- Platform PS3
- Publisher Namco Bandai
- Developer Namco Bandai
- Release Date 28/02/2014
Tales of Symphonia Chronicles Review
"Super Lightning Blade!"
Reviewing a HD re-release of a decade old game can be quite tricky. For one, it’s tough to avoid judging the game by modern standards, especially when these days, a higher degree of polish is required to be deemed at the very least acceptable. It’s even tougher when that game happens to be one of my personal favourites of all time: that being Tales of Symphonia, a classic GameCube and PS2 (in Japan only) game from the long-running and well respected Tales of series of action-RPGs. For its tenth anniversary, it’s been bundled with its Wii sequel, Dawn of the New World, and upscaled for modern HD televisions in the form of Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. While I do have some gripes with the overall package, both games have held up surprisingly well.
Let’s start with the main attraction of Chronicles, that being the original Tales of Symphonia, one of the Gamecube’s best and fondly remembered RPGs (but let’s be honest, it was a very RPG-starved system to begin with).
Symphonia tells the story of Lloyd Irving and his friends who hail from the oracle village of Iselia. One of his friends, Colette, has been selected as the Chosen of their homeland of Sylvarant, and must undergo a pilgrimage to release the magical seals across the land in order to become an angel so that she may save the land from ruin. It’s a very standard RPG plot, but this pales in comparison to the eventual bigger picture, and trust me when I say that it is a picture worth seeing.
Shockingly dark moments in the game are handled remarkably well, avoiding the ham-fisted cheese trap that many RPGs fall into when dealing with similar stuff.
The plot of Symphonia goes eight ways bananas, and will have you hooked and reveling in its lavish ridiculousness. There are a number of gaping plotholes that are never filled, and some scenes make very little sense in the context of the story. On top of this, some of the later twists telegraph themselves rather obviously early on, and there’s a good deal of heartily cheesy dialogue. Despite this, there are tons of moments that are incredibly sincere, heart-warming, funny, or even downright upsetting. Shockingly dark moments in the game are handled remarkably well, avoiding the ham-fisted cheese trap that many RPGs fall into when dealing with similar stuff.
A Lovely Bunch
What makes the story so endearing in the long run are the characters, and they’re some of the best I’ve come across in any game, period. Protagonist Lloyd starts out as your typical goof, but he’s sincerely passionate about saving everything that he possibly can. You’re rooting for him every step of the way because of how much he gives a damn. Compare this to, say, Squall from Final Fantasy VIII, a brooding pretty boy who gives the impression he’d rather be doing literally anything else. Lloyd was, and to a degree still is, an incredible breath of fresh air in a genre that’s saturated with mopey protagonists who may as well be silent. Other party members include Genis: an actually funny 12 year old; Raine: a mildly schizophrenic healer and school teacher; Sheena: a ninja with a deeply troubled past; and Zelos: a sociopath and self-proclaimed ladies man. It’s an eclectic bunch that you’ll likely fall in love with and stick with from start to finish, largely thanks to the excellent voice cast, including the likes of Jennifer Hale, Scott Menville and Cam Clarke. What you have here is one the finest, well fleshed out RPG parties in the genre’s history, and they’re a big reason why the game is so fondly regarded.
My Precious Framerate!
If you’ve played the original GameCube release, one of the first things you’ll notice about the Chronicles release is that it unfortunately runs at half the frames the older version (from over ten years ago) did. What is the meaning of this? Seriously, I went back and played my GameCube copy just to make sure, but the difference really is night and day. Why this game runs worse on a more modern console is beyond me, and hurts the overall presentation to a degree. It’s something you’ll likely get used to over time, but it often made me long for the smoother framerate of the GameCube version.
But the issues with presentation don’t end there; Chronicles’ insistence on using the PS3’s gaudy load/save interface as opposed to the GameCube version’s more appealing in-game menu is somewhat irritating, especially considering the rather lengthy amount of time it takes at loading and saving your data. Graphically, Symphonia looked stunning on the GameCube, but it’s certainly seen better days. On PS3, the cel-shaded characters still look great and some areas look better than ever thanks to the HD upscale, but there are many locations where the low texture quality really stands out. Oh, and the already hideous overworld map looks worse than ever.
But honestly, none of that matters when you take into account Symphonia’s unbelievably fun battle system. Battles take place in real time and are heavily action-focused. You move your character on a two-dimensional plane where you can attack, guard, and perform special attacks assigned to the Circle button and D-pad. An important feature of battles is the Strat menu, where you can set the positioning of your party, as well as other things like how often they cast spells, how much TP they should preserve, how they should prioritise their movesets and so on. It’s a deceptively deep system that brings to light just how diverse each character is. Most of your party members can be played or used in multiple ways; for example, Zelos can deal heavy damage on the frontlines, but he also has a wide range of support skills. Raine is the party’s healer, but she can also learn exceptionally powerful light-based magic, too. If you get tired of Lloyd’s hack and slashy style, you’re free to take control of any other character at any time. There’s also the not-so-obvious local co-op mode where up to four players can control the party during battles.
Lastly, I’d like to give special mention to Symphonia’s soundtrack. It was composed by Motoi Sakuraba, whose portfolio includes the likes of Golden Sun, Star Ocean, Baten Kaitos and Dark Souls. I mention this because his score for Symphonia is up there with his finest works. As you’d expect, it’s a very eclectic soundtrack that incorporates a range of styles. The battle themes are superbly catchy, every town in the game has its own track to identify it with, and there are plenty of situational songs that cover both upbeat and melancholic scenes. Words honestly can’t do Sakuraba’s work justice, but it’s a soundtrack worthy of anyone’s collection.
Before finishing I’ll briefly mention the sequel, Dawn of the New World. Set two years after the events of Symphonia, it stars two new characters, Emil and Marta, and sees the return of most of the original’s cast. It’s undoubtedly inferior to Symphonia in almost every way. Emil is nowhere near as strong a protagonist as Lloyd, the story lacks punch and takes a considerably long time to get going. The world map is gone, replaced by an animated menu. It’s convenient, but the world feels much smaller as a result. The battle system is still fun, but it lacks the complexity of Symphonia’s and the Pokemon-like monster breeding feels desperately tacked on.
Another gripe I have is that they changed most of the original game’s voice actors; as Symphonia is one my my absolute favourite games, this is an absolute crime, especially considering the new cast are nowhere near as enthusiastic as the actors they replaced. Thankfully, Motoi Sakuraba is on point once again with another awesome soundtrack, featuring some nice remixes of songs from the original in addition to all-new tracks. With all that said, Dawn of the New World is still a solid RPG, it just sadly pales in comparison to its incredible prequel. I’m thankful for its inclusion, though, as I’m sure many RPG fans didn’t get the chance to play it on the Wii, myself included.
So should you buy Tales of Symphonia Chronicles? Absolutely. While fans of the GameCube version may want to stick with their original copy, it’s a great package that combines one of the best RPGs ever made with its pretty okay sequel. If you’ve been interested in the Tales series before and were looking for the right game to get started, Symphonia is a great place to begin. If you already own the games, though, Chronicles doesn’t really offer anything new, but it’s a great purchase regardless. At the end of the day, all that matters is that I still love it after all these years; that’s the only goal Chronicles had to accomplish, and it has definitely succeeded.
Symphonia Of Delight
Tales of Symphonia is still one of the greatest JRPGs out there, and Chronicles is not a collection to be missed. While Dawn of the New World is largely inferior to its predecessor, it's still a decent RPG that's definitely worth playing through. All in all, Chronicles provides superb value and shouldn't be missed by lovers of the genre or those looking to be introduced to it.