When I sit down to write a review, I try to find the narrative. I’m a fiction writer at heart. A storyteller. That’s not to say that my reviews are fiction, it just means that I seek the magical thread that binds me to the game and the review. To me, none of those things are separate in the sense that one can exist without the other two. You see, I am the game, the game is the review, and the review is me.
Reviewing role-playing games becomes problematic in that context because they are generally much longer and much more complex than other game genres, and if a particular RPG isn’t, then it’s not worth playing. They are long and complex like a life form. Gameplay mechanics develop organically over time and what was once taught to the player by one or two text boxes or lines of dialogue becomes a complex system unto itself when it’s combined with the player’s input and experience. And as the player changes, so too can the mechanic, how it’s used, and how the player feels about it. In that moment, it changes fundamentally.
To me, that mirrors life. We are born with a set of mechanics imparted to us to use in their most basic functions and form. We get two arms and two legs, a sensory suite, and a basic intelligence to drive it; then over the years they evolve based on how we use them and what they mean to us.
For me, this evolution often changes how I feel about games as I continue to play them. When it comes to games I’ve reviewed, I often wish I could go back in time and at least partially rewrite those reviews to reflect what I’m now convinced is the “truth.” It’s complicated.
Into this messy philosophy comes a pair of older Japanese RPGs – one from the last generation, and another from two or two-and-a-half generations ago. These are games born before the Great Streamlining that strives to destroy my most favorite of game genres. Even a simple game from before the Great Streamlining was obtuse, esoteric, and intimidating.
Tales of Symphonia Chronicles is an HD respray of the original Tales of Symphonia, released for GameCube in 2003, then a year later for PS2, and Tales of Symphonia: A New Dawn which came out on Wii in 2008. In that 2008 title, you can even see – if you look closely enough – that the Great Streamlining had just began to take hold.
This is the point in a review of an HD remake of an older game that I begin to question the number of people who will read it having no knowledge of the game or games in question in their original states. In other words: how many people looking to play Tales of Symphonia Chronicles are looking for a fresh experience, looking to re-live positive memories of a more innocent time in gaming, or are simply looking to experience a classic they missed the first time around? Whatever the answer is, I doubt it’s an even distribution. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s at least 2:1 “looking to re-live positive memories of a more innocent time.” For those people, I’ll just say that Tales of Symphonia Chronicles will give you what you’re looking for. The two games contained within are semi-old school gaming heaven. To westerners, they may be even better with the inclusion of the original Japanese voice tracks. In fact, everyone who plays them should immediately set the language to Japanese with subtitles to cover up the fairly hideous English voice acting.
If you like long RPGs with battle systems an immortal god probably wouldn’t live long enough to master then make a b-line for the nearest retail outlet. I couldn’t properly describe them in 10,000 words. What I will say is that if you’ve played Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, you’ll definitely have a leg up as it combines and simplifies the combat in Tales of Symphonia and its sequel ToS: A New Dawn. I did have an issue with the way they simply handed you a simplified version of ToS’s “nuclear” option in combat, the unison attack, in ToS: A New Dawn. But they added a whole series of new layers with monster capturing and elemental synching in A New Dawn, so it balances out. It’s just a pet peeve of mine when they take the ultimate weapon in one game and then give you a weakened version of it in the sequel so they can pile on new stuff.
Outside of combat, the stories are probably going to follow well-understood JRPG patterns for many gamers. It’s your basic “kids save the world from quasi-mystical science-fiction-y weirdness” tale. In ToS Chronicles, the central conflict is the joining of two worlds and re-awakening the mana that fuels them, then dealing with the consequences when it turns out all is not so simple. More and more, the plots of JRPGs remind me of Alastair Reynolds novels in the mind-twisting way the universes function and are presented. I guess it flows then that the only way you could adapt an Alastair Reynolds novel into film would be as anime – in my opinion.
After barely two weeks playing Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, it would be impossible for me to completely unspool it. To truly understand everything the game has to offer would require much more time. It’s from a different era and fits a different ideal of what a JRPG is. Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Symphonia: A New Dawn are a pair of great beasts that I could never fully do justice to without years of hard study and playtime. These games present no reason, save for their outdated graphics, not to be recommend to any gamer looking to re-live old gaming memories or to dip their toes into the great pool of games from an earlier time made to live up to an earlier standard.
I've been gaming since the Atari 2600, and I'm old enough to have hip checked a dude way bigger than me off of the game I wanted to play at an actual arcade (remember those) while also being too young to be worried about getting my ass kicked. Aside from a short hiatus over the summer and fall of 2013, I've been with Gamingnexus.com since March 2011. While I might not be as tech savvy as some of our other staff-writers, I am the site's resident A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones expert, and self-proclaimed "master of all things Mass Effect." I may be in my 30's, but I'm not one of those "retro gamers." I feel strongly that gaming gets better every year. When I was a child daydreaming of the greatest toy ever, I was envisioning this generation's videogames, I just didn't know it at the time and never suspected I would live to seem them come into being. View Profile