-by Dylan DiBona
As a young kid, my father heavily encouraged GameStop’s trading in old games policy. I would play a game for a week or two and if I didn’t like it, I’d trade it away for a new game. It was a stupid thing to do in hindsight, as I’ve been re-buying some old classics slowly in the past few years. I can’t remember for how long, but I’m certain I owned Tales of Symphonia, a game I played on the Wii for probably no more than five hours. I loved the sequel Dawn of the New World (which oddly enough is considered terrible, I have to revisit it!) so much that I beat it.
Needless to say, the original Symphonia didn’t do it for me and I traded it away. Lately I’ve been on a JRPG binge and in an attempt to dust off my GameCube, I decided to pick up Tales of Symphonia once again. Was the elementary school version of me right the first time, or did I unknowingly trade in a classic adventure?
When it’s all boiled down, the Tales of… series is known for two main things: it’s anime-like characters and unique battle system. It’s always been a bit of a third or fourth ranking JRPG series, underneath the behemoths of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, but Tales of Symphonia is the game that put the series on the radar, especially in the West. Like I said in my GameCube Retrospective, whenever a third-party exclusive came to the system, it must’ve felt like magic and Symphonia is no exception. Inside the two miniature discs hold a world full of colors and excitement.
Lloyd Irving is a young man living in the village Iselia with his best friends Collette and Genis. Since birth, Collette has been known to be The Chosen. The Chosen must go on a quest to unlock four seals and bring mana back to the world of Sylvarant every few years. Through a series of messed up events, Lloyd and Genis end up accompanying Collette on her journey to renew the world, only to experience numerous unexpected plot twists along the route.
Usually when people revisit the plot of Symphonia they cite it as clichě, but instead I found the game to be flirting with the idea of being clichě. Yeah you’re saving the world but it’s more complex than that, and with a huge revelation around the ten hour mark, the whole game changes. It’s kind of like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past where you may think the game is over once you slay Agahnim, but really it’s just starting. In my experience, the characters were quite enjoyable and not susceptible to classic anime tropes. I can easily see why GameCube lovers and even just JRPG lovers remember this cast of characters so well. Almost every character save maybe one is jammed into my brain and will be for quite some time.
Before, I mentioned a unique battle system which would be called the “Linear Motion Battle System”. This style of gameplay keeps the action going 24/7 on the battlefield; allies are controlled by AI but can be given direct commands, and Lloyd is controlled by the player. With the control stick and A/B buttons, the player can unleash physical and magical combinations. It feels almost like a 2D fighting game, mixed with some action-adventure. I completely forgot until the first fight that Symphonia wasn’t turned-based, and it was a huge breath of fresh air. Focusing on Lloyd’s moves and trusting my good AI controlled allies made for a refreshing feeling during battles.
My only critique with the battling system is that AI companions don’t use items, which I understand, but I was almost constantly having to open up menus and spam certain items to keep everybody’s stats up or even alive.
One of my absolute favorite things in JRPGs is the ability to bond with your comrades outside of battle. Sadly not many games do this, but Tales of Symphonia does. The game offers “skits” which are non-voice acted conversations that can be skipped 95% of the time. These skits will often be comedic but may sometimes lead to revelations of character backgrounds and even some deep moments. They don’t give any rewards but the conversations themselves feel like rewards for progressing.
In the Tales of… games, there is a system called “Titles” if a player goes through a certain experience, they gain a title. By equipping this title some of their stats may go up. So for example if Lloyd levels up high enough he may be able to equip the “Master Swordsman” title for a boost of Attack and Defense.
Another aspect I loved were the bite sized dungeons. Dungeons could be completed in about 20-30 minutes. They usually had one main puzzle with enemies swarming the halls.
So we have a unique and fun battle system, a great cast of characters which you can bond with and small dungeons. where’s the negatives?
I have to be honest and say I didn’t care about the story of Symphonia, only the characters. Some events felt unnecessary and dragged out what could have been a 25 hour game into a 35 hour game. Certain dungeon puzzles felt obscure and had no hints given to the player, one in particular I spent almost two hours on and finally gave up by looking for the answer online. And finally the gigantic overworld was pretty empty; no hidden chests or items, just monsters and landscapes.
Tales of Symphonia is a fine game.
It almost feels like a guilty pleasure game to me with it’s anime art style and goofy characters, but I love those aspects. This is one of those few JRPGs I’ve heard nothing but nostalgia for and luckily it’s not misplaced I have a great time playing through this GameCube classic.
Confused about my review scale? Click here.
So there you have it! Does anybody here have a favorite Tales of… game? Do you like Symphonia? Let me know down below and I’ll try my best to reply!