Video Game Thoughts: Tales of Symphonia

Tales of Symphonia was a 2003 Japanese console role-playing game by Namco for the Nintendo GameCube. When I first saw the screenshots of the game, I was really intrigued. It looked different from every other game I had played. The game utilized a new graphical technique called cel-shading. Instead of having normal textures, the majority of the objects in the game were made up of solid colors. This made everything look like a cartoon. More specifically it was an anime (Japanese animation) art style. It was so awesome. I could look at any screenshot and it looked just like a 2D TV show, but it wasn’t. The game was actually rendering 3D objects, only with solid colors.

I couldn’t just buy every game I wanted though, and I had never played a role-playing game made by Japanese developers. I decided to wait for reviews. The game scored well but not perfect. That settled it as a game to ask for Christmas. It wasn’t important enough to spend my allowance on. I could wait for Christmas. When I finally got the game, it sucked me in. The game was massive. My first time through it took eighty hours to finish it. The story wasn’t amazing, but there were many good scenes. I particularly liked the humorous moments. They kept the game from getting too serious.

The cel-shading graphical style was as good as I expected, but gameplay is what matters. The game delivered in the form of a real-time battle system. Most console role-playing games featured real-time exploration but turn-based battles. Tales of Symphonia featured a real-time combat system. It played out much like a fighting game. The player had their character and several attacks. By hitting buttons in different combinations they could counter what the enemies were doing and maximize damage done.

It was really fun trying out new skills as levels were gained. The boss fights were the best. These featured huge enemies with specific mechanics. The player had to learn the mechanics and then counter enemies with the proper setup of skills. I gained a lot of extra levels I didn’t need just playing around with combinations. It actually made the game too easy the first time, but I only cared about the story at first.

The game had a cool “grade system” that graded how well the player did in battle. They would get bonuses for maximum hits in a combo and killing speed. Penalties were subtracted for taking damage, taking too long to defeat enemies, or losing a party member in combat. After each battle the player would get graded for their performance. This grade would go into a pool of points that could be spent the next time they started a new game. Grade points could unlock fun bonuses like massive experience boosts or starting the game with an inventory full of acquired equipment from the last game.

Overall, I really enjoyed all the new things in the game. The story was pretty basic, nothing extraordinary, but I still liked it. I played through the game many, many times to see my favorite story scenes. Some scenes really were awesome, but most of the story was just passable. The voice acting was okay usually, but very rarely amazing. Unfortunately, some of the voice acting was cringe-worthy. I memorized many of those parts of the game and learned to lower the volume during them.

Tales of Symphonia got me to branch out into this style of role-playing game. It led to me playing Skies of Arcadia Legends, and Baten Kaitos, both on GameCube, as well as Golden Sun for the Game Boy Advance. I had so much fun with Tales of Symphonia, it was one of many games that kept me company during my early college years. All my friends had moved away. I was feeling lonely.  Everyone was doing something different in college, so it took a long time for me to make friends. Long single player games like Tales of Symphonia were perfect. There were times when I wished the fantasy worlds were real. I liked the game worlds more then my life. Fortunately, real life got more interesting eventually. I’m lucky I never got addicted to games like some kids.

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