Posted on: December 12th, 2009 by

Dog smoking a pipe, annoying youth, sword-toting hero, feisty fire girl, wistful yet ardent princess. Yep: check.

Introduction

It’s a JRPG with cell-shaded anime-style characters and a real-time battle system. It is the tenth game in a rough series, but only the second major one to be released in Europe in sequence on its original format, the first being Tales of Symphonia on the GameCube in 2003. Lucky US citizens have had PS and PS2 releases either side of that. Tales of Symphonia remains quite highly regarded and even second-hand copies still command prices equal or higher than those on release.

Comparisons with Final Fantasy

One of our newsfeeds recently compared it to Final Fantasy VII, but while it has similarities it is far from a clone of it.

In towns you move around a pre-rendered background and interact with things in a way very similar to FF. In dungeons you similarly have roaming enemies and a map (which didn’t appear in FF until X) – but it differs in that the enemies are visible and avoidable. The overland sections look similar to FFVII in that you are as big as the towns, but again the roaming monsters are visible akin to FFXII. None of these things are exclusive to the Final Fantasy series though and I could list many more obvious parallels to other games which use those systems for travel.

Unlike FF the cut-scenes are rendered using the game engine, so it fits on a single DVD. It also has optional skits, where the characters talk to each in comic-book frames, in an improvement over Tales of Symphonia these are now voiced and the faces fully animated. Most in-game dialogue is in pop-up text windows and only voiced in the major scenes.

Battle System

The battle system however is unlike most other games – in that it has three modes of operation. In Manual it’s effectively real-time action-based where you directly control the characters, mash attack buttons and try to pull off combos. Semi-auto is kind of the same, but targeting is done for you, which is better for long-range characters. Auto does everything for you including attacking according to the tactics you set (conserve mana, all out, etc). Because you have a party of up to four characters, they can be set independently, so you could control the healer while the swordsman is on Auto. There are some skills which can only be used in a particular mode, usually Semi-auto.

The Auto mode is improved from Tales of Symphonia, where you felt like you weren’t doing anything at all, but it does still feel a little disconnected and takes a bit of tinkering with the tactics before you start to get used to influencing the battle more directly. You can switch between modes at will and keep yourself busy.

I like the Auto mode, it works pretty well for the random encounters. The game is too fast to specify turn-based commands and benefits from it. You don’t get bored inputting commands for each character when you know the first attack is going to kill everything, nor do you spend ages beating weak monsters on the way to somewhere interesting – battles against wandering monsters typically only last between 5 and 30 seconds.

Stuff that sucks

Stuff isn’t terribly well-explained. I had to load and re-do the combat tutorial as I didn’t realise I was meant to be performing the actions while the instructions were still on the screen. I have no idea how the weapon skills are transferred to the characters – it says it is possible, and I have “learned” them, but they don’t appear in their skills lists.

As is typical in the genre, it takes a while to get going. Not quite the 35 hours before the game gets started typical of the FF games, but in five hours play I’ve only encountered one “boss” fight.

Conclusion

Buy it if you like this sort of thing. It’s a good example of the genre and the hybrid battle system is a good compromise between chin-stroking strategy and button-mashing, although if you’re a zealous proponent of one of those, you’ll find it a little light.

It’s worth noting there’s an enhanced PS3 version planned for the Autumn (in Japan) with extra playable characters, towns, dungeons, bosses and other content. No word on a western release date.

Score : 9/10

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