Until this year, Nintendo's GameCube couldn't boast very many high-profile RPG titles, as most companies preferred to release their offerings in the genre on Sony's PlayStation 2. While the latter still remains true, Nintendo's platform will receive three high-profile games this year as well. Apart from Monolith's Baten Kaitos and Square Enix's Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, the newest incarnation of Namco's long-running Tales series should definitely satisfy many GameCube players' thirst for RPGs.
While Tales of Symphonia will stick to the series' traditional anime visual style, this will be the first installment to be done entirely in 3D. On the other hand, a well-known face has returned to join the title's development staff. After a lengthy hiatus, Kousuke Fujishima has returned as character designer. The man best known for working on Ouji Hiroi's Sakura Taisen series was also responsible for the character designs for Tales of Phantasia in 1995. Anime fans might also recognize him as the manga artist responsible for "Oh, My Goddess" and "You’re Under Arrest."
Continuing with the tradition of hiring popular Japanese artists to perform a RPG's main theme, Namco has opted for the trio, Day After Tomorrow, to perform Tales of Symphonia's main theme "Starry Heavens." Voice acting will play a major part in story development though no concrete details about a domestic voice cast have yet been made.
In Tales of Symphonia, players will enter the world of Silverland, a world on the verge of ruin. 4,000 years after the Ancient Wars, an evil known as "Dizaian" is awakening. This entity has slumbered for over four millennia after being sealed away by a legendary couple, the hero Mitos and goddess Matel, at the end of that epic struggle. In the time following the Ancient Wars, there was a period of peace and prosperity in which the people forgot about the evil Dizaian. However, an unnoticed and steady stream of energy kept flowing through the seal, reviving the unholy entity sealed within. Furthermore, people were exploiting mana, the very essence of life, and from thereon Silverland was drifting ever closer to calamity.
In this time of impending chaos, the oracle gave the people one small glimpse of hope: a reincarnation of the goddess would appear and renew the broken seal. Though even more complicated is the fact that a parallel world to Silverland exists, a place known as Teseal. Bringing back prosperity and peace to Silverland would mean sending Teseal into turmoil. Where is the reincarnation of the goddess? Was it possible to prevent the ambivalent sacrifice of an entire world just to save Silverland? Thus begins to voyage of 17-year old Lloyd Irving.
Controlling Lloyd, the player’s task lies in restoring the once happy worlds to their former, peaceful selves. Lloyd is joined in his quest by the heroine Collet Brunel and his close friend, the genius magician, Genius Sage. Other characters include the cool-headed assassin Shihna, sent to end Collet's life, and Zelos Wilder, a 22-year old swordsman lacking any real profession except flirting with every girl that crosses his path. Last, but certainly not least, is 12-year old Presea Combatir, who is pretty unsuccessful in trying to replace her sick dad as a lumberjack. Growing up, Lloyd was raised by his dwarf foster father shortly after his parents passed away. Collet, on the other hand, as a blood-relative of Mana, happens to be the reincarnation of Matel mentioned by the oracle and is destined to lock away Dizaian. Together with Lloyd and company, she will set out on the adventure of a lifetime.
Despite being described by its developers as a linear title without any branches in the story, it will be impossible to watch the large amount of different event scenes contained in Tales of Symphonia in one play-through. Depending on the player’s decisions during conversation scenarios, different event scenes might occur. Symphonia's cast of playable characters, which will be largest yet to be seen in any Tales game, will vary in size throughout the game. Apart from the traditional process of collecting of party members, there is also the chance of characters leaving your party upon feeling neglected or treated unfairly during certain conversation sequences.
The development team at Tales Studio will be once again implementing special skills, grades, formation attacks, combos and tons of secrets in this installment, but is omitting the SP system used in most Tales titles. As previously mentioned, Symphonia's maps will shine in complete 3D and battles will not so surprisingly be fought in complete 3D as well. The combat will center around Namco’s Multi-Line Linear Motion Battle System or ML-LMBS, which is basically a 3D update of the 2D Linear Motion Battle System used in previous Tales games. During these real-time battles, players simply select an enemy within their characters’ sight, choose an action and watch the execution of the desired attack.
Tales of Symphonia will be available in Japan as a double disc set on August 29th 2003. Luckily, Namco Hometek has confirmed that, unlike last year's extremely popular Tales of Destiny 2 for PlayStation 2, the series' first entry on GameCube will find its way across the Pacific though no release date has yet been set.
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