Tales of Symphonia

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1 April 2005 | 0

Great story? Check. Cool characters? Check. Nifty-looking spells and unique graphics? Check. Nicely tuned challenge? Check. Big, game-altering twist in the middle? Check. Yep, Tales of Symphonia’s just about got it all. The only quirk that prevents this RPG from entering the hallowed halls of RPG heaven is its battle system — some gamers are going to find it hard to take.

Tales of Symphonia (just one of a long-running series in Japan) is a deceptively cute, anime-inspired RPG infused with the same sort of heart, warmth, humour, sadness and peril that mark a Rumiko Takahashi story. The writing is among the best in the console RPG business, especially given this is a Japanese port — the tragedies really strike home and the characters all have distinct voices, speaking their lines with a welcome sense of subtle irony and self-awareness about RPG clichés.

The story centres around a young orphan student named Lloyd, a swordsman who decides to accompany the ‘Chosen One’ (a half-angel friend from town) on her journey to regenerate the
world. Along the way, he and his friends have to free humanity from the slavery of strange nigh-alien half-elven slavers called Desians. Not everything’s what it seems, however, and the true nature of the Desians and the Chosen One makes for some truly fine RPG drama. In true Japanese fashion, the game is quite linear — more side-quests and options definitely would have been welcome.

The presentation gets an A minus — the graphics are awesome, cel-shaded and fluid, with well-designed interior architecture, beautifully animated creatures with cool designs, and some really great spell effects. The only exception is the overworld, which looks strangely torn from an N64 game. The voice acting and battle sound effects are great too, even if the music won’t leave much
of a mark.

For many, the battle system will be the make-or-break point for Symphonia — it has as much in common with an action beat-em-up as it does an RPG. Individual character control is excellent — different skills and spells can be mapped to different button and stick combinations, and guarding and changing targets all happen more smoothly than many pure action games. The problem is that
the sense of control gets lost, as the other three characters in the party act, by necessity, on autopilot (though friends can control them if you have controllers plugged in). While sticklers for RPG
freedom can dole out commands if they really want to, the system become clunky and burdensome once you try to micromanage. Jaded RPG gamers may welcome the hyper-speed, but a lot of the
joy of finding new skills and learning new spells is lost in the auto-respondent chaos.

Stay for the story, characters and the sights of Symphonia…but be wary of the action-heavy, automated battle system. The fate of the world may feel a little bit out of your hands

Tales of Symphonia
Requirements: GameCube console
Rating: 82%
Price: TBA
Contact: GameStop 01-8135350

26/10/04

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