Game Review: Tales of Symphonia (PS3)

Tales of Symphonia came out on Gamecube in 2003 and was ported to PS3 in 2013. This appears to be one of the most beloved games in the Tales series, popular enough to spawn a sequel and an OVA. I am perplexed as to hwhy.

Symphonia's main character is Lloyd, a young swordsman (obligatory) who is accompanying his childhood friend Colette on her journey to regenerate their declining world. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's the plot of Final Fantasy X (2001). But unlike FFX's Yuna, who is more of a Summon/Action Jesus (summon spirits to defeat the bad guy, die in the process), Colette is a Mana/Kidnapped Jesus (life to be sacrificed to restore mana/energy, gets abducted a lot).

I honestly don't know why this game is so appreciated by other gamers. It screws up the biggest JRPG element: the story, which is borderline incoherent and frequently moved forward by fetch quests to previous locations. Argh! And the sound effects are atrocious -- waterfalls sound like chainsaws, a theme park sounds like a possessed cassette tape on rewind, and your avatar's footsteps are the aural equivalent of Monty Python's King Arthur on horseback.

But then again, Symphonia does have interesting protagonists, a great soundtrack, and it's surprisingly unflinching in its portrayal of dark themes such as racism, murder, and parental abandonment. This is definitely an older kid's game.

The real-time battle system is also fun, rewarding button mashers and strategic attackers alike. Players can choose to deploy basic physical blows or use up energy for techs. When the battle gauge fills up, you can use a Unison Attack, where every person on your team whups a selected target. As a bonus, selecting the correct techs will yield a Compound Unison Attack, where two characters finish off the enemy with a righteous smackdown.

With eight playable characters, you can choose your lead as well as your team. This is usually what makes RPGs so fun. My go-to team has two tanks, a healer, and a mage (Lloyd, Presea, Raine, and Genis). If I were more Mindlessly Obsessed, I'd play through again with different team compositions, but then I'd have to re-endure the plot, so no.

I will demonstrate why the story is so bad by explaining it. The plot of Tales of Symphonia is mainly driven by one dude: Mithos Yggdrasil. You can tell that he is a truly bad person because this is what he chooses to wear:

"Going to the discooo~"

For this outfit alone, he must be stopped.

But on top of his horrible leisure suit, the objectives in his Evil Villain Logic Model are awful. To wit:

Goal 1: Create a world without discrimination.
Objective 1: Sacrifice human lives to develop technology that transforms half-elves into "angels."
Objective 2: Kill as many humans as possible so that only half-elves are left.

Goal 2: Resurrect his beloved older sister, killed by humans.
Objective 1: Genetically modify selected human lineages to create a human vessel suitable for his resurrected sister. Eliminate the ones that fail. Take four thousand years to complete this task.

Goal 3: Prevent abuse of magitechnology.
Objective 1: Create a pact with the King of the Summon Spirits to be able to wield the Eternal Sword and manipulate time and space.
Objective 2: Split the two dominant, warring nations into separate planets.
Objective 3: Establish a system whereby only one planet at a time has enough mana/energy for humans to make technological advances. Once that planet develops sufficiently, redirect the flow of mana to the other world.
Objective 4: Create an elaborate marketing scheme with quasi-religious overtones to keep the inhabitants of each planet from questioning the "journey of regeneration" decreed by "angels" with pointy ears.

OMG do you see what I mean? Clearly, he needed to bring in consultants before he launched his Evil Quest, which is not so evil when you only look at his goals, but is pretty dickish when you factor in the needlessly complicated objectives. Obviously, he has a Tragic Backstory leading up to all this, but what evil villain doesn't? Yeesh. Mithos' one saving grace is his last line, where he basically says, "I regret nothinggggg!!!"

/rant

Anyway, all the cute little RPG elements come together to save Tales of Symphonia, so it's not a total wash. Like I said, I wouldn't play it again (unless you paid me at 1.5x my hourly rate, in which case I shall play the full 80 hours instead of my rushed 40), but I am sufficiently entertained to consider playing the sequel, which also came in the box.

TL;DR: I'm getting too old for this.

This post brought to you by August! Can you feel the heat?