Last Level Press

Review: Tales of Symphonia

Reviewer: Olen Bjorgo

“You must wake me, for if I should sleep then the world shall be destroyed.”

With this edict left by the Goddess Martel by being saddened by the death of the great hero Mithos, the angels bore the Chosen of Regeneration to bring life back to the world when it is in decline. The current Chosen is Colette Brunel and in her hands lays the fate of the people of Sylvarant to bring mana back to the land and to rid the world of the evil half-elf organization known as the Desians. Together with her friends, the fate of more than just the world is at stake as they embark on their journey towards the Tower of Salvation to regenerate the world.

While Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask wowed me with a demo, Tales of Symphonia holds the distinct honor of wowing me before I even held a copy of the game in my hands. This game, declared Namco’s magnum opus on the cover of the June 2004 issue of Nintendo Power (an issue I still own after almost a decade and convinced me to get the game from its six page preview) can be rightly called as such. This game should be a must play for any fan of RPGs and would sit proudly among other commendable titles of the genre. And now that my love of the game has been proclaimed and my bias recognized, it’s time to pick it apart.

First of all, the game is cel-shaded and that can be a turn-off for some people. However, it’s not the vibrant cel-shading that you would find in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Viewtiful Joe, or Okami; rather, Symphonia’s aesthetic is more of a subdued type of cel-shading that makes the characters look cartoonish without being overbearing. Despite this subdued look, the cel-shading has helped make the game age beautifully and allows the game to look good even after a near decade of its North American release. The 3D models and world graphics are quite nice and much better than one would expect for a series’ first outing into 3D gaming. You read that right: prior to Tales of Symphonia, all of the Tales games had been made in with 2D graphics. While many iconic characters and franchises made the leap from pixels to polygon models back during the days of the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, the Tales series didn’t make the transition until 2004. Even without this knowledge, the game still looks fantastic.

The music is once again composed primarily by Motoi Sakuraba and he certainly brought his A-game to this project. Along with that certain flare that indicates that you are in fact listening to a soundtrack with Sakuraba in the mix, the tracks in this game can be best described as atmospheric and possess a duality. Very much indicative by the title of the game, Tales of Symphonia has something of a symphony theme in not only its story but also its very being. Music heard in the beginning of the game is relatively simple yet pleasant but as you get to a later part of the game the music become noticeably more varied and more instruments and parts are heard, but this does mean that some tunes are just recycled and revamped. The soundtrack has a balance that corresponds to the story and world that you experience. The voice work is also top notch with some big voice acting names like Crispin Freeman (Siegfried from Soul Calibur III), Jennifer Hale (Naomi Hunter from the Metal Gear Solid series, Tara Strong (Rikku from Final Fantasy X), Kari Wahlgren (Haruko from FLCL), and even Chris Sabat (Vegeta from Dragonball Z). But this is a JRPG and a game from the early 2000s, so you’re gonna have plenty of moments to make fun of or groan at, especially when it comes to the melodrama that is rife in this game.

Since we’ve moved beyond the simplicity of a 16-bit era game that was ported to a 16-bit handheld console, the controls and mechanics have likewise become something more to enjoy as opposed to being bland as they were in Tales of Phantasia. While the overall controls have remained the same, with one button functioning as your basic attack and your special attacks being another button with a direction applied to it, we’ve moved into 3D so the battles in the old Linear Motion Battle System feels a lot more exciting and much faster. While the basic running towards/away from your enemy is the hallmark of the LMBS, your battlefield is now a circle and this allows you to run to the angle or enemy you desire. This might not sound like much, but in comparison to the turn-based combat of JRPGs that is still around, you get a real sense of participation in your battles as you attack and coordinate your team in a strategy befitting a real-time 3D environment. This isn’t even going into the special attack you gain later that allows you to hit an enemy with four attacks with all your current party members and how some attacks can link up to create new attacks that cause even more damage to your foes. However, battles in the game can devolve in button smashers and take no thought or skill to defeat your enemies and begins to feel more like grinding rather than any fun.

As mentioned, the music helps build an atmosphere of duality and harmony within the game itself. However, the story and characters really draw you in and keep you playing. You become invested with your team members and learn not only of their pasts but also the motivations and reasons for how they act and interact with others. During skit events, which can be accessed randomly on the overworld, you’ll see the whole team interact on who’s cooking dinner for everyone, chat about events that transpired, argue and bicker over certain things, or even break the fourth wall with some of the funnier ones. Granted, it’s not at the level of character development and interaction you’d find in the Persona series but it’s better than having one-note characters as the ones driving a story that, in the end, can give you some food for thought.

Tales of Symphonia is quite probably the only game of substantial length that I’ve lost track of the number of playthroughs I had with, though I can guess it’s more than ten. There is just a lot to enjoy from this game and is a real challenge to get 100% completion since it does require multiple playthroughs. If you never played this game and want to have a great story from start to finish, definitely look for it wherever you can. I would consider this a must own for RPG fans or, at the very least, a must play. If you’re looking for an entry into the Tales series, this wouldn’t be a bad choice since this was my entry game though you might not have the rose-tint I’m wearing. And if you’re not a fan of RPGs, I would suggest trying to find a friend who has a copy and see if it’s something you would be interested in though this game probably won’t change your mind.

Rating: 8

Visuals: 8
Audio: 7
Controls & Mechanics: 7
Atmosphere & Experience: 9
Entertainment Value: 9

  Consoles: (Gamecube), PS2

  Developer: Namco Tales Studio

  Publisher: Namco

  Release Date (U.S.): Jul 13, 2004

  Release Date (U.K.): Nov 19, 2004

  Release Date (JP): Aug 29, 2003

Final Verdict:


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