Last Level Press

Review: Tales of Phantasia

Reviewer: Olen Bjorgo

“If there is evil in this world, it lurks in the hearts of man.”

Cress Albane, son of a famous swordsman, enjoyed a simple life in the village of Toltus with his parents, his best friend Chester, and everyone in the village… until he gets a vision of a woman near a giant tree, his village is slaughtered and destroyed, and a dark knight kidnaps him to take his special pendant to set free a powerful being known as Dhaos, the Demon King. And with that, his adventure with a healer he met in jail to save the past, present, and future of the world begins when a family friend sends him back in time. The best part is that’s just the beginning of the game.

Tales of Phantasia, which is the first flagship title and the establishing point for the Tales series of games, was an incredibly remarkable game in its time when it first came out for the Super Famicom back in 1995: not only was it a massive game but it was the first game for the system that had streamed audio for the characters and the only game for the system that had an intro song with audible words. However, this won’t be a review of the original game or the fan translations of the game that has been around for over a decade. This review will be for the official English release that fans had high hopes for back when it was released… and how they were not seen.

While it’s not much to look at now, the revamped pixel art for Tales of Phantasia is very bright and vivid. The overworld sprites are similar to two other RPGs from the same era, the first two Golden Sun games, in that their heads are larger in proportion to their bodies. However, the similarities end there since the battle animations keep the deformed chibi look in Phantasia while Golden Sun had more proportional looking sprites. The enemy sprites are likewise very chubby and cute looking, even for enemies that would look threatening in other games. The scenery and backgrounds are somewhat bare but serves its purpose. However, don’t take this to mean that the game is bland and lacking flavor. When some areas are generic, others are breathtaking; some personal favorites are Venezia City and the Ymir Forest.

The soundtrack for the game is composed primarily by Motoi Sakuraba, a composer whose music can be best described as very distinctive. Sakuraba is remarkably talented and is a staple of the Tales series, and I can say that this soundtrack might be the reason for that. Each song fits the environment as needed and really adds to the experience: the towns have their own atmospheres that are reflected in their themes, the battle music makes you pumped, and the overworld themes you hear throughout complements the part of the story you’re currently playing. The small amount of voice acting the game features, unfortunately, is deplorable. Even if you were to disregard the sound quality from the Gameboy Advance speakers, the voices are just trying at best. But, when it’s all said and done, I can’t say that the audio has aged too well but there are worst.

The controls are pretty simple and easy to figure out. Your basic attack is the A button and special attacks are the B button and the directional pad. You can change the controls to your specifications as well as how you attack with Semi-Auto and Automatic; Semi-Auto is the default setting while Automatic has you doing nothing. There is an item that allows you to make executing attacks more like a fighting game where you input a sequence of buttons but not only is available much later in the game it also costs you a lot. The controls aren’t anything to write home about, the battle system is. Tales of Phantasia introduces one of the mainstays and most defining aspect of the Tales series: the Linear Motion Battle System, or LMBS. At its most basic, as it is in Tales of Phantasia, the LMBS operates on a single two-dimensional plane while enemies attack and react in real-time. As Cress, or whichever character you decide to fight as, you are able to run towards or away from the enemies while your party behaves according to how you have them set up in relation to you, the enemy, and each other. However, the amount of strategy you can do is limited.

While it is lackluster in most areas, the story and overall tone of the game is what keeps you playing. As mentioned briefly, there is time travel in this game. However, unlike the traveling between two time periods like with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or the travel between multiple eras as there is with Chrono Trigger, you’ll spend most of your play time either strictly in the past or in the future with the present being seen very minimally. This helps gives a real sense of progression as you see how towns changed, the impact you made in the past, and how your actions to some people and things changes the future. However, there is lost potential that could have been made with this re-release of a game that was initially limited.

I’m sure you’re wondering if the game is even worth playing at this point. Unless you’re a fan of JRPGs, you’ll probably find little enjoyment in this game. While it was the starting point for a series that rivals Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest in Japan, the Tales series of games are very much relegated to a niche audience. If you’re a fan of the Tales series to begin with, you’ve probably played the well-known fan translation of the game or were disappointed with this official release. If you’re looking for an entry point into the series, this game might not be the best choice but is still worth looking into if you find later games in the series to your liking. But if you’re looking for a decent romp with an old-school JRPG, you’re not a fan of playing games on your computer, and you want to dust off your GBA or Nintendo DS with backwards compatibility, it wouldn’t hurt to look for it.

Rating: 5.6

Visuals: 6
Audio: 7
Controls & Mechanics: 4
Atmosphere & Experience: 6
Entertainment Value: 5

  Consoles: SNES, (GBA), PS1, PSP

  Developer: Wolf Team/ Namco Tales

  Publisher: Namco/ Nintendo

  Release Date (U.S.): GBA) Mar 6, 2006

  Release Date (U.K.):(GBA) Mar 31, 2006

  Release Date (JP):(GBA) Aug 1, 2003

Final Verdict:


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