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Throwback Legends #4 – Tales of Symphonia

Its Thursday, I hope everyone has had a good week so far. Today I want to bring you the first title in a series to hit the markets of the West. With 16 titles in the main series and dozens of spin-offs ranging from sequels to loosely associated phone games, Tales is one of the largest JRPG series in the world right up there with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest.

The series began in ’95 with Tales of Phantasia, and in 2003 the first title made its way west with Tales of Symphonia launching on Nintendo GameCube. I had grown up on Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior here in the west), but it wasn’t until Symphonia that I truly understood the wonder of JRPG’s. My first play through of Tales of Symphonia lasted just under 150 hours and is still one of the most outstanding stories I have experienced in a game.

Level and sound design for Tales titles have always been good, and Symphonia helped set that standard. Being an earlier release in the series, it has its flaws, and parts of the design have aged less well than others, but such is the nature of technology. The soundtrack is fantastic, and a few tracks are outstanding. Themes, such as Fatalize and Search a Seal, that make up a larger portion of the game as generic battle and dungeon music are interesting enough to not become stale, but allow the one-off themes such as Ymir Forest to really shine.

The writing can be childish, though I believe that may be a side effect of localization, but it doesn’t distract from the story. The main story element is, as per usual in a JRPG, to save the world. This can barely even be called a single ice cube compared to the metaphorical iceberg that is the full plot, however. With friends and foes alike who show more complex thought than “I want to destroy the world!” (ahem, Exdeath), we get memorable characters such as Sheena, Presea, Kratos and Mithos whose character growth doesn’t just affect them, but the plot as a whole. And the plot is enormous, touching on major topics like slavery, discrimination, and the rights of the dead and the morality of denying those rights. There is an emotional roller coaster in this game for almost everyone.

The final lineup is nine characters and eight unique combat play styles (depending on your choices, one of those slots can be one of two people with identical skill sets). The combat uses the series’ Multi-Line Linear Motion Battle System, which is just a long, fancy way of saying real-time 3D side-scrolling movement, its simple and effective allowing for ease of use or extreme precision if you put the time into it. Rounding out the combat, the game adds in the Unison Attack mechanic, allowing the player to interrupt the flow of the battle for a shot at launching an instant attack from each team member. To make this even better, certain skills combine between characters, launching an additional attack on top of the unison attack.

Tales has set itself among the superstars of the genre, and Symphonia has stood the test of time to become the poster child of the franchise. While every future release of the title became progressively worse (see: the disaster that was the steam release), the original GameCube release remains outstanding. However, we won’t talk about the sequel, Dawn of the New World. It can, and should, be ignored.

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