The Tales series by Bandai Namco and Namco Tales Studio has felt like an underdog for quite some time. But it does a lot to stand on its own, from its faster-paced combat to having party members act independently. Tales of Symphonia was my first foray into this long-running series. Almost 20 years after its initial release, it is back as a remaster playable on modern consoles. But does it hold up? Does it make this classic JRPG feel modern, or is this a shinier version of a classic for better or worse?
In Tales of Symphonia Remastered, you play from the perspective of Lloyd. Living in the world of Sylvarant, Lloyd, who is brave yet dumb, lives in constant fear. For one thing, his village constantly loses people to the Desian threat. Innocent humans are taken by the Desians to be experimented on and never return. So it’s either give up people at random… or be destroyed. However, there is one way to stop this. Colette, Lloyd’s friend, is the “chosen.” With the help of the teacher half-elf Raine, the genius half-elf Genis, and the mysterious swordsman Kratos, she must go on a journey throughout Sylvarant to break mana-infused seals to “reset” the world, leading to prosperity and happiness. Lloyd joins them on this adventure out of sheer will and the desire to help his friends succeed with their destinies. But this mission quickly doesn’t feel right, leading to a grander adventure for these five saviors, greater than what any of them expected.
I originally played Tales of Symphonia when it was first released on GameCube in 2004. It was one of my all-time favorite games back then, even if I didn’t beat it. What can I say? I was a dumb kid who had no idea what he was doing. With this remaster, though, it doesn’t play how I remember it. It plays worse, particularly regarding the barebones updates to the game. At the same time, the game itself looks shinier. It didn’t run nearly as well on the Switch as on the Gamecube. I played it both handheld and docked. Surprisingly… it ran way better handheld. From random framerate drops while exploring dungeons and during combat to the horrendous controls with dungeon-specific mechanics and overworld exploration, it felt like the developers slapped on a new coat of paint, threw in HD rumble, and called it a day. Even with the remaster promoting better controls, I noticed no improvement anywhere.
As for the game itself, looking past its faults as a remaster, this still feels like one of the all-time great JRPGs it’s known for. If this is your first time playing this entry, you’ll enjoy it more than a long-time fan because you don’t have the baggage of being a fan. What brought me back time and again to this remaster was its story. Getting to experience it again, this time in its entirety, makes me jealous of anyone who will be experiencing it for the first time.
It’s the connections between the characters and how they evolve and grow as a group that are so hard to replicate in other games of the same genre. The game especially shines in its optional cutscenes where not-so-relevant portions of the story occur. Now and then, you’ll see a little prompt appear on the bottom left of the screen with a title of a cutscene. Hitting the “minus” button plays it out. It’s not voice acted; it’s just animated, talking heads. But these short conversations cover just about anything; as such, they’re fantastic glimpses into the growth of each character. But there are just so many of them. After every story beat, three to four would pop up, one after the other. Thankfully, they’re skippable if you feel bogged down by them or already get the gist of what’s happening.
Even the main voice acted cutscenes are great. And that’s saying something for an early-to-mid 2000s voice-acted JRPG, a well-known time for not the most incredible line deliveries. Even then, the acting here is excellent for the most part. And then, there are the anime-animated cutscenes. These are few and far between. But when they do happen, they’re such a treat.
As for the combat, I distinctly remember somehow getting through the first third of the game through sheer willpower the first time I played. Now, after beating it? I have absolutely no idea how I pulled that off when I was younger. Consider combat a mix of 3D action in a 2.5D space, a barebones Kingdom Hearts that also uses Final Fantasy XII party mechanics. The main character is fully controllable with basic attacks and skills, yet moves left or right on the same plane as the targeted enemy.
Now, this is where I have the most issues with the “quality of life changes.” Combat feels barely touched in a bad way. I mostly used Lloyd as my main character. You can switch to any of the other three in the field at any time; I just liked playing the sword guy. Executing skills feels like a chance for the most part. Skills are performed by hitting the B button and pushing the left stick in a direction. Sometimes the skill I wanted to use would actually be used… or Lloyd would go into a flurry that I didn’t expect or did nothing.
This isn’t a massive negative, more a gripe about how this could’ve been refined in a remaster, like with smoother controls, more responsive movements, or easier combos. Besides that, the combat itself feels way ahead of its time with the amount of control available mid-combat. Like being able to change gear, change up combos, have even non-controllable allies use items, and change how exactly the party acts/reacts to the battle. Want someone like Kratos to switch from being a DPS to a healer? You can! Want to change him back to DPS when everyone’s topped off so Kratos can recharge his ability points? That can happen too! I loved the adaptability of almost everything in combat, and even how particular boss fights turned on their head about halfway through when a boss pulled out a mega ability, like being able to freeze time.
Finally, the dungeons. There are so many dungeons throughout Tales of Symphonia, with one popping up about every hour or two that must be completed to progress the story. These range from challenges like lighting lights to move stairs and turning off lights to move vaguely humanoid-shaped shadows around to summon the boss. However, there was no rhyme or reason for the challenges of each dungeon’s puzzles. So you can go from one of the easiest dungeons to one that requires a precise step-by-step guide to get through it to save yourself the frustration.
However, the shadow manipulation required for the dungeons feels stuck in the past. Again, this is where I wish just a little extra effort were added to this remaster, not just to make it a prettier piece of history but to allow the game to overcome shortcomings from releasing on older hardware. The shadows bounced all over the place. They’d also stop moving if you had to fight an enemy and had to be placed in the exact right spot to count for a checkpoint near the end of the dungeon. And all they had to do was follow you around. Yet the geometry of the dungeon threw that one task off constantly—a mechanic relic of a bygone age.
Tales of Symphonia Remastered does what it set out to do—allow a classic JRPG to be playable on modern hardware. However, even then, this remaster falls short. The updates feel quite lacking, with bad framerate drops to quality-of-life updates not addressing key gameplay elements limited by past hardware. But for first-time players, this remaster does a great job of being a new approachable way to play a piece of JRPG history, headaches and all.
Tales of Symphonia Remastered is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Tales of Symphonia Remastered
- Rating - 7/107/10
Tales of Symphonia Remastered does what it set out to do—allow a classic JRPG to be playable on modern hardware. However, even then, this remaster falls short.