Tales of Symphonia

   30/08/2005 at 12:17       Davey Jones       2 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - 
I'd like to like Japanese RPGs. I really would. I often like a bit of story
in my games, plus getting 40 hours+ of gameplay out of each title sounds
like good value for money to me. So why is it the only JRPG I'd completed
was Skies of Arcadia on the Dreamcast, then? All other JRPGs I've bought lie
unfinished and abandoned in my game collection, usually with only a few
hours on the clock.

Until now that is. Because now I have finished Tales of Symphonia. And it's
a beaut, let me tell you.

For a start it has a really endearing set of characters. Okay so the main
character is an angsty teen with spiky hair, not a great start, but many of
the supporting characters are more interesting, and the voice acting is
almost universally superb. It's just a shame the same can't be said for the
music, which is rarely inspiring. At least it never stoops to be irritating,
which is something.

In addition to the voice acting, throught the game presents you with
optional 'skits' (as it calls them) which are conversations between the
characters as they travel. Some are funny, some are meant to be poignant,
and a few just fall flat. But apart from those few, they are a good way of
expanding on the characters, making them more than cliches. It's just a
shame that the skits aren't voiced (they're text only) and there's no way of
speeding them up. And they do go quite slowly at times.

You begin your quest in a school in the small town of Iselia, along with
your classmates (a few of whom turn out to be fellow team-members later on)
and after a short cut-scene, you're handed control to Lloyd. A minute or two
later and you're into your first battle. The game is set in a fairly cliched
world, with mana based magic, and all the requisite character stats are
present. Things get going pretty quickly, and though the story makes a
number of twists and turns the action rarely lets up.

The story spans two (gamecube) discs, and I clocked in at 49 hours though I
did take it quite slowly, meaning I was quite ridiculously levelled up by
the end. The game on the whole is pretty easy, meaning I never had to quit
out of a boss battle so that I can spend a couple of hours levelling up
first. Which is one of the reasons I've given up on all those other JRPGs.

One of the things that makes that possible is the real time battles. Did I
mention the battles aren't turn based? Well, they aren't. That means the
battles do have a great deal of randomness to them, and you can play the
same battle twice and get a completely different outcome. There were only a
couple of bosses that needed replaying, but on both occasions the second
attempt, with the same stats, was successful.

The battles however do start off pretty dull. It is, after all, just a
matter of hitting the A button again...and again...and again. But then you
learn when to block against certain enemies, and then you learn about
distributing items in the middle of a battle. Then you learn about enemy
formations, and targetting the right one, and about sword combos. And you
learn about ordering your party members to use techs (magic), and about team
strategies, and about U-attacks. By the end of that, the battles turn out to
be quite involving.

In another break with tradition, battles are not random. Enemy markers can
be seen wandering around the map, generally pretty aimlessly it has to be
said. I found myself chasing them damn things around from time to time, if I
wanted to level up. Luckily battle intros and animations are pretty quick,
so you can get into battle and get it over with pretty quickly, which is
nice.

In short, if your looking for a fairly traditional JRPG, done very well in
the main, this is your game. Although it has a couple of slower points (one
about 20 hours in and one towards the end, in my experience) it generally
holds the interest well throughout, meaning you're hungry for more when the
credits finally roll. Luckily, the game has a final trick up its sleve
which, at least to someone like me who rarely sees the credits of RPGs,
makes up for that. But I'll leave you to find out exactly what that is.

Right, I've been bitten by the JRPG bug. I'm off to play something that
begins with 'Final' and ends in 'Fantasy'. I'll let you know how I get on.

Score:
Playabilty: Real time battles are rarely frustrating, and sufficiently
involving
Graphics: Decent enough. Some of the character design is a little dull
however
Longevity/Story: Nigh on perfect. Enough twists, and it finishes before you
get bored with it without being especially short.
Sound: Fantastic voice acting, shame about the music
Stars
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