Tales of Destiny is Namco’s first foray into the next-generation of RPG’s, and it is apparent that they haven’t lost their touch. Tales of Destiny is the sequel to the popular, but Japanese only, Tales of Phantasia for the Super Famicom system. It packs a classic style of game into a cutting edge package that is sure to please old and new RPG players. Namco has put everything into this one, including a beautiful full color manual that will please every RPG collector.
“Enemy on high.”
A thousand years ago a comet with special energies crashed onto the planet. The world’s axis was thrown off and countries suffered from great floods. And dust from the impact covered the skies creating a nuclear winter, freezing the planet.
The survivors built floating cities to reach past the clouds to the sun. And a new form of energy, LENS, was formed from the material of the comet.
The first Aeropolis (floating city) was Dycroft, but only a select few were allowed to live on it, as it could not carry the population of the planet. As time passed, those living on Dycroft began to separate themselves from those on the ground, calling themselves Aethereans and those on the ground were named E’rthers. With the power of LENS the Aetherians developed Belcrant; a powerful weapon designed to punish any E’rthers that dared defy them.
Eventually rebellion ensued despite the tremendous advantage the Aetherians held. An advantage that was brief though, as scientists that helped develop Belcrant defected to the E’rthers because of the tyrannical ways of the Aetherians in power. These scientists used their knowledge of LENS to develop the Swordians; sentient weapons designed to defeat Belcrant and the Aetherians. Due to the efforts of the Swordian Masters, the floating cities of the Aeropolis were destroyed one by one and sank into the sea.
After the E’rther victory, the Swordians were placed into stasis until the time came when evil once again rose to the skies…
The story in Tales of Destiny is told well, slowly pulling the player in and letting them get to know the characters before letting the plot with all its twists and turns kick in. You control Stahn Aileron, a young and naive farm boy with a heart as big as all outdoors. While stowing away on a transport ship, Stahn is captured by the crew. After being assigned to swabbing the deck, monsters seize the transport ship and Stahn must find a way to defend himself. Deep in the cargo hold he comes across an old sword. To his surprise, the sword begins to communicate to him. It is a Swordian, and Stahn is its new master. Thus begins this epic adventure, as the Swordian masters must once again vanquish a terrible evil.
The characters in the game are strong, and the developers do a good job of keeping them in character. The dialogue is well written and never seems to wander off track. It is also sprinkled with humor and it isn’t a chore to talk to the townspeople as they usually have something interesting to say even if it isn’t something important. Its only downfall is that it tends to fall short on the emotional scenes, as the dialogue sometimes feels forced or simply not there during these scenes. There are times when more needs to be said, and times when too much is said. Otherwise the dialogue is right on and very well translated, easily on par with Working Designs.
Another problem I had with the story was that too many of the characters were too 1-dimensional, especially Stahn. It gets to the point that the reactions of the characters are predictable. We never get more than what is just on the surface. A few characters have some deep secrets and show genuine emotion, but it is too few and far-between to really make you care that much for the characters or even wonder what may become of them. The characters almost seem secondary to the main story line. They could have improved this by giving you some dialogue choices for Stahn that would effect character relationships, but the story sticks tightly to the script. A little too tightly maybe.
The plot itself starts out very slowly and it will unfortunately turn many people off before they get to the heart of it. Because of the blandness of the characters and the extremely linear nature of the plot, it is difficult to get through those first 5 or 10 hours of gameplay. The A to B to C adventuring gets very tedious when there is nothing of any real interest happening between those points. But after the first 10 or so hours, the plot really kicks in and begins twisting and turning. The A to B to C gameplay doesn’t bother you as much because you want to know what happens next. The second half of the game is wonderfully paced and will leave you wanting more when it is all over.
While the story does have its problems early on, it leaves you more than satisfied and a bit emotional at the end. It is a fun ride, not taking itself too seriously and just delivering an interesting world to surround the skeleton of the gameplay.
“Old Fashioned Beauty.”
The graphics in Tales of Destiny will at times send you into a nostalgic whirlwind to the glory days of the 16-bit era. At other times it will simply amaze you and leave no doubt that this is a next-generation game despite being 2D. 2D isn’t dead, just not enough people are pushing it to the next level.
The game opens with a beautiful anime sequence, which is of very high quality. Wonderfully animated and worth watching every time the game boots up. There are other anime story sequences sprinkled throughout the game, but none can match the intro.
The over-world and town graphics are very simple and the only detriment to this game graphically. The landscapes look squished and very bland, not even as good as some of the SNES RPG’s. The lack of detail really hurts the graphics, as a lot of time is spent walking and fighting. With nothing nice to look at it gets very tedious going from place to place. It is also very hard to navigate as you really can’t see very far around your character and the map is small and ambiguous. The town graphics are also fairly bland, mainly because of the simplistic color schemes and lack of detail. One town runs into the next with very little to set one apart from the next. Occasionally you will gasp at the little touches that they included like reflections in the water, ripples and footprints, but those only impress once or twice and your still left with very dull towns that you have to search.
The graphics improve and show some great creativity in some of the mazes you must explore. It really shows that most of the effort went into these areas. Transparencies, lighting, reflections and beautifully drawn textures make each area interesting to look. And not only are they fun to look at but they are usually functional and enhance the gameplay. 3 dimensional layered puzzles, reflected enemies and colored teleportation mirrors only scratch the surface.
Where the graphics really shine is during battle. Super-deformed characters fight it out in extremely fluid animation, nearly on par with Capcom’s 2D fighting games. The characters could fit right into their Pocket Fighter game because the animation is that good. These aren’t old school graphics, they aren’t retro. This is cutting edge 2D and is incredible for the PlayStation. Some special attacks have maybe 20 to 30 frames of animation each. Spells use a variety of tricks from transparent sprites to polygonal effects. When everyone is attacking at once it is an unbelievable cacophony of sight and sound.
The music in Tales of Destiny is also very nostalgic. The arrangements are simple and catchy. They do the job but won’t necessarily impress you or stay with you long after the game is over. Some of the tunes are very annoying and are far too boisterous when it isn’t necessary. The battle music also tends to get on your nerves after awhile, and that isn’t good for a 30 + hour game.
Thankfully Namco decided to just keep all the Japanese voice-overs instead of doing shoddy dubs. And the voice is mainly confined to battles so it doesn’t interfere with your enjoyment of the game, only enhancing it. The winning exclamations are all well done and really get you into the battles.
The gameplay in Tales of Destiny combines classic exploring and puzzle solving aspects with an incredibly intense and innovative battle system. The puzzles themselves aren’t all that hard to figure out, but a few will keep you guessing for awhile. Because of the sheer number of options you have to solve the puzzles, it makes it more difficult. Characters can push or pull objects, move floor plates, use special rings or throw switches to open up new areas. The mazes are somewhat complex though never really forcing you into really long dead ends. You mainly have to backtrack a lot, throwing a switch then moving an object, then going back to throw the switch again. Or you might have to break through weak walls or use a certain ring to trigger something somewhere else. The mazes never weigh you down with their immensity or leave clues that are much too vague.
The battle system is simply a blast to play. And I’ll tell you a secret. If you have a multi-tap and you can find three copies of a certain accessory, you can have up to 4 friends fighting together in battle. I was only able to find 2 of the accessories but it is still a major blast playing an RPG with a friend. Battles are all fought in real time. There is no time bar or countdown clock. You attack as fast as you can, and you better be fast because the enemy is. You have a regular attack with the circle button, and that attack can hit high, slash to do more damage or thrust to hit from a distance if you have a staff type weapon or hit multiple targets with a sword if they’re bunched together. The X button performs a special attack. You earn these as you gain levels and they usually hit more than once. Special attacks are perfect for pulling off big combos with the other characters. And once you find a certain item, you can gain extra experience for each combo you complete. The more times you hit, the more experience you get. To get the really big combos you need to time your attacks right with another character doing a special attack and you need to be fighting a strong opponent. If the enemy is weak they will die before the attack is over. You can string special attacks together as the game is in real time, so those combos can get very high if the timing stays right and your teammates keep attacking as well. The square button lets you defend against physical attacks. It is wise to defend and then immediately attack after your opponent, as you will catch them off guard.
If you hit the triangle button in battle a menu will come up. This is where you can use magic. Only characters equipped with a Swordian can use magic. The Swordians will gain experience along with you and will gain new spells as well as becoming stronger. Spells take some time to charge and the stronger the spell, the longer it takes. If you are hit by an enemy while you are charging the spell will cancel itself. You can also issue commands to your teammates from this menu. You can tell them to step back and let you handle it alone, ask them to help you out or try to escape. You can also set the disposition of your teammates from here or in the menu out of battle. You can have them attack with their strongest spells and special, or hold back and conserve their energy. You can also choose whether they will attack near or far enemies, or attack enemies with high or low hit points. The in-battle menu is also where you use items. Items will be used regardless of whether or not you are hit while using them so take the enemy’s position into consideration before using an item or a spell.
The gameplay is very well balanced with easy battles early on that let you get used to the set-up. And you’ll need the warm up as some of the later battles are very intense and will have you thinking fast. Since it is all in real time you can’t really thin too much while fighting. You can pause the game but the situations change so quickly that you really have to choose what to do almost instantaneously. You can be on one side of the enemies or they may surround you. You can reverse formation in battle with the L1 button and you can target specific foes with the R1 button. It makes for extremely entertaining and intense battles. If you aren’t paying attention you could be dead before you even knew what happened. If things get too intense for you there is the option of letting the computer take over completely. The computer controlled character fight fairly well but will sometimes make stupid decisions like searching for Gald on the floor when you need them to heal someone. The computer could probably win the game on its own, but that wouldn’t be very entertaining. This game is a joy to play because of this battle system and the fights never really get boring as you are always trying to improve your timing and trying to choose the proper attacks. The battles flow smoothly and once you learn to flow with them it will be hard to go back to the simple turn based systems in most RPG’s.
There are tons of secrets scattered throughout the game. Some are easy to find and figure out while others pretty much require you to have some kind of guide. I’m getting a bit tired of these impossible to find secrets that are only there to sell strategy guides. Thankfully I have the Internet at my disposal and as many secret guides as I need at my fingertips. One secret in the game combines the best of both worlds. It is easy to find and a blast once you find it, but impossible to beat without some kind of guide.
Tales of Destiny is a very well made RPG and one of the best I’ve had the pleasure to play this year. While it sticks to traditions and gives fans of the classics something to get excited about, it also manages to take RPG’s another step into the future with its innovative battle system. It certainly has its flaws and there are things I would have personally liked to have been handled differently, especially character relationships, but it is a solid and entertaining game. Real-time RPG’s are the future and the future is here. Prepare to be entertained as the days of pressing the same button over and over while you fall asleep staring at the screen are over. Time to wake up and smell the butt kicking.