In this time of mass hysteria over new consoles, RPG lovers know it's better to be stuck in the past.
Arriving barely a month before Square-Enix's Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, Namco's Tales of Symphonia Chronicles offers a nearly identical proposition: two sizable last-gen RPGs-or maybe that should be "last-last-gen"-on a single disc.
And, like Final Fantasy, this Tales compilation pairs one original work with what could fairly be called a "cash-in-" though Final Fantasy X-2 at least has the distinction of being polarizing when compared to Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World's relative obscurity.
Of course, technical competency from 2004 doesn't exactly hold up ten years later, but just as Tales of Destiny tries to capture the feeling of 16-bit level-grinding, Symphonia takes the form of a throwback to the following console generation, when Japanese-developed RPGs were at their most ambitious.As the genre scaled back drastically to save itself, Symphonia aspired to be just as big and meaty as the many Play Station RPGs developed in the wake of Final Fantasy VII's success-one of the main reasons why this Tales kept my attention more than any other released since.Symphonia definitely suffers from the problems series veterans would expect from a Tales of Game: cardboard characters, neologism abuse, and an overall tinge of blandness.Despite these problems, Symphonia's battle system outweighs Tales' inherent faults just for being so snappy and addictive.The Tales series as a whole set out to make random encounters in RPGs involve more than just the brainless mashing of a single button, and Symphonia's are the logical conclusion to this mission statement.
Unlike the later games, combat is still essentially in 2D, but since Symphonia grants rewards for finishing a battle as fast as possible, there's an emphasis on speed that does a fantastic job of cutting down on the tedium of fighting the same grouping of enemies for the dozenth time.
And though Symphonia is a story-heavy RPG, this focus on pacing pervades the entire production; load times are practically imperceptible, and story segments fly by as fast as you can read them.
Make no mistake, Tales of Symphonia is huge; the game deceptively telegraphs its length, so just as you think you might have reached the end, you're proven drastically wrong-I know my original Game Cube save clocks in at 100-plus hours.
And there's a lot to play with within its deceptively simple confines, like a flexible ability system that progressively unlocks new attacks based on the ones you use in battle, and programmable AI commands to keep your computer-controlled party members from being not-so-stupid.
If you somehow missed Symphonia thanks to its original Game Cube-only release and you're looking for an RPG that feels like a souped-up version of your 32-bit favorites, this Tales installment along makes Chronicles worth the price of admission-even if there's very little remastering to speak of.
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, on the other hand, comes off as entirely inessential, and eerily similar to Final Fantasy XIII-2, another disposable follow-up.