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Tales of Symphonia Chronicles Review - Work Together for Peace

Carly Smith | 14 Mar 2014 14:30
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Developed by Namco Bandai. Published by Namco Bandai. Released February 25, 2014. Available on PS3.

01

Nostalgia has a funny way of making you remember something being a lot better than it was. With some more context, it can help you appreciate the past and recognize that not everything was better "back in the day." Tales of Symphonia and I go way back to 2004 when it was one of the few solid RPGs on the Gamecube. Ten years have passed, and the remastered version of two games coupled together as Tales of Symphonia Chronicles has the same charm with slightly updated visuals and a Japanese audio option.

Tales of Symphonia begins like a fairly standard RPG. Lloyd Irving is a young guy who's better at fighting than he is at studying. He's idealistic, he believes in equality, and he wants to help everyone. Of his two friends, one is a genius and the other is the Chosen One, a girl who must go on a journey to save their world from monsters and the Desians, a group of people who enslave others in human ranches. Other party characters include a mercenary who knows more than he lets on, a professor, an assassin who turns friendly, a Casanova, an emotionless girl, and a convict. The end goal for this group of colorful characters is to save the world and replenish its mana.

The Tales series uses - and often reuses - tropes like the idiot hero, the chosen one, absent parents, and kid heroes. Tales of Symphonia's strength lies in how well it uses these tropes. Most notable is the game's deconstruction of the savior. The world rests on the shoulders of a 16-year-old girl - and the game knows this is not healthy.

A black and white view of morality dominates the beginning narrative as Lloyd is committed to killing the Desians because they hurt humans. Beginning in the first town, villagers insist that elves are cool while half-elves are scary and cruel. A big part of this comes from the introductory antagonists, the Desians, being made up of half-elves. As Lloyd travels and meets new people, he gains a better understanding of society's bias against half-elves, and his own morality becomes complex. He refocuses his efforts to the larger causes of an unjust world as opposed to the symptoms. Lloyd's empathy and other characters' struggle to shake away the racism they've digested help the player see our own society's unequal power structures.

The battle system requires the player not only to be active but also to vigilant. Tales of Symphonia's fights are in real-time and with an active party. The player primarily controls the actions of one character, who you can change in and out of battle, and execute combos. While doing this, the player can tell other party members to use specific skills and adjust the team's strategy, easily prioritizing whether to set a character's priority to heal, head into the frontlines, or attack from afar. Fights, other than tougher boss battles, can usually be completed in less than a minute and sometimes as little as 15 seconds. The fast pace coupled with encounters not being randomized makes the typical aspect of grinding in RPGs - dare I say it - fun.

Spamming attacks is one legitimate approach to winning fights, but there's plenty in the battle system to make strategy important for bigger foes. Characters can receive additional stat bonuses or special effects through Ex Skills. Some of these skills improve attack or defense, add combos, reduce casting time, or have personal effects for each character. Furthermore, while in battle the player can initiate unison attacks, triggering each party member to attack an enemy together, and if certain moves are used together, the two characters will use an additional combo attack. Characters have special moves that only can be triggered at certain times. There's a lot of meat to the battles with unison attacks, over limits, and hidden special skills. Fortunately, these are explained over time and can be checked in depth through a manual in the party's items at any time.

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