With all the excitement over Thief and the newest episode of The Walking Dead, it’s easy to miss a lot of releases this month. It makes sense – most people have limited funds so their opportunities for buying games are thusly restricted. So, Thief and The Walking Dead, right? No, they’re crap. At least while Tales of Symphonia Chronicles exists.
Tales of Symphonia was a Gamecube release back in 2004, and consequently nobody bought it. Since then, it’s acquired cult status and a hefty price tag (at least in Europe), which is why it’s a good idea of Namco’s to rerelease both the original game and its sequel, Dawn of the New World, on PS3 for a very reasonable price.
If you like traditional RPG fare, the story will appeal. Colette, a young blond girl from a small village (check) is the Chosen of Mana, destined to save the world (check) and must go on an arduous quest with her two friends Lloyd and Genis (check) as well as a mercenary (check) who have recently found themselves exiled from their home town (check).
Still, it’s by no means a badly executed cliche. Although most seasoned RPG veterans will probably be able to sing along to the plot, the characters and reasonably high quality JRPG dialogue more than make up for any lack of originality.
The main quest of Tales of Symphonia hovers somewhere around the 60-hour mark and as such it’s well worth setting aside a week or so to play it. It’s a hard game to drop in and out of in ten minute sessions, because it’s quite easy to forget where you are and what you’re supposed to be doing.
It’s not the main quest though that will eat up most of your time. Every town seems to have its own smattering of sidequests, ranging from the simple (button-matching games for small prizes with someone dressed as a cat) to the absurdly long and pointless (naming dogs the world over).
There’s a degree of open-endedness to the plot, as far as missions can often be completed at the player’s own pace or juggled with aspects of other assignments. For example, one dungeon is made accessible early in the game, but doesn’t actually need to be completed for some time.
If the meat of any RPG is its story, then the combat system is the sauce that pulls the meal together. In this sense, Tales of Symphonia is the most delicious thing ever served. The Tales games have always, rightly, avoided turn based combat and it’s a mystery why the system on show here hasn’t been adopted by other games.
Any of the characters can be controlled in combat, although it’s most likely you’ll stick with Lloyd. Combat takes place on horizontal planes, although switching targets will also change the character’s plane. Imagine, if you will, a kind of RPG Super Smash Bros., where characters knock seven bells out of each other in a frantic arena setting.
There is some kind of organisation to this chaos, in the form of setting ‘strategies’ or behavioural routines for your AI partners. Alternatively, Tales of Symphonia allows other players to pick up controllers and join in with combat, in a kind of semi-multiplayer nod which would be perfect for, for example, group Let’s Play videos.
The combat system is messy and anarchic, but that’s as it should be. The old RPG standard of characters lining up, swinging swords at the air and watching numbers fall off their enemies was devised as a solution to a problem that no longer exists – namely, the inability to program complex combat mechanics on primitive systems – and Tales of Symphonia is all the better for abandoning it.
Adding to the appeal of the busy fight scenes is the anime graphical style and wide range of colours. While the models and animations are not as high quality as they might have been in a game with less of a disc space requirement, they’re very enjoyable to look at. The towns are usually the most impressive, boasting a lot of detail and a pastel-colour palette that makes the locations look like a painting.
Less spectacular is the world map, a vast expanse of green cursed with an abysmal draw distance and a tendency for the characters to get stuck on scenery. Other than the occasional hidden chest, there’s very little to do in the overworld and the re-released game would really have benefitted from some sort of fast travel system.
Music is functional if, with the admirable exception of the opening cinematic, unmemorable. A collection of RPG standard styles, it usually captures the mood of its respective scene. Some of the combat soundtrack can be on the annoying side, especially after several hundred battles, but it’s usually masked by the sound of sword swings and characters calling their special moves.
The voice work on display is average to good depending on circumstance, and some characters are better done than others. For the most part though voice acting is restricted to important cutscenes and battles, so if it isn’t your cup of tea it’s easily avoided (or you can change it to Japanese!)
The HD remake of Tales of Symphonia alone is enough for Chronicles to be worthy of high praise, and its addition of Dawn of the New World only sweetens the deal. There’s a lack of space to review it in full, but suffice to say that although it’s not quite as polished as the older game, it’s certainly a worthy addition to the series.
Whether you’re a series aficionado or completely new to the Tales Of world, Tales of Symphonia Chronicles is a worthwhile investment indeed. For all the water-cooler moments in combat, the likeable characters and truly epic time investment required to finish it, you’ll never forget it. 90%