So a Tales of Symphonia HD re-release has just been announced, which is coming out in October in Japan and 2014 in the West. Much like Final Fantasy X, it is a must-play JRPG, for various reasons.
Instead of boring you with a review or the like, I'll keep it quick and list you five reasons that make the game worth checking out in case you haven't done so already.
- 1. It had a rather groundbreaking combat system at the time.
In a time when every traditional JRPG used a round-based combat system (or the real-time variant ATB made popular by Final Fantasy), the Tales of series offers a real-time combat system - ever since the SNES days no less! When the game came out back in 2004, it was the only combat system of its kind on the market, which not only has some nice strategic elements here and there so it's not just button mashing, but even boosts a 4-player co-op. That's right, you can fight with up to three friends in front of one screen. Back in 2004 when the Internet was not all broadband and local multiplayer still had some merit, it was a great feature to have.
I have to admit, though, that the game is guilty of having some characters being not ideal to play with solo (spellcasters and healers? Good luck with them!). The more recent Tales of Graces f fixed that issue in which every character is useful and enjoyable to play with, but back in the Symphonia days this wasn't quite the case yet.
tl;dr: Just stick with Lloyd if you're not a combat pro.
- 2. It is too beautiful for its own good
In a way, this game can evoke even more nostalgia than Final Fantasy VII. On the one hand, the plot features an example of most JRPG cliches in existence. On the other hand, it also holds potential for becoming of the most beloved memories your inner child will ever have (for an JRPG at least).
Graphics-wise, the game is also quite beautiful and appealing to younger folks in particular thanks to its cel-shading. It's not exactly as classy as Wind Waker, Okami or Journey, but still has a charme on its own.
The character animation and some models might be a bit simple and low-poly compared to other games at the time, but the environments are quite colorful and lovely.
Also, the music. It crosses the border of video game-ish music and becomes so melodic and beautiful that you will fall in love with it.
In essence, Symphonia is a children's book come to live. And no, I don't mean like an anime come to live. It really is a cheerful experience.
- 3. It was one of the few JRPGs available on the Gamecube.
Yeah... I have to mention this for fairness' sake. The Gamecube did have a few dozen RPGs (30 to be exact), but some of them are mutliplatform releases, also not all of them were traditional JRPGs but rather games with some level up elements applied to them. There even are two Pokemon games among them, which is debatable whether they're RPGs or not (having 200+ recruitable characters is NOT a fair comparison!).
When it comes down to it, less than 10 games could be considered big, traditional JRPGs. Among those, the strongest and most successful one was Tales of Symphonia, hands down.
While games like Skies of Arcadia, Baten Kaitos and Paper Mario did found their audience, Symphonia became the strong, exclusive JRPG for the Gamecube. If it were released on a Sony console, it may or may not have had the same level of success, but on the Gamecube it could really shine and find an audience.
Still, to become the Final Fantasy VII-equivalent of the Gamecube is an achievement in itself.
- 4. It has an all-star voice cast
Remember when Metal Gear Solid 1 was one of the first Japanese games on the PS1 to have a proper English dub? Or do you remember when Final Fantasy X was one of the first JRPGs receiving a decent English dub? Well forget all that, because Tales of Symphonia tops everything with its all-star cast of voice actors.
The game features Scoot Menville, Heather Hogan, Colleen O'Shaughnessey, Cam Clarke, Kari Wahlgren, Jennifer Hale, Shiloh Strong, Tara Strong, Crispin Freeman, Brianne Siddall, James Arnold Taylor, Chris Edgerly and Kim Mai Guest.
You're bound to know at least a few of them. Crispin Freeman is the voice of Alucard from Hellsing, for instance, and both Jennifer Hale and Tara Strong appear in many other video games as well.
Namco truly went overboard and hired every high-class voice actor available at the time, which resulted in a game that had a very good English dub.
On the flipside, when the sequel came along, it was impossible for them to bring up the money to hire them all again: With the exception of three characters, none of them reprised their roles in Dawn of the New World. Still, the original could establish itself as a high-quality game in part to the voice actors.
- 5. It has a lot of replay value
At the time of the game's released, few JRPGs had a New Game+ feature. Vagrant Story was created with it in mind, and the same company who made it also made Chrono Trigger - yet we wouldn't see a New Game + feature in a Final Fantasy game until much later.
So when the game ends and the GRADE menu showed up after the credits, players were both shocked and enthralled. Sure, it wasn't an "easy" NG+ mode (you had to earn the points to unlock stuff to carry over), but the option was there nonetheless.
Players could play the game with some nice advantages, which were necessary for the unlocked difficulty level. Or someone could play on the old difficulty and simply overpower his party and one-shot most enemies, including bosses. One could try out new characters, discover all sidequests, get a new character in Flanoir ect.
This, in addition with the real-time combat system which is a faster procedure in nature, allowed for a faster walkthrough than ever before.