GAMECUBE REVIEW: TALES OF SYMPHONIA

It's obvious that the Cube could use more RPGs. Namco comes to the rescue this summer with the first of two such games. Tales of Symphonia is part of the Tales series which has failed to catch on in North America. This version has been retooled for our tastes, apparently, but it still suffers from some translation problems - and that annoying anime art. When will it ever end? Otherwise, Tales of Symphonia is a lengthy and enjoyable RPG that should keep fans of the genre busy and out of the sun for a good portion of the summer - as long as you can put up with those wide-eyed, spiky headed, always-surprised-or-in-shock, anime cretins.

Symphonia could steal as much as 80 hours from your life. It's addicting in that events continue to evolve. Characters change their characteristics and the plot takes many unexpected twists and turns. The fighting is in real-time and aside from exploring, acquiring items and leveling-up, there are interesting puzzles to solve and mini-games to play. It's a smorgasbord of activity.

In a typical save-the-world scenario, the land of Sylvarant is virtually mana-less as its inhabitants are suffering while monsters are attacking. A Chosen is among your party and is born with the ability to bring mana to the land. First the Chosen must acquire angelic attributes by praying at various seals which bestow certain powers. The Chosen eventually becomes an angel and flies to wake the goddess, Martel from her sleep who in turn will shower the land with mana. But there's also a twist here. In addition to saving the world of Sylvarant, there is the mirrored world of Tethe'alla which reacts negatively in response to any positive activity to the land of Sylvarant. You will have to balance the effects of both worlds.

The map is huge. It's rendered in 3D and gives an overall view of the towns, dungeons and other locales. You'll have to do a lot of travelling, much in the form of backtracking which can get real tedious. Later in the game you'll acquire some vehicles which will make your journeys a lot quicker and much less tedious.

Leveling-up is the key to taking on bosses. Get as much experience as you can early in the game because events don't take place in any kind of order. Some of the first few battles may be real simple but then you'll find yourself facing a boss that you can't possibly destroy until you level-up. If you die you'll have to go through the entire dungeon again. The towns are rich with goodies such as supplies, clues and saves. Talk to as many people as you can and explore all nooks and crannies.

Real-time battles are a godsend. They give you a feeling of control. You have different attacks, some of which can be strikes or magic. Block and counter moves are also available. Although the battles are rendered in 3D you only have 2D movement. It's better than turn-based battles in any case. Ex Gems will give you super strength. With experience points you will be able to acquire new skills but you'll also be able to learn new skills as well.

I actually hate the generic-looking anime characters. They just annoy the hell out of me. It's like the character models are aimed at five-year-olds. I prefer something with originality. This style has been outdated for 25-years as far as I'm concerned. The translation is almost shameful, it's a mix of old-school English and hip slang - sometimes in the same sentence. All the characters speak this way. There really is no individualism but then again, this did originate in Japan which may explain some of the unexplainable. The voiceacting is flat and uninspired. When an actor does show signs of emotion it's often at the wrong time. I like the background music but it does repeat. For a game of this magnitude, there should be lots of fresh music.

Graphically the towns and dungeons are well represented. Unlike the characters, I would go so far as to call it art. Textures are rich and varied, colors are well blended and there is a great amount of detail in each scene.

Completing Tales of Symphonia before you have to go back to school can amount to a full-time job. You might want to take your TV outside with you so that you can get a little bit of sun before you have to shovel the snow again.

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System: GameCube
Dev: Namco
Pub: Namco
Release: July 2004
Players: 1
Review by Stew XX
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
4.0
GRAPHICS
4.0
CONTROL
4.5
MUSIC/FX
3.0
VALUE
4.0