Tales of Symphonia: Chronicles review

by Nathan Misa Featured

11 Comments 14 Votes 1683 Views 18/03/2014 Back to Reviews

A timeless classic.

When Tales of Symphonia: Chronicles for PlayStation 3 was first rumoured, than teased, then confirmed last year during its 10th anniversary, the fanboy in me couldn’t help but get ridiculously excited. A copy of the 2003 Gamecube classic is hard to come by these days, so getting a chance to play one of my favourite JRPGs of all time -- along with its 2008 Wii sequel, Dawn of the New World -- with an HD touch-up and some extra features from the Japanese-only PS2 version, well, it’s a JRPG fan’s dream.

Even after 11 years, it’s hard not to be so nostalgia stricken with Tales of Symphonia. It was the first major Tales game of the Gamecube era, the first with a 3D overworld and character models, and the first to establish the long-running franchise as a household JRPG name. It holds out today as one of the best titles in the genre and series, thanks to its ageless cel-shaded art style, engaging combat, deep story and character relationship system.

The brilliance and depth of Symphonia’s main story is masked by an initial cliche introduction. The world of Sylvarant is in perpetual decline due to the imbalance of Mana flow, an energy force which is the basis of all aspects of life -- from crops, water, health -- as well as magical abilities. The world face constant danger due to the Desians, an organisation led by half-elves who view humans are inferior beings. They run human “ranches”, facilities where humans are enslaved and tasked to manufacture Exspheres -- items which grant the user certain powers but with a hidden cost -- and plague the world in murder and despair.

Symphonia carries a surprisingly mature tone, exploring complex themes of faith, identity and racism. While the typical Japanese silliness and humour is present, there’s also a seriousness not usually forthright in such tales of saving the world.

The people of Sylvarant hold onto an age-long prophecy of the Chosen, a human messiah of the Goddess Martel who is tasked with undertaking the Journey of World Regeneration and regenerating the world. The protagonist, Lloyd Irving, is a naive but courageous young man who happens to live in a remote village with two of the only non-Design half-elves, Genis and Raige Sage, and this generation’s Chosen herself, Colette Brunel.

It all sounds like typical Japanese fan-fare, and in a lot of ways the game is. But there’s more to the narrative than a rag-tag group of colourful personalities wanting to save the world. Symphonia carries a surprisingly mature tone, exploring complex themes of faith, identity and racism. While the typical Japanese silliness and humour is present, there’s also a seriousness not usually forthright in such tales of saving the world -- and it’s definitely welcome.

Symphonia does what few JRPGs show enough of and acknowledges the severity of taking a life. Lloyd and his group are forced to defend themselves and kill other people to protect Colette and instead of brushing it off, the narrative embraces the fact that most of these guys are ignorant teenagers and shows some really well-executed character development that is both entertaining and endearing - and part of the reason why the cast and the story is one of the most beloved on the long-running franchise.

The other part is because the original English voice actors are great. Scott Menville (Teen Titan’s Robin) who voices Lloyd does a great job of conveying his gradual development from naive, stupid teenager to a young man and brilliant leader and in the quieter moments, his distinctive voice shines. Cam Clarke does an excellent job of voicing the mysterious Kratos with his gravelly, authoritative voice and ridiculously awesome and quotable one-liners. Other big names like Jennifer Hale as ninja assassin Sheena and Tara Strong as Presea also do their characters justice. One minor niggle that bothers me to this day is the overworld skits - anime segments where the characters talk - aren’t voiced and it seems like a waste for such a strong cast of VAs. Even if you don’t like the English VAs, Namco have included the Japanese voiceovers with English subtitles -- to all of the purist’s delight.

Another big reason Symphonia is well remembered is its battle system. The Multi-Line Linear Motion Battle System features real-time combat rather than turn-based movement, and pits you and three other party members on a 2D plane against a wide variety of enemies and bosses. Fighting is fun, frantic and fluid thanks to a deep combo system and heaps of special abilities (“Artes”) and playstyles for each character. Lloyd’s dual swordsmanship is designed to be easy to use but difficult to master, but many of the other characters are great alternatives if you prefer fighting from afar or with magic.

Unfortunately, Symphonia still didn’t have the more in-depth customisation options for A.I. behaviour later Tales entries are known for -- and often at times they die of stupidity. If you have a friend or two over, they can jump in seamlessly for four-player multiplayer fun and make the harder battles more bearable -- one of the unique features of Tales games seldom seen in any other JRPG series.

One of the best features of Symphonia the original release never got enough praise for is the affection system. Throughout the game, you’re given several opportunities as Lloyd to respond in one of two ways and gain either the respect or the ire of your eight fellow party members. At first glance, these dialogue choices seem minor - the game gives zero indication of how it matters - but you’ll soon come to realise certain characters will grow closer to Lloyd and significant dialogue changes soon occur. Certain cutscenes play out differently and unheard battle cries start occurring. In one special case, a party member can permanently leave or re-join you later, depending on their relationship with Lloyd, completely changing the remainder of the main storyline.

These branching paths also extend to exploration. Depending on the order of areas you visit, the story progression is altered slightly - and the difficulty, in some cases. Combined with what is seemingly a random generator which determines if certain events unfold earlier or later and you’ve got a great deal of replayability if you’re game to see all of the different dialogue changes and shuffling of storyline sequences.

HD OVERHAUL

The High Definition touch-up spruces the anime cutscenes and areas such as Lake Umacy to ultra crisp and colourful renditions of the original SD versions. The overworld itself is still as bland as ever, with blobs representing enemies and large amounts of rough-textured green grass fields, but it’s still charming and fun to explore.

2008’s Wii release, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is the rougher part of the package -- despite having a more recognisable visual touch-up from the HD remastering. It continues the story of the original with a new set of main characters along with returning favourites, but the narrative is let down by one of the worst leading protagonists in JRPG history - Emil - and several inconsistencies in tone from the original.

Whiny, weak and unsure, I hated nearly every moment playing as the androgynous Emil and only with the return of favourite characters from the original is what pushed me through its inferior storyline - though with all but two of the original voice actors replaced, their return to the story had less impact and actually feels like it restricted the story from introducing its own memorable cast. The combat system, at least, is still engaging as ever, and the addition of a free-run system to move out of the 2D battlefield plane is welcome.

Along with a less serious and convoluted story, the gameplay, too, took a hit with several downgrades. The overworld map from the original, while not incredibly detailed, is replaced by a series of locations accessible through your menu. The affection system is also gone, which seems like an odd choice to omit from the sequel -- though it is known the original team left to create Tales of Vesperia during this time. Instead, we’re given a monster-catching system which lets players capture and raise a huge range of monsters to fight as party members. Its unmistakable depth might click with some, but it felt out of place as a fan of the original.

The Final Verdict

The original Tales of Symphonia carries the Chronicles HD package, with its less than stellar sequel Dawn of the New World a bonus for the most hardcore Symphonia fans. While it’s not as memorable as its predecessor, it rounds off a great HD collection that I highly recommend to all fans of JRPGs, the Tales series and great games in general. Symphonia is a timeless classic and this PS3 re-release reminds us of that.

Tales of Symphonia Chronicles

Got Right
  • + Brilliant story and characters
  • + Combo-based real-time combat
  • + Affection system & branching paths
  • + Cel-shaded anime artstyle holds up well
Got Wrong
  • - HD touch-up not applied as much as it could be
  • - Dawn of the New World is inferior to original
Platform: PS3
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
 
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Tano
+
Nathan: Everyone's favourite JRPG-reviewer.
I am really enjoying Symphonia thus far, haven't completed it yet but it's still fantastic to play. Though personally, if I were to decide between this and Xillia, I think I'd choose Xillia (So far).

Only downside I feel with Symphonia is the levelling system. It's a lot like Abyss, but a little bit more clunky. Though it is to be expected since Abyss was after Symphonia.

Oh and one note I really liked. The fact that it found data for Graces and Xillia, so it gave me costumes! ^_^

GunSlinger said: I am really enjoying Symphonia thus far, haven't completed it yet but it's still fantastic to play. Though personally, if I were to decide between this and Xillia, I think I'd choose Xillia (So far).
Only downside I feel with Symphonia is the levelling system. It's a lot like Abyss, but a little bit more clunky. Though it is to be expected since Abyss was after Symphonia.



As someone who's finished Abyss, Symphonia, Symphonia 2, Graces F and Xillia, i can comfortably say that Symphonia is my favourite. Not just because it was my first, but there are more twists and turns in the storyline of Symphonia than almost every other 'Tales of' game combined. And they're all done very well. its my favourite game of all time for a reason. Symphonia 2 isn't as good, but as a huge fan of the original, to be able to go back and relive old places with new story was an exciting mixture of nostalgia and new experiences.

Tano said: Nathan: Everyone's favourite JRPG-reviewer.



Just doing my thang. ;)

@GunSlinger - Xillia is a solid Tales title for sure, but I personally feel Symphonia is just the most solid all-round in terms of story, characters, setting, music and the depth of its gameplay systems. It's still to date the only Tales game which features the "affection" system - i.e. different dialogue, multiple branching paths, whole other party member - and it confuses me as to why the Tales games after it didn't include one of their own. It gives so much more incentive to go through the game again and again for not just the bonus dungeons and extra items and titles, but the different storyline pathways and pairings you can make with Lloyd and the other eight main characters.

The levelling system has definitely not aged as well as everything else in Symphonia, I agree with that. It's still solid enough, though. The sequel weighs down the package a bit, but it's still good enough for fans of the first's story. And yes, I love how Namco gave us bonus costumes for save data of Graces f and Xillia, made my day when I saw that message!

@Foetoid - I completely agree. The plot twists in Symphonia were ridiculously good and the entire cast's development and progression felt so natural and entertaining to watch - especially when nearly every single one of them broke through the stereotypes they appeared initially locked into (Lloyd as naive teenager, Zelos as vain ladies man, Sheena as single-minded assassin).

Tyrus said:

Tano said: Nathan: Everyone's favourite JRPG-reviewer.


Just doing my thang.
@GunSlinger - Xillia is a solid Tales title for sure, but I personally feel Symphonia is just the most solid all-round in terms of story, characters, setting, music and the depth of its gameplay systems. It's still to date the only Tales game which features the "affection" system - i.e. different dialogue, multiple branching paths, whole other party member - and it confuses me as to why the Tales games after it didn't include one of their own. It gives so much more incentive to go through the game again and again for not just the bonus dungeons and extra items and titles, but the different storyline pathways and pairings you can make with Lloyd and the other eight main characters.
The levelling system has definitely not aged as well as everything else in Symphonia, I agree with that. It's still solid enough, though. The sequel weighs down the package a bit, but it's still good enough for fans of the first's story. And yes, I love how Namco gave us bonus costumes for save data of Graces f and Xillia, made my day when I saw that message!



That's fair, I can see exactly what you mean. It's just that at this point in time, personally, Xillia remains my favourite is all. I'm not extremely far in, so I'm unsure if I've had those dialogue options as of yet, I think I have but haven't taken notice of it.
I do know that I'm not a big fan of Colette. Dunno why, she just annoys me. :P

The story so far has had me hooked and confused, which I'm liking about the Desian factions. Getting used to Abyss combat all over again is taking a bit of time but it's fun to unexpectedly learn new artes mid battle [MOG]
@GunSlinger - All good, we all have a favourite, as hard as it is! (Symphonia's #1 for me, followed by Vesperia at #2 and Abyss at #3).

The dialogue options are usually only presented as two choices. They don't seem like they would change much, but there's a hidden value behind each choice that increases or decreases each party member's "affection" or "affinity" towards Lloyd. This actually determines and changes several events, dialogue, and who takes the lead as Lloyd's biggest supporters (there's always one "main" and two "supports"). The game doesn't actually indicate any of this so it was a blast for me to actually figure out the story actually changes!

Colette is not my favourite as well, but she definitely grows on you as the story progresses. She starts off as goodie-two-shoes, but there's a maturity about her that so many other female characters in future Tales game don't have. She's the default "main" for Lloyd at the beginning (as well as romantic interest), but depending on your choices you can shift to Sheena, Raine, Presea - or even the other male characters if you want a best bro. [MOG]

The Desians are also bad-ass and I think they're the most interesting antagonists in the entire series. The artes are just awesome too, never get tired of chaining Tiger Blade, Sword Rain and Demon Fang with Lloyd.
@Tyrus
Mine so far would be Xillia, Abyss, Symphonia.

I've had a few of them. One I remember was fixing the key crest for Raine I'm pretty sure.

So Colette is very much like Luke from Abyss then. Not the same personality, but that overhaul on the characters persona. If it's something like that, then Colette won't be so bad I guess :P

I haven't got a combo chain as of yet, but my favourite from previous titles would have been from Abyss with Luke. Fang Blade Havoc into Light Spear Cannon (Light Blast if FOF) into Sonic Thrust. Then Steel for self heal and status up. Worked so well against everything. Plus good for chaining into Mystic if I needed to.
ToS is a god tier game considering it was released in 2003 lol
A game thats still be able to enjoy to play after 10 years is an awesome game imo <3
@GunSlinger - It's usually a combo of Abyss and Symphonia for most. I still am sore Vesperia never got an English localised release for PS3 with all the added content from the Japanese version. One day...

Yeah she is but she has a less dramatic character arc, though Luke's development was also great. He did have some pretty ace Artes like you mentioned, FBH with Sonic Thurst was the bomb.

@Toki - Yep. It's aged pretty well in my opinion and has only gotten better as I've gotten older and gotten to understand its mature themes a bit better, as well as master its combat system (back in the day I just button-mashed as Lloyd, but I still found it fun!).
Top of my : to buy list, once I have money. Tee hee tee hee.
best tales of game for me played it to death and i could still play it *_*

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