While Sony's PSP isn't due to hit the US until later this month, the sexy portable has been cruising along fine in Japan since its release there in December. The software library for the system is growing in all the right places for role-playing game fans, as evidenced by the recently released Tales of Eternia from Namco. The game is a PSP conversion of the PlayStation game of the same name, which, for those keeping score at home, was called Tales of Destiny II when it was released in the US in 2001. Having been fans of the original game, we were happy to try out the PSP game to get our nostalgia on and relish some portable role-playing.
The game opens up with a double-barreled dose of old-school charm that's been missing from today's RPGs. Sure, the KOTORs, Final Fantasies, and Fables are rich and deep experiences, but do their opening sequences features bitchin' rock music and anime cutscenes of the cast in assorted poses? Of course not, because they can't hope to match Eternia's "go for the gold" approach to cheese.
While the opening video sequence is pretty fabulous, you won't find anything of substance in Eternia's story until you start an actual game. As far as the story goes, Eternia's narrative is a familiar one involving amnesia, the fate of the world, and a mysterious stranger with big eyes and Day-Glo hair. The action centers around a trio of characters--childhood friends Reid and Farrah and a mysterious purple-haired girl named Meredy with a boisterous pet named Quickie. The long and short of it is that Meredy's planet is going to collide with Reid and Farrah's, and she sets out to find elementals that can stop that from happening. Along the way the trio will face all manner of obstacles and puzzles that they'll have to overcome in order to save both worlds.
The gameplay in Tales of Eternia remains faithful to the PlayStation game and features a standard mix of third-person adventuring and old-school RPG random battles. However, some menus appear to have been tweaked. The combat system also stays true to the original with its side-scrolling battles. When combat has been initiated, you'll take direct control of Reid in a 2D side-scrolling environment against your enemies. You can move him back and forth and control his physical and magical attacks with a fighting-game-style control system. Your other party members will fight alongside you, controlled by the game's AI. You can customize their behavior by using a strategy setup menu; one character can be made to emphasize offensive magic, for example, while another heals. You'll perform attacks by using the PSP's face buttons and the D pad. You'll be able to assign specific types of attacks to controller and button combinations.
The visuals in the game aren't terribly surprising at this point. Namco has already displayed its prowess with the PSP hardware with the stunning Ridge Racer game at the hardware launch, so we weren't shocked to see how good Tales of Eternia looks. The prerendered backgrounds and sprite-based characters look great on the PSP's massive screen, and the polygonal world map is equally sharp. Rotating the camera on the world map is smooth and fast. The textures in the game are sharp, and the color palette is good, albeit a bit washed out in places. The anime cutscenes that play during the game run smoothly and lack pixelization, although there's a tiny bit of image ghosting in a few places. Best of all, the game's loads are refreshingly short and sweet, keeping the game moving along at an impressive clip.
The audio is impressive if only because we haven't heard this much voice in a PSP game yet. As for the rest of the package, the soundtrack and assorted effects you'll hear come across good and sharp on the PSP.
Based on this early look at Tales of Eternia, we're excited by what we've seen. While the game doesn't appear to offer any massive enhancements or new content over the original game, the large screen is a nice complement to the visuals. The game's overall performance is fast and smooth, and we're suckers for any RPG where you can make sandwiches. At the moment, Tales of Eternia has no official US release date, but we're hoping Namco gets around to bringing it to the States, because it should be a nice RPG for fans of the genre.