I have a Tales of Symphonia game save on my Gamecube’s memory card. It’s somewhere on a card, which is sticking out of my Wii, which requires a good dusting at this point. It’s been months since I touched Tales of Symphonia, and even then, when I did, it was for a few minutes, as a part of a Livestream I was doing that night. I’ve thought of going back, but the stark reality is that I barely play any other system than my PlayStation 3, despite owning virtually system known to man. Despite the fact that I’ve bought, collected, and kept various systems since before my voice started to crack, I still keep the vast majority of my time to one system, because I’m an adult working two careers and don’t have time to be messing around too much with wires and connections. So many of gaming’s greatest treasures are collecting dust at this moment simply because the minute or two of work that goes into making them playable is too inconvenient for me.
On that note, my decision to purchase the Tales of Symphonia HD remakes was easy. Yeah, it was $40, and yeah, I already own both games in the compilation1, but I can play them on my PS3! I don’t have to break the Wii out, or put more batteries in my Wiimote! I don’t even have to change the channel on my seven-input TV! Score for me!
For those unfamiliar with my history, I am a walking contradiction. I’ve been heavily critical of Tales over the past two console generations, as I’ve seen most Tales games after Symphonia got really popular as derivative, paint-by-numbers crap that seemed written around teenage girls who frequented forums built around scanlating yaoi manga.2 This erupted when I paid the full price for Tales of Vesperia, which was as pretty to look at on my 360 as it was infuriating to play, stealing so many things from the superior Symphonia and covering them in a sea of tropes baked to a flaky crisp. With that said, the only game I actually ever completed during my old, vaunted RPG Streams was the PSX version of Tales of Phantasia, which rates as one of my favourite games of all time and one of the few on that list that I played and beat as a grown adult and not an impressionable young man. I also enjoy Tales of Xillia, going as far as to name it one of my top 10 games of last year. With Symphonia being a flash point for the series, would it end up being Good Tales, or Bad Tales, after going through it with a fresh perspective and an open mind?
The great thing about Tales of Symphonia is that it is the mid-aughts JRPG manifest. This is to its benefit and its detriment, depending on what the gamer wants. It has an epic quest with charming and likable characters, all things that I truly adore about the genre. However, it’s also one of those games that virtually requires either a strategy guide or GameFAQs to get the most out of. There are items and titles that are almost impossible to get if the player doesn’t know what they’re looking for, located in ways that no one would guess unless they were either QAing or trying to break the game. While I’m not far enough to see this bear fruit, it’s a problem that this has very real consequences on being able to beat the game. The thing about titles is that they affect stats on level-up, meaning players that use the default titles all the way through the game will seriously struggle near the end because they have lost statistics that they won’t get back. Take one guess how hard it can be to get the bigger titles.
Naturally, the story doesn’t make sense to anyone outside of JRPG fandom, but that’s never bothered the fans to begin with:
“Let me get this straight. Everyone in this tiny little hamlet knows that the girl that they live with is actually a walking, living God? And they treat this like it’s not a big deal?”
“And their biggest enemies, the ones who have killed others before this little girl, know where she is, and don’t seem to be in much of a hurry to kill her?”
“And this walking God, someone who eventually gets WINGS, is equal parts a major klutz, an airheaded ditz, but at the same time can fight effectively with normal weapons in life-or-death battles?”
“… Seems legit.”
One of the strengths of Tales games is that their characters, paint-by-numbers as they might be, do grow on the player and become indispensably charming. Anyone who likes an overly dark story won’t be into this too much – Dark Souls II is in another aisle, kids – but that shouldn’t apply to too many people. Tales’ famous little side conversations make a comeback for Symphonia, and they’re cute little diversions from the main quest that also help to flesh out both the story and the characters. For anyone looking for a relatively enjoyable, light-hearted story with characters they will like, this is a good game to pick up.
However, Tales’ combat made the move to 3D with this game, and while I’m sure it was impressive in 2002, in 2013, it justifies my number one concern with the series: combat is an absolute clusterfuck. The third dimension actually hurts things, because now enemies can swarm the melee characters – so far, Lloyd and Kratos – and have a right go at them. AI partners are at best not effective for much, and at worst ignore what you’re asking them to do. There’s a strategy area where you can tell your AI partners, mid-battle, how to fight, how often to use skills, what skills to use, etc. My trip through the Tiret Ruins basically involved me getting pelted by fireballs while Raine constantly brought her MP to 0 while blithely ignoring me saying “DO NOT USE TECHS BELOW 50%”.
However, that’s easy enough to mitigate, and any enemies I have problems with, I can
get into a Livestream and get DTN to help me with look up an FAQ on. I’ll continue playing Tales of Symphonia, for real this time, because I’m enjoying the people that I control. It’s really that simple for me regarding a JRPG; if I am constantly depressed by a game, I tend to want to put it down, and with a plethora of options available to me, that’s not hard to do. I’m not sure if I’ll go all the way with this the way I did with Tales of Phantasia, but if I do, I’m sure I’ll enjoy the ride, at least.
1 – Yes, I bought the sequel. Did I hear it was bad? Yes. Had I even come close to beating the original? Nope. Did that matter? No, for one reason: I figured that being a Tales game, the asking price was going to rise dramatically, like what happened to Xenoblade Chronicles. So in a sense, the digital release of Dawn of the New World annoys me just a little bit.
2 – I realize that there are likely some people reading this who don’t know anything about what I just said. If you don’t, RUN! DON’T SEARCH, JUST RUN! RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN!