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Tales of Symphonia (GameCube) Review

Review for Tales of Symphonia on GameCube - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Is this the best RPG on the Cube......lets be fair that isn't hard, with its main competition being the DreamCast ported Skies of Arcadia and Square Enix's Crystal Chronicles this game couldn't be anything less. But there's still that question, is this RPG the one we've been waiting for?

While Skies of Arcadia was good it wasn't in the same league as Sony's Final Fantasy games and Square Enix, the master of all things RPG, apart from a very positive review by myself, many a forum member was annoyed at the game. When was it going to be our turn to have a classic RPG?

With Square Enix still firmly in the Sony Camp it was up to someone else to carry the torch, and out of the darkness came Namco.

The problem with many RPGs is that they try to beat Square Enix at their own game, every other company's game having their basis firmly in Final Fantasy, thankfully for us Namco don't think that way. From the moment you put the game in you know you are in for something different, gone are the stale CGI intros that populate every other RPG, here we are greeted with a full blown animated opening sequence. This isn't just some cheap trick, the quality is that of an anime series such as Naruto, which fits perfectly with the cel shaded graphics of the game.

Upon starting the game you are given a brief intro to give you a brief explanation of the setting. The game does start quite generically, every so often a Chosen is born who's duty it is to reawaken the Goddess, your main character LLoyd, who is her childhood friend goes along with them, to protect the Chosen, Collette. You spend the first 10 hours going through this plotline which just retreads ground from older RPGs, then just before the plot line is finished BAM!! everything you've learned so far is tuned on its head, friends become enemies, enemies become mere pawns, your quest is shown to be a sham and that from the start you've been lied to. It doesn't stop there, as you progress plot twists, dummy plots and new plot lines are thrown at you left right and centre. Generic set pieces are replaced with newer fresh ideas which goes on to make the plot line so much more intriguing. Unlike other RPGs where you get bored because you know whats going to happen next because its been done so many times before, its actually a joy to play through this storyline.

The presentation of this game is superb, the cell-shaded graphics are lush and beautiful in all areas.....well except one, the world map is extremely basic and quite oft confusing to use. Its not bad by any means its just that other games have set a standard and ToS sadly doesn't meet them in this area. While the graphics are cell-shaded throughout the game its not of the kiddie-esque standard we see in many games such as Zelda the Wind Waker, its paler and less vibrant colour palette more closely resembles the manga books and anime movies that are the stylistic roots for many RPG games. The graphcis for this game are some of the best you'll see on any console, from the fluid, precise movements of the character models to the small details such as grass waving in the wind, this game is beautifully drawn and animated throughout. The sound is just as good, you've got your standard, well produced, atmospheric music but what sets this apart is the quality of the voice acting. Instead of using the standard voice actors you'll get in many games which just love to over or under act, the Tales of Symphonia voice rosta consists of some of the best professionals not just the game sector but also the cartoon and movie sectors have to offer. Some of you might recognise the likes ofScott Menville who plays Robin from the Teen Titans and Cam Clarke who plays Liquid Snake as well as Anthony the Paige from Eternal Darkness. There are many more voice actors which you'll recognise, more for their works than their names but its still an impressive cast.

Screenshot for Tales of Symphonia on GameCube - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

I'll answer the question now, in every possible way this game is better than the Final Fantasy series on Sony's PS1 and PS2. While Square Enix is stuck in a rut trying to figure out how to revitalise a stagnant series of games and if Crystal Chronicles is anything to go by they're having trouble making a new RPG, Namco is going full speed ahead. They might only be minor but things such as making the lead female neither a spell caster nor a summoner is a good start, while the lead female may not be as hardcore as some of the others she is still a fighter.

The fight sequences are a big step though and require a bit of explaining. In this game there aren't any random encounters, in both dungeons and on the world map you see the enemy and can avoid them. If you can't or chose not to then you are transported to the fight screen. This is nothing like Square's standard turn-based, static battle line fights. It's almost as if Namco made a deal with Capcom and put Viewtiful Joe in there. The fighting is fast paced and action packed, all your fighting is done on the fly and is translated extremely well to the Cube's controller, you've a standard attack button which will pull of basic moves that can be linked into a combo attack and a special attack button, which depending on which direction the control stick is facing, will pull off a pre-mapped technique. For example if you pressed the special attack button while the control stick is in neutral you'd perform Daemonfang, press the speacial attack button while pushin the control stick up will perform sword rain. You also have the option of mapping two moves to the C-Stick, these are quick attacks and only require the stick to be moved up or down, no need for the special attack button. In total the playable character can have six special moves at any one time, this might sound restrictive especially for magic user but by pausing the fight you can reconfigure the special attacks. Your comrades' AI is extremely good, you can set their attack patterns to follow yours or if you give them a free reign they pick out the best targets for them. If at any point you want them to do a specific action then just pause the game, select the technique and they'll perform it. What makes this stand out from Square's method is that it rarely gets boring and when it does you just avoid the fights.

Screenshot for Tales of Symphonia on GameCube - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

For any RPG to be good it must have two things, good storytelling and good character development/customisation. Tales of Symphonia excels in both accounts. As standard when you level up your character gets more powerful, Square Enix has tried to spice it up in a few different ways throughout its time with Sony, from the Materia based system in FF7 which gave you free reign on how you customised your characters but made each character no different from the other, to FF9's class based system where each character was unique in how they levelled up. While this enforced the differences between characters it was overly restrictive. But the main problem was that you and your friends invariably had the same characters, your Cloud was like their Cloud and their Zidane was like your Zidane. In Namco's baby this all changes. In Tales of Symphonia there's three different ways to customise you character. Your stats upgrades are governed by your title (titles can be earned in various ways), techniques are learned by performing an earlier version enough times and you learn expshere compound skills depending on what combination of exspheres you have. Each character has their own titles, skills and techniques which aren't available to every other character, but not just that you can't learn or use every title/skill/technique. Quite often when you learn a new skill there's a choice of two, and you gain one depending on your alignment. If you wished to learn the other techniques you'd have to forget the existing one, change your alignment and start again. Not only does this make that character different from other characters but makes YOUR character different from your friends' characters.

The storytelling is one of the best out there, definitely eclipses Square's efforts. It takes a similar line as Final Fantasy 7, there is an ongoing theme but the story itself is made up of many smaller storylines which intersect with each other at various points, so while one storyline is playing out you are watching three or four other storylines playing out in the background which are all relevant to the main storyline. This throws up many red herrings in the game so when the inevitable plot twists occur, which definitely happens more in this game than any other, they are unexpected because you were thinking of something else. What makes this better than other storylines though is that the characters are not merely pawns of the storyline, many characters in Final Fantasy games are there only to push the story's plot twist, they don't even play second fiddle to the lead character and other than the plot twist there is no character development, noteworthy examples being Steiner and Freya from FF9 and Kimihari from FF10. In this game each character is relevant to the main storyline but this is once again where Namco differs from the competition

Screenshot for Tales of Symphonia on GameCube - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

After all that I've only scratched the surface, I haven't and don't have the space to talk about the side quest, hidden extras, puzzles, customisable menus and everything else that makes a good RPG great.

But it's not all rosy on Namco's side though. There are a few instances where certain quests require you to travel halfway across the world to retrieve an item for a character who is blocking your way, it wouldn't be so bad but the items are so small and pointless it can get a bit tedious, thankfully this is a rare occurance. Also while the game says 1-4 player on the box don't get your hopes up for a good multiplayer experience. Too put it in perspective this is what Namco's own manual says on the multiplayer subject
Quote:
Four Player Mode
This game can be played with up to four players simultaneously. When playing with four players, make sure that each Controller is properly inserted into the appropriate Controller Socket.
Please note that this manual is generally written under the assumption that a single player is playing the game.

That should give you an idea how much effort Namco put into multiplayer. What the manual doesn't tell you is multiplayer is battles only, that when it says appropriate it means numbered. Yes, each controller port is mapped to a team member position. Say your party, in this order, is Lloyd, Sheena, Kratos and Genis and your friend wants to play as Kratos, that friend would then need to plug their controller into port 3 even if it's a 2 player game. Not just that you have to manually set Kratos to manual or semi-automatic as they are set to automatic (GC controlled) by default. Also the character settings aren't mapped to the character. Say I swapped Kratos and Sheena around so my friend could use gamepad 2, my friend would be playing as Sheena because she's now moved to port 3 and is set to manual, Kratos has now been set to automatic. I had to look at GameFaqs to get it working.

Apart from that problem this is one of the best RPG experiences out there. To claim that this is the best RPG on the Cube doesn't do it justice, to state that its one of the best RPGs on any console does.

Screenshot for Tales of Symphonia on GameCube- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

Takes all the best elements from an RPG and adds some of its own to the mix.

Graphics

One of the best uses of cell-shaded graphics, and looks gorgeous throughout.

Sound

Highly engrossing music and some of, if not the best voice acting in a game.

Value

Just playing through this game straight will take upwards of 40 hours, playing through trying to find all the extras will double. For those of you who don't find that enough there is an unlockable ultra-difficulty mode once you've completed it.

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

About this score
Rated 9 out of 10

Apart from the disappointing multiplayer mode this is a game that deserves to be in every RPG lover's collection and to top that the real-time fight sequences might pull in those put off by the standard turn-based fight sequences.

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15.09.2004

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Developer

Namco Tales

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

4

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (12 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Reader comments - add yours today Comments on this Review

i've been having problems getting in since monday. tonight seems to be really bad for some reason, took me about 10mins and several hundred refreshs to get in.

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

We'll be back and running full steam soon enough! :Smilie

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

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