Let me clue you in about a little secret about the Tales series and me. They're the only series of games that I own that I've never beaten. Phantasia I gave up due to lack of time while I lost interest in Destiny and Eternia when I was nearing the end.
So when I decided to pick up Destiny 2 I was expecting the same result...and was pleasantly surprised by how it actually turned out.
"Hey Loni, do you know why mom and dad got married? I heard that they used to fight all the time..."
"You're so naive Kyle. Their friendship gradually turned to love while they were adventuring together and...wait a minute. Does that mean that I'm going to fall in love with you?"
As the title implies, Tales of Destiny 2 is a direct sequel to Tales of Destiny 1 and takes place 18 years after the exploits of Stahn and Co. You take control of Stahn and Rutee's son Kyle in his quest to become a "real hero". Don't be fooled by its decidedly run of the mill beginnings though. The scope of that story that ToD2 tackles is as large as Phantasia's and poses a very theological question to its players.
"I want to go on a trip to see the world. A grand adventure, just like dad went on!"
The world of ToD2 is made completely in 2D sprites, a form that is becoming increasingly rare as 3D RPGs are become common place. Yet the amount of care that has been put into the game really shows in both the detail that most of the areas have been treated with and the varied enemies you face throughout the game. In particular, I felt that the sprites during battles were both bigger and more detailed than in the previous games.
It's also worth mentioning that the character designs in ToD2 have more of an artistic feel to them than the previous games. Unfortunately, this is rarely evident in the game itself due to the sprite-based designs.
"My father told me...to trust. To keep on trusting. That trusting was the sign of true strength."
The main theme behind the Tales series of games has always been "friendship" and "making the other party members feel alive". The Tales games all accomplish this through the use of optional spoken dialgoues that are accessicible by pressing the select button (although I hear that the US versions of the games had this feature taken out for the most part). The sheer amount of dialogue present in ToD2 is amazing, to say the least. Not only are all the plot-related events voiced, there is at least double the amount of optional dialogues in ToD2 than any of the previous games. It is in these dialogues that you see the characters interact and form strong bonds.
"Kyle, wake up! Kyle! That's it...special attack! The Wakening of the Dead!"
Of course, the highlight of any Tales game is in its battle system. Dubbed the "Trust and Tactical Linear Motion Battle System" (Oh, those silly Japanese), the battles take place in a real-time 2D field where you can take direct control of one character and indirect control of the others. You can pull off many different special attacks and chain combo your enemies into submission in a variety of ways. In fact, you're graded at the end of each battle, which in turn affects what types of bonuses you can earn if/when you decide to play through the game a second time.
In addition, each of the special attacks and spells can be coupled with secondary characteristics to customize them. Will you choose to choose to equip an attack with a guard breaking function or allow final attacks to be performed? Will you speed up the casting time of a spell or will you go for wider range? The customizability of these attacks allows for a lot of different playing styles to work during battle.
Unfortunately, this great battle system of ToD2 is coupled with a problem that has been a bane of mine ever since I started buying the Tales series. The encounter rate is set much too high to make for smooth progress. In fact, I was almost about to give up on the game about 20 hours in because of this but then I realized something. The game allows you to set the character you have direct control over on auto as well...which effectively makes all battles auto battles. Armed with this knowledge, I kept the auto battles on through all the remaining dungeons, only taking it off for tough enemies and bosses.
"So kid, how would you like to work as a waiter?"
In addition to the battles, there are a number of mini-games featured in ToD2. These mini-games range from being a waiter at a restaurant to the battle arena featured in the first game. That and of course the cooking system that is a cornerstone of all Tales games. While you don't need to play any of these mini-games to beat the game, doing so will allow you to get secret items and nicknames.
"Stop chasing after girls' skirts Loni, you damned pervert!"
Nicknames are used in ToD2 to determine how your stats will be affected when your characters level up. There are dozens of nicknames for each character in the game and are earned after either an event or a rather amusing dialogue sequence. The nickname system allows the player to modify each character to the type of characters that they want them to be.
"~Lalala~, I just love shoveling snow!"
The biggest highlight of ToD2's music is probably the theme song performed by popular singer Kuraki Mai. It's a good song, although I prefer some of her other songs over the one featured in the game. The music in the game itself is quite serviceable, although there's nothing about it that really stood out in my mind.
"Looks like you're having trouble getting over this ledge. Want me to help you out?"
The controls in the game are right on, and it's very rare that you'll make any mistakes during battle that arises out of the controls, although you might perform the wrong skill by accident. My only complaint involves the annoying puzzles that rely on your trigger reflexes but that's not a fault of the controls, just the designers.
"The worst tragedies are born out of good intentions..."
It's not too often that a game turns out differently than what I had expected, but I'm glad that ToD2 did just that. I was expecting a boring story saved by a decent battle system only to find that both the story and the characters were engrossing enough to make this game worth playing all the up the end. Heck, they even threw in a series of extra events and skills for those willing to the play the game a second (or third) time. What more can you ask for...aside from lower encounter rates?
© 2002 Namco