In Namco's Tales of Symphonia, which shipped in North America last month, the worlds of Sylvarant and Tethe'alla share a common life force, mana. As latter thrives, the former is dying. Colette Brunel is the Chosen One who, along with her companions, must unlock the seals that control the balance.
Tales' real-time combat system may be its strongest element, combining lots of special attacks, spells and combos with a good dose of strategy in knowing enemies' vulnerabilities and choosing how to attack. The cel-shaded, anime-style characters and detailed gameworld are eye-catching and distinctive. Advancement, using experience plus Ex Gems providing enhanced and new abilities is enjoyable, and the story offers some intriguing twists where things aren't always as they initially seem. There's plenty of gameplay; expect 75 hours or more.
Portions of the adventure seem less than optimally balanced. Because you can wander in a relatively non-linear manner, certain dungeons you find are very difficult. Compounding this, the absence of save points can mean replaying 15 or 20 minutes depending where you die. The narrative includes predictable stretches, the dialogue has some drawn-out parts, and the voice acting is uneven. While agreeable, the music gets repetitive, especially the battle theme.
The Bottom Line
Tales of Symphonia delivers a very worthwhile RPG experience where the totality exceeds the sum of the parts and easily overcomes its several but relatively inconsequential imperfections. Well-received in Japan, the prior games in the series didn't fare as well in the West. This one definitely deserves a better fate.
[Minute Views are so named for their size and the time it takes to read them. Unlike our reviews, they do not require trying different characters, strategies et al, or playing to completion. - Ed.]
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