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Tales of Symphonia

Score: 96%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Namco
Media: GCD/2
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: RPG/ Action


Graphics & Sound:

Tales of Symphonia uses the cel-shading technique to make their characters and environments have a hand-drawn quality. Although some dislike cel-shading because it looks like a “cartoon,” there are definite qualities to the technique that can’t be ignored. First, as you move up in realism, things actually start to look more synthetic because of the eye’s ability to separate real from real-like. With a cel-shaded model, you know from the beginning that it’s not real, so your eye doesn’t nitpick as much as it would a highly detailed 3D model. Second, there’s the fact that with a cartoon-ish look, you can do many things for comic relief that you just couldn’t do with realistic models. (Would it be so funny if the coyote was realistic and fell off a cliff vs. his cartoon form?)

The models and environment in Tales of Symphonia are absolutely wonderful. There are expansive landscapes across two different worlds, and the numerous structures and levels are a spectacular sight to see. Tales of Symphonia also contain some CGI cut scenes, but they are used very sparingly, which is a trait I admire in an RPG. There are too many games these days that rely too much on flash and flair and not enough on substance. Thankfully, Tales of Symphonia delivers a good bit of both.

Another gorgeous aspect of Tales of Symphonia are the spells and effects. Some spells create the most stunning of effects, but they can at times slow the game down. This, however, doesn’t detract from the fact that they are some of the most beautiful spell effects that I have seen in any game to date.

The sound is completely orchestrated and matches the mood several times in the game. Overall, there is a track for each town, labyrinth, etc., adding up to dozens of tracks total in the game (one of the reasons that it is a two disc set for the GameCube, I guess). The sound effects are also quite nice, as well.

The one aspect of sound that has been a factor mostly with this current generation is voice acting. So many people whom I have spoken to dislike the voice acting on Tales of Symphonia, but personally I enjoy it. I mean, I don’t expect the voice talent of Anthony Hopkins when I play a game, anyways. All that I really expect is to be entertained by all facets of the game, and I think that the voice adds a bit of a connection to the characters that you just don’t get with text.


Gameplay:

In Tales of Symphonia, you play as Lloyd, a young, headstrong kid who is raised by a dwarf. Lloyd was never any good at school, but he is a very good swordsman, and wields two swords at once. Lloyd lives in a world that is dominated by beings called the Desians, who hate humans and kidnap them to work in human ranches. Lloyd’s friend, Colette, is a person who, according to prophecy, was to be the “Chosen of Manna,” or the person who will bring order back into the world and save the people from the Desians. Lloyd’s quest starts out when Colette leaves to regenerate the world, and he vows to help Colette save the people no matter what the cost.

Tales of Symphonia is mainly a single player game, but it allows you to play with several players if you want to. Players 2-4 can come in at any time of the game, where they will replace the computer A.I. controlling one of your allies. They can also leave at any point in the game and be replaced back with that same A.I. For one thing, having friends play with you in an RPG is definitely a good thing... as long as you have the time. For one play-through, you can expect around 50-60 hours.

Each character has a certain skill set that can be tuned towards either Tactical or Strike capabilities, depending on what you choose for your character. In order to level up a skill, you have to use it many times and be at a certain level. Skills include physical attacks for the battle types, and magic and healing arts for the mages. Skills play a major role in how well you do in the game, so those who want to do well should master them.

There are also items called Ex Gems that you can collect throughout the game and set to different characters to give them better abilities in things such as combos, spell-casting, etc. As you get higher level Ex Gems, the techniques you can get from them get better. These techniques are indispensable when fighting the numerous baddies throughout the game.


Difficulty:

Unlike most RPGs, Tales of Symphonia has a difficulty setting that can be toggled when you start or at any time in the game. The Easy setting isn’t completely easy, though; so don’t turn the difficulty all the way up on a whim. Try it first on the lowest level, and if it’s still too easy for a while, then make it harder.

The main difficulty can come if you are playing with more than one player. If you play with two or more players, the camera continues moving and centering on the first player, which could put one of the other players off of the camera. There is also the fact that you can only really move in a straight line with the enemy that you are locked on to, so at times for the other players, it can be hard to determine which direction you will go after the camera rotates and you press the control stick (I heard but cannot confirm that this particular situation was fixed in the PlayStation 2 version). While this is artificial difficulty and is really due to the quick planning of the multiplayer component, it is such a small part of Tales of Symphonia that it is only worth mentioning as an aside.

There are also side bosses (bosses that aren’t necessary to beat the game) which are stronger than the main boss in the game. These bosses can give you trouble even on Easy mode with your characters around level 80, so if you like to master games, you will be leveling up quite a bit.


Game Mechanics:

Tales of Symphonia is a real-time game when it comes to fighting, so in that aspect, it plays almost like Soul Calibur on the battle screen. Some characters excel in melee-type fighting and can come up closer to the enemy, while the mages stay back and blast away from afar.

Battles in Tales aren’t random at all. Enemies are represented on the screen with an animal or plant or shadow of some sort, and you only fight when you run into one of them. If you are speedy and tricky enough, you can get through a level without fighting many enemies. You can also use an item that you get called the sorcerer’s ring to freeze enemies in their tracks, and then move safely around them. This will not be to your benefit, however, as you need to level up both yourself and your skills in order to be strong enough to complete the level and, of course, the game.

The different skills learned throughout the game are assigned to different buttons and button combinations such as B + Down, B + Forward, C + Up, etc. You can have at most six skills set at any one time for a character, but you can change them literally at any time through the Battle menu. As there are only a few different types of attacks, there is a large amount of redundancy in skills, in that most of the skills you learn are upgrades to previous skills. Because of this, there really isn’t much competition as to what skills you will set most of the time.

Tales of Symphonia is the type of game that I would recommend to anyone I meet that owns a GameCube (or a PS2). It is a wonderfully designed game that will keep you playing and loving every bit of it. If you own a GameCube or PlayStation 2, then buy this game right now. I assure you, you will not regret the purchase.


-Z64freak, GameVortex Communications
AKA Bret Hall

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