Games Meet Metal: DJ's All Time Favorites: Tales of Symphonia

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

DJ's All Time Favorites: Tales of Symphonia

Outside of a few tepidly received PS1 installments, the Tales series has seen very minimal exposure in the West prior to Symphonia. The first game in the franchise, Tales of Phantasia for SNES, was originally scheduled to be published outside of Japan by Nintendo. However, these plans were later abandoned as they shifted their focus towards the impending N64, thus leaving it stranded in Japan. Namco distributed the majority of its subsequent releases worldwide, probably in the hopes of cashing in on the success of Final Fantasy 7. But it wasn't until this game, codenamed Tales of Phantasia upon its announcement, that it gained recognition. No matter what the circumstances were that led to its success (ex: the RPG starved Gamecube market), Namco had a good thing going with the Tales franchise, until their recent arrogance and mishandling of the franchise diminished its relevance considerably. In Japan, they regularly pump out new games of varying quality to the point that their Japanese fanbase no longer gives a shit, as they continue to spit on Western audiences foaming at the mouth for a new installment in their unique spin on the RPG formula.

At any rate, Tales of Symphonia holds an important place in my gaming history. It was for all intents and purposes my gateway drug into JRPGs, a genre that I had very little interest in prior to playing it. Tales of Symphonia incorporated a fast paced, real time battle system without straying from most of the other common aspects found in JRPGs. It provided just about everything I liked about regular RPGs while eschewing random, turn based battles, which I saw as tedious. It was thanks to this game that I was more willing to explore further and actually gain an appreciation for typical turn based battle systems. Dragon Quest 8 remains a favorite, even to this day.The games graphics employed a cel-shading technique, giving the game a smooth, pronounced anime presentation. It also has about 3 or 4 full blown anime cut-scenes throughout the game (including the intro and ending), which are fun while they last, although they should have added more. It's also a shame that they didn't incorporate nearly as much of an effort into the overworld, which is painfully stripped down relative to the towns and dungeons. However, it's still a relatively minor nuisance in comparison to everything the game gets right.

The story is very well written, drawing heavily from Norse mythology and earlier RPG storylines (especially Secret of Mana), despite being plagued with nearly every anime cliche you can think of. The last part isn't an exaggeration either, as you've got the brash, hot headed protagonist (Lloyd), the sarcastic, intelligent for his age youngling (Genis), the unrealistically humble and selfless female protagonist (Colette), the effeminate womanizer (Zelos), the morose warrior with a mysterious past (Kratos), the short tempered tomboy (Sheena), and the list goes on and on. The characters are likeable for the most part, and out of the 9 lead characters, only Raine and Colette seem to get on my nerves on a consistent basis. Colette is completely spineless and apologizes way too much, to the point that I cringe and cover my ears (I'm not joking) every time I hear her say "I'm sorry". I was literally relieved when she lost her voice at one point in the game. As for Raine, she comes off as being really bitchy, often hitting the other characters for very dumb reasons. However, she evens out considerably by the time you reach the second disc, and her personality is much more palatable.

It starts out as a quest for world regeneration, but gradually becomes something more grand and intricate as time goes on. Without spoiling anything, the games primary antagonists are a terrorist group called the Desians, who bear many resemblances and similarities to the Nazi Party/Third Reich. They engage in many cruel acts, treating humans as cattle (supposedly as revenge for discrimination they once faced) and forcing them to work as slaves in what they call "human ranches" (labor camps, essentially). Coming from a partially Jewish family, this is a pretty big sore spot for yours truly. In turn, this makes shedding Desian blood to the point of being completely wiped out (they do become extinct by the end of the game) very satisfying.

On a final note, the voice acting is superb, which is an anomaly in JRPGs. Best of all, they got Scott freaking Menville (aka Robin from Teen Titans) to play Lloyd Irving, the main character. It's hard not to imagine Lloyd shouting "Titans, go!" every time they enter a battle. Menville does a great job with Lloyd, and you can hear the sheer emotion dripping from every line he utters throughout the game.

The next game in my series will be....I don't know yet. I'll have to think about that.

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