Namco’s Tales series is probably one of the better-known RPG series that isn’t Final Fantasy. First, let me get this out of the way, yes, the story of Tales of Symphonia — and by extension Tales of Symphonia Remastered — is nothing special, you are a student at a public school named Lloyd Irving, whose best friends are a short albino baby-faced kid who is cheerful and loves to play games, and a girl named Collete, who is the apparent “chosen one” from your village.
A HO-HUM STORY THAT PRIORITISES ITS CHARACTERS
After an investigation of a foreign nation reveals that they are evil, you are chased out and run back to your village. Due to some treaty that your town signed with said foreign nation, you find yourself banished from your village, and armed with nothing more than your wit and best friend, Genis Sage, you set off on a life-changing quest for redemption and freedom. Now as interesting a premise as this may be, Tales of Symphonia stretches its subject matter to a point where it feels like the crew over at Namco just wanted to rush you into the game’s world without even giving you much of a reason beyond the oh-so-common narrow-minded black and white good guy bad guy routine. Most of the game’s cutscenes are played out from the perspective of your protagonist, so we never truly manage to indulge ourselves in an engrossing story that puts us in the shoes of both hero and villain.
Though the game’s story never felt to me like it was anywhere near bad, the in-game cutscenes can feel trivial and meaningless. In-game events never drag, I felt as though the skits that occur on a whim’s notice were completely unnecessary. A few full motion video segments add color and diversity to the motionless figures, though the number of FMV scenes is fewer than 10, and all of them are at most two minutes, save for the ending. TOS maintains a consistent pace and does not waste time moving to the next event. This should not suggest that the game is short, as it is roughly 60 hours long, not including any side quests.
REAL-TIME COMBAT HELPS TO ADD VARIETY
The gameplay is incredibly diverse yet easy enough to master after a few short minutes. The battles are fought in real-time, which may come as a breath of fresh air compared to all the turn-based garbage being released at the time. Fights start with you and your teammates on one side of a two-dimensional plain where you control Lloyd or one of his friends. Your attacks are conducted using precise button controls that depend on what direction you tilt the analog stick in, as well as the face buttons you press. As you level up, you will be given more techniques that are added to your skill list. At any point in the game, you can swap out one attack for another that uses the same button presses. Say, for example, one of your attacks requires you to press up on the right analog stick while holding down a particular face button then you are given a choice between which attack suits your preference.
Some attacks also drain energy from your stamina bar that can be replenished by selecting the right equipment in your inventory. Each time an item is used, there is a bar over the character’s head that uses it that takes time to go away. Until the bar vanishes completely, that character cannot use an item. Thankfully you can command up to three other people in your party to use items on either themselves or you, allowing up to four items to be used at once. Each character has a specific attack pattern. One may be quick and nimble, while the others are stronger and more durable.
THE CEL-SHADED VISUALS HOLD UP WELL EVEN AFTER 19 YEARS
The graphics are gorgeously detailed and easy on the eyes. The only time when the graphics ever feel like they interfere with the gameplay is when I couldn’t identify a hill that I could walk on, from something that I couldn’t. This happens rarely, but when it does, it can be annoying. Other than that, the cell-shaded visuals are nice and colorful, and while stiff, they have a unique charm to them that will immediately tell you whether or not this style of character design is for you.
TOS is one of the few RPGs of the time it came out to provide actual replay value. Aside from different difficulty settings (which you can change at any time), you get a cool feature that allows you to change how you play when you start a new game+.
THE LACK OF EXTRAS AND A LOCKED FRAME RATE ARE PUZZLING
As for Tales of Symphonia Remastered, the lack of extras and the locked 30FPS rate might be a turn-off to some people considering that the GameCube version, which came out back in 2003, was playable at 60FPS. I also should mention that Symphonia’s sequel Dawn of the New World, which was remastered for PS3 back in 2013, is not present here.
Also, while I enjoyed the visual upgrades, sometimes the characters in the backgrounds during cutscenes mesh horribly with the characters in the foreground since the main characters have a much shinier coat of paint around them. It would have been nice if the developers had done what Halo: The Master Chief Collection did and let you choose between the new and classic visuals. It could provide the option to play with classic visuals and a 60FPS frame rate. I’m not a developer, so I’m not sure why the PS4 isn’t capable of running this game at 60 FPS while the GameCube is, but I imagine it has something to do with the graphical fidelity.
STILL WORTHY OF BEING CALLED A CLASSIC DESPITE ITS FLAWS
Tales of Symphonia Remastered is an RPG worth your while. While the lack of extras and a locked 30FPS frame rate might deter series veterans from giving this game another go, the heartwarming story and colorful visuals still hold up well and is worth recommending even after nearly two decades.
You can buy Tales of Symphonia Remastered on PSN here.