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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

Graphics: 75%
Sound: 81%
Gameplay: 86%
Control: 79%
Story: 80%
Overall: 82%
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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Xenofan 29A
Tales of Symphonia
Xenofan 29A

The GameCube has, like the Nintendo 64 before it, very few RPGs. Some of the ones that were released are nearly bad enough for a die-hard RPG fan to abandon Nintendo entirely for the RPG-inundated PlayStation 2. As if in response to this, Namco has moved its Tales series once more back to a Nintendo console, and the result is an RPG that is excellent in concept and game design, if slightly flawed in writing and execution.

Tales of Symphonia is the fifth game in Namco's Tales series, and the third to officially reach American audiences. The first, Tales of Phantasia, was on the Super Famicom, while the following two, Tales of Destiny and Tales of Eternia, were on the PlayStation. Tales of Destiny received a true sequel on the PlayStation 2 in 2002, and Tales of Symphonia moved the series to the GameCube (only for one installment, as the next game, Tales of Rebirth, is on the PS2 again).

The game's animé opening is great, and the music written for the American version isn't bad, unlike Tales of Destiny's mediocre intro music. It is unfortunate, however, that Namco insists on taking out the J-Pop songs in the Tales series for their American releases. The animation in the scene is very smooth, and also makes good use of color. It is, therefore, disappointing that there aren't too many of these FMVs in the game. Not including the opening, there are about 3.

The storyline begins as a normal clichéd plot of a young girl named Collette on her quest to save the world, helped by the main character, Lloyd Irving. Lloyd, like Tales of Destiny's Stahn, is a thick idealist (better hairstyle though.) He is Collette's childhood friend, so when she leaves without him on her journey of "World Regeneration," he follows, eventually getting mixed up in a jumble of events that lead their party into a struggle for the fate of two interconnected worlds.

The plot is definitely enjoyable, and it has plenty of twists, some of which are easy to see coming, some of which are impossible to guess at prior to their revealing. The game answers most questions pretty quickly, while leaving others for much later and asking new ones. It occasionally seems to move in spurts, however, with a lot being told at once, with long dry segments in-between. The pacing is decent, however, and it moves at a quick clip, directly opposite Xenosaga, with its habit of revealing everything in a slow and cryptic manner. When it gets down to it, the ending is good, but not as ultimately satisfying as something such as Final Fantasy X.

The graphics in the game are good at times, great at others, and sometimes quite blurry. Environments are well detailed, and the character models are animated quite nicely. Often during cutscenes, and in some field areas, Namco, for some idiotic reason, has used a blur effect, probably in attempt to make things look smoother. It comes off pretty badly though, and can occasionally hinder the experience. The character designs are nice, and the enemies are very lively, constantly moving in one way or another. Indeed, it is in battle that this game's graphics truly shine, with the constant 3D rendered field and magic spell effects moving quickly. However, there is occasional slowdown when there is a lot going on.

The gameplay is typical for the Tales series. Lloyd and co. move through 3D environments, battling enemies and solving puzzles. The enemies are seen on the field prior to battle, and they are quite easy to avoid. Puzzles are generally pretty easy, especially with some familiarity with the style of Wild ARMS or Zelda games. This time, the fabled sorcerer's ring has a new function for nearly every dungeon (remember when all it could do is shoot out a little spark?) Dungeon designs are decent: not spectacular, but not especially bad either.

The battling system is an improved version of the previous Tales system, now in psuedo 3D. Character movement is on a 2D plane with the targeted enemy. The A button controls regular attacks, while the B button controls techs. Most normal enemies can be defeated by running up to them and mashing the A button, with occasional variations on attack type. It is an enjoyable system, but although there are plenty of options on customizing attack strategies and such for the CPU controlled players, I never really needed them, as the game wasn't very challenging. The game is more difficult than Tales of Destiny was, though, as it is more difficult to stop a boss enemy's spell this time. Still, this has got to be the only RPG where the final boss can be defeated in under 2 minutes. (I took about 1:54)

Side quests and minigames are abundant, but I really didn't explore that aspect of the game too much, so I have little comment.

The voice acting is decent for most of the characters. Some of it is quite over-acted, but it was never so bad that I felt the urge to turn it off. Nearly every major scene in the game is voiced, and the voices in battle aren't bad either.

Occasionally, in the lower left corner of the screen, a picture of the Z button will appear, with some words next to it. If you press the Z button at this time, you will watch a "skit" where the characters talk to each other. There are plenty of these, and they're usually quite entertaining, with some insight on the characters' personalities. The text in them moves quite slowly, however.

The music is typical Tales style, with all the good and bad that that entails. The worst thing about the music is the lack of variety in instrumentation. The compositions are quite good, for the most part, and the ending credits music, in particular, is great. On the other hand, the main boss battle theme is horrible, with no merit whatsoever. The synthesizers used sound a little dated, but are quite clear.

Tales of Symphonia is a good RPG, with a balance of good gameplay, a decent plot, likable characters, and nice music. Its one true flaw is that it doesn't really shine in any one area, but this is minor compared to the fact that GCN owners now have an RPG which they can call their own, and be proud of it. I recommend it highly to RPG fans.


©2003-2004 NAMCO LTD., All Rights Reserved.

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