#569 Tales of Symphonia

Posted: 24th August 2011 by Mulholland in Games
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79th game played so far

Genre: RPG
Platform: Gamecube/PS2
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco

Where Square Enix has the incredibly successful Final Fantasy games as their foothold in the role-playing genre Namco have their own, albeit less successful, Tales franchise. With two parallel running franchises as well as forays into he world of anime it is somewhat strange that only one of this series has appeared on the list.

Or is it? The Tales franchise is successful, don’t get me wrong, but it has always been a half a step behind Final Fantasy and other series such as Dragon Quest. Since this is a case they have not been able to innovate as much and so are at a large disadvantage. Still, they managed to bag an entry on this rather impressive list (when major developers like Koei have been left wanting) is still a feat in itself.

Our Thoughts

Games like this do make me wonder the validity of tackling a game boasting 80+ hours gameplay in five hours. Since this required two discs to play it on we came into this game pre-impressed with the seemingly epic scale it tries to cover when being played on the small purple box in the corner. It’s a compromise we have to make, as playing all games to completion would mean we’d never be able to finish this project. On the other hand, if you want to keep people involved for 80 hours, it should grab you in the first few hours, and at least give you some idea of how it works. Being grabbed in those precious opening hours is something that all the great games are able to do; this is a statement of the obvious but it does need to be said. In the realm of the not-so-humble JRPG there are many examples of titles that achieve this. Obvious examples being Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy IX and the surprisingly excellent Skies of Arcadia. Alas, Tales of Symphonia failed to measure up to any of these in that respect and since we have tackled them so close together we will be using Skies of Arcadia as a direct means of comparion.

The issue here is that while there’s something in the game here that can keep you busy for 80 hours, it seems to be getting in your way a bit too often to prevent you from immersion. This applies to the battle system, story and cut scenes. Let’s start with the cutscenes. These are, as is appropriate for any JRPG, plentiful and lengthy. This gets annoying, but works. Some of these are, as a nice feature, voiced, with voice acting that (with the exception of Genis at times) is very good. The main thing is that they come every few steps, in particular (yes) optional character building cutscenes. These consist of talking heads appearing on the screen talking to each other, in a slow pace. There’s no voice acting and no ‘press a to continue’ style quick show. You just have to wait for a minute or two to see what the people have to say to each other. We did a test with these and I read along at a regular words per minute rate (since, as we all know, we read faster than we listen). Even when I read it slowly we still had plenty of time to make come orange squash and grab a custard cream. For something that is so instrumental to plot and character development the lack of a ‘skip to continue’ was a huge mistep on Namco’s part and as such made any gaming momentum grind to a complete halt. It really feels like a “You must listen to how we complain about how the main character has no sense of direction for the next three minutes!”

Add to that their convoluted storyline that seems to drag you after a few plots at once, where you seem to randomly pick one to follow each time. You need to go home, but then you rescue this woman, and you need to leave on time to follow someone else (and you’re late to this, so chase them, but that’s only for a small portion of the game, after which they randomly show up without explanation why they came to help you out) However this convoluted storyline pales in comparison to the major thought when you play the game: “Who the christ cares”. So much of the storyline and the character ideas have already been lifted from the infinitely better Final Fantasy X that when names with similar etymological origins, such as Efreet, I felt that I would be playing that than this. Especially since the music, a real necessity in JRPGS, is so incredibly repetitive. There seems to be little point to this.

Another place where the games get in your way is combat. Combat is real time, which feels like this game is trying to be a JRPG version of Diablo. Unfortunately, with the perspective used and the party, this really just ends up a confusing mess of people running around where you’re just mashing buttons to keep up. Worse, in the multiplayer battle mode (in a way a good idea), your character can be left off-screen, attacked by enemies you can’t see, unable to fight back. The multiplayer works nicely – each person uses a character, while the AI runs the others. You use spells through button combinations, which work well together, or attack the enemies. It’s a fun way of integrating multiplayer into a traditional RPG – you both feel drawn in. One thing that I did like is that you were able to recharge your Tech Points (notice how clever they were by not using the usual MP?) by thwacking your foes with your enemies. In a way this made sure that you were able to regularly use special attacks which is far more fun than the plain old swordfighting.

We are being very negative about this game, in fact possibly the most we have been for a few months but Tales of Symphonia was just incredibly irritating. The thing is that there was so much promise in this game that we could see and there were the occassional flashes of genius. However, it was just so hit and miss that when you fell off the gaming peak and into the trough it was enough to make you throw the controller on the ground and stomp off in protest. Something we’ve nearly done a few times playing this game and why we didn’t get too far into this game. We actually thought of stopping playing this after two hours thinking that no-one would either know or care, but we have integity… sadly. It’s not a complete waste like some games… but after playing many great games on the list, unfortunately this just felt like a game where we were let down this time.

Final Thoughts

Sorry, we’re sorry. I’m especially sorry to you Kat… we are very thankful of the chance to try out all these games but there are times where it becomes a bit of a chore. I felt so bad being angry at, well, a game but I just felt there was so much unrealised potential… I just hope that if a different Tales game appears on a future list that we’ll have a better time.

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