Many years ago, when games were simpler things, the Japanese Role Playing genre got a breakthrough in games for it; a game named Tales of Symphonia. For the 10th anniversary of the game, you can sit down and enjoy what is heralded as a timeless classic.
Interestingly, I never got around to playing Tales of Symphonia on the Nintendo Gamecube, or the Sony Playstation 2…meaning that this high definition remake was my first experience with this game, which, as I already said, has been heralded as a turning point in the genre. With the genre already turned and changed, how does this game stand up to the test of time?
Firstly, it’s a story which we’ve all heard before, and even back in that day, it was something which appeared. The world needs saving and only the chosen hero can go on a journey to save the world. It’s not subtle about this, going as far as to actually call the heroine “The Chosen”. Most of the cast are teenagers or younger, and all the adults of the world have dumped the responsibility of this onto these children, and to round the package up, the fashion choices throughout are questionable and ‘unique’ and the level of melodrama in the game has come from a cheesy play.
That said, this is more of a journey than an epic quest to save the world, and these children with the one or two adults watch the world change through their own eyes, and it actually does a better job discussing the real world issues than “modern, thrilling, epic media” does nowadays, with people saying that it deals with these issues better than franchises like BioShock does. Issues with racism, discrimination and poverty are not hidden and are not tucked away from prying eyes, where the characters throughout the game chose to head down the path of their own justice, and that’s where the storyline actually sets in.
See, the team of adventures decide to set the world to rights and stop people looking down on what they have called “Half Elves” and defeat the evil that’s terrorizing the world. Everyone’s got a motive, including the villains, and they’ve got what could be considered a suitable goal to achieve. It just so happens that your goals don’t match with theirs. Some of them aren’t the cleverest of goals, like turning people into lifeless beings to stop discrimination from happening, but they are shrouded in reason, regardless. The depth of the motives and developments don’t come across as fully fledged, but it’s debatable just how much of this is down to the source material being dated or just being a bad plot.
The majority of the enjoyment comes out of group conversations, which have been named skits. Here, the group will stop and talk to each other about almost anything, and the members of the group are enjoyable and delightful. The main character, Lloyd Irving is a regular, nice guy, and his personality is displaced from the norm enough to make him a good main character, He’s followed up with a ditzy girl, a know-it-all child and their school teacher, with more “out there” characters joining the team as you go along. The mysterious badass, the ninja from a lost tribe of people and the flirt with a dark history also join the group, with it being rounded up with a girl who stopped ageing and a convicted criminal. It’s a lively group of people, but unfortunately, some people stand out much more than others. I don’t know if it’s that some tropes haven’t aged well and have been seen before, but some of the characters, like the mysterious Kratos and the flirt Zelos steal most of the spotlight when they’re around. These moments are where the best part of the game lies, and not in the storyline, as the storyline often takes second seat in these places.
Obviously, there are monsters and people to kill on the journey to set the world to rights, and the battle system which the game uses is a real-time, flexible system which only has one or two constraints in it. The art and magical abilities work, the battle feels fair and flexible, but the problem is that the AI plays fairly. When you utilize the co-operative system, up to three friends can don the characters and their personalities in battle. This is where the mechanics of the system suddenly become flawed and broken, as it’s incredibly easy to go through a fight by just batting the target against an invisible wall over and over again. The AI stops you from doing this by how it plays, and this is where signs of the wear and tear of the game come through. It’s a crying shame, as the unique and varied personalities of the characters allow everyone to become a member of the journey, and this works on an emotional level as well, as the people you play with enhance the battles without realizing it.
The graphics are actually the biggest let down of this game, along with the lack of voice acting. The English voice acting is pretty dreadful, so it’s not much of a sacrifice to play the game in Japanese, but the graphics can’t be fixed. It uses a cel-shaded style with slightly cartoony graphics, and whilst it DOES look better than a decade-old game should be looking, it doesn’t look up the standard of modern games.
As it stands, the original Tales of Symphonia was obviously an amazing game. Even with the dated tropes and the wear-and-tear showing, these things weren’t there when it was first released, and this is what makes it so outstanding. Rating and reviewing it then and now are two very different things, though, as it’s a dated and old-fashioned experience now. You’ve seen the plot twists before, you’ve been on the journey before, and there’s only one or two things that the game can offer that will truly be a new experience to you. It doesn’t help itself in this regard, by doing a truly lazy remastering effort, giving a tiny upheaval to the graphics and no effort at all to bring the plot up to date, and next to know effort is taken on the sound of the game, with several really annoying sound effects grating on you.
It is an outstanding journey, though, and actually quite touching in some parts of the game, but it could have easily become the best JRPG of all time if a little bit of effort was taken in the remastering and remaking…and if the effort wasn’t wasted on the near abysmal sequel, Dawn of the New World.