Tales of Symphonia was one of those games I always wanted to see show up on PC so I wouldn’t have to worry about buying it on another console in the future, but the PC version we got started out as not only a disappointing remaster, but riddled with bugs and missing features. Namco and one very deidcated modder have apparently put more post-launch work into it than most people anticipated. Namco even went so far as to give it a free weekend during its publisher-wide Steam sale to bring attention to that, and I guess it worked enough for me to buy the game after trying it for a few hours.
In 2003 Symphonia was one of the like, three RPGs Gamecube owners (myself included) fawned owner because they were the only RPGs on the platform. A few years ago I went through the game again and realized it was still really good, and wrote a blog post about it I can’t find now, so I’m just going to try to write about it again for anyone curious about it.
Symphonia is still the only game I’ve played in Namco’s flagship RPG franchise Tales, but I hear it’s regarded as one of the top games in the series. Basically, it’s just a great example of what your “standard Japanese RPG” is capable of.
One of the main reasons I play RPGs is to explore interesting places, and Symphonia does that well in a very classical way. Come to think of it, it’s one of the only early 2000’s examples I can recall of game that did the old school RPG world map really well. The main story is put together so the map reveals itself in a fun way, the game has a good variety of interesting locations helped by good art direction, and it has a lot of neat secrets tucked away in a bunch of nooks and crannies. All the versions after the Gamecube original have extra secrets like story content and new items. Symphonia just nails the regular see-the-world journey… and then it reveals a second world map as the story begins to twist. The game even has an alternate sequence-break path through the beginning phases that I inadvertently stumbled upon the first time I played it. The combat system is also very playable and straightforward for a Japanese RPG of the time — a real-time action RPG system that pauses for party commands and even has local co-op. It was refreshing at a time when people were becoming tired of turn-based combat in RPGs. Oh, and the Tales of games have a really interesting way of doing a new game plus.
Everything else about Symphonia is pretty typical but inoffensive. The story is your standard JRPG/early-2000’s anime deal about saving the world and dealing with deceptive religious institutions, but it doesn’t get too caught up in its own grandeur. There is some pretty neat character development later on with some unexpected themes of human-elf race relations. Symphonia never had the budget of Final Fantasy X, its characters and dialogue aren’t as entertaining as those of Grandia II, and come to think of it Skies of Arcadia (maybe the last early 2000’s JRPG I want to see on Steam) has more fulfilling exploration, but it still stands up as one of the better RPGs of its era.
As of this writing the modern revisions still run at a worse framerate than the Gamecube version but everything else about them seems to be fine. The fan patch for the PC version even upscales the textures to where they don’t look nearly as dated. With that patch I’d say the game is in a buyable state now if you’re looking to get into the franchise.
- In case I never posted that article about “intentional play.” http://venturebeat.com/2016/10/06/funomenas-robin-hunicke-believes-in-games-with-intentional-play/
- A game about gerrymandering: http://bit.ly/2dGnLL7
- Good cinematic analysis of the Chun-Li Vega fight in Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showpost.php?p=213690072&postcount=557