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Platform: GameCube
Publisher: Namco Hometek
Developer: Tales Studio / Namco
Genre: Real-Time RPG
Format: mini DVD-ROM
Released: US 07/13/04
Japan 08/29/03



Scorecard
Graphics: 91%
Sound: 89%
Gameplay: 93%
Control: 92%
Story: 96%
Overall: 92%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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School days, school days...
 
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An intense battle.
 
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The party takes flight.
 
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Side conversations help flesh out the characters.
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Micheal J. Wright
Tales of Symphonia
10/20/05
Micheal J. Wright

As a GameCube owner and RPG freak, I had quickly become exasperated with the lack of decent RPGs being released exclusively on the system. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was a multi-player junkheap that would require a) me having three friends, b) those four friends having three Gameboy Advances and c) those three Gameboy Advance-owning-friends to also own three Gameboy Advance-to-GameCube link cables. This was being touted as the GC's first true epic RPG. Alas, it was not an epic: it was in shambles. The other game touted as an epic was Skies of Arcadia Legends: a port of the only true Dreamcast RPG, which was great but not excellent. So I wasn't exactly excited by the prospect of Tales of Symphonia. But I went out and brought it: and thank goodness I did! Tales of Symphonia is simply one of the greatest RPGs of all time, a Final Fantasy VII beater with a deep and interesting (if wholly unoriginal) story, beautifully realised characters and locations, as well as an amazing battle system.

The sound and music in Tales of Symphonia is great. The music is wonderful: although I'm not a fan of the music for the various Desian ranches. The songs are always varied and repetitions of the various tunes are kept to a minimum. The battle music is great, although it isn't excellent due to the fact it seems rather modern in what is essentially an "old-school" RPG. My favourite tunes include the sweeping and epic Iselia theme and the first encounter with the game's primary villain in the Tower of Salvation (I'm not going to ruin the story for you!). Some of the music, however, seems jaunty and light in places where the story is particularly dark and depressing (Sybak is a good example). The voice acting is great, though the character Colette talks like an eight year old (even though she is supposed to be sixteen), and she apologizes for everything that she does. I half expected her to start apologizing for breathing. Her voice acting really starts to grate after a while (as does the thing she does with her hands every time she starts talking!!). The other characters are voiced very well; highlights include Presea, Mithos and definitely Lloyd.

As for gameplay: it's just brilliant. The controls in battle look deceptively complex, yet are so easy to master. Some aspects of the game are best left out, such as customization, as this doesn't add anything to the game and is quite difficult when you have to scour the vast worlds trying to find items. The "skit" sections add depths to the characters, although like the Private Actions of the Star Ocean series, skits don't add to the overarching plot in any way or alter the ending (but they are still fun!). Character interactions are very well done, and the way the relationships change is incredible to behold. As for the rest of the gameplay, it's the standard affair for old school RPGs with the usual endless ream of menus and stats, weapons, armor, etc. But this is welcome in an ever changing genre where gimmicks like becoming good or evil are only too abundant. This old-school-ness adds to the charm and greatness of Symphonia.

The control system in Symphonia is amazing. The battle controls, I have said already, are easy to master and a variety of spells keep battles from becoming boring. The Battle Control System, along with the ever changing storyline is what keeps the game from becoming sterile and boring. The only problem I have is that sometimes the controller will make a mistake and make the game perform the wrong spell, but this is a very rare occurrence and doesn't sully the game's excellent combat system. Moving around the world map is very easy and the idea that you can skip battles by avoiding the odd blobs on the aforementioned world map is a grateful addition if your team is running low on HP.

The graphics in Symphonia are astounding. Each character is beautifully drawn and are very expressive for a cel shaded game. The landscapes, especially in dungeons, are very well-done. There should have been some improvements done on the World Map, which at times can seem rather bland with endless plains of greens and the obligatory mountains, lakes and deserts. The anime cut scenes are few and far between (thanks to the limitations of the current generation technology) but when they do pop up, they are absolutely breathtaking to behold (my favorite is at the end of disc one...again, I won't ruin the story for you!).

Many people have complained about the unoriginal storyline when reviewing this game. But I am standing alone and disagreeing. The story in Symphonia, for me, is the best thing about the game. After 20 hours the revelations start to come thick and fast, forcing your jaw to remain permanently dropped. The first 20 hours are pretty standard and only mildly interesting, but you'll be glad for it. I think that 80 hours of revelations would leave me a quivering wreck. The story is ever-changing, with great character moments and action pieces that would make this game a riveting anime cartoon. The story will keep you hooked right to the end of the game and the final battle with the antagonist. Along the way, friends will become enemies, enemies will become friends, people will change and destinies will be revealed. Ironically, it sounds like a Desperate Housewives plot!

In conclusion, Tales of Symphonia is one of the most engrossing and downright brilliant RPGs of all time. It's worthy of the title "greatest RPG of all time" and makes Final Fantasy VII look inferior in every respect. This is a must for RPG fanatics and one very good reason to buy Nintendo's under-appreciated GameCube console.



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