The original Tales of Symphonia for Nintendo GameCube is a good game. I have fond memories of renting Symphonia on the GameCube over and over from a local video rental store in the 2000s, and I think it still holds up today. Tales of Symphonia Chronicles on the PlayStation 3 is also a pretty good game: it displays the original in HD, has extra content, and it runs reasonably smoothly (despite its downgrade in framerate from the GCN original).
Tales of Symphonia Remastered, on the other hand, is not a good game — especially on Nintendo Switch. It provides no new updates or upgrades (in fact, it has less content than its predecessor because it lacks the Dawn of the New World spin-off included in Chronicles), runs at an unsteady 30 fps, has terrible load times, has input lag when docked, crashes on occasion (especially before cutscenes), and has compromised audiovisual quality. While it is admittedly more readily available, it is ostensibly the worst way to play Tales of Symphonia.
Tales of Symphonia Remastered starts out like a familiar trip down memory lane. Its opening hours follow cute, big-hearted teen Lloyd and his friend, studious boy Genis, as they seek to accompany this game’s “Chosen One,” Colette, on her adventure to open elemental seals and save the world. I love the opening few hours of Symphonia, as it hits familiar light-hearted first-area vibes, but it also doesn’t wait around to address heavy stuff; throughout this game, Colette and gang encounter great injustices like mass torture, slavery, and genocide, all while they grapple with the traumas of death and general adolescence. When I revisited these opening hours in this “remaster,” I couldn’t help but feel that something was off.
After getting reacquainted with the game’s cast, setting, and themes, I began to feel a paranoia that this isn’t the Symphonia I remember: loading screens are rampant and entirely black or white, menu backgrounds are not transparent, the controls feel wonky and delayed, and the framerate seems inconsistent. Checking my original copy of Symphonia on GameCube (with EON’s GCHD add-on attached for HDMI support), I determined that it looked, sounded, and played much better on GameCube: there is no input lag, the framerate is a rock-solid 60fps, menus are transparent, voices are clearer, load times feel shorter and less frequent, and the textures look more uniform — in the remaster, many background textures look stretched, and highlighted/foreground textures look a bit glossy.
On PS3, it is a similar story: while the framerate is 30 fps, it also looks, sounds, and plays better than this Switch “remaster.” This is exceptionally frustrating, because each version (including the PS2 version) has gotten progressively worse, a unique achievement in mediocrity. I won’t lie — I am a little upset about the sorry state of the Switch “remaster.” What makes me more upset, though, is that I own both the GCN and PS3 versions of this game, and I have to finish the worst version of it to complete this review. I am trapped in a reverse Goldilocks scenario where I have access to two bowls of “just right” porridge, but I have to eat every bite of a third bowl that tastes like Baby Bear got his boogers all up in it. Readers, I can’t tell you how awful it is to spite finish a video game for review, but that’s just what I did with Tales of Symphonia Remastered.
I have to say, the timing of this “remaster” could not be worse. Fans of early 00’s gaming have had a great week playing Metroid Prime Remastered and the new Game Boy emulators added to Switch. These lovingly crafted revisits of nostalgic properties have proven to be — outside of a couple hiccups like Prime’s doors — great successes so far. The attention to detail with the Game Boys’ visual options and smooth emulation, in addition to amazing graphical and control updates to Metroid Prime, shows that games of that era can still be smash hits with the right level of polish. It is supremely disappointing that Symphonia‘s “remaster” will forever be remembered as an antithetical runt to two big successes in modernizing old games.
While I am critical of this “remaster,” I do admit that the original game is a pretty compelling one, and regardless of the lackluster treatment of it, there’s still plenty to love about Tales of Symphonia. For starters, the story is a banger: it follows Lloyd and gang as they seek to restore life-saving mana to the world, with plenty of monsters, fun bosses, and challenging puzzles along the way. I particularly enjoy the shake-up of playing a support role to the “Chosen One” of the game. Colette is the Chosen One here, but the game largely centers around the rest of the party and their trials as they guide her on the journey to become an angel and save the world. There are also several major plot twists along the way to keep things interesting, especially key since the story will take players 60 or more hours to finish.
The gameplay in Symphonia is addictive as well. It has familiar turn-based combat tropes like item usage, “ultimate” moves, and spellcasting, but these are accessible mostly in a pause menu during real-time action combat. Through a combination of directional button combos, skills, and guarding moves, the combat balances fighting game controls and strategy to fantastic effect. Combat is smooth, challenging, and rewards careful play. Additionally, supporting party members are highly customizable, meaning that you can ask them to conserve magic, go “all out,” or use mostly physical or magical damaging moves, among other things. Plus, some of their weapons have visual representations, a nice upgrade from games preceding the GameCube era. While there’s some grinding involved here to beat a few hard bosses, the game rewards persistence and strategy, and button-mashing won’t work in the tougher fights.
Speaking of fights, I adore this game’s battle music. While some RPGs of this era have some really repetitive battle tracks, Symphonia‘s felt fresh throughout 60+ hours of play. In fact, the whole soundtrack is full of bops, thanks to Motoi Sakuraba’s highly memorable score. It is the right mixture of light and heavy to match the game’s tone: it is peppy and upbeat when it wants to be, but it often has a somber melancholy that really sows the feelings of the game’s heavy themes, especially when the cel-shaded and mildly cutesy visuals don’t necessarily do them justice.
The original Tales of Symphonia is a very good game (made worse in Tales of Symphonia Remastered), but the original product is admittedly not one I would call perfect. I think that, like most Tales games, its heavy themes sometimes mismatch with the more light-hearted and humorous tone (and visuals here). That disconnect has the possibility to come across as unempathetic to current real-world humanitarian crises. I find it interesting that Japanese video games have a history of censorship in the West surrounding religious allegory (of which Symphonia has a ton, as well), but the same games rarely consider the impact of themes like mass killing in a society that is highly sensitive to violence — the original Symphonia came out shortly after 9/11, and this “remaster” comes out in the midst of an era plagued with shootings.
Maybe I am overthinking it in this case, but I like to believe that game makers should be handling themes like genocide and slavery with the utmost care, and having Philosopher’s Stone factory/concentration camps doesn’t feel careful to me, especially when the game’s characters gloss over these elements in dialogue, or even joke about it when they destroy them (possibly killing civilians). We might also consider condemning or even leaving out problematic child abusers/genocide apologists like Raine.
In spite of these gripes, I think those looking for a great RPG will find one in Tales of Symphonia. However, for those looking to play it via Tales of Symphonia Remastered, I just cannot recommend it in its current state on Nintendo Switch. For fans of the original, or Tales fans in general, this “remaster” will likely be a stack of disappointment, from framerate inadequacies to performance issues to audiovisual hiccups. Newcomers may find value in this “remaster” on PS4 or Xbox because the original Tales of Symphonia has heart, and Tales of Symphonia Remastered is its most readily available version. However, it is the unfortunate truth that they will still be playing a compromised version. This “remaster” does not cut it by modern standards, especially when it looks worse, sounds worse, and plays worse than a game 20 years its senior.