Archive for January, 2006

Tales of Symphonia

Sunday, January 22nd, 2006

Tales of Symphonia

It’s been a while since I played a good old-fashioned RPG. When I saw that Tales of Symphonia was down to $20, I decided to pick it up and give it a whirl.

The meat of an RPG is the story. Tales of Symphonia puts you in command of Lloyd and his troupe of adventurers on their quest to ‘regenerate the world’. Without giving too much of the story away, I’ll just say that there is a long, fairly complicated, story that grows in scope as you progress. In the end it becomes much bigger than at the outset and it leads to a resolution that is a bit open ended. Typical RPG stuff.

In playing through the story, you will notice the overt commentaries on racism, corruption in religion, and facing your problems. Occasionally, the story will stop just short of bonking you in the head with the Morality Stick(tm), but those instances are few.

Occasionaly during your game, you will see a trigger for a ‘skit’. A skit shows the characters in your party discussing something, usually the situation at hand, but not neccesarily so. Some of them are in the game just to provide some depth to the characters, which is a nice touch. Most of the skits are completely optional, so if you don’t like the flow being interrupted or just don’t care to watch them you are not forced to.

If the story is the meat of an RPG, then the battle system is the potatoes. The avatars of the monsters are visible at all times wandering about the map, and if you run into one, you will fight its group. You have the ability to stun some of them and (or) run around them if you wish to try. Entering a battle transforms the game from 3D role-playing game to more of a 3D action game feel. In the battles you directly control one character of your choosing and indirectly control up to 3 others. You have the ability to move anywhere on the battlefield, and will have to do so in order to attack enemies and avoid attacks. Your buddies are computer controlled, but you can control what they do by issuing orders such as fall back, go all out, all attack the same monster, keep some skills in reserve, what spells can be cast, etc. Your friends are fairly competent, although you will have to keep an eye on their stats. You can also plug in some controllers to have friends play with you, although this has limited appeal since the camera is trained on whoever holds Controller 1.

The main characters in the game are all distinct and unique. Their avatars are large and colorful, and definitely stand out against the decent locales. There are a few camera issues, most notably in the battles (although that’s really only an issue if you’re playing with more than one player) and on the overworld map. The camera will follow the contour of the land, but will not change its distance from your character. Because of this, should you walk by some mountains, the camera will go nearly directly overhead, leaving you very little ability to see where you’re going. In dungeons and towns, this is mostly alleviated by having the camera in a fixed location or putting it on rails. Of course this also means that you cannot move the camera to get a better view of the lay of the land. Thankfully, this urge to move the camera came up very few times during the course of playing through this game. The views that I was presented with were for the most part spot-on.

The back of the box states that this game has eighty hours of gameplay. I managed to complete the main story in just over 40. I looked over some of the side quests that I skipped over, and I doubt that they will take me an additional 40. Perhaps I can pad that by another 20 or so. One feature that helped immensely is the Synopsis. The Synopsis gives you a summary of what’s happened up to the point in the game you’re in, and gives you a slight push toward your next objective. I found this to be absolutely indispensable after I took a two-day break from playing and was able to pick up right where I left off without trying to remember what I had done two days prior and what NPC I was supposed to talk to next.

What RPG would be complete without cutscenes? There are two lengthy pre-rendered cutscenes (one at the beginning and one at the end), that are in an anime style, which is a refreshing change from the computer-generated cutscenes I’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Most of the plot-establishing cutscenes are shown using the game’s engine, and several of the more important ones have competent voice-overs signaling that you should pay extra attention to them. Most of the voice-actors are veterans with numerous works under their belts, and will likely be recognized by players and animation geeks. The character of Kratos, for example, is voiced by Cam Clarke, who voiced Die Fledermaus in The Tick animated series.

Tales of Symphonia is a solid game. It’s got just enough old-school RPG elements mixed in with new features to make for an enjoyable experience.