Tales of Symphonia E3 2004 Preshow Hands-On Impressions
We get a look at the US incarnation of Namco's GameCube RPG.
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At a recent press event Namco showed off a localized version of Tales of Symphonia. The GameCube RPG is the latest in the Japanese developer's acclaimed "Tales" series which began on the Super Nintendo back in the 16-bit heyday that birthed many of today's classic franchises. Tales of Symphonia marks the fourth entry in the series and its first appearance on the GameCube. The game was released late last year in Japan to critical acclaim, and it's finally making its way toward a stateside release. We had the opportunity to try out a work-in-progress version of the game, which let us get a feel for how it's coming together.
For those unfamiliar with Tales of Symphonia's story, it is set in a world named Silvaland, which is imperiled by a lack of mana--the source of all life. The main character is a boy named Lloyd Irving, and he attends school with his friend Collet Brunel, who is a shaman. According to legend, a shaman can save the world from its sufferings by becoming an angel. So, Collet goes on a journey to become this angelic savior. Lloyd and their friend Genius Sage accompany her on her mission, but little by little, the party discovers that things aren't exactly what they seem to be. The party soon discovers that there is an alternate world named Tesseala, and that their mana is being shared between the two worlds so that the prosperity of one means the decline of the other. Obviously this poses the sort of unique problem that can only be solved by RPG-style exploration, combat, and puzzle solving.
The gameplay in Tales of Symphonia relies on the tried and true RPG mix of character interaction and combat. Interacting with characters in the game is a more dynamic system than you'd expect due to the number of interactions you'll be juggling. Fortunately, the game has a "scenario" option that keeps record of your characters' actions, and it ends up coming in pretty handy. The game also has a "skit" system that allows party members to converse directly with each other, which seems to give more personality to each of the characters. Some of the skits and scenario decisions can affect key relationships, and they may ultimately change some events in the game.
Combat in Tales of Symphonia uses the "linear motion battle system" for which the Tales RPG series is known. The system has been modified a bit to accommodate the new 3D field. With the new 3D field, the fundamental concept is still the same but the player is fixed on a plane with a single enemy. The changes seem to be more visual than anything else, although it can be difficult at times to place your character between a party member and the enemy. Computer-controlled characters move through sets of AI commands, or they can be controlled manually if you hook up extra controllers on the console.
The graphics in the game make use of an inspired combination of cel-shading techniques that bring the formerly 2D series into 3D. The characters and environments offer a clean look that's cartoonlike but still detailed. While we didn't see much of it in our time with the game, we'll be curious to see if Namco cleans up some of the slowdown that cropped up in the Japanese game--most notably on the field map.
While the graphics haven't changed much, the audio in the game has obviously seen quite a few changes since the game's Japanese release. One of Tales of Symphonia's most notable stylistic touches was its audio, which made liberal use of voice (this is sadly a rare thing in GameCube RPGs). The US version will feature some notable voice talent that fans of anime and the Cartoon Network will likely recognize.
While our sampling of Tales of Symphonia only gave us the briefest of tastes of the game's rich quest, everything appears to be in order. The gameplay retains the polish seen in the Japanese game, and the visuals are a mix of good design as well as a tech showcase for the GameCube hardware. Tales of Symphonia is currently slated to ship this summer for GameCube. Look for more on the game from the E3 show floor and in the months leading up to its release.