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Tales of Phantasia (Game Boy Advance) Review

Review for Tales of Phantasia on Game Boy Advance - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

The Tales RPGs started out with Nintendo, with Tales of Phantasia launching as one of the most impressive Super Nintendo RPGs of that time, out-classing many early PSone efforts. The game was so big that it was unfortunately never (officially) translated for the West. Now, though, Phantasia has finally made the crossover to the GBA and is now out in Europe. Yet was it really worth the wait?

The game focuses around the lead character of Cress Albane, a young boy like any other, with the exception of his plight. One day, upon returning from the nearby forest, he wanders back to his home town only to find it has been completely decimated and his parents slaughtered by an unknown evil. Enraged by such tragedy, Cress takes matters into his own hands and sets off with his ultimate mission being to uncover who- or whatever carried out this terrible deed. Quickly he is joined by allies and discovers the identity of his parents’ murderer – Dhaos, a wicked Warlord. And so the adventure escalates as the group traverse land, oceans and even time on the path to vengeance.

Being a late-in-the-day Super Nintendo title, Tales of Phantasia hit the gaming scene hard due to its gorgeous graphics. Large characters, detailed environments, variety by the bucket-load – the game had it all. Now, though, after being treated to many more beautiful titles, the game has lost some of its sparkle. What is worse, the 32-bit GBA (as opposed to the 16-bit SNES) seems to suffer from more slowdown during hectic battles! Some is purposeful to create a ‘atmosphere’ at the end of each battle, but other times it is down to poor use of the GBA hardware. However, Phantasia is still one of the most charming GBA games to date, with intricately detailed, lush settings, characters that not only have a nice water-coloured look and chunky feel to them, but also portray their personalities better than you would expect. It may definitely look retro in places, but it still has enough class to lift itself above much of the competition!

Screenshot for Tales of Phantasia on Game Boy Advance - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

As for the soundtrack, it really is a difficult situation. The SNES original had a fantastic music player option and the tracks all sounded of a higher quality via the powerful SNES sound chip. The GBA cannot match this, but the music is still as magnificent as ever. Tracks are easily on a par with some of Nobuo Uematsu's Final Fantasy classics and really require you to stick some decent stereo ear phones in for the full extent of the tunes' quality. When videogame music can evoke such deep emotional reactions, you know just how talented the composer(s) really is (are). The music can be so haunting at times, stirring up strong feelings, feelings that vary depending on the various scenarios taking place on screen. It really is such a rollercoaster ride and one of those games where buying the official CD soundtrack is not 'geeky' in any way. Oh, and did you know that the reason the SNES game was so large (and meant it was never translated) was due to the amount of speech in the game? Yes, and that speech is, for the most part, translated in cheesy English for the GBA release...

What is astonishing about Phantasia is that this was the FIRST game to introduce the now infamous Linear Battle Motion form of fighting. Rather than entering a battle like in Final Fantasy and being faced with a turn-based affair, or wandering around and slashing away in a Zelda fashion, Phantasia introduced a new concept. Gamers move their team around the world and through dungeons, being met by an onslaught of random battle encounters. Then your four party members are placed on a side-scrolling field with enemies at either side, and then the crazy action begins. Everything happens at once, with you taking charge of the lead character, Cress, whilst the computer makes the others do whatever you have programmed them to do (Mint normally uses healing magic, Arche uses offensive spells, whilst Claus can summon spirits that have been collected previously – but you can play around with their attack styles via various menus). Cress can attack using his weapons in various ways, all depending on how you press the D-pad before tapping the attack button. So, for instance, attacking whilst pressing up will launch him into the air to defeat flying enemies and holding left or right makes him simply run and jab twice.

Screenshot for Tales of Phantasia on Game Boy Advance - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

You can also stop any fights briefly in order to change the tactics of your computer-controlled allies. Cress also has a range of special attacks at his fingertips, although only four can be used at any one time, so thought has to go into the right balance for tough boss encounters. What you need to keep an eye on, though, is your 'TP' (task points), as they quickly run down the more magic is used or special moves activated. The game is not 100% faithful to the SNES original, though, as there was also a Japanese-only PSone remake, parts of which have been mixed into this GBA edition, making the portable version somewhat of a 'best of' iteration.

Something that can get slightly annoying with battling, though, is how things get 'locked' at times. What I mean by this is that there may be three easy to beat enemies on-screen, two at one side, one at the other and you will send Cress to despatch two, then try to quickly run back to rid of the final beast, only to be stop in mid dash by your one of your allies casting a spell. You see spells stop everything, probably as the game would not be able to cope otherwise, so you remain frozen until the animation is complete. A small niggle for me, but possibly a larger one for other, less patient gamers. It is all about the 'classic' feel and whether you like it or not...

Screenshot for Tales of Phantasia on Game Boy Advance - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Thankfully there are new game events, dialogue sequences and other features that help to add extra value to this remake, along with a Monster Dictionary that works like the Bestiaries from the recent Final Fantasy ports in that you can view the strengths and weaknesses of enemies met in battle. There is also the charming cooking aspect, where you meet various chefs around the world, normally hidden in strange locations (but nowhere near as obscure as in Tales of Destiny II / Eternia where they are disguised as 'objects', like a potted plant in one instance!). They provide you with recipes for health and magical items that you can make yourself! It really proves to be quite a fun aspect, and one that Tales fans will be right at home with. The addition of the 'Title' system also adds to the experience, rounding off a special adventure full of difficult puzzles, demanding dungeons, taxing bosses, gripping narrative and even a fun time travel aspect. Perhaps it will be too hardcore for gamers only used to the likes of Final Fantasy VII onwards, but it is well worth checking out even then.

RPGs tend to last at least 20-30 hours if they are of a high quality, and Tales of Phantasia does that and much more. This game is DAMN hard, so beware. Those that are used to endless random battles, ultra difficult enemies and a severe lack of useful items or save points when you really need them might be more familiar with Phantasia, yet will certainly not have any easier of a ride! Phantasia is a 'classic' RPG in that is pushes your gaming skills to the limit...and rightly so. Sticking with this game is well worth it, but Namco's Tales Studio makes you work for the enjoyment! There are also extras that help to keep the whole adventure fresh, such as the gameplay-changing Titles (as mentioned earlier), side quests and the clever cooking aspect. You will never feel like you paid too much for replay value in this game as there is a plentiful supply of things to do throughout.

Screenshot for Tales of Phantasia on Game Boy Advance- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review


Other than a few moments of slowdown during battling, the mix of adventuring, puzzles, tough fights and great characterisation makes Phantasia a retro trip well worth taking.


This looked far better on the SNES back in the '90s, but the rich locations, great characters and fast-paced action make this one of the more impressive GBA efforts.


Whilst the voice acting is muffled through the GBA speakers, the soundtrack is so strong that once you stick in some earphones you will definitely crank the volume up!


This game will last a LONG time, more than 30 hours easily, mainly because the adventure itself is very long and satisfying, but also because you WILL cry at how hard it is!

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

About this score
Rated 8 out of 10

At long last the very first game in the Tales series of RPGs has been translated for the Western market, complete with extras added on for extra value. It is a classic role-player, so has a tough difficulty level, but the game is well worth the strenuous efforts required. Search for this one as soon as possible...

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C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (4 Votes)

European release date 31.03.2006   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Q2 2006   

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Senior ModeratorStaff Member

It's such a fun game! And I really am not exagerrating about the soundtrack - I love it :-D Really a shame that it never managed to even break the GBA Top 20 here in the UK...

Anyone know how it fared elsewhere in Europe?

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

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