlucky ninja/assassin. According to the prophecy, once the Chosen has been magically turned into an angel, the Goddess Martel (the main religion in the two games) will be reborn and bring forth a new World tree that saves the World of Sylverant.
Super cheesy, right? Well, like I said, the beginning is quite the snooze fest, but it picks up a little later in the game. Depending on how fast you are, the story really picks up after 15 – 17 hours when you discover something that changes everything about the world of Sylverant, the World Tree and the flow of mana. It’s a roller-coaster ride of conspiracies, lies, deceit and betrayal. It’s definitely a game that should be on every RPG lover’s bucket list. Oh, there's more party characters, but I can't say anything unless I wish to spoil the game.
The story alone isn’t strong enough to carry a game, so what does the rest of it look like? The game kicks off with a BEAUTIFUL anime-esque intro which you will want to see more of, but won't. There’s basically four or five tiny anime cut scenes in the first game and only one in the second. Graphically, the game could look worse, but certain sections of it are absolutely hideous. The world map is a fine example. Everything about the world map is totally awful: the map is useless, the camera controls are horrendous and the field monsters and landscape looks like it was created on a PS one. Fortunately, most of the bad stuff about the game is only with regards to the world map itself. Once you’re in the towns or dungeons, things start to look a bit more bearable. But it’s what happens in the towns, dungeons and world map that you’ll crave: the fighting.
If you've never played a 'Tales of
' game before, this is what you can expect. Most of the games have an impressive selection of party characters. You select four members that will make up your battle team and assign a leader which you command. In a battle, these four characters can fight automatically, semi-automatically or manually – though non-leader characters will just stand there and do nothing, unless you tell them to dome something. There is a reason for it, but I’ll explain later. The battlefield is almost 2.5D, in that you can move left and right, but not up and down. You have free control over your leading character and can make him or her attack normally, with a skill, magic, use items, guard, dodge, etc. The battles are smooth, action oriented, and a lot of fun. And since all the characters have different classes, you can’t go into battle with the same tactic. It’s interesting and has a lot of depth and potential. Mastering the battle system is crucial, especially when tackling the game’s very difficult bosses. But the main problem with the battles is the very poor tutorial.
When it comes to tutoring you in the arts of combat, not a lot is explained and you’re left trying to figure it out for the first few hours of the game. Trial and error is not as easy as it seems, especially when the starting battles are pretty difficult. Things can be made easier when you have a pal join you. This is where that “manual mode” comes in. You can have up to four players join in – each one playing a team member. Since the character AI is slower than the human’s input, it helps to have a friend join in. After the game is completed, you'll obviously want to see more, and that's where Dawn of the New World
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of a New World
After you've finished the first game, and if you’re not suffering from RPG burnout, you can continue your journey through the now regenerated world. It’s been two years since Lloyd and Colette and the rest of the gang brought mana back and saved the world. I’ll have to be a little vague in order prevent spoilers in the first game. Now that the world is safe and flowing with mana, two warring groups of people have emerged, but so have very erratic weather and monster behaviour patterns.
Our new heroes, Emil and Marta, witness the destruction of Palmacosta at the hands of Lloyd Irving (hero of the first game). The game skips to sometime in the future where Emil Castagnier is living with his aunt and uncle. Emil is ridiculed, shamed and ostracized from the town he now lives in and is blamed for the recent monster attacks. Trying to prove his innocence, Emil wanders off and is attacked, but saved by Marta. Later, Emil meets Richter a talented fighter who teaches Emil how to defend himself. Later on, he learns that Richter is after Marta and plans to kill her, so, like any good hero, Emil tries to save her. While running after her, Emil meets Tenebrea, a centurion (though he personally looks like a panther) of Ratatosk. Tenebrae explains to Emil that in order to save Marta, he needs to become a knight of Ratatosk. Emil does what he says and is transformed into a more battle worthy character.
Emil saves Marta and learns the reason why Richter wants her dead. She carries with her a very powerful orb that has somehow managed to latch onto her head. The orb is that of Ratatosk, a being that has power over all monsters. To help him control all monsters, he created 8 centurions, one for each element. But all the centurions are locked up in a dormant egg-like state and need Marta to hatch them. Once hatched, the abnormal weather and monster behavior will calm down. So the two of them join forces and scour the world to hatch all the centurions.
From the get go, the second game has a significant visual upgrade. Quite a few changes are made to game, like improving the world map and but it also lacks many permanent party members. You only get to play as Marta or Emil. Having Tenebrae with you allows you to make pacts with monsters and use them in battle, though you can’t really control them. All the characters from the first game return as temporary and recurring team characters, but they too cannot be controlled, so the battle system isn't quite as wonderful as the first game.
The fighting remains the same, only this time you can run around the field in all directions. This helps out, but also hinders you a bit if you’re not familiar with the fighting. Once again, the fighting tutorial is dismal, but it is a lot better than the first game. It does a better job of explaining how to fight, but struggles to explain the new monster system adequately. It does add more to the fighting system than it takes away. A new elemental grid is included that can either help or hinder you. Each character has an element and if that element matches the field element they recover slowly in battle. But it works the same for enemies, and can make them a nightmare to beat. There's also an awful lag from the field to battle scene that really should've been addressed when Bandai remastered the game. There is also a quest system that is a lot tougher than you’d expect it to be, but it’s also a good way to earn exp. The problem is, if you fail, there’s no second chance.
Personally, the most disappointing aspect of this game is its two protagonists. Emil and Marta are two of the most annoying characters I've ever played. I could write a full length feature on the two of them alone. Emil is a weak, spineless, mopey excuse for a human and Marta is far too naive to be taken seriously. She's also hopelessly in love with the totally oblivious Emil. Later on, Emil develops a second personality, but this new persona tries too hard to be the antithesis of Emil, so both versions just get on your nerves. Fortunately, Tenebrae is quite interesting and provides some sophistication to the main team. That said, as off putting as it may sound, if you can look past the faults of the leading characters, you'll see the makings of a very good RPG.
As a Collection
If you think this review is a little too "TL;DR", then I'm sorry to say this but Tales of Symphonia
is NOT for you. There's a lot a reading involved, tons of dialogue and enough word bubbles to fill a series of books. So be prepared to do a lot of reading.
Altogether, the two games provide you with over 60 - 70 hours of game time, but once it's over you'll feel like you've won a gold trophy. There's not much in terms of replayability, but considering the time it takes to complete, that's not a great concern. You can restart the game, but there's no undying need to return to them. The first game is an absolute must play, especially if you're a Tales
and RPG fan. A re-release of the two games on one console means a lot more people can enjoy the terrific story. It's not overly violent, so kids can enjoy it and with the second player controls in the first game, older siblings and parents can join the fun and make the game a lot easier for them. It's definitely a game that stands on its own among a crowd of recent releases, but due it's lack of visuals, the game won't appeal to many. If you've always wanted to play the two games, but could not due to not owning the required consoles, now is the time to strike. It's a little too pricey at the moment, but the amount of time you get for it is worth the asking price.
Some advice? Follow the golden rule of older RPG games: SAVE! SAVE! SAVE!