It appears as though we are currently living in the renaissance of the GameCube. From Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, to Resident Evil 4, to the much beloved Metroid Prime, there is no shortage of excellent nostalgia to occupy your free time. Fans of JRPGs can now join the club too, with the release of Tales of Symphonia Remastered.
Originally released for western audiences in 2004, Tales of Symphonia drops us into the world of Sylvarant. This world depends on mana to survive, and the mana supply is dangerously low and dwindling daily. Naturally, a hero is at hand, a special child named Colette: the Chosen of Regeneration. Growing up in a small village, Colette has been training her whole life to eventually embark on the journey to restore mana to, and thus save, the world.
Contrary to what you might think, Colette isn’t technically the main character of the story. A plucky youth named Lloyd Irving is the main focus. Lloyd has his own tragic backstory and is Colette’s childhood friend. Even though Lloyd is untrained, brash, and a little bit slow, his good heart and dedication allow him to eventually tag along with Colette’s group to save Sylvarant.
Following the JRPG format, Tales of Symphonia has three main gameplay elements: the overworld map, dungeons, and the battle screen. The overworld map consists of running your character around from location to location dodging or encountering enemies. The battles are not random and thrust upon you, instead, enemy-shaped blobs of darkness will crawl around the map in your vicinity, and you can choose to run into them or not. Of course, some enemies will be aggressive and make a quick beeline for you anyway, rendering them basically unavoidable. It’s a good distinction from RPGS of yore, however, where random encounters would soon wear out their welcome.
Symphonia does not have an Easy mode, it is either Normal or Hard, so there is a real danger of being under-leveled and therefore unable to proceed until you grind. I found this lack of an Easy mode a bit disappointing, as the story of Symphonia is so good that forcing players to spend several hours grinding battles in order to proceed in the story is a straight ticket to dumping this game and moving on to another.
Back in the day, and this includes the not-too-distant-past of the GameCube, you had to go out of your way to visit a store and purchase a physical copy of a game, and then that was the only game you had for months. Nowadays, people can download any game they want from the comfort of their own homes, constant sales and impulse purchases are rampant, and free-to-play games are a dime a dozen. So forcing someone who is playing a game primarily for the story to ignore the reason they are there for hours on end just seems archaic.
Perhaps publishers don’t care as long as they’ve got your money, but this is why gamers need to fight with their wallets. Don’t let the industry tell you how to enjoy your video games, and if you are someone who wants to invest in the story and characters that is just as valid as someone who wants to invest in leveling up stats and battling baddies.
The battle system in Tales of Symphonia is called a Linear-Motion Battle System. When you enter into a battle, your four-person party is placed on a battlefield where you can move somewhat freely in and around the other characters and baddies. You and three other people can play as any of the characters you choose, and if you’re flying solo then AI will control your three spare characters for you. You can delve into the intricate menu system and customize how each AI-controlled character will act during battle as well. It’s an enjoyable level of customisation that makes you feel in control, even if you technically aren’t.
After playing Symphonia for a while, I am beginning to wonder: just what does “remastered” mean? It says it is now in HD, but I don’t see a difference in the graphics I remember from the GameCube days. On top of that, the game still suffers from some rather dramatic lag when too many things are going on on the screen. This can be forgiven sometimes during a battle because the fight is usually over before things get too slow, but to sit through an entire cutscene with characters moving like they’re walking through molasses, and the dialogue taking forever, simply because there’s a dust storm raging around them. It makes me feel as though this game was released not to invite JRPG fans into an interesting story, but rather to make a quick buck.
If you played Tales of Symphonia on your GameCube in the early 2000’s, then my personal advice would be to let the fond memories of your time in Sylvarant with Lloyd and Colette stay in that rose-coloured past. If you’ve never played a Tales game in your life, and you are a fan of JRPGs, then Symphonia is a worthwhile purchase as long as you’re in it for the full experience: the story, the characters, AND the grind.
Tales of Symphonia Remastered £35.99
Tales of Symphonia was a fantastic JRPG back in the GameCube days, however the remaster leaves a few things to be desired. If you’ve already saved Sylvarant in the past, perhaps that’s where you should leave it, but new fans should find some enjoyment.