Review by LordShibas

Reviewed: 11/05/07 | Updated: 09/16/08

A Rocky Start to the Tales Series

I have just completed my first game in the Tales series, and it was Tales of Phantasia for the GBA. I was pretty excited to play it, since I’ve heard such great things about the Tales series, yet I had never played any of them. I have a long history of turn based RPG playing, and I was always un-sure about the Tales series due to the active battle system. After playing TOP, I can say that it was worth my while, but it was not without it’s shortcomings.

First and foremost, this game is a port of the SNES original, and it shows. The game is scaled down quite a bit in comparison. Graphics, controls, and sound have all been down sized to fit on the GBA. I can say for the most part it was a good thing, but there are some areas where the game is severely lacking.

The game breaks down like a standard RPG, but when you run into battles, it cuts away to a side scrolling view, and the battles are fought by your command inputs in real time. Other than the battles, you will be exploring towns, storming dungeons, and searching for the next thing to do, in a standard top down RPG fashion.

Graphics 7/10

The graphics in TOP have suffered a good bit. The squatty, chibi looking versions of the characters look okay, but the areas that you explore look kind of boring, and dungeon sprites are recycled over and over to give you the feel than you have been in the dungeons before. During combat, the characters get a little bigger, and you will see some more animations to your characters. There are often 4 characters in your party, and 4-5 enemies per mob you fight, yet I didn’t notice one bit of slowdown. The game flows pretty smoothly in battle. The spell effects in battle are pretty basic and do not really make you take notice, but then again, this is a GBA game. So I would say the graphics are passable. I’ve seen much better on the GBA and I’ve seen much worse.

Sounds 5/10

This is a tough thing to rate since the music is pretty good, yet the character voices are god awful. Before your character will launch a spell in battle, the developers decided to make them say something, which was a bad idea. Half the time, it sounds like a muffled mess, and you would not be able to tell what they were attempting to say without the list of spells. I really don’t know how such a slaughtered mess of verbal abuse was allowed in a final product. With that being said, the music in the game is actually fairly good. Out of battle that is. There’s pretty much one battle theme, but I didn’t mind it all that much. When exploring the towns and roaming the areas, the music is good. However, it seems overshadowed by the horrible character voices.

Story 7/10

The story is fairly basic. A mad man wanting to destroy the world, whom you fight like 50 times. Despite the scope of the plot, few characters in the game end up having any back story or being of any interest beyond helping you to get to your next goal. Even the characters in your party seem more like fighting machines than characters with feelings and emotions. This may be due to the fact that you spend the majority of the game in battle. One of my favorite parts of the game is when your characters come face to face with the final boss, yet, neither you, nor him know why you are fighting each other. What the hell kind of a story is that? Oh well, just fight, because that’s all I’ve been doing in this game anyway. So as you can see, the story tries to be there, but there is just too much fighting in between story elements for anyone to care.

Controls 4/10

Yes, the controls for the battle scenes are pretty bad. Not “un-responsive” bad, but bad in the way that it was crammed into the GBA interface. The game was obviously not designed with the GBA in mind. The 4 button interface cripples this game. You have so many shortcuts and different ways to do things in battle that it will take you a long time to get used to it. Holding the R button and pressing 4 ways on the d-pad will do different things, and it will be cumbersome in battle. One button is reserved for standard attacks and the other is for skills. Again, there are shortcuts for skills, which you need to have mentally mapped before going into battle. Pulling them off in battle is easy, but you have to remember where they are mapped to.

Longevity/Replay value 9/10

Quite honestly, this game may even deserve a 10 in this area. The main quest took me 48 hours to complete, and I didn’t touch any of the side quests, which there are quite a few of. Some are short side quests, but some are very involved, like fighting through the coliseum and hunting for new characters. Once you beat the game, a few mini-games are un-locked as well. There is also a New Game +, many additional skills and summons you can acquire off the beaten path, and hidden areas that you can explore. If I wasn’t sick of this game by the time I beat it, I probably could have played it for another 20 hours, just getting everything the game has to offer. If you are looking for a long, and involved RPG, this would be a great game for you.

Gameplay 7/10

This will cover a lot of aspects of the game. The first thing you may notice about the game is the number of random battles that you encounter. There are a lot of them. Probably more than I have ever seen in an RPG in my life, and I have been playing RPGs for about 20 years now. You will get into random battles every few steps when in dungeons. It’s just something you have to deal with. Fortunately, the battles are interesting, and keep you on the edge of your seat, due to the active battle system. However, even the fun and inventive battle system can not keep you entertained for the number of battles you will fight while playing this game.

You will normally have 4 characters in your party. You will control Cress, the main sword carrying character, and the computer will control the other 3. You can set the frequency of spell usage per CPU controlled character. The AI for the other characters is okay, but nothing to write home about. If your HP is low, Mint, your healer, will sure enough try to heal you, but when there is one, small enemy left on screen to be disposed of, don’t think Arche won’t crank out her most powerful attack spell to wipe him out, and waste tons of magic points. Things work the same way with Claus, your summoner. It just seems like they cast random spells, and that’s about it. One good thing is that you can disable them from casting any spells you want to. This will help out later in the game, when Arche decides to cast fireball (your first spell) on a boss with 130,000 HP, and the fireball does like 30 damage. Turn it off in the menu, and she will no longer cast it.

You will control Cress, and his sword techniques will vary in use and effectiveness. Some will be useful, some will be a waste. The best thing to do is find 4 which compliment each other well, and get used to them. I pretty much stuck with 4 the majority of the game, and swapped out 1 for Chaos Blade later in the game.

The enemies in this game go from insanely easy to pretty hard. You really need to be on your toes sometimes when randomly walking around dungeons. If you are not quick on the draw, your entire party can get wiped out in 2 spells. It’s quite frustrating when it happens. It’s weird, it seems like every area you go into has 1 really annoying mob which will drive you crazy, and since you run into battles every 10 seconds, you will fight them frequently. Then, after getting through the difficult mobs and finally getting to the boss, you kill the boss with ease. There are serious difficulty highs and lows in this game.

There are more aspects of the game that I could talk about since there is so much to the game. I didn’t attempt to cook anything the entire game, even though there is a huge part of the game devoted to it. I just didn’t see the need for it.

I would really only recommend TOP to a hardcore RPG fan. There are just too many things that would turn off a casual RPG fan. The constant level grinding, the un-balance difficulty, and the frequent random battles. I was able to get through the game and enjoy it for what it was, "A fresh take on the RPG genre." It’s just in need of some fine tuning. From what I have seen from the more recent entries in the tales series, Namco has done a great job of ironing out the issues with the play mechanics. It just got off to a rocky start with TOP.

My score 7/10

Rating: 7

Product Release: Tales of Phantasia (US, 03/06/06)

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