Saturday, June 1, 2013

Review: Tales of Phantasia

There was a time when RPGs were synonymous with turn-based battle systems and you selected actions from a long list of abilities that varied only in power and type of damage. Today, however, players can hack through monsters in real time with action-based combat systems full of button mashing and frustrating ally AI. But long before this kind of title was commonplace, there was but one series that was devoted to putting action into the RPG. That series was Tales.

Tales of Phantasia for the GBA is a port of a 1995 Super Famicon game that was later ported to the PS1. Elements from both versions have been used in the making of this 2006 iteration. When it was first released, the side-scrolling battle system used during random encounters (Linear Motion Battle System) was still revolutionary, and it remains an innovative staple of the series today. Like most games from the SNES days, everything is simple, easy to follow and serves to push the game along at a steady pace.

The hero of the story is Cress, a protagonist not unlike others in the series. He's an adventurous young warrior who has a score to settle. When his entire family is wiped out by marauders, Cress tracks down the man responsible. Unfortunately, he does not find him in time to prevent the awakening of a great and evil sorcerer sealed away long ago. Though unable to stop him with his current strength, Cress and his companion Mint are sent back in time to learn the secrets of a lost and powerful art called Magic.

The plot moves along quickly with several characters joining your party right away. Actually, they seem to join the party a little too quickly, giving you little understanding of who they are or why they even want to help you. But I'm willing to overlook that since it's in the interest of moving the game along quickly. The plot really begins to pick up after a quarter of the way through. Often, you won't be instructed on exactly where to go next. You'll be given a broad goal such as, "find all of the elemental spirits." From then on you have to explore the world and find your own leads.

This leads you to taking on dungeons in an unset order. This is fun, since exploring the world like this leads to discovering many secrets and side missions that earn you rewards or simply teach you more about the world. It's also frustrating as there was always one place or clue I overlooked which left me lost in the game for hours.

Ultimately, how you like the battle system will determine whether you will enjoy this game or not. Like most of the game, I found battles occasionally frustrating but nevertheless fun. From the menu screen you can arrange how your four party members will line up in battle. Though you can only directly control Cress, you can give orders to other members such as "target that enemy" or "concentrate on healing." Thankfully, the AI for your allies is good enough to keep them from getting killed every minute, and they remember to heal and deal damage on their own.

You can move Cress left and right with the D-pad, and attack with various techniques by combining the attack and direction buttons. Techniques can make Cress jump, charge ahead, or even fire shots at the enemy. The only thing that holds this system back is the partial control the computer has over Cress. When attacking, Cress runs forward until the computer thinks he's at the best distance and then launches the move. This is frustrating because the computer doesn't always target the desired enemy and occasionally misses them entirely. Worse yet, it sometimes gets you stuck between enemies, unable to escape. After an attack, Cress will run back to the party unless you hold the forward button. This makes chaining moves together a bit more difficult and wearisome on the hands.

Being attacked on both sides can be catastrophic. Cress is the only warrior; therefore you can only protect one flank at a time. Once the enemy closes in on both sides of your party, you better hope you've saved in the last hour.
Magic is particularly important. Spells take a long time to cast, but are powerful. The key to beating tough enemies will be protecting your mages from interruptions while trying to bypass the enemy's defense to interrupt their spells. This makes for some interesting and fast-paced battles. Even boss battles, while challenging, are resolved quickly.

Lots of voice clips are used throughout the game, from battle cries to death howls. They do a good job of adding to the hectic feel of combat. The music is decent as well, though not particularly memorable. It has a classic sound that you won't find in some over budgeted games today.

It's impressive that the graphics are so up to par considering how long ago this was originally made. There is a wide variety of distinct character sprites and environments. When not in a cave or dungeon, most of the backgrounds are quite enjoyable to look at, though I felt that the enemies were lacking in comparison, with only one or two colors each and little animation. I also wish more of the spell animations didn't halt the flow of battle.

While not spectacular by today's standards, Tales of Phantasia still has charm and an uncommon style of gameplay. If you're a fan of old-school RPGs but not old-school battle systems, grab a copy today. Otherwise, there are plenty of flashier, more complicated games for you to try.

Guest post by KC of

Find Tales of Phantasia on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2006-03-06
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Namco


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