Namco finally decided to bring Tales of Eternia stateside after its spectacular performance in Japan, under the new title of Tales of Destiny II. Though there is no Limited Edition for US fans, the fact that the game was localized is more then enough to make RPG players and Tales fans cheer.
Another interesting fact making fans happy is that the localization follows closely the Japanese script, according to localization producer Aki Kozu. Fans will notice no weird names, hack jobs, missing functions and still Japanese battle voices that they had experienced in Tales of Destiny. The Melnics language used in the game is also relatively intact. Namco even went so far as to re-dub it with the English voice actors! I guess this is their way of making it up for Tales of Destiny.
Tales of Destiny II is actually the third game in the Tales series of games and without question, the best. Tales of Destiny II takes place in the world of Eternia, which is separated into 2 by a rift known as the Orbus Barrier. Inferia is the half of the world where the game begins; Celestia is the mysterious world on the other side of the Orbus Barrier. The 2 worlds have had no contact with each other for over 2000 years, and the people of Inferia only know of the Celestians as a barbaric race.
The story begins in the remote village of Rasheans, home to Reid and Farah. During a hunting trip, Reid meets up with his childhood friend Farah near the outskirts of the village, where she is observing a strange light on the Orbus barrier. Things were peaceful until a flying craft almost crashes flat into them before smashing into a clearing in the woods. Rushing to investigate, our heroes meet Meredy, a Celestian girl with a grave warning for larger events to come. Events begin in earnest when Farah and a disgruntled Reid decide to find a way to understand Meredyís language and eventually, in traditional RPG fashion, save the world. As cliched as it sounds, expect a whole load of very interesting plot twists and character development while adventuring!
Tales of Destiny II is, in a sense, a very traditional RPG. Even so, the game holds its own with unique gameplay and a highly addictive battle system. The battles in the game are fully real time with an exception when entering menus and pausing with the Start button. Players will control the 1st character in the 1st slot, which is usually Reid. The game supports the Multitap function, so up to 4 players can join in the battles. Players will then move their characters back and forth, attacking enemies, casting spells, unleashing skills and chaining combos together with the press of buttons. In simple summary, the battles play out like a fighting game.
Unlike the previous Tales games though, the battles in Tales of Destiny II are faster, more intense and combo intensive. The enemies players face have unearthly amounts of HP and power, so it will not be a surprise if players find their entire party annihilated if they are not quick enough or get cornered. Hard battle difficulty can be selected in the game options, but itís really not recommended for the weak of heart or inexperienced.
Combos are not only important in helping to rake up damage on enemies, but also reward with bonus experience when the battle ends, so the more hits the better. The battles do get rather addictive later in the game when the characters learn more skills and when the player become more accustomed to the fast pace of the battles. Tales of Destiny II is one of the few RPGs where battles actually arenít tedious due to their speed and minimal loading time.
Attack levels govern Battle Techniques used by Reid and Farah. Slash and Thrust for Reid, Punch and Kick for Farah. These stats are represented in their status screen and the higher they go, the more Techniques that are revealed for the characters. Certain skills, namely Sacred Arts consisting of a combination of 2 or 3 techniques require their base skills to reach certain proficiencies as well. The more times a certain skill is used, the more skilled the character is in executing it. Proficiency is represented for Reid and Farah in a numerical value, which shows the number of times the skill has been used. People may think this tedious but skills are gained at a reasonable pace, so all gained skills will have their chance of being used repeatedly.
To top it all off, the skills have their own strengths in different situations. For instance, Farahís Eagle Dive is an air-to-ground attack, so itís effective against small or short enemies, while Reidís Demon Spiral Hammer is effective for juggling enemies into the air. Players will find themselves alternating from their available skills to compliment battle conditions.
The magic system in Tales of Destiny II has also gotten quite a revamp. The system is known as the Craymel Cage system and it executes like an extremely simplified Guardian Force system that was used in Final Fantasy VII. Players will eventually meet and receive the aid of Greater Craymels like Undine, Sylph and Efreet early in the game.
Keel and Meredy are the only characters that make use of the Craymel Cage system. The obtained Greater Craymels are divided into 2 cages, a green cage for Meredy and a red cage for Keel. Only when the Greater Craymel is in the respective characterís cage can their ability be used. For instance, Undineís innate spell is Spread. If she is in Keelís cage, then only Keel will be able to cast Spread and not Meredy. If Undine is passed to Meredy, then Keel will no longer be able to cast Spread but Meredy will. Later, when other Greater Craymels join, they can be Fringed to unlock more powerful abilities and spells depending on which cage they are in.
Simply put, it is not possible to possess all the available spells at one time. This allows great customization as certain combinations will allow certain spells but negate others, and players will have to decide what spells they want to compliment their styles of battling.
Each Greater Craymel has its own level as well, and will gain experience when spells under their element are used to defeat enemies. In addition, the Greater Craymels each have a Vitality Bar. Each time a spell under their element is cast, the bar will increase by 1 until it reaches 10 where it will Max out and a flashing Max word will appear under the characterís TP value. When Max occurs, the character will then be able to summon the Greater Craymel into the battle to unleash some serious eye candy and in the process, conveniently thrash enemies and/or provide restorative benefits to the battle party. Call it a magical Limit Break if you will.
Mini-games are also strewn all over the game. Ranging from a card game that resembles UNO, called WHIS, a train delivery game, a naval battle, a ball game resembling tag, a rafting game and many others. Some can be played over and over while some are one-time only events. The mini-games do however add some amusement value to this already great game and can really be very challenging.
Side-quests are plentiful as well. Some are pretty obvious while others require visiting a previously visited locale or talking to a certain person at a certain time. The amount of secrets in this game is simply overwhelming and really kicks up the already high replay value of the game. Doing these side-quests occasionally rewards players with items, options and commands that are normally unobtainable if players were to play the game in a linear fashion. Exploration and a photographic memory are a must for some quests, while others require simple exploration of the world map.
Other miscellaneous and interesting kinks include customizing the ship Van Eltiaís cabins as long as the player has enough Gald. Using fighting game style controls to execute skills with a certain item and completing an entire Item and Monster encyclopedia provided you fight them first! Iím just getting a kick out of telling myself that I: ďGotta fight them all!Ē for the monsters or ďGotta collect them all!Ē for the items.
Control in the game is very smooth, maybe even too responsive when running around, as first time players will find themselves bumping into walls or covering more ground then necessary. Patience and practice, however, will eventually put the player in control. The responsive controls are there for a reason, though.
The battles, as mentioned before, can be extremely fast-paced. The controls respond perfectly to commands in battle, and the action buttons are all well planned as players will be able to have their character guard, run, jump, open battle menus and execute skills from the preset buttons. Some controls take some time getting used to, but all in all, control is a breeze in battles. I canít imagine, or should I say, dread to imagine if this game had horrible controls. Namco really did a good job calibrating the control system. The menus are all very convenient. Heck, there is even a timer to tell you how long it had been since you last saved! Very crucial if you ask me, since this game has the habit of making you conveniently forget to save due to its gripping events and nail-biting, thumb-blistering battles.
The graphics in the game can only be described as pseudo-3D. Itís a fascinating mix of 2D and 3D and makes the gameís locales and battles a visual tour de force. The characters are represented in well animated 2D sprites on the field and in battle. Their movements and expressions are unbelievably smooth, especially in battles. Spells and skills are all very well animated, fast and visually pleasing. Animation this smooth is rarely seen, even in the previous Tales games. Just the sight of enemies being shredded by shards of ice followed immediately by an aerial sword tech without any slowdown or delay is already a monumental achievement in its own right.
The game has occasional animated scenes. Most of such scenes are rather simple and occasionally amusing. Towns, villages and dungeons are also large and very well designed.
Music in the game is atmospheric, fast-paced and varied with over 100+ tracks. The battle music makes battles that much more exciting and the location music really sets the mood for exploring. The only tracks missing would be the Japanese vocal track, Flying. The track has been replaced by an orchestral piece which compensates for Flying as it is quite well done in its own right.
Sound is very well done also, spell sounds especially! Cracking lightning, fiery explosions, freezing ice, raging water and practically every other in-game sound is crisp and clear. The game spans 3 discs not for the fact of its large assortment of music but also due to the character voices. Voices are used a lot in battle and in many plot scenes, and I mean many! The voice acting is average at best and though not excellent, is still quite an accomplishment.
Namco finally decided to do dubbing after many complaints from fans of their previous stateside release, Tales of Destiny. For players who still do not like the English voices, there is always the option to turn it off in the Options menu. I donít see the reason why, though, as the voices in battle are all part of the enjoyment. Certain plot events are also more interesting with voices, especially so for a certain hilarious character called Max. Voices are also used in the World Map. Players can press the Select button to hear a vocal explanation from a party member about the current objectives; a pretty nifty feature!
RPG fans out there have probably already bought this game the moment it became available. Tales of Destiny II comes as highly recommended for the sake of killing boredom as well as a form of pure traditional RPG goodness. Namco was also cheeky enough to add a little flip-book comic of Reid and Farah at the bottom corners of the game manual. Players can flip the pages to watch the faces animate! Pretty interesting from a company that almost didnít bring this game stateside. Anyway, if you consider yourself a fan of the Tales series, you wouldnít even have to read this review to know that Tales of Destiny II is a hit!