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"Tales of Symphonia"

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This thread has been linked to the game 'tales of symphonia'.
Sun 07/06/09 at 22:11
Regular
"Peace Respect Punk"
Posts: 8,069
Although Tales of Symphonia 2 was recently released on the Wii, the original GameCube title is still very tough to get hold of, but I managed to pick it up from a GameStation for a bargain £18 a few months back (it regularly goes on Ebay for £25-£30). Although it’s hyped up a fair bit, I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t be as good as many claimed because the GameCube was known for its lack of RPGs and a drought of any particular genre sometimes wrongly propels games in that niche from “good” to “great”.

But having finally beaten the last boss, I can safely say I shouldn’t have worried. It can stand shoulder to shoulder with Skies of Arcadia, one of the few other GameCube RPGs, as a truly great game. You’re looking at about 50-60 hours for a first play through, and that’s when sticking to the main plot. That being said, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of sub-quests until right near the end of the game, but there’s plenty to do once you reach that point (there are a bunch of suspicious dark chests strewn around the land that I still haven’t figured out how to open…)

You start off controlling Lloyd, a youngster raised by a Dwarf, going to school with his friends Genis and Collette. After a light appears at the local temple, you follow the teacher out and you’re soon embroiled in your first battle. The battle system here came as a surprise to me, but may be familiar if you’ve played other games in the ‘Tales…’ franchise. Unlike a lot of RPGs battles are real-time rather than turn-based meaning you can’t control your whole party of up to four people. You’re in charge of one character, controlling their movement, attacks, magic, jumping and blocking and can command other members of your party to use particular skills, change tactics or use items. Movement takes a little while to get used to, as you can only move in two directions – either towards your currently targeted enemy or away from them. It feels like you should be able to sidestep as well, but you’ll soon get used to not being able to, and you can switch your targeted enemy to change the axis you’re moving along. Your attacks come in different varieties depending on the direction you’re pressing when you attack, and Lloyd uses two swords meaning his standard attacks will be linked to form a short combo of three or four attacks. Using multiple characters, or linking regular and special attacks you can chain together some massive and impressive combos. And using special attacks is easy, you simply assign up to four to combinations of the B button and a direction on the Control Stick. Of course, if you don’t like Lloyd you can take control of any other character whenever you want, so if you’d prefer to cast some spells with Genis or throw some long-range discs of death with Collette you can! And I’ve only just scratched the surface of a brilliant and refreshing mode of combat, but if you’re not too hot at button-mashing beat-em-ups, rest assured that just like any other RPG you can head back, find some easier foes, and get levelling up to raise your health, strength, defence and other vitals.

Shortly after your first battle you’ll start getting to know a bit more about the plot. It turns out that your classmate Collette is ‘The Chosen’, which unfortunately doesn’t mean she knows kung-fu and can stop bullets mid-air. It does mean she is going on the journey of regeneration to save the world, which is something to do with the Church of Martel, Martel being a goddess who is supposed to be re-awoken by the journey. You’ll also hear things about a despised group of half-elves known as the Desians, and the ‘Human Ranches’ that they run. While Tales of Symphonia, like many other RPGs, starts off with a bog-standard ‘small band of youngsters coming of age and going off to save the world’ plot, it soon evolves into something a lot more interesting; there are lots of twists and turns, although I found that unless you pay close attention to what’s being said at all times you may well find yourself somewhat confused, especially towards the beginning when the names of various people and organisations are being thrown about with great abandon. I won’t reveal too much of the plot for you, but you’ll soon find out the journey of regeneration will regenerate the mana of the world, and that mana is the source of life, magic, and the advanced magitechnology that caused a great war many years ago. Despite this there are ulterior motives in play, both willing the journey to be completed and attempting to stop it in its tracks. And in the middle Lloyd and his party try to discern the truth, discover who their real friends and enemies are, and above all save the world. Some of the twists are pretty obvious (one isn’t revealed until right near the end of the game, but I had my suspicions within half an hour), but the plot has some surprisingly adult themes, most notably the recurring theme of racism, with the Desians constantly referring to humans as “inferior beings”, while elsewhere you’ll see half-elves treated as little more than disposable slaves.

Themes like these have been done before and inevitably will be again, but perhaps the cel-shaded graphics make it a little more unexpected. Having said that, the graphics aren’t overly cutesy, but have a charm that suits the game really well, and there are some pretty impressive enemies like huge armoured dragons and giant sandworms. The more advanced spells and special attacks also have effects that will raise a smile as you stylishly slice your way through bands of foes, and the audio is pretty good to boot, with voice acting that can be cheesy, but still somewhat endearing.

So when you’re not getting confused by the plot or slicing through baddies, what’s going on? Well, like many an RPG there are three main types of area – there’s the world map where you travel from place to place, there are towns where you rest, pick up information and buy stuff, and finally dungeons where you attempt to solve puzzles and beat up enemies to advance to whatever’s at the end of the dungeon (if I were a betting man, I’d go with a big nasty boss). It’s worth noting that while wandering around you aren’t subjected to random battles, which some people find quite annoying. Instead you can see enemies moving around and can thus try to avoid them if you wish, although too much running away and you won’t have levelled up sufficiently to beat up the aforementioned nasty bosses. The main puzzle-solving device comes in the form of the sorcerers ring, although there’s the usual staple of puzzles involving pushing and pulling conveniently placed blocks. Most dungeons have a pedestal where you change the function of the sorcerers ring to something pertinent to the dungeon (so in a watery dungeon it may start shooting jets of water), which then allows you to solve the puzzles. Dungeons aren’t usually too long, and puzzles can pose a challenge but are rarely a major stumbling block. This means you’re unlikely to get too frustrated and allows you to keep up your momentum and interest in the game. As well as resting between battles, towns allow you to pick up new gear - an interesting twist is that you can have weapons and armour ‘customised’ as well as just buying them. Customising is a little misleading though, as it just means taking an existing item and combining it with some others to make a better item. There’s a set list of things that can be made by each shop that customises, so there’s not any experimenting with different combinations to be done. However, some weapons and armour are only available through customisation, and it’s often cheaper to customise than buy new, as long as you have the correct items to combine with (which are often dropped by enemies you defeat).

But tooling up your characters doesn’t begin and end with what they wear and what they bash enemies over the head with. You’ve also got mysterious ExSpheres, which give characters extra strength, to play with. Each character can equip up to four ExSpheres at a time, ranging from level 1 (most common) to level 4 (least common) and each level of ExSphere has four skills which change depending on who equips it. Confused yet? Simply put, you can equip these babies and choose an enhancement for your character, at their simplest boosting a characteristic like strength or speed, but there are more subtle things as well, like adding an extra hit to your basic combo attack, or further enhancing other ExSphere skills. You can also discover compound skills, which are combinations of two or more ExSphere skills that enhance your character even more, and with four slots, four ExSphere levels, and four skills per level (and differing skill sets for each character) that’s one hell of a lot of customising and experimentation to be done. And that’s not the end of it! There are titles to be earned for each character in various ways from completing mini-games to doing something specific in battle, with each title boosting different stats every time you level up. And different ExSphere skills will make you either an ‘S’ (slash) or a ‘T’ (technical) fighter, which will change the set of special attacks and magic learnt by that character. You can even unlock different outfits for characters by completing some sub-quests.

Another nice addition to Tales of Symphonia is a ‘collectors book’ which keeps track of all the items you’ve picked up and tells you what percentage of different items (armour, weapons, consumables, food, etc) you’ve collected so far. This, along with a monster list to keep track of enemies and the ability to make models of various in-game characters with ‘pellets’ you find along your journey, makes Tales of Symphonia a completionists dream. Add the ability to re-start the game after finishing it, only this time buying upgrades (2x experience, keep all your ExSpheres, keep all your special moves, etc) and the fact that you can have up to three friends controlling the rest of your party in battles means there’s plenty of reason to revisit even after polishing off the final boss.

So all in all, this is a big, deep and complex game which even has replay value. Hence the long review. Perhaps not the best plot ever, but it’s above average and keeps you interested to the end. The characters are likeable, although there are some cringe-worthy and corny speeches. Luckily the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, with various characters making constant jibes about Lloyd’s apparent stupidity, and there are even some dirty jokes thrown in for good measure. The crowning jewel though is the real-time battle system which constantly keeps you on your toes, and the depth of customisation on offer which will have many an RPG nut playing around with settings for months on end.
There have been no replies to this thread yet.
Sun 07/06/09 at 22:11
Regular
"Peace Respect Punk"
Posts: 8,069
Although Tales of Symphonia 2 was recently released on the Wii, the original GameCube title is still very tough to get hold of, but I managed to pick it up from a GameStation for a bargain £18 a few months back (it regularly goes on Ebay for £25-£30). Although it’s hyped up a fair bit, I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t be as good as many claimed because the GameCube was known for its lack of RPGs and a drought of any particular genre sometimes wrongly propels games in that niche from “good” to “great”.

But having finally beaten the last boss, I can safely say I shouldn’t have worried. It can stand shoulder to shoulder with Skies of Arcadia, one of the few other GameCube RPGs, as a truly great game. You’re looking at about 50-60 hours for a first play through, and that’s when sticking to the main plot. That being said, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of sub-quests until right near the end of the game, but there’s plenty to do once you reach that point (there are a bunch of suspicious dark chests strewn around the land that I still haven’t figured out how to open…)

You start off controlling Lloyd, a youngster raised by a Dwarf, going to school with his friends Genis and Collette. After a light appears at the local temple, you follow the teacher out and you’re soon embroiled in your first battle. The battle system here came as a surprise to me, but may be familiar if you’ve played other games in the ‘Tales…’ franchise. Unlike a lot of RPGs battles are real-time rather than turn-based meaning you can’t control your whole party of up to four people. You’re in charge of one character, controlling their movement, attacks, magic, jumping and blocking and can command other members of your party to use particular skills, change tactics or use items. Movement takes a little while to get used to, as you can only move in two directions – either towards your currently targeted enemy or away from them. It feels like you should be able to sidestep as well, but you’ll soon get used to not being able to, and you can switch your targeted enemy to change the axis you’re moving along. Your attacks come in different varieties depending on the direction you’re pressing when you attack, and Lloyd uses two swords meaning his standard attacks will be linked to form a short combo of three or four attacks. Using multiple characters, or linking regular and special attacks you can chain together some massive and impressive combos. And using special attacks is easy, you simply assign up to four to combinations of the B button and a direction on the Control Stick. Of course, if you don’t like Lloyd you can take control of any other character whenever you want, so if you’d prefer to cast some spells with Genis or throw some long-range discs of death with Collette you can! And I’ve only just scratched the surface of a brilliant and refreshing mode of combat, but if you’re not too hot at button-mashing beat-em-ups, rest assured that just like any other RPG you can head back, find some easier foes, and get levelling up to raise your health, strength, defence and other vitals.

Shortly after your first battle you’ll start getting to know a bit more about the plot. It turns out that your classmate Collette is ‘The Chosen’, which unfortunately doesn’t mean she knows kung-fu and can stop bullets mid-air. It does mean she is going on the journey of regeneration to save the world, which is something to do with the Church of Martel, Martel being a goddess who is supposed to be re-awoken by the journey. You’ll also hear things about a despised group of half-elves known as the Desians, and the ‘Human Ranches’ that they run. While Tales of Symphonia, like many other RPGs, starts off with a bog-standard ‘small band of youngsters coming of age and going off to save the world’ plot, it soon evolves into something a lot more interesting; there are lots of twists and turns, although I found that unless you pay close attention to what’s being said at all times you may well find yourself somewhat confused, especially towards the beginning when the names of various people and organisations are being thrown about with great abandon. I won’t reveal too much of the plot for you, but you’ll soon find out the journey of regeneration will regenerate the mana of the world, and that mana is the source of life, magic, and the advanced magitechnology that caused a great war many years ago. Despite this there are ulterior motives in play, both willing the journey to be completed and attempting to stop it in its tracks. And in the middle Lloyd and his party try to discern the truth, discover who their real friends and enemies are, and above all save the world. Some of the twists are pretty obvious (one isn’t revealed until right near the end of the game, but I had my suspicions within half an hour), but the plot has some surprisingly adult themes, most notably the recurring theme of racism, with the Desians constantly referring to humans as “inferior beings”, while elsewhere you’ll see half-elves treated as little more than disposable slaves.

Themes like these have been done before and inevitably will be again, but perhaps the cel-shaded graphics make it a little more unexpected. Having said that, the graphics aren’t overly cutesy, but have a charm that suits the game really well, and there are some pretty impressive enemies like huge armoured dragons and giant sandworms. The more advanced spells and special attacks also have effects that will raise a smile as you stylishly slice your way through bands of foes, and the audio is pretty good to boot, with voice acting that can be cheesy, but still somewhat endearing.

So when you’re not getting confused by the plot or slicing through baddies, what’s going on? Well, like many an RPG there are three main types of area – there’s the world map where you travel from place to place, there are towns where you rest, pick up information and buy stuff, and finally dungeons where you attempt to solve puzzles and beat up enemies to advance to whatever’s at the end of the dungeon (if I were a betting man, I’d go with a big nasty boss). It’s worth noting that while wandering around you aren’t subjected to random battles, which some people find quite annoying. Instead you can see enemies moving around and can thus try to avoid them if you wish, although too much running away and you won’t have levelled up sufficiently to beat up the aforementioned nasty bosses. The main puzzle-solving device comes in the form of the sorcerers ring, although there’s the usual staple of puzzles involving pushing and pulling conveniently placed blocks. Most dungeons have a pedestal where you change the function of the sorcerers ring to something pertinent to the dungeon (so in a watery dungeon it may start shooting jets of water), which then allows you to solve the puzzles. Dungeons aren’t usually too long, and puzzles can pose a challenge but are rarely a major stumbling block. This means you’re unlikely to get too frustrated and allows you to keep up your momentum and interest in the game. As well as resting between battles, towns allow you to pick up new gear - an interesting twist is that you can have weapons and armour ‘customised’ as well as just buying them. Customising is a little misleading though, as it just means taking an existing item and combining it with some others to make a better item. There’s a set list of things that can be made by each shop that customises, so there’s not any experimenting with different combinations to be done. However, some weapons and armour are only available through customisation, and it’s often cheaper to customise than buy new, as long as you have the correct items to combine with (which are often dropped by enemies you defeat).

But tooling up your characters doesn’t begin and end with what they wear and what they bash enemies over the head with. You’ve also got mysterious ExSpheres, which give characters extra strength, to play with. Each character can equip up to four ExSpheres at a time, ranging from level 1 (most common) to level 4 (least common) and each level of ExSphere has four skills which change depending on who equips it. Confused yet? Simply put, you can equip these babies and choose an enhancement for your character, at their simplest boosting a characteristic like strength or speed, but there are more subtle things as well, like adding an extra hit to your basic combo attack, or further enhancing other ExSphere skills. You can also discover compound skills, which are combinations of two or more ExSphere skills that enhance your character even more, and with four slots, four ExSphere levels, and four skills per level (and differing skill sets for each character) that’s one hell of a lot of customising and experimentation to be done. And that’s not the end of it! There are titles to be earned for each character in various ways from completing mini-games to doing something specific in battle, with each title boosting different stats every time you level up. And different ExSphere skills will make you either an ‘S’ (slash) or a ‘T’ (technical) fighter, which will change the set of special attacks and magic learnt by that character. You can even unlock different outfits for characters by completing some sub-quests.

Another nice addition to Tales of Symphonia is a ‘collectors book’ which keeps track of all the items you’ve picked up and tells you what percentage of different items (armour, weapons, consumables, food, etc) you’ve collected so far. This, along with a monster list to keep track of enemies and the ability to make models of various in-game characters with ‘pellets’ you find along your journey, makes Tales of Symphonia a completionists dream. Add the ability to re-start the game after finishing it, only this time buying upgrades (2x experience, keep all your ExSpheres, keep all your special moves, etc) and the fact that you can have up to three friends controlling the rest of your party in battles means there’s plenty of reason to revisit even after polishing off the final boss.

So all in all, this is a big, deep and complex game which even has replay value. Hence the long review. Perhaps not the best plot ever, but it’s above average and keeps you interested to the end. The characters are likeable, although there are some cringe-worthy and corny speeches. Luckily the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, with various characters making constant jibes about Lloyd’s apparent stupidity, and there are even some dirty jokes thrown in for good measure. The crowning jewel though is the real-time battle system which constantly keeps you on your toes, and the depth of customisation on offer which will have many an RPG nut playing around with settings for months on end.

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