Castlevania: Curse Of Darkness Review

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Castlevania is one of Konami’s most popular franchises and for the longest time, I had never actually played any of them. My first Castlevania was actually the original NES game which I picked up on the Wii Virtual console. I found it to be extremely difficult and never got far into it, however I later played Super Castlevania 4 and despite struggling through some really tough sections, I eventually managed to beat it and while the game initially felt like a frustrating ordeal, by the end it actually grew on me.

Ever since finishing Super Castlevania 4, I suddenly got the urge to play other games in the series but I didn’t know where to start. One Castlevania game that caught my eye in particular was Castlevania: Curse Of Darkness, a 3D Beat Em Up game set in the Castlevania universe with the ability to summon demons to fight for you, as tempted as I was to pick the game up, I ended up playing Symphony Of The Night instead due to the fact that it was considered the series’ magnum opus and that Castlevania Curse Of Darkness received pretty mixed reviews.

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While Symphony Of The Night didn’t disappoint me in the slightest, when I finally played Curse Of Darkness, I realized that I had picked the wrong game. I mean don’t get me wrong, Symphony Of The Night is a wonderful game and definitely lives up to the hype but Curse Of Darkness was just begging for me to play it simply because it caters specifically to my tastes for better or worse.

Imagine what would happen if Chaos Legion, Castlevania Symphony Of The Night and Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner combined, that’s exactly what Castlevania Curse Of Darkness is, it’s a 3D beat em up, much like Chaos Legion in which you hack n slash enemies and summon demons to assist you but at the same time your demons can evolve and level up much like in Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner.

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The level design appears to be reminiscent to that of Castlevania Symphony Of The Night in the sense that it is tight yet somewhat open-ended. However I would argue that Symphony Of The Night provided more incentive to explore and there was a lot more freedom in terms of where you were allowed to go once you acquired the required abilities to traverse certain areas. That’s not to say that Castlevania Curse Of Darkness removes the aspect of backtracking to acquire new items, rather the progression in general feels a lot more linear.

I would argue however that the game more than makes up for this with its combat which is surprisingly flexible for a Castlevania game. Make no mistake, Castlevania Curse Of Darkness is not a metroidvania at its core, it is a 3D beat em up so if you are expecting a 3D version of Symphony Of The Night then you may be disappointed. Personally I find this to be a good thing as I enjoy beat em ups.

The combat itself feels like a combination between Chaos Legion and Dynasty Warriors, you have your basic attack string which can be cancelled into a finishing move by using the circle button. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well it would have been if it wasn’t for the Innocent Devils. By pressing triangle, you are able to command your Innocent Devil to perform a special ability… sound familiar? Yep it’s just like in Chaos Legion except this time, your summoned companion has several abilities to choose from, allowing you to mix things up. By pressing left and right on the d-pad, you can scroll between each ability in the heat of combat meaning that you don’t have to go into the menu to change abilities which allows for more flexibility in the combat.

Much like Chaos Legion however, Castlevania Curse Of Darkness doesn’t focus on building combos like Devil May Cry, rather the combat is designed around fighting a larger quantity of enemies much like Drakengard and Dynasty Warriors. As such, Castlevania Curse Of Darkness doesn’t try to be like Devil May Cry, rather it chooses to its own thing and in doing so, it manages to hold its own against other 3D beat em ups of its kind. However, I find the quantity of enemies to be slightly lower than other games of its kind and this can make a lot of the game’s arenas feel a bit empty at times as they can be pretty long and wide.

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Speaking of the arenas feeling huge and empty, the game’s protagonist, Hector moves considerably slower than other characters in the series and this is made even more apparent when you are trying to run from one room to the next as it can take a while to get from A to B which can be a bit irritating at times. I often find myself dodging to get to each area as it is faster than jogging but if you choose to do so, be careful if you have the double dodge ability switched on because if you dodge too quickly, Hector will have a long recovery period so you will have to time your dodges as you move between areas. Despite this, I highly recommend turning on the double dodge ability as it allows you to chain dodges faster, thus allowing you to move faster. Just be careful when you use it in battle as dodging too quickly can leave you vulnerable due to the recovery period.

Thankfully the dodge ability is accompanied with a guard ability and they both share the same button which means that even if you fail the dodge, the guard can still save you so long as the dodge animation has ended. Be careful though as enemies can break your guard if you guard for too long so it’s important to keep on the move in order to avoid getting hit. Once you unlock the perfect guard skill, you can time your guard perfectly in order to stagger the enemy, leaving them vulnerable to your combo’s so it’s a good idea to keep that in mind when guarding.

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I really like how the game offers plenty of options for defensive play as not only is guarding and dodging flexible but there are also skills your innocent devils can use to keep you safe from enemies and deal damage simultaneously. Curse Of Darkness may appear to be shallow on the aggressive side at first but once you unlock new Innocent devils and acquire new weapons, it really opens up. There are lots of different ways to play this game which is what ultimately makes Curse Of Darkness’ gameplay so appealing to me.

Aside from combat, Curse Of Darkness has a lot of RPG elements, so much so that it could arguably be considered an action RPG. Each enemy you slay will give experience to both Hector and your Innocent Devil companion. Bear in mind that in order to gain experience, the Innocent devil has to be summoned. Therefore it is often encouraged to switch things up every now and again to spread the experience points between each of them. On top of all that you may also acquire evolution crystals from enemies, these crystals can be collected by Hector to evolve the Innocent Devil that is currently summoned.

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Each Innocent Devil has its own evolution paths and in order to get the evolution you want, you will have to use a specific weapon. It’s often encouraged to experiment with different weapons each time you get a new Innocent Devil. If you screw up then don’t worry as your innocent devil can produce devil shards which give birth to new innocent devils so you can try new paths with them. In addition, these new Innocent Devils will carry over the stats of your current Innocent Devil, making them stronger in the long run.

Weapons and armor are crafted by obtaining materials dropped by enemies and combining them in the combine menu. You can also steal materials off of enemies by pressing the circle button on them when the lock on cursor is purple but it can be quite difficult to do so against some enemies as to trigger the steal option, there are certain conditions that must be met with each enemy and some steal conditions are absolutely ludicrous. Stealing is hands down the most challenging aspect of Curse Of Darkness and can be quite frustrating at times, especially against bosses as you only have one chance to steal from them outside of the boss rush mode which is a pain.

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In addition to stealing and killing enemies, certain ingredients can be found in secret areas which usually require the abilities of certain Innocent Devils to access. This is similar to the form changing in Castlevania Symphony Of The Night in the sense that they’re used to traverse areas of the map that were otherwise inaccessible except this time, each Innocent Devil has its own abilities and some Innocent Devils may not have the abilities you need, requiring you to incubate another devil shard to pick another evolution path in order to acquire the abilities that are needed.

This can be a tad annoying to some and a bit cryptic but it’s only necessary for those looking to get 100% map completion as many of the items can be obtained through stealing anyways, thus diminishing the value of finding secret areas which may disappoint fans of Symphony Of The Night. On the bright side, it encourages players to experiment with different Innocent Devils and make use of the devil shards.

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Aside from devil forging, weapons play a major part in combat as each weapon  type has its own set of combos and finishers. In addition, some weapon types have a one-handed and two-handed variation which perform very differently. For example, one handed swords are handy against mermen as they have the tendency to dodge a lot and are often attack in groups. Since one handed swords have long attack strings, reasonable AOE potential and high attack speed, they are a great weapon to use against them. A two handed axe on the other hand would have trouble hitting them as it is a lot easier for them to dodge a slower weapon despite its reach.

To get the most out of Castlevania Curse Of Darkness, you really need to be experimental and not stick to a favored playstyle. On surface, the combat may not appear to be very flexible but that’s because in order to change weapons and innocent devils, you have to use the menu and since changing weapons and innocent devils is important, you will spend a lot of time going in and out of the menu screen to do so.

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Curse Of Darkness isn’t the first Castlevania game to have this issue as Symphony Of The Night also suffered from this problem. While this could be problematic for people who want to play a more seamless 3D beat em up, I personally don’t have an issue with it as the menu is paused and not in real time. This means that I don’t have to consider time spent navigating the menu as a resource cost. I’d also like to point out that Curse Of Darkness doesn’t require you to equip items in order to use them like in Symphony Of The Night so its menu navigation isn’t half as irritating as the equip menu isn’t as cluttered.

So Curse Of Darkness is not only a solid 3D beat em up but it also has some pretty deep character management to the extent that it could even be considered an action RPG. Despite how common it is to see RPG elements these days, I’d argue that Curse Of Darkness has more depth in its RPG elements than most beat em ups and I personally consider this to be one of the game’s biggest strong points as the ability to level up and evolve your Innocent Devils is rewarding in itself as there are many different possible evolution forms for you to discover which gives more of an incentive to play the game.

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I personally think that this winning formula is ultimately what makes Curse Of Darkness stand out from other 3D beat em ups. If you’re looking for a game that is similar to Drakengard, Chaos Legion, Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner or even Kingdom Hearts 2 then you’ve found the right game because all of these games have one thing in common, they are all action games in which you primarily control a single character and they each have some kind of leveling system to give players a feeling of progression. This is what Castlevania Curse Of Darkness is all about and it’s the best of the bunch in my opinion as it arguably has the perfect mixture of action and RPG elements within the framework of a 3D beat em up.

That’s not to say that the game isn’t without its flaws, while the need to constantly access the menu mid battle and the more streamlined level design could be considered flaws, they can easily be overlooked. What cannot be overlooked however is the visuals which are pretty mediocre for a 2005 game. It doesn’t help that a lot of the locations in the game look as if they were copy/pasted, particularly in the final area. To the game’s credit, there are some unique locations at certain points which help mix things up but the majority of the game has you exploring what looks to be a copy/paste of a previous room.

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If it wasn’t for the in-game map, navigation in Curse Of Darkness would be an absolute nightmare as nearly everywhere you go looks the same. It doesn’t help that the arenas are big an empty as it can take ages to reach an area that looks different due to Hector’s slow movement speed. As such, the value of exploration in Curse Of Darkness is crippled because if all the rooms look the same, what’s the point in wanting to see what is through the next door? It’s just going to be another copy/pasted arena with enemies to kill.

On the plus side, like in most Castlevania games, the music is on point. Despite its dark gothic setting, many of the tracks are surprisingly upbeat which can feel a bit jarring at times but the same can be said for most Castlevania games. The music succeeds where the visuals fail, some of the tracks help build a strong ambiance while others play to the game’s strengths by being more dynamic. As such, there’s a nice variety of tracks on offer.

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Despite this however, due to the game’s lackluster visuals, any attempt for the game’s soundtrack to build a strong ambiance falls flat. So while many of the tracks that build a strong ambiance are nice to listen to, they tend to blend in with the visuals poorly. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Curse Of Darkness’ soundtrack and I highly recommend listening to it outside the game to better appreciate it. The music is arguably the most fun part of backtracking to previous areas if you ask me.

Aside from the visuals, the only other flaw that could be considered a major flaw is the fact that the Innocent Devils themselves aren’t exactly balanced as some abilities are better than others, therefore you may end up using the same abilities over and over again simply because they are better than the rest. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of useful abilities in this game but some of them just aren’t as good as others and some of them are a bit too good to the point that they could be considered overpowered.

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I personally think that this flaw is justified due to the fact that there are many different Innocent Devils and they each come with their own abilities, it would be difficult to balance them all. With that said, Chaos Legion also suffered from balancing issues and I can safely say that Curse Of Darkness suffers from them a lot less than Chaos Legion despite the fact that Chaos Legion only has 7 legions to manage with only 1 assist ability for each.

As for the story, there isn’t really too much to say really. The story revolves around the characters Hector and Issac primarily who appear to have some sort of rivalry. Hector himself appears to be a dignified yet somewhat paranoid character who is prepared to fight anyone who stands in his way in order to avenge the death of his former lover by defeating Issac, a flamboyant servant of Dracula who scorns Hector for making a mockery out of him by abandoning his service to Dracula.

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While the story does its job, it doesn’t really take center stage. One thing I can comment on however is the voice cast. Crispin Freeman and Liam’ O’Brien were the perfect roles for their respective characters, Liam especially since he has the tendency to voice a lot of flamboyant characters, particularly those who are aristocratic or insane. Crispin Freeman tends to play the dignified role well in pretty much every game he’s been in which makes him very fitting for Hector. I think the voice acting of these two characters is what makes the story as while the writing itself isn’t anything special, the delivery is perfect in every way.

While it might not be everybody’s cup of tea, Castlevania Curse Of Darkness does its best to cater to its crowd. If you’re a fan of 3D beat em ups then I can definitely recommend this game to you, I can also recommend this game to fans of RPGs in general as the Innocent Devils add a lot of growth and personalization to the game that many RPG fans will enjoy. Ultimately I’d argue that Castlevania Curse Of Darkness is a solid game as it manages to hold its own against other 3D beat em ups well enough to be considered a gem on the PS2.

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Plot/Story: Mediocre

Visuals: Mediocre

Music: Great

Gameplay: Great

Lifespan: Decent Length

Difficulty: Easy

Would You Replay? Yes


Overall: Great


Value: £40.00

Purchase Castlevania:Curse of Darkness (PS2)

 

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Theorycrafting: Does the RPG genre really need to exist?

When one interprets the term “RPG” they tend to associate it with Dungeons And Dragons. The problem is, this doesn’t tell us what an RPG actually is. If you look at Dungeons And Dragons today and break down all of its elements, you can clearly see connections between DND and other genres outside of RPG’s.

Doom for example is loosely inspired by DND, this is made even more apparent by the Astral Dreadnought’s face being cropped and made into one of Doom’s most iconic enemies, the Cacodemon. ID software were clearly fans of DND and they took inspiration from it. The maps in both Wolfenstein and Doom can be seen as replications of possible DND maps, the first person maze-like structure of the game’s levels are similar to that of Akalabeth which was also inspired by DND.

One could argue that Doom and The Elder Scrolls Arena are the same game on the surface with the only differences being the lack of RNG elements, character building and replacing the direction of sword swings with the aiming of the crosshair. Mapping isn’t the only thing DND was known for but it’s definitely one of its defining traits as mapping was a big part of the game. The same could be said about Doom.

So what truly makes an RPG an RPG? If we look at all the elements of DND we are left confused as to which elements truly matter within the context of an RPG. The point I want to make is that the context does not matter. Every single gameplay element of DND is important, not just in RPG’s but videogames in general. The problem is that the games we define as RPG’s were merely games that were built to imitate DND much like Toukiden Kiwami and God Eater Burst are built to imitate Monster Hunter. That is not to say that they don’t have their own unique elements, these games did solve problems, it’s just that the problems they solved aren’t as clear to us today because we’ve taken them for granted.

One could consider Role Playing Games to be a sub genre of strategy games. The thing is, DND is exactly that, it’s a strategy game that uses dice rolls to manipulate variables to encourage more experimental gameplay and more replayability. The dice roll is merely a facade that covers a deep strategy game built on player intuition. The player’s choices are the strategy, the dice roll is the manipulation of the variable values that influence the outcome of the strategic choice the player makes. The reason for this is likely to solve a problem.

Strategy games like Warcraft Orcs And Humans are a lot easier to figure out than DND because they focus less on RNG and more on methodical design. That’s not to say that Warcraft Orcs And Humans is entirely a methodical game. However the fact that it is named “Real Time Strategy” and not “Real Time Role Playing Game” makes it pretty obvious that it wasn’t trying to be like DND, it was trying to be more akin to wargaming but in real-time. Then Warcraft 3 came along and introduced a leveling system. This isn’t something that hasn’t happened before. Games like Chainmail did this way before Warcraft 3 ever did. Does this mean that Warcraft 3 and Chainmail are RPG’s? Well apparently not as many consider them to be strategy games. So if leveling systems have nothing to do with what makes an RPG then what does? Just to make things clear, Warcraft 3 does have elements of RNG. A good example of this is Grom Hellscream’s critical strike skill which has a chance to deal double the hero’s base damage.

So this technically means that RNG and stats also have nothing to do with RPG’s since they can be applied to strategy games and they should be applied to strategy games, at least in my opinion. Why? Because they are wonderful gameplay mechanics that helps keep games from stagnating. Random elements can make anything intense because you can never be so sure of the outcome, sure said outcome can be manipulated but only to a certain extent through the use of RNG. The thrill of getting that critical strike chance is awesome because it can turn the tide of battle very quickly.

Now if we were to break down the definition of a Role Playing Game, it essentially means that you’re playing a game in which you represent a role. The truth is, this is the case for a lot of games these days. We have moved on from games such as Tetris and it seems that most games these days involve role-playing in some shape or form. Halo might be a first person shooter but you’re playing the role of Master Chief. What people don’t understand is that back in the day, games in which you played roles were few and far between, games were more abstract and as such it was far more difficult for games to portray a role for the players to play. There are games like Tetris in which you don’t play a role whatsoever. These games still exist today and as such they’re massively outnumbered by games that can be labeled as RPGs and if we were to name these games RPGs then the term itself would serve no practical purpose.

I can however state that most games are RPG’s these days and the mechanics that traditional RPG’s are known for have flooded into other games such as Borderlands. Does this mean that the term RPG has no meaning anymore? Well yes and no. The mechanics traditionally used in RPG’s are very meaningful, the ability to play a role is also very meaningful. What isn’t meaningful is the genre used to define a specific type of game. The term RPG is misleading. If you were to ask whether you wanted to make an action game, a strategy game or an RPG, which one would you choose and why? Action and strategy games have plausible reasons for their existence. Some people enjoy slow-paced thinking games, other people enjoy adrenaline pumping rhythmic games. There is a completely different audience for games like chess to games like football and each audience has their own set of preferences.

This is why many people were outraged when Final Fantasy decided to focus on real-time gameplay. The usage of the menu system in Final Fantasy XIII didn’t flow particularly well with the fast paced real time gameplay. Adding an auto battle option merely served to limit the player’s choice and navigating the menus took way too long for players to do due to the fact that every single choice is presented in a long list the player has to navigate through. As such the combat of Final Fantasy XIII was a recipe for disaster and the reason why people despised Final Fantasy XIII becomes clear.

Personally I dislike Real Time Strategy games as I don’t enjoy having to quickly think about what i’m going to do, I prefer to take my time. Real Time Strategy games rush you to make decisions and while making quick decisions might seem like a good thing to some, it doesn’t to me. Strategy games on the other hand aren’t so bad. Mount And Blade is a good example of a well paced and cleverly structured strategy game as the pacing of the game is only as fast as the player wants it to be. It is what I like to call “Synchronized Time Strategy”.

Believe it or not, the same applies to action games. Valkyrie Profile 2 is a “Synchronized Time Action” game which is something you definitely don’t see everyday. This is what makes Valkyrie Profile 2’s combat system one of a kind as many of its gameplay elements would never work in a real-time game (which most action games are). If I was to compare this style of gameplay to any other game series it would be the Mystery dungeon series. Unlike Valkyrie Profile 2 however, the Mystery Dungeon games are not considered to be RPG’s, rather they are considered to be “Roguelikes” which Valkyrie Profile 2 is not.

I really think that people under appreciate the value of synchronized time in videogames. It allows players to play games at their own pace. Pacing has been an issue for quite some time now and if more games were to use this style of gameplay, I believe it could help alleviate the problem of slow-paced gameplay. Synchronized time is not exclusive to RPG’s, so this doesn’t make it less important than any RPG mechanics in an RPG.

The point is, people need to start looking at the structural elements of game design more closely rather than trying to come up with thematic definitions for game genres. It’s one thing calling a game a first person shooter but is it a rail shooter or a free moving shooter? Both can be in first person and involve shooting but both are completely different games. Unlike RPG’s however, at least the term “First Person Shooter” makes sense as it categorizes gameplay that involves aiming via camera movement. The term Role Playing Game makes no sense whatsoever as it only categorizes gameplay which involves playing a role… which is in the vast majority of videogames released these days.

I do think genre definitions can improve, however I can see the importance in thematic genre definitions as they help newcomers discover a genre they can feel comfortable with. Not everybody is going to want to play a shooter because many shooters contain violence. Sure not all first person shooters are violent, Pokemon Snap is a good example as to how you can design a first person shooter without having to kill things but until people become more accustomed to gaming, I don’t think genre definitions should change. Perhaps if gaming becomes more acceptable in popular culture, we can improve our definitions of games by breaking down their individual mechanisms and sectioning them off into their own categories, we need an alternative definition for these games as the current definitions too vague. The problem is that there are so many different games labeled as RPG’s and we would have to break them down individually to find out what they really are.

If we did break them down, I think critics would have a much easier time measuring a game’s caliber. Of course it is still important to measure the levels of growth in a videogame and since RPG mechanics are directly linked to growth it can be as easy as simply looking closely at these mechanics and measuring them to see how well they accompany the core gameplay mechanics and how much of a rewarding experience they provide.

So I think we’ve found the true meaning of the term “RPG”. The genre label of RPGs given to games that use heavy RNG based mechanics and variables as a form of influencing decision-making and growth. The biggest problem with this label is that every other genre of game is adopting this system and thus they become RPGs. This means the way we look at games needs to change, we need to look at other games and how they implement elements of growth and experimental gameplay because this has become the norm now. Role Playing Games are no longer a genre exclusive to the stereotypical games that focus on heavy narrative (which was never the case to begin with, we just grew accustomed to this definition and by we, I am talking about the masses).

So what is to become of those games? Are they to be judged independently as either action or strategy games? Or will we find a new definition? Whatever happens, the way we critique these games should be no different. It is still important to focus on the mechanics that make the game’s growth and decision-making process engaging. We just need to start acknowledging these games as either action or strategy games or whatever is left when the RPG mechanics are ripped out of it. That way, we can help people understand what the game actually is without getting lost in the fog that is the term “Role Playing Game”.

It is important to note that this is not the responsibility of the critics. Critics cannot change something until it is widely accepted by the masses and as such we need to be patient. We cannot simply shove these definitions down people’s throats nor should we confuse the masses further by completely boycotting the definition. Instead we need to work on breaking down each individual game and discuss what makes these games great or otherwise. Once we know what makes a great game, we can discover new methods to motivate and engage players by analyzing the systems games use to provide the best possible experience for the player and share our ideas with other people so that not only do we get better games but people can finally understand what truly matters to them in game design.

This is a slow and arduous task that I alone cannot do but I can shed some light on it hence the fact that I chose to write about it. The RPG genre label needs to disappear and all games should be judged on growth and how well they implement growth because growth is practically everywhere now, people enjoy growth and as such, people enjoy RPGs. That’s not to say that everybody needs it but I do think that people enjoy it. Ultimately it all comes down to the way it is implemented. People have argued for way too long as to what makes an RPG an RPG and it’s time we put a stop to this, permanently by banishing the label from existence and accept that each of these games are different.

Tales Of Symphonia Review

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I don’t talk enough about the Tales series, maybe because the series has burned me out. I’ve been seeing more and more Tales games get shoveled out every year and each time I see them I kinda get a bitter taste in my mouth. Ever since the release of Star Ocean 5 and Exist Archive, my interest in the Tales series started to dwindle to the point where I had just lost interest in it.

However there’s nothing like a great Tales game to satisfy one’s JRPG cravings and Tales Of Symphonia is the first game that comes to mind when It comes to playing a good old-fashioned run of the mill JRPG. You see, Tales Of Symphonia doesn’t present itself as anything new. At first sight it’s easy to be misled by the game’s slow pacing but I’d advise you not to judge a book by its cover. Tales Of Symphonia is definitely a must play for any JRPG fan, particularly those who enjoy action RPG’s over the conventional turned based.

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As and action RPG, Tales Of Symphonia is often seen as a benchmark and rightfully so.  It was the first 3D Japanese Action RPG to give us a deep and engaging combat system and ultimately served as the demise for the Star Ocean series as a whole. If it wasn’t for Tales Of Symphonia, I don’t think the Tales series would have lasted as long as it has. The series has had a pretty huge legacy and Tales Of Symphonia serves as the pillar that holds it all in place.

Tales Of Symphonia might not seem much at first glance but as a game released in 2003 it has aged magnificently… most of it that is. A lot of people question the popularity of Symphonia, often comparing it to other games in the series. While the Tales series has evolved considerably, there have been a lot of changes to the series that have improved on the formula set by Tales Of Symphonia. As good as this was, future games in the series failed to stand out from its predecessor. While I won’t deny that there were some solid Tales games released after Symphonia, Symphonia kinda feels different from those games.

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There is something about Symphonia that keeps me coming back to it and I think I’ve found out what that something is. For starters, one of the things that made Tales Of Symphonia so iconic is its diverse array of content. There’s no shortage of things to do in this game as the main story has a pretty sizable length and there are plenty of sidequests to experience as you progress through the story and many of them offer some great rewards, usually in the form of titles.

The title system allows players to collect special titles that will alter the character’s stat growth. These titles can be carried over in a new game plus which allows players to customize their character’s growth in future playthroughs. Knowing that nearly every sidequest you complete contributes towards each playthrough gives you more of an incentive to complete them, when it comes to rewarding players, Tales Of Symphonia has a lot to offer.

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This alone would be a mere novelty. What truly makes Tales Of Symphonia a memorable experience lies in its gameplay and story. While the story of Tales Of Symphonia might appear quite generic at first glance, it manages to stay fresh with its strong themes. The characters themselves are very much the same, on the surface they are cardboard cut outs but each of them has their own place in the game’s story and play their role well enough. Rather than focusing on the characters individually, the game uses them as a means to portray the strong themes the game’s story revolves around. I don’t want to go into too much detail on these themes for fear of spoilers.

I’m not going to lie, Tales Of Symphonia’s story isn’t going to blow you away, it’s pretty bog standard for today’s standards but it was executed well enough to create a memorable experience. So long as you don’t set your expectations too high, you might be pleasantly surprised by the game’s story. If you do want to get the most out of the game’s story though, you’ll want to engage in some of the game’s many side quests as a lot of the story is hidden behind them. There are also skits which can help shed a light on some of the characters too.

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What makes this game truly stand out from other games in the series is its affection system. Tales Of Symphonia steals borrows this idea from the Star Ocean series which allowed you to partake in special events known as private actions which allowed certain scenarios to influence variables. These variables would affect the ending the player would obtain and each character would have their own adjustable variable value. As such the player may opt to avoid certain scenario’s or backtrack for specific scenarios in order to build up their desired variable.

In Tales Of Symphonia the way you interact with characters is different from the Star Ocean series. While lot of the choices you make throughout the game will affect the amount of affection each character has for the main character Lloyd, the actual process of acquiring these affection points is a lot more streamlined for the most part often forcing choices onto the player as they make progress though the game’s story. That’s not to say that there aren’t any optional interactions. Many of the sidequests can also affect a particular character’s affection for Lloyd. There are also optional skit points where you can engage in a skit conversations with other characters in which the player’s choices affect the character’s affection for Lloyd.

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Sadly this feature never made it into any of the future Tales games which is a shame. Unlike the Star Ocean series however, the affection system doesn’t affect the game’s ending, rather it changes up many of the game’s cut scenes. Once you reach a certain point in the main story, the characters with the highest affection will be able to partake in a cut scene with Lloyd, this scene will solidify that character as the one with the highest affection for Lloyd, essentially replacing the multiple character endings the Star Ocean series has. As a fan of the Star Ocean series I really enjoyed the inclusion of this feature as it allowed me to get more invested in the story and characters. Plus it allowed me to personalize my experience more which is always a good thing.

The Tales series is known for its fast paced real-time action battle systems and Tales Of Symphonia is no exception. Even today, Tales Of Symphonia holds up well despite it being rather basic. If you’ve played any other Tales game then you’ll know what to expect here. Tales Of Symphonia uses a side scrolling battle system in a 3D battle arena. This means that by changing targets you are able to spread your party out. So despite the fact that it is a side scrolling action RPG, it really feels like a free moving combat system.

Tales Of Symphonia was the first game in the series to offer serious competition to the Star Ocean games and for good reason. Rather than simply having players barrage foes with attacks, Tales Of Symphonia focuses on chaining hits to build up combos. While the ability to combo was somewhat prominent it still felt rather unrefined. Tales Of Symphonia’s combat offers a more refined combo system allowing players to chain up to 3 techs and alternate between 6 different techs per character at a time. This was a big deal back then as ARPG’s often lacked variety back in their early years. Tales Of Symphonia was one of the first ARPG’s that added a considerable amount of depth making it capable enough to rival that of a turned based RPG.

The combat focuses on synchronizing your attacks with the AI (or other players) in order to build up a combo. This idea would later be used in other games such as Valkyrie Profile 2 which allowed players to take control over all four characters in battle, managing them all simultaneously. Tales Of Symphonia was one of the first to focus primarily on combo focused gameplay and offers a wide variety of options in battle.

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Unfortunately like in all real-time action RPG’s with AI controlled party members, the combat suffers from having a lack of control over multiple characters. This is a problem that is not exclusive to Tales Of Symphonia but is worth bringing up considering the fact that Tales Of Symphonia is one of the pioneers that established the more modern style of real time action RPG’s and as such it is important to keep in mind that relying on the AI is essentially a big part of the gameplay.

For this reason, playing the game with a friend is probably going to be a far better experience than playing alone. Much like Secret of Mana was a more co-op orientated game, Tales Of Symphonia appears to be very similar. However players managed to enjoy playing Tales Of Symphonia as a single player game so it’s not impossible to enjoy playing it alone, rather there are some flaws to be aware of in terms of the AI. I will say though that for the most part, the AI aren’t all that bad in Tales Of Symphonia and if you can learn the AI’s patterns, you can really build up some awesome combo’s.

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Still, my philosophy on these type of games is that they were actually built with co-op in mind originally but the early games in the series along with all of the Star Ocean games seem to have forgotten this. Regardless, I judge these types of games in four different categories: flexibility, intuition, smoothness and AI behavior and considering the time this game was released, Tales Of Symphonia is above average in all four of these categories making for a very well-rounded combat system. Like I said before, you have 6 attacks at your disposal and they can all be mixed up in any order you choose as well as several regular attacks to mix things up more. While that may not sound like much today, back in 2003 this was a pretty big deal in terms of flexibility.

Now I never had the chance to play the original Gamecube release (which is quite ironic since the Gamecube is my favourite console) but based on the PS3 release, the controls are very simple and easy to use. You can guard and dodge using the square button, use normal attacks with X and artes using O. Comboing is simple enough, using a combination of normal attacks and artes as well as the AI’s attacks you can build up some crazy combos which are still really fun to pull off today and it’s easy to build up those hits, you never feel like you have to do too much busy work to pull them off like in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time which required the player to constantly swap characters in order to juggle their enemies.

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To add to all this you also have unison attacks. This was cool because you got to stop the enemy in their tracks while you get to perform any move of your choosing. Performing certain moves allows you use a compound special attacks which were a combination of two different artes with two different characters. It was a flashy and cool way to finish off enemies. I really liked the unison attack system and building the unison gauge was never too much of a hassle. It just gives you more control over battles and adds some extra flashiness to the combo’s.

To make things even crazier, the PS3 version (based on the Japanese PS2 version) adds mystic artes which are an alternate finisher that allow specific characters to pull off a unique special attack much like the purify weird soul attacks in Valkyrie Profile. These are used as finishers but unlike Unison Attacks they are pretty hard to pull off and can sometimes be completely forgotten about. This is due to the fact that the overlimit gauge didn’t exist yet and overlimits were built up over time much like trance in Final Fantasy IX in the sense that you cannot trigger it at will. Since most mystic artes required the character be in overlimit or at low hp, they were difficult to pull off.

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Regardless I can easily say that Tales Of Symphonia’s battle system stands the test of time, while other games in the series may be better in some areas, few games come close to the polished smoothness of Tales Of Symphonia’s combat. It is one of those combat systems that keeps you coming back for more due to how simple yet polished it is. To put it more accurately Tales Of Symphonia’s battle system is the benchmark of any real-time action JRPG combat and is what all real time action JRPG’s should aspire to be.

Aside from combat you do get a little bit of character management here, while not as deep as it is in the Star Ocean series, Tales Of Symphonia offers the player a few choices in regards to character management in the form of EX skills. These skills alter several different properties of each character giving them special passive abilities or allowing them to be played in a unique way. Sadly in future games such as Tales Of The Abyss, EX skills were learned in a more linear fashion and rather than picking and choosing, you get given all the EX skills over the course of the game which ruined the whole point of having EX skills. Regardless this was a great addition which adds a little bit of experimentation to the game.

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Other than that however, character management is very basic, learning new artes can be quite complicated as there are two different combat styles to learn: strike and technical. Each style has its own set of artes and is influenced by the player’s EX skills. Strike artes are mostly powerful attacks which focus on knockback. Technical artes focus more on delivering more hits and are usually a lot flashier than strike artes. Then you have magic which is completely different depending on the character. For example, you could have Raine be a strong party healer and teach her technical moves like Revitalize. On the other hand you could teach her stronger single target healing abilities and the ability to give your characters an auto-revive buff.

You can mix between strike and technical artes by changing your EX skills to favor the opposite style just before you learn a new move, you can also forget certain moves and swap them for their alternate move should you wish. Or you could just stick with either style and see what you get. This makes the game more interesting as there are so many different combinations of moves you can have at your disposal, some may see it as limiting but that’s kinda the point, by limiting the player, you are making them choose between two variants of moves based on which they prefer.

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Do they want to focus on dealing raw damage and knockbacks or so they want to focus on building up more hits? By limiting your game for the sake of choices, you’re actually providing a more rewarding experience since the choice the player makes equates to that of rewarding players with personalization. This is what many of the other Tales games failed to realize, by breaking these limits and just giving all the abilities away to the player, they are essentially removing that element of choice which made Tales Of Symphonia feel so rewarding… at least in terms of personalization.

So Tales Of Symphonia does a lot of things right with its gameplay and while the story starts off quite slow, it picks up later on. In theory this alone should provide a highly engaging experience and it does… for the most part. You see Tales Of Symphonia may be the series’ benchmark but it isn’t without its flaws. For starters, the dungeons of Tales Of Symphonia tend to really bog the game down in monotony as there are plenty of dungeons in the game that just flat-out suck. Why is this you ask? That’s simple, puzzles and when I say puzzles I mean hours upon hours of tedium.

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The puzzles in Tales Of Symphonia are quite possibly some of the most irritating puzzles I have ever seen in an RPG. While the first few dungeons have very simple, yet boring puzzles, later puzzles can become quite tedious and annoying to do. One puzzle in particular literally has you moving blocks of garbage and dropping it off a catwalk for no other reason than to pan out game time. To make things worse you have the sorcerers ring with its many functions. I absolutely loathe the inclusion of this feature because there are times where you have to switch between ring modes to accomplish certain tasks the game gives you to do like shooting braziers and shooting a bomb to blow up a rock.

Maybe this is just a personal issue but I honestly do not see how anyone can enjoy slogging through such horrendous dungeons. The most infamous of dungeons require you to guide several blobs to a certain position. These blobs will follow you but it is a nightmare to keep them all together. All you do is run around the area aimlessly pushing switches and trying to find all the blobs and trying to keep them altogether. To make things worse pushing in certain switches pushes other switches out. It’s a nightmare for people like me who want to get straight to the action. Even if I were to like puzzles, I cannot see myself not getting frustrated in that horrendous place.

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The dungeons are the biggest problem with this game and they are one of the few things that hinder the game’s replay value. However there is also another problem that many games released back in 2003 suffered from, unskippable cutscenes. That’s right one of the most irritating parts of replaying a JRPG is to have to press X/A to keep the text moving so you get back to the action. I wish that players could just skip the cutscenes and move on. Why this isn’t a thing in the PS3 port I cannot fathom.

Despite all this, I managed to slog through another playthrough and while it did have its annoying parts, the amount of rewarding content this game offered convinced me to play through it again and once I reached the second half of the game, my engagement levels rose a ton. Tales Of Symphonia offers a new game plus feature. By spending grade you are able to unlock certain perks which you can carry over to each playthrough. After unlocking the combo’s perk the game felt extremely rewarding to play in terms of growth as it rewards you with experience based on the highest combo you perform in the fight. This made every boss fight feel different and added an extra layer of depth to the game.

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It was this second playthrough that convinced me to review this game as I felt that being able to play through a game such as this a second time alone is something worth noting since I don’t normally do such things in videogames. I will say though that the second playthrough did have its annoying moments, particularly in the dungeons but I believe if you are truly willing to give the game another shot, by all means do so.

This game has a lot of replay value to balance out the horror of having to slog through those painful dungeons again and as someone who dislikes replaying videogames in general, I can confirm that there is some value to be had in doing so, it just takes a bit of patience because Tales Of Symphonia is quite a lengthy ordeal as it can take around 40 – 50 hours to finish the story. I assure you, once you endure the first half of the game, the game opens up fairly quickly and you feel like you’re playing through a whole new experience entirely. There are still the painful moments but if you are willing to endure some of that pain, it’s definitely worth playing through this game multiple times.

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As far as music is concerned, the game’s soundtrack does a reasonable job of keeping players engaged in the experience but doesn’t go the extra mile to deliver something particularly noteworthy. There are some good tracks here and there, ironically the best tracks tend to play in some of the most tedious dungeons, kinda fitting considering the fact that you’ll be spending a lot of your time in these places. Some tracks are better than others but for the most part I’d say that the soundtrack does its job reasonably well.

In terms of art direction, Tales Of Symphonia takes a very vivid approach depicting a bright, colorful cel-shaded world. While some may find this kind of contradictory to many of the game’s themes I feel that it serves to make the world more likable and makes the locations more memorable due to this distinct art style. After all, sometimes you want a break from the more darker styled games and you want something bright and colorful as a refreshment. As such I feel that the art design fits this game rather well, it really fools you into believing that the game is very plain and simple at first but when things start to get more interesting as the story clashes with other themes, the art direction really stands out.

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When it comes to choosing whether or not to play Tales Of Symphonia, ask yourself what exactly you are looking for in a JRPG at this point? While I do believe that every JRPG fan should give this game a shot at some point, I don’t think this is a game people should rush towards for the sake of it. If you’re going to play Tales Of Symphonia then you want to be in the right mood for it.

If you’re tired of the more conventional RPG and want something different, Tales Of Symphonia can be quite difficult to get into. On the other hand if you’re looking to escape from more modern, avant-garde JRPG experiences then you should definitely give Tales Of Symphonia a go. I do think that the game starts off quite slow and it can be an arduous task to get to the meaty stuff but when you do I believe that you will enjoy what you see.


Story/Plot: Good
Visuals: Good
Music: Satisfactory
Gameplay: Great
Lifespan: Quite Long
Difficulty: Medium
Would you replay? Yes

Overall: Great

Value: £40.00

Purchase Tales of Symphonia (PS3)