Sunday, 8 January 2017

Tales of Symphonia (PC)

Developer:Namco Tales Studio|Release Date:2003 (Jp)|Systems:GameCube, PS2, PS3, Windows

This week on Super Adventures I'm looking at this title screen wondering what 'Custom' does. Is that the 'Options' option maybe? Now I'm wondering if that other Tales game I played a while back did this as well; is it a Tales tradition, or are they rebelling against standard video game terminology for the sake of being weird?

I've only really played one of these games before, Tales of Destiny II on the PlayStation, so I went back and checked and it turns out that it has 'Customize' in place of 'options', so I see what they've done here. It also turns out that I played that six years ago now, so that explains why I've forgotten everything about how Tales games play. All I remember is that the trees looked very nice and by the look of this title screen that definitely is a Tales tradition.

Here's a fact that'll shock absolutely no one: Tales of Symphonia here is the 5th game in the long running Tales series, and yet it's the first to have been released in Europe! I'm surprised to learn that they've already reached game number 16 since then though. It's kind of hard to keep track of where they're up to as they don't usually put numbers on the games, and when they do you can't trust 'em. If you're curious, Tales of Destiny II is the 3rd game... and Tales of Destiny 2 is the 4th.

(Clicking pics will make them big.)


The game begins with a pretty animated intro showing various scenes of JRPG heroes with various hair colours out and about in a picturesque fantasy world, posing on cliffs and slicing skeletons while a catchy J-pop tune plays.

I'd say it was like the opening to an anime that never existed, except it does exist. In fact Tales of Symphonia has three anime OVA series, seven manga collections, seven drama CDs, and two novel series, and I'll be reviewing all of them just as soon as I become rich, learn Japanese and go absolutely mad.

Speaking of things that there are many of, the game has had at least five different opening themes so far, and what you get depends on what version you're playing. I'll see if I can get this right (click links for YouTube videos):
  • First there was the Japanese GameCube version, which has a track called Starry Heavens. That's probably my favourite of the songs.
  • Then there was the Western GameCube version, which has this awesome orchestral track instead.
  • Then every region of the PlayStation 2 port featured Soshite Boku ni Dekiru Koto. Which I also like.
  • And finally the remastered PS3 and Steam ports have remixed versions of both Starry Heavens and Soshite Boku ni Dekiru Koto. You get the second song if you wait on the title screen for the intro to play again.
Turns out that 'Custom' does bring up the options screen, and there's a few things to switch around here. I can turn on the original Japanese voices for instance (though I won't). The graphics options are kind of limited and it won't let me touch the MSAA quality button on my rig whatever I do, but I'm at least able to max the samples and anisotropic filtering.

I can also turn the battle controls to 'auto', which allows the AI to control all actions. Doesn't seem like that'd give me much to do though so I'll leave it on the default.

So I started up the game and got a flyby of the world map, along with narration about a goddess, a tree and a Chosen One, read out by someone who sounds almost exactly like Cam Clarke.

Cut to a classroom, where the students are basically learning the same story from the narration. All except the hero, Lloyd Irving, who's been sleeping through class holding two giant buckets of water in his two giants hands. It's not explained why he's holding buckets, but think it might have something to do with him falling asleep in class.

The additional exposition explains that how a hero formed a pact with the Goddess Martel to seal away the Desians after the Ancient War. But now the Desians are back and today is the Day of Prophecy when the Chosen of Mana will receive an oracle from the Goddess Martel, perform the trials, awaken the Summon Spirits, seal away the Desians and restore the mana!

Fortunately the Chosen of Mana is a smart student called Colette, not the bloke who's fallen asleep with his buckets again. Wait, human ranches? That's not good! Apparently the Desians are using up all the mana there somehow, causing food shortages and droughts, so the Chosen really needs to sort that out.

I've just realised who Lloyd reminds me of: he's a semi cel-shaded steampunk Super Mario... with the voice of Robin from Teen Titans! Man, all those buttons and he left the most important one unfastened.

School's interrupted by a bright flash outside of the window and the teacher runs out to check if it's the oracle come to see the Chosen. Personally I think it was a computer glitch, as those windows are obviously monitor screens showing a fuzzy 2D image of scenery.

That's a weird black bar down there. Oh it's just the edge of the floor.

Well I can walk around now with the left analogue stick, but the right stick's doing nothing and the bumpers make the character rotate 45 degrees, so there's no camera controls at all indoors it seems.

The teacher told me to study on my own while she's out, but no one else is studying so I went to chat to the NPCs instead. Turns out they've all lost their voice acting now though and communicate solely through message boxes. They're also not triggering any more plot, so screw 'em, I'm leaving.

Or not.

I didn't really miss the doorway, I just wanted to get a looping GIF of his walking animation, because it amuses me for some reason. This is the first of the Tales series to make the jump to 3D and I think it's fair to say it's a little prettier than the first 3D Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest games. Coming out years later than them helped.

I'm not sure what the deal is with the ribbons coming off his collar though. If they were part of a scarf that'd be fine, I'd be cool with that, but they're just collar ribbons. Their only possible purpose is to serve as a windsock for the archers in the party. Also who lets a student bring two swords to school! One's bad enough.

On the way out of school I saw an option to trigger this 'skit' featuring two other students, so I figured I'd see what that's about. It's basically a cutscene with a play button instead of a skip button, with the characters expressing themselves through these moving portraits instead of expensive animation.

You know what they don't express themselves with though? Voices. The sequel, Dawn of New World, has voices during skits, the original Japanese version has voices during skits, but in English they are silent and that that's not really working for me. Especially as it won't let me skip lines of dialogue when I've finished reading them!

I've just remembered something else Dawn of the New World has that this doesn't: creepy motion captured real time 3D cutscenes. When a cutscenes starts in that the characters come across like actors wearing papier mâché anime heads. This is much more old school with its animation.

Speaking of 3D cutscenes, when we got outside the school a guy called Frank came over to tell us that the Desians invaded the village a short while ago and everyone's hiding. So I guess no one will mind if I walk over and use the village save point then.

I couldn't move the camera inside the school, but now that I'm out here... I still can't move the camera. But it does rotate a bit on its own to give me a better view of the empty roads I'm exploring. It makes it very easy to see that all the buildings, fences and signs have all gotten a better shadow than me.

Oh I should totally check out the menu and see what level my crew starts out at.

Well at least we're not all level 1! Though I figured that the Chosen One Colette and the class genius Genis would be a little better prepared than the guy who holds the buckets.

This is a lot like Tales of Destiny II's menu (I opened my old post to check) with the grid of ten menu options along the top. They're not the same options though; they've given me a 'Synopsis' option for one thing, which summarises the story so far. Handy for both forgetful players and people writing long articles about the game. I love my new Synopsis option!

I closed the menu and took a few steps towards the north exit, then suddenly a floating skull with glowing purple eyes appeared! This is apparently part of Colette's trial leaking out from the temple, as you can't prove you're the Chosen One without killing some floating skulls. Suits me, it's nice to get straight to the action for once in an RPG.

Though when the screen shattered and we appeared in the JRPG battle dimension, we found that the skull was a zombie in disguise!

I was a bit lost here at first as the game seemed to have forgotten to show the Final Fantasy-style action commands and two of my characters were running around and attacking the zombie without me. But I tried pressing some buttons and discovered that combat takes place in real time and I'm controlling Lloyd directly. It's an action game!

In fact it's basically the same as all the other Tales games so far, which I would've remembered if I had a memory. So I pressed the (A) button a few times and that sorted the zombie out.

Yay, my strategic repeated button tapping brought me to a slightly less than pretty victory screen! But there's still one thing I don't get: what the hell is Genis holding there? It's the weirdest damn magic wand I've ever seen.

Okay I've done some research and it's a Japanese toy called a kendama, which is a stick with two cups and a ball attached with string. You can pull off tricks with it like a yo-yo, but its effectiveness against zombies is limited. Colette on the other hand is going full warrior princess with dual chakrams, and every time I see her holding them like that I worry that she's going to slice her thumbs off.

Wait, I have a 'cook' button? Why do I have a 'cook' button?

Uh, okay, that is… fucking awesome! Why don’t all games have a button that makes me sandwiches? I mean it’s technically not cooking, but it’s better than a plate full of nothing.

After the battle Lloyd started getting into some exposition of his own, explaining how the Exsphere on his hand is the source of his awesome strength, but then another skull turned up and this one was both a zombie and a ghost!

Despite the 3D visuals, combat more or less takes place on a 2D plane, though Lloyd will run around enemies if necessary to get to his targeted opponent. So I switched target to the zombie and starting pressing that (A) button again, leaving Genis to automatically take out the non-physical threat with his magic fireballs.

Okay now that the tutorial battles are over with I’m leaving town and heading to the temple to see if the oracle's really come here for Colette...

...after I've raided all the houses for loot.

Actually all I've been finding is furniture, though I did run into Frank again who offered me free healing. He's a top bloke that guy.

Plus he's got a beautiful house, though these graphics aren't quite on the level of something like Valkyria Chronicles. The cel-shading sometimes looks like they turned Jedi Outcast's terrible glitchy shadows on and then gave everyone a black outline. I wonder how it looked like on the original PS3 version.

GameCube
Oh wait, this was originally a GameCube game! I knew that, I wrote about it earlier, but I guess the game must look great for its age because I really did forget for a moment.

Anyway, to me the GameCube version looks really similar, if a little less wide and way lower res. But there is one major difference and that's that it runs so slick. I don't generally have the ability to tell if a game's running at 30 or 60 just by looking at it, but I can tell you right now that this GameCube game is twice as fluid as the PC version.

Okay, I'm leaving town for real this time. I've got my health back from Frank, I'm ready for this.

Alright I've finally left town and there's an overworld out here! Plus I can finally rotate the camera around... just not now because that message down there's telling me I've got another skit to watch first.

There's also abstract enemy blob things roaming around out here as well and if I run into one of them it starts a battle. If I run around them, sooner or later one gets impatient and charges at me out of nowhere and starts a battle. Basically, I'm going to be fighting a lot of monsters out here, and that's fine because I need a lot of XP.

Plus I also need the practice, because I'm still not sure what I'm doing in this game. I should try seeing what the other buttons do but the battles are so frantic that they're over before I even know what happened.

Hah, I like the little picture that comes up next to the name of our special moves.

Okay I've learned that I can't move in three dimensions, only left and right. I can hold down (X) to block, (A) is attack, and (B) is a super attack that uses up TP (toilet paper... maybe, I dunno). Also the direction I hold the analogue stick changes the attack, so I can stab lower or jump up into the air. This'll also let me pull off extra special attacks just as soon as I get any.

I've also learned that hawks, wolves and rabbits team up to take down human prey.


LATER.


This is an entirely different fight I promise. I went home to get some healing from Frank in the meantime as I was getting my ass kicked.

The menu's new though; I've found that I can bring this up at any time to pause the game and... do stuff. It's not letting me give direct orders, but I can change my strategy, switch equipment, and use items. Hang on, that says "P1", so does this have co-op play?

I just checked and it seems like it does have local co-op. You can get some friends over and have them play as your otherwise automatic party members, if you've got another controller.

But I'm playing with AI sidekicks so I need to set up their brains so that they know who to attack, when to use skills and how they should move. Actually I'll just let them use their own thought patterns, seeing as they seem to know how to play far better than I do.

I may want to switch the skills to 'save' though if they keep using up all their TP. They get a little bit back after every victory and a point every time they hit someone, so if they only use a quarter of their TP up in each fight they should have full tanks ready for the next one.

I also had a look for that sandwich Lloyd made while I was in the item menu, but I guess he's eaten it already. It's a shame as I was looking forward to that. I could really use some healing items as Lloyd loses his health so quickly and I've no healer in the party or shop to buy potions from.


SOON.


Oh okay, so there is a shop. I must have overlooked it during my failed burglary spree.

The weapons here are the same crap I already own, but I can at least buy a few potions. Only a few though as there's a 20 apple gel limit!


EVENTUALLY.


Oh no, the Desians have broken the non-aggression treaty and have attacked the Martel Temple! I can tell that shit's getting real now because the voice acting's come back.

They laugh when Lloyd calls them Desians though, which is a bit weird. Are they in disguise as Desians? The plot thickens. Anyway I'm going to go hit them now.

Wait, this thug with the massive hammer wasn't in the cutscene! They're cheating!

Fortunately I'm cheating myself, as I've brought in a new challenger of my own: Kratos, the God of War! Well, Kratos the unrelated wandering mercenary actually, but he's still able to mess you up. He's like a tougher version of Lloyd, plus he's a healer as well, which I really need right now.

Okay I'm really going to have to stop for a bit and look up his name because... AHA! It actually is Cam Clarke playing Kratos (and the narrator)! Though he's all business in this and sounds nothing like Liquid Snake.

Kratos is still a jerk though and doesn't want Lloyd to help Colette on her trials.

I decided to try this dialogue choice both ways to see what'd happen, seeing as it's rare that I get to choose anything.
  •  "What did you say?!" didn't impress him, but Colette persuaded mean Mr. Kratos to let us tag along anyway.
  • "Gotcha" on the other hand made Lloyd say he was going in on his own, causing Kratos to relent.
I'm not sure if my choice had any effect on how much characters like me, but something different did happen (and neither choice ended with me waiting outside).

So we're on the team, but Kratos feels that Lloyd's self-taught sword skills are a bit crap and gives him a training manual that explains the basics of combat. I flipped through it though and it's basically just stuff that I already worked out for myself along the way. Hey I really am self-taught!


LATER, DEEP IN THE TEMPLE DUNGEON.


The dungeon's mostly been corridors and roaming monsters so far, but I've come across something new here.

I have to run over and kill that orange monster to turn him into block, then push that block into the correct hole to fill in part of the path underneath. Then another monster appears, I go over and smack him around as well, and so on. As puzzles go it seems fairly original and also really easy.

Oops, I was playing around with the party order and AI, and started the next fight controlling Colette instead. The trouble is that Lloyd's brain is still set up for player control, so he's just standing there like an idiot. I hope he's got enough wits in there to know how to breathe or else this is going to be a tragedy.

Oh hang on, I’ve figured it out. I can switch any of my characters to manual, semi-auto and auto control individually in the 'Tech' menu. I can also set what moves they're allowed to use and right now I'm thinking none, because they've already gone and used up all their TP! I should've switched it to 'Save' earlier.

Anyway I won the fight, filled in all the gaps in the path with blocks, and collected my reward: the Sorcerer's Ring (presumably known as the Philosopher's Ring in the UK... wait, I'm in the UK). This thing lets me shoot out fireballs that stuns enemies roaming the dungeon, so I'll be holding onto it.

Colette also got a neck thing from an angel who may or may not be her real dad, and now we're going on a quest to regenerate the world! Though I don't trust this angel, he seems a bit shifty. Plus I'm still thinking about that human ranch, shouldn't we be doing something about that first?

Unfortunately our heroes aren't doing anything right now as it turns out that their teacher's in the temple too and she catches them skiving from school. They may be able to defeat potentially fake Desian thugs and puzzle block monsters, but she's in clearly in another league as she smacks Genis' ass a few times and then kicks Lloyd in the face!

He can’t hear you Raine, he’s either unconscious or dead. You've killed our protagonist for skipping school to help the Chosen.

Actually Lloyd survives and makes it back to town to discover that there's actual NPCs roaming around now I can speak to. But we’ve been banned from the Chosen One mission due to being actual children. It’s like Colette’s parents don’t even realise we’re in a JRPG.

Fine then, I'm going off to check out that human ranch then!


A FEW MINUTES LATER.


I shouldn't have gone to check out the human ranch.

Stuff happened, and the Desians got pissed off and started burning down Lloyd's town. That's like cliché #2 in the Grand List of RPG Clichés! It wasn't really my fault that I visited the ranch, I don't get any say in where the plot's going, but Lloyd done fucked up.

Now the town's on fire, we've been exiled by the mayor, and the Desians are hunting us as fugitives. Worse, Colette's party has gone off to finish the game without us! All we can do is try to figure out where they went and catch up with them. I just don't feel right turning the game off until I've released the Seal of Fire, or whatever it is Colette's doing.


SOON.


Okay I can quit now. I didn't want to turn this off until I was satisfied I'd seen the best of it, and this wanted poster of Lloyd is truly the best of this game.

I hiked across the world map and reached this new town in the desert, and it has way more shops around than the starting village. Plus there's a customizer who turns my old gear into better gear using materials I've gathered, free of charge! Note to self: don't throw out old gear. I also found a team of anthropomorphic cats who can be hired to go count the treasure chests in the area, and a fortune teller who can tell me which characters like me.


SOON.


Well I didn't quit, though I did get captured!

Fortunately it was absurdly easy to break out of my cell, easier than it was to solve this puzzle anyway. Well solving it's not the issue, I was basically shown what to do, it's pulling it off that's tricky. I have to use the electrically charged Sorcerer's Ring to stun a robot at the exact moment he's stepping on one of the floor panels, then run over to stun the other one on the other panel before the first wakes up.

What makes it harder is that the bloody robots charge at me when they see me; it's screwing up my timing. And if one gets too close I get dragged into a fight, which is a bit of a drain on my finite health. Still, think of all the levels I'll be getting! Eventually.


MUCH MUCH LATER.


This is interesting: I choose how a character's attributes grow on each level up by picking a title for them, which are unlocked after certain story events, side quests and by meeting miscellaneous criteria (like completing a 10-hit combo). I just wish I'd known about it a few levels earlier, as I've been missing out on free points!

I don't remember hitting anything 10 times in a row, but I have been trying to chain attacks together. Lloyd can swipe three times with his sword before he stops to take a breath, but I can also add a special attack afterwards to bring it up to attack #4. After that I need to decide whether I'm going to block to take some of the hurt off my opponent's swift retaliation, get out of the way, or start throwing out my next three sword attacks and hope that the enemy's being stunlocked.


DEEP IN A DUNGEON, AGAIN.


Good news, I finally found the others! Bad news, this chest I tried to open just grew teeth and now everything's gone to shit. Why are mimics always so tough!

It doesn't help that I was taking it easy, playing as the healer for a change, so all I can really do here is use up all my TP on cure spells and run away from it. Actually that's not entirely true, as I'm also bringing up the menu every few seconds to use an apple gel (health potion) or a life bottle (phoenix down) on someone. There's a cooldown on using items though, so the battle's almost becoming turn based for me.

Well it was, until I ran out of items. Good luck guys, you're on your own. Try not to get hit again as you won't be getting up afterwards this time.

HOLY SHIT I DID IT! I am the best at watching my characters win a battle without me.

XP is given out to the whole party, not just the active characters, so Colette will get a share of this victory, but sadly Genis and Raine will be missing out on account of being temporarily dead. Wait, I only got 24 experience for this? And 25 gald, well that'll certainly go a long way towards the cost of replacing the entire inventory's worth of items I used up in this fight.

And I've lost 2 grade, so that's fantastic too. Grade's a currency used for buying certain things in game, but mostly to unlock stuff on New Game +, so it's something I want. All-Divide on the other hand, not so much.

What I'd usually do after losing so much health is go win a few easy battles to get enough TP back for Kratos to cast heal on everyone, but with two characters down I'm just going run back to the inn.


SOON, AFTER I CAME BACK.


I must be getting pretty close now to completing this dungeon and unlocking the Seal of Fire. Though I'm getting the feeling that I'll be shoving blocks in dungeons until the end of the game.

This time I'm pushing the blocks to open paths to let me shoot fireballs from my Sorcerer's Ring to light candles to raise platforms to open paths! Then I can run around and open all the chests... or maybe I'll just leave them. I mean what kind of an asshole opens all the chests in a dungeon and leaves nothing for the next guy?

Okay I admit that I'm maybe a little scared of chests now. It only took one of them growing teeth and nearly wiping out my party entirely to make me a little hesitant to roll the dice on them again.

I completed the block puzzle and my reward this time was an anime cutscene! With a second appearance from angel dad! It doesn't match the art style of the game but it's always nice to get an animated interlude.

We sorted out the Seal of Fire and now Colette's gotten angel wings! This is all part of the plan apparently, though Colette secretly worries about her transformation afterwards. Okay, now I need to hire a boat and cross the ocean to get to the next stop in the regeneration tour.

Or maybe not actually, as I'm able to go in the other direction first and go explore the north side of the continent first! I doubt there'll be much to do up there, the game's not exactly Skyrim, but it's not Final Fantasy X either and even the illusion that I can stray from the rails brings joy to my heart.


SEVERAL FIGHTS LATER.


Okay screw the north side of the continent, the monsters there are too tough! That's fine though as this port town is prettier. In fact I think I'll end this here, with first seal sorted out and the team about to sail to the city of Palmacosta.


CONCLUSION

I have to admit, I was surprised by Tales of Symphonia. I mean after everything I've heard about the PC port I was worried my rig would tip over and catch fire the moment I turned it on. This was apparently a real disaster of a porting job before all the patches, but honestly the only problem I had with it during my 9 hours of playtime was the 30 FPS lock, and that was a very bearable annoyance for me in this case. Plus the PC version's based on the the PS3 version, which is based on the PS2 version, so it's collected two sets of tweaks and upgrades along the way in exchange for losing half its frame rate.

But is the game itself a bearable annoyance? No, not really... but in a good way! I'm not sure why I didn't click with Tales of Destiny II six years ago, but this pulled me in and kept my interest. It helps that it's got likeable characters doing likeable things, and occasionally having likeable voice acting as well. The silent skits let it down for sure, but I found the game did a good job telling its story without being obnoxious about it. I wasn't yelling 'oh shut up and let me play the game already' at the screen.

It's missing the grandeur and incredible cutscenes of a post-SNES Final Fantasy game, it doesn't do spectacle, but it's solid and it looks great for its age in my opinion. The painted style really works for it, and spells get suitably flashy in combat. The music's pretty good too... I think. To be honest I've already forgotten it. The sound quality on the other hand isn't 100% especially when one of the female party members are speaking. I mean the acting's fine, it just seems like the audio's been compressed too much maybe.

There's also gameplay in the game, and this I'm not so sure about. I soon got into the real time combat, but I found that fights got really repetitive, especially when I was facing the same groups over and over again. Beating them became automatic, as I just went through the same set of button presses that I had got me through the other dozen fights. Then they literally became automatic, as I switched the AI onto full auto and let battles win themselves for a while. But it's an RPG, so samey encounters comes with the territory. I'm not considering this to be a bad battle system at all, and it was nice that I didn't feel I had to grind. I mean I did, a little, but I didn't feel like I had to.

I'm not the world's most enthusiastic JRPG fan, but this one easily gets a Not Crap badge from me, no hesitation.


Thanks for reading and I really mean that. Without you running your eyes across my writing, all of this was pointless. Well except for the playing the game bit, I enjoyed that just fine without you.

Leave a comment if you feel like it and come back next week to find out what that game on the left is.

7 comments:

  1. The next is Spy Fox in "Dry Cereal".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whoa, you didn't just identify it as a Spy Fox game, you knew exactly which one it was. Impressive.

      Delete
  2. Why don’t all games have a button that makes me sandwiches?

    You're going to love Final Fantasy XV then.

    but I found that fights got really repetitive

    You're going to hate Final Fantasy XV then.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I guess TP is stands for Technique Point.
    Staple gameplay of every tales series is RPG with controlled action of one member
    Which i don't like it but also not bad IMO
    That's the reason why i don't so enthusiastic toward tales series

    ReplyDelete
  4. I grew up playing RPG's and I love them. I've played this game on the Gamecube before but I got stuck on the puzzle with the Sorcerer's Ring and the robots. I'm currently playing Alphadia Genesis 2. I'm 12 years old and here's my blog: http://gamingdetective38.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am very impress to read this post. " should read, "This article is really impressive to me, My niece loves feathers. Now if I am able to just do it not to mention you do it can certainly help me score some leading points with her.
    144hz Gaming Monitor

    ReplyDelete

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