Sunday, August 25, 2019

Tales of Symphonia Review

While it didn't quite make my original list of gaming shames, getting into the Tales series has long been on my to-do list. After all, it's the number #3 JRPG series (after Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest), so it represents a pretty big hole in my gaming experience as an RPG aficionado.

I consulted with a lot of Tales fans to find out where I should start this prolific series. The responses I got varied wildly; often one fan's favorite entry would be a game another fan despised. However, almost no one seemed to object to the 2004 GameCube hit, Tales of Symphonia. It also helped that the remastered version was on sale on Steam for $5. 😁

Tales of Symphonia is a fantasy action RPG that uses a combo-based combat system, similar to a fighting game. The story follows Lloyd, a teenage boy serving as a bodyguard for his childhood friend. Collette, who has been selected to go on a cross-country religious pilgrimage. While this game is a part of the long-running Tales series, its story is completely approachable on its own.

Artistic Qualities:
  • This game went the extra mile with character design. Not only are the main characters all a distinct cast of anime people, but even the most basic enemies have detailed models and unique animations. Part of the fun of entering a new dungeon was seeing what new monsters I would encounter.
  • The characters, while fairly tropey by today's standards, are well developed and likable. The dialog is generally solid but at times can be a bit too chatty, especially considering the huge volume of dialog in the game as a whole. 
  • The story has interesting themes; it heavily focuses on discrimination and WW2 allegories while also mixing in some Norse mythology and sci-fi. The tone, however, is all over the place. At times the game jumps back and forth between grim drama and very light anime comedy. It was often jarring but did keep things from feeling stale.
  •  I tried my best to keep up with Symphonia's lore and backstory. After a while, I began to feel like the game's writers made it complicated for the sake of being complicated (there are lots of alliances and betrayals, secret organizations, conspiracies, etc).
  • There are fully voiced story-centric cutscenes as well as dozens of text-based support conversations. Sometimes after a long cutscene, it was frustrating to immediately get pushed into several additional heart-to-heart scenes in which the character reacted to the major events of the previous cutscene. Many of the support conversations were amusing but sometimes felt like too much.
  • This game has a very smooth difficulty curve. While there were a few bosses I had to try more than once, I never once had to grind. As those who have read my previous RPG reviews probably know, this type of balanced difficulty is something I highly value.
  • Symphonia's battle system is fast-paced and mostly fun but has little strategic depth. Most enemy encounters, even boss battles, are just a matter of spamming your best combos and healing. I could see a lot of players liking the combat's simplicity, but for me, I would have liked something with a little more substance in a game of this length.
  • This game featured lots of systems that I barely used. For example, you can cook food and have characters get assigned special titles. Whether or not I used these seemed to be of little or no consequence.
  • Symphonia's campaign offers a few sidequests but is a mostly linear experience. That worked out well for this game; I liked feeling that I was always making progress (especially since I streamed the whole game on my Twitch channel).
  • Like many older JRPGs, you can only save on the world map or a few specific save points. In dungeons, save points have to be unlocked using an item called a Memory Gem. Each dungeon has one Memory Gem that is dropped by one random enemy somewhere in the labyrinth. The game designers probably set this up as a way of ensuring that a player thoroughly explored the dungeon and had reached the necessary character level before advancing. However, I found this frustrating if I needed to stop playing mid-dungeon and couldn't find the Memory Gem. 
  • I really liked how dungeons featured puzzles instead of just combat and treasure. Not all the puzzles were executed well, but I generally liked what they were going for.
As I got into the game's later acts, I was feeling like the campaign was padded to be much longer than it needed to be. However, as Symphonia's credits rolled and I reflected on the 50+ hours I had spent with the game, it still left a positive impression; it was certainly a fun ride overall. It'll probably be a while before I play another Tales game (next year at the earliest), but I can see why this series is so popular and I will certainly return to it someday in the future.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 56 hours, 27 minutes (main campaign and a few sidequests)

Note: Streaming a full Tales game, as I did with this one, is a big commitment. It took almost four months of streaming nothing but Tales of Symphonia every week in order to finish it. I will likely stick to streaming shorter games from now on.

Acknowledgment: This post is part of the #Blaugust2019 event held by Tales of the Aggronaut. For more info about Blaugust, check out this article.

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