Tales of Symphonia first arrived on North American shores as a GameCube title in 2004. While not the first game in the Tales of series to come west it was by far the most popular and is often regarded as one of the best games in the series. Now just in time for its 10th anniversary Bandai Namco has taken the previously Japan-only PS2 version of Symphonia, given it a face lift into high def, and been packed in with it's Wii sequel Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World as part of the Tales of Symphonia Chronicles collection for PS3.
The HD version of Symphonia includes changes from the PS2 version (New attacks, more skits, extra bosses) of the game as well as some extras added for the PS3 game such as bonus costumes, the original Japanese theme songs from the GameCube and PS2 versions, and a little feature that a lot of JRPG fans like to ask for... Dual Audio.
If you have ever played a Tales of game before then you probably know that the meat of the game and what it sets it apart from other JRPGs is the combat system. Symphonia runs on a real time combat system where you and up to three AI or local co-op controlled characters are able to wail away at enemies. This particular game was the first in the series to use 3D combat and there is now a much bigger field to work with in battle. If you've played later installments of the series though you might want to watch out as this game lacks the free-run ability meaning that while enemies and AI partners can move around in just about any direction, you are still kinda stuck in a 2D plane.
The Tales of series in addition to being popular for it's combat is also widely regarded for it's character driven stories. Our game here follows around Lloyd the idiot hero who follows around his childhood friend and major klutz Colette who happens to be the Chosen One on her quest to regenerate the dying world. They're accompanied by Lloyd's elf friend Genis, his older sister Raine, and a mysterious swordsman by the name of Kratos. The gang will of course meet up with others along the way for a grand total of 9 playable characters. The fun of the game is watching how the group interacts and grows with each other and learning more about them through the various skits and sidequests. In addition to that during the course of the main story Lloyd will get various dialogue options, pick carefully as these actually affect hidden relationship values that will actually effect how some scenes near the end of the game play out. So be sure not to be mean to any characters you might like.
In a first for the series in the west, The HD versions of Tales of Symphonia and its sequel feature Japanese language track as an option. The Japanese dub does have a major difference from the English dub that being the skits are actually voiced in Japanese where as they were not in English. Non-voiced skits aside the English dub is very well done and features a number of recognizable talent including Scott Menville, Jennifer Hale, Cam Clarke, Tara Strong, and more. English dub or Japanese dub whichever you pick you can't go wrong.
The Main Story
I really can't go much into the plot of the game without giving away some major spoilers but I'll try my best. As I mentioned before the plot follows Lloyd and his group as they set out to regenerate the world of course things aren't that simple, There are multiple groups that have their own plans for Colette and the story turns into a massive pileup of plots and betrayals. Racism and discrimination are major themes in the story and the game actually gets pretty dark despite what the colorful world and cutely drawn characters would have you think. The problem is that the start of the game and a lot of the middle section mainly deals with the generic save the world plot and its not until you start nearing the end of the game that it gets really good.
First off let me say that Symphonia still looks great for a game that is ten years old. Now let me counter that thought by saying that it still is a ten year old game. The game is brighter, more colorful, and smoother than its GameCube counterpart but sadly HD doesn't fix everything. The major graphical "issue" is that the PS2 version of Symphonia had its frame rate dropped from 60fps to 30fps, frame rate isn't a big deal to me but I know some people get really worked up about that so I felt it was worth a mention. I also have a few minor nitpicks really that become much more apparent as I played the game in HD. The world map is pretty atrocious and the grey blob monsters sucks, Some of the games cut scenes have hilariously bad animations, and battles have subtitles in them for if you are playing with the Japanese audio buy they also display even if you have the English audio on and I couldn't find a way to turn them off without turning off voices altogether.
Extremely Tedious Dungeons
If you played Tales of Xillia you may have noticed that there werent really any puzzles in the dungeons. Thankfully, Symphonia is chock full of puzzles of all shapes and sizes. Symphonia's puzzles usually don't require too much thinking to solve (well except for that one ice sliding puzzle I got stuck on for almost an hour) but the dungeons in the middle part of the game have a bad habit of being long and tedious to complete even after you've figured it out. Just as an example one dungeon requires that you find five blob monsters scattered around the dungeon and having them follow you to the last area. Sounds simple enough right? It is! You won't have much trouble finding the little blobs. What you will have trouble with is getting them to follow you as the blobs have extremely terrible AI and will constantly get stuck or just straight up stop following you its pretty ironic considering enemies on the field seem to have no trouble chasing you around the dungeon. I will give the developers credit though since they did apparently notice how tedious their dungeons were getting and at the end of one of the longest drawn out dungeons your character will actually comment about how long it took.
Even after ten years Tales of Symphonia still holds up as well as it did when it was first released. The game plays great and aside from a few hiccups here and there still looks amazing. If you have never played a Tales of game Symphonia would be a great place to start as it puts down a lot of the mechanics that later games would go on to use and refine. Fans of the series will love it either for nostalgia's sake or just to get an extra Tales fix before Tales of Xillia 2 comes out later this year. Even to those that aren't really interested in the series I'd recommend Symphonia for its fast paced battle system and charming cast.
This review was created with Talk Amongst Yourselves' official review format.
Tales of Symphonia is part of the Tales of Symphonia Chronicles collection that retails in most stores for $39.99. Tales of Symphonia can also be purchased and downloaded by itself from the Playstation Network for $19.99.