(This review may contain spoilers for the following games. If you have not played the game before, please exercise caution before viewing this post. You have been warned.)
I’ve always been a giant SEGA fan, as my youth involved playing many games on the Sega Genesis, Game Gear, and DreamCast. Of course, after the DreamCast I switched to Nintendo console, and today I attempt to relive my gaming life by playing games of all consoles and generations. However, one RPG game that continues to resonate with me is Skies of Arcadia for the DreamCast. I never got the chance to fully beat the game until recently, and upon completion, I feel the game remains under-praised and deserving of a re-release.
For those who are well acquainted with the Tales of series, it may be stated that their beginnings lied in this game, Tales of Symphonia, released in 2003 for the Gamecube. Tales of Symphonia introduced many to the series, and proved to be a defining moment in this game series. Unfortunately, this game shines much brighter than it should, mainly due to the nostalgia many hold for this game. This happened to be my case as well, which pushed me to replay the game to see if it really stood the test of time and a possible candidate for best game in the series.
The story begins with Lloyd Irving, a young boy who holds a strong flame of justice in his heart. While he may not be the brightest star in the night sky, his courageousness and will to fight for his ideals really shines as a trait for the main character. Accompanying him are his best friend Genis, the Chosen Collete, great teacher Raine, and mysterious mercenary Kratos. These aren’t the only party members in the game, but to say the rest may spoil some surprises the story may hold for the player. While Lloyd and his classmates learn about the Quest of Regeneration from their teacher Raine, a light shines in the distance, signaling the start of the journey. As luck would have it, his friend Collete just happens to be this legendary Chosen, and must travel the world in order to save the world from the evil Desians that capture humans and create human ranches. While Kratos appears to guide Collete on this journey, Lloyd’s attempt to aid gets rejected, leaving him behind to wait until the journey is over. Of course, the game doesn’t end there. Due to unfortunate circumstances and dumb decisions, the two (Lloyd and Genis) are banished from the town they live in, and seek refuge with the party. This quest later turns into a twisted mess of a plot that will leave many players filled with questions; luckily, the questions are eventually answered, even if it’s near the end of the game.
The story definitely holds many plot points, and they are rather intriguing in a way. In addition, I feel Tales of Symphonia contains one of the greatest stories and character development of the entire series. However, there are many points of the story which may seem lacking, and not fully fleshed out. Some of the special twists lack that shock element that would normally be apparent, and some of the characters actions can be annoying at times. However, one factor I love about this game would be the affection system, which allows various events to vary from playthrough to playthrough, and in addition to this, there are special branches (Mainly in the beginning of the game) that allow the player to take a different path and play just a little bit different than before. These choices in variety definitely make up for the minor nuances the story may otherwise hold, and should have been carried over for future titles.
If one wanted to see where the game falls short, it would definitely be the gameplay portion of the game. While the game plays great, and adds that great battle system the series is known for, it severely lacks to newer titles. If one has played the more recent titles before playing this game, their experience will be dulled due to the lack of enhances that flourish the newer games and provide that user friendly experience. For example, the game lacks a newer ability by the title of Free Run, which allows the player to run in any direction, avoiding enemies and prioritizing strategies. I can’t tell how many times the L-Button was pressed to no avail, just because it wasn’t available in this game. Another problem would the uselessness of Magic Lens in this game. While in other games, when one uses the item to find out an enemies HP, it stays in memory for every encounter with that enemy that occurs. Such is not the case in this game, and hinders it slightly in that manor.
However, while the game doesn’t hold the enhancements given to the newer games, the battle system still gives the player a fun-filled experience full of action gameplay expected from the series. The battles are fun, traveling the world proves to be exhilarating, and the minigames give a nice breath of fresh air to the game. Just don’t expect to play the game with successful multiplayer, as the game focuses the screen on Player 1.
Outside of battle, world travel proves to be about the same as other games. There are plenty of paths to take to the next town, and battle are aplenty. Dungeons aren’t very long in this game, and to compensate for lack of space, there are many puzzles that need to be solved. Most dungeons have at least one main puzzle that results in the player running back and forth attempting to solve said puzzle, which takes up a good chuck of time.
The soundtrack for Tales ofSymphonia is pronominal. All of the music seems to flow and fit the story in a unique and interesting way. However, most of the themes don’t appear to be as memorable as other games. While the music is good, it does tend to be a bit repetitive and doesn’t always stay at the same level of consistency. For example, I love the character themes in this game, as they fit their character design and tell the story behind said character. However, some of the more stock music doesn’t prove to be as memorable, and is easily forgettable. The battle music in this game, while good, falls to the curse of repetitive battle themes. However, this actually works in the game’s favor, as the theme gives the game more character. As for the actual theme music, which would take place in the opening cutscene before the game begins, was replaced with stock music in the American release. The original song, Starry Heavens, by the band Day after Tomorrow, fit the opening video well, and it’s a shame that it was removed in the international release.
As for character voices, I think it’s a safe bet to say that all the characters pretty much hit the mark pretty well. However, the popularity of some of the voices picked shows during the game. For example, Lloyd is played by Scott Menville; every time I hear his voice I play back Robin from the animated cartoon, Teen Titans. It is believed that this has to do with Nintendo helping with the localization project, as “union” voice actors don’t appear in future Tales series games. Either way, they do the job well, and for a long game, it’s definitely positive to have good voice actors to play the part. Unfortunately, the amount of voiced dialogue is small, as only major plot markers are voiced. Skits and small events only have text dialogue, and voices are missing from the scene. A damn shame too, as it’s hard getting used to hearing a voice then going to dead silence.
One would believe that a game released in 2003 would have severely aged graphics. However, that can not be said of Tales of Symphonia. The cel-shaded look helps the games age and prevents the game from looking too blocky and outdated. Around this time, many games went for the cel-shaded look, and although it was present for many of the games at the time, it’s easy to see why that route was chosen. Most cel-shaded games don’t look that old, even by today’s standards. Of course, it doesn’t look realistic, but that’s not what the studio was aiming for, and only helps the game’s case. Unfortunately, detail is lost when this route is chosen, and some environments may look washed out or similar to another, but this situation doesn’t occur too often. Even with all the areas that this game has to offer, only some appear to be bland and boring, while others appear bright, vibrant, and beautiful.
The anime cutscenes are few and far between. While the PS2 re-release (Japanese Only) saw an addition of two cutscenes, the international version only saw four cutscenes. However, the game was released in 2003, which did hold limits on data. In addition, the cutscenes themselves were appropriately placed, with two taking place in the beginning, and two taking place at the very end. The cutscenes were beautifully animated by Production I.G, and only add to the story told by the game.
While the game was released in 2003 and thus lacks a few prominent features, this game doesn’t fall below par and shows that it’s a game to be reckoned with. The game may be over-glorified and worshiped, there is no reason to skip out on this game. Just don’t expect a perfect game, as it’s far from it, but the game does provide a good lengthy RPG that will leave the player feeling satisfied. For that reason, I can honestly say that this game should be played by any RPG lover, regardless of the age of the game.
How does one start talking about a game such as Tales of Vesperia? The game, released in 2008 for the Xbox 360, proved to be a significant addition to the Tales series, and a giant leap for the series into high definition. This real-time combat driven role playing game gives players two difference gameplay experiences in one game; players may experience the strategy and statistics of a role-playing game, while experiencing battles in a similar fashion to battle action games. This mix, while not for everyone, gives players a unique experience that can only be expected of the established Tales series.
Tales of Vesperia follows a young man named Yuri Lowell, who tends to follow his own rules and contains no respect for anyone who breaks the law. The story begins with a mysterious character stealing a valuable core from the lower quarter, a section of the main city which government officials neglect and ostracize. These cores are vital to controlling “Blastia,” which can be viewed as magical and technological devices that aid mankind in the world. Yuri, being the “good man” he is, decides to hunt down the thief and recover the core, ignoring any laws and officials that may get in his way. This hunt soon develops into a quest to save the world, by unraveling the mysteries and secret intentions of the government and its alliances.
Along the way, Yuri meets Estelle, a princess who knows little about the world, Karol, a young boy who can’t make up his mind about what to do in life, Rita, a talented mage who knows more about Blastia than anyone in the world, Raven, an old man who appears to help the party for reasons unknown, and Judith, a skilled spears-women who hides many secrets of her own. In addition to this quirky cast of characters, there’s also Repede, Yuri’s faithful dog companion who joins in battle with his amazing dagger skills, and Flynn, Yuri’s childhood friend who contrasts Yuri’s personality completely. These characters complete each other, and allow themselves to grow and develop, giving character development a prime factor in this story.
The main attraction to the Tales of series usually lies in the gameplay, particularly the battle system. The game utilizes the “Evolved Flex-Range Linear Motion Battle System,” which allows real-time battles as opposed to turn-based gameplay. This feature, an improved version of the “Flex Range Linear Motion Battle System,” which belonged to Abyss, proves to give players a great experience playing every battle, and allows complex strategy to those who wish to build combos and challenge themselves. The battle system allows players to change weapons, skills, and strategies all while in combat, to build the best method of winning the particular fight. In addition, the game introduces linked battles, which allows multiple enemies to join into the fray, resulting in battles that can potentially hold tens of enemies. This game also utilizes the overlimit system, which gives players the ability to attack enemies without being stunned, link Artes (Skills that use Tech Points which can be gained by using normal attacks), and use Burst and Mystic Artes (Special skills that deal more damage and tend to be flashier than basic Artes). With all the options given to the player via the improved battle system, the opportunities are limitless.
Outside of battle, the gameplay generally revolves around traveling from town to town via a world map, purchasing new armor, weapons, and items, completing tasks by talking to various NPCs(Non-Playable Characters), and the various puzzles that lie in every dungeon. Cooking returns as a minor part of the gameplay, allowing players to heal and buff the party by cooking certain dishes after every battle. There are also various mini-games such as poker, warehouse cleaning, and number games. All in all, there are a variety of tasks to complete in the world, all to give players a refreshing experience and avoid dulling the gameplay.
Tales of Vesperia graced players with an exceptional soundtrack, with some memorable battle themes and melodies. With a few exceptions, the music tends to fit the mood and add to the story, rather than detract. The battle themes, while repetitive at times, give the player a feeling of battle and action, while changing every arc of the game, limiting the repetitiveness of the battle theme. The only songs that really fell below the bar would be most of the dungeon themes, but I feel that happens in most games, as the music isn’t made out to be a big part of the dungeon, which gives it more leeway in that regard. However, the music definitely gave the game the mood and setting it was aiming for.
The English voice cast proved to be phenomenal. Troy Baker and Sam Riegel are great as Yuri Lowell and Flynn Scifo, respectively, and the rest of the cast definitely plays their part well. I don’t think there were any scenes where the voice cast seemed out of place or out of character. In particular, I feel Joe J. Thomas played Raven amazingly, but it’s hard to pick these few characters out because everyone did a wonderful job on the dub. If the lack of Japanese voices was ever a reason to not pick up Tales of Vesperia, then priorities should be re-evaluated because the English voice cast doesn’t get much better than this.
Tales of Vesperia was built for high definition consoles in 2008. Released for the Xbox 360 (PlayStation 3 re-release in 2009), the game became the first Tales game to be released for high definition consoles, and it shows. While the game is beautiful and a step up from its predecessors, the game doesn’t fully utilize the capabilities of the console, which later shows in the newer games by Namco Bandai. However, one can’t let this fact defer them from playing this game, as it is beautiful in its own right, and the graphical style allows for detail and wonderful scenery one would expect from a Tales game. The game follows the traditional style of a fixed camera above the character, and doesn’t detract from the gameplay whatsoever.
As for the animation and CG cut scenes, they work for the scenes they represent. The opening animation is beautiful, and Production I.G created some amazing animations to play during the cut scenes. However, the CG in the game looks terribly out of place, and honestly doesn’t belong in a game like Tales of Vesperia. Bandai Namco continued the addition of CG in another game released in 2008, Tales of Hearts, leading me to believe that CG was merely an experiment to see how well it would fit in a game such as Tales of Vesperia.
Tales of Vesperia proves to be a great RPG that belongs in any jRPG fan’s collection. The game’s age may turn off some people considering this game, but it’s easy to tell that this game hasn’t aged much at all, due to it running on current day consoles. The sheer amount of content packed into one game disk is astounding, and although the game may have some downsides, such as time-limited side quests, the game’s battle system and plot more than make up for the negatives.
Hey, hold up. There’s another version of Vesperia, isn’t there? Tales of Vesperia was released for the PlayStation 3 in 2009. However, this port has not left Japan, and signs point to the re-release never being localized. This port included an additional character, Patty (Seen in the second picture above), as well as allowing Flynn to become fully playable. These are only a few of the changes, but with the chance of localization slim, there’s little reason to skip out on the Xbox 360 version.
I’ll admit, my first time playing a Tales game was Tales of Symphonia for the Gamecube. However, after my first encounter with the battle system, I was hooked. It’s not surprise people are clamoring for new Tales games to be localized and brought over to the United States, as they have one of the most unique battle systems for a jRPG. The mix between fighting and traditional RPG mechanics blends together to create a new experience that should be experienced at least once. Does Tales of Graces f expand and enhance this series to new heights, or does it merely prove to be a copy and paste of its predecessors?
When you first start the game, you begin as a young boy rebelling against his parents and a brother who constantly tells him “You’re going to get in TROUBLE!!1!” If you don’t feel the originality spilling out yet, just wait until they meet a girl who happens to have no memory of her past, the childhood friend who’s “secretly” in love with the main character, the mentor to the main character, and the airhead who somehow has the smarts of a genius. I’ll admit, the story takes as many cliches as it can grasp, and blindly places them into the story hoping it will have some relevance to the plot. I can’t tell you how many times I facepalmed at the sheer stupidity of the characters in the game, yet that same dialogue adds a charm to the game. While I cringed at the dialogues, I couldn’t help but laugh at how silly it was at the same time.
The main theme of the game is friendship, and while it plays on this theme the entire game, the cast makes some stupid decisions because of the underlying theme. I’m sorry, but if one of your friends from 7 years past goes on a rampage and threatens to destroy the entire world, including you, I don’t think your friendship is the only thing at stake here.
Of course, the gameplay proves to be the turning point in many Tales games and this one is no different. When I first heard of this game, I had assumed it would play similarly to Tales of Vesperia, Symphonia, or Abyss. What I got was something much more fast-paced, challenging, and fun. The battle system takes out many things I disliked in the other games and improved on the aspects I enjoyed. For one, instead of TP (Which are the Magic Points which enable you to use special moves), you have CC, which allows you to use any move in your arsenal. These points regenerate with defending, evading, or side-stepping at the right time to gain more points. You start off with few Chain Capacity in the beginning, limiting your ability to combo, but as you get more weapons and armor, you amass a larger Chain Capacity which allows you to get larger combos. There is also a special bonus called an Eleth Burst, which gives you unlimited Chain Capacity and the ability to use special moves, called Mystic Artes, which should be familiar to those who have played past Tales games. The Eleth Burst only lasts for a short amount of time, and the enemy can also gain this bonus, which calls for some plan on action as you play though the game.
Outside of battle, there are Titles, which enable characters to learn moves, gain stats, and upgrade existing moves. In addition, the game also has dualizing, which allows the player to combine food to cook, combine weapons and “shards” to strengthen the weapon, and crystals to create new weapons that are unable to be purchased from the shops in the game. Overall, there is so much to learn about dualizing that I still have yet to learn everything there is to know about it, which allows for good re playability.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that much of the music is memorable. Many town themes seem to fade away without any memory, and even the battle music proves to be a little bland. Of course, this isn’t to say the music is terrible, but the music doesn’t quite present itself to be memorable or of earworm quality. In fact, there’s a particular dungeon theme that is a 3 second loop, with minor changes in the loops. I find this inexcusable, and feel that the game could have had an amazing soundtrack, but fell short to be only okay.
As I played the English version of the game, I listened to the english voice cast for this game. I don’t understand the problem with English game dubs, as personally, I find game dubs much more bearable than anime dubs. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but for the Tales series, the English dub has always been at least decent. Tales of Graces f is no exception, and the only problem with the dub would be the terrible lines they have to say, but that’s not the actors fault. One particular English cast member was David Vincent, whom I felt gave a great performance as Richard, but all the others performed well, and yes, that means I also didn’t mind Laura Bailey (I really don’t understand everyone’s problem with her…). This isn’t to say I wouldn’t have enjoyed an option to listen to the Japanese dub, as it had Kana Hanazawa, but hey, the English dub is great and I’m perfectly content with it.
Tales of Graces powered its way to the Wii back in 2009, which was then ported as Tales of Graces f for the PS3 in 2010. As a result, the game doesn’t have the greatest graphics for the PS3, in fact, the graphics are rather sub par. However, this takes nothing away from the experience, and the graphics work great for this game. Not once was I concerned with how the graphics looked, as the game isn’t meant to look ultra-realistic, and the graphics don’t detract from the great gameplay experience.
The anime cutscenes are also top-notch, which can be expected from Productions I.G. These cutscenes are spread out fair and far between, which means you won’t be bombarded with them all at the beginning or at the end. However, I felt there could have been one or two in the last arc of the game, but there were none, which led to disappointment. But that being said, there are plenty of top-notch anime cutscenes for the player to enjoy, if they so choose.
So, what do I think of Tales of Graces f? I feel the game has earned every bit of praise it receives, and proves to be a great addition to the series. I only hope that the success of Graces will bring more Tales games over to the US, and give us players hours of enjoyment to come. Although Graces had some problems, including dialogue, music, and to an extent, the story, Tales of Graces f proves itself as a worthy game to add to any jRPG fans collection.
As a Sega fanatic growing up, I had many opportunities to play the wonderful game known as Flicky, a wonky silly game that involved a bird saving other birds. A fun arcade-esque game for the Master System, made for those nights you had nothing better to do than beat your old high score. Although most newer games seem to forget those youthful days, there are still a handful of games (including “doujin” games) that remain faithful to the unlimited replay value in arcade games.
-AIR- Flight takes gameplay from Flicky, and adds the “anime” style from AIR to make a wonderful game filled with nostalgia, yet fresh enough to feel like a different game. Before I go any further into the review, I’ll explain what a Doujin Game really is. A Doujin Game defines as a “self-published work” based on other creations or ideas. -AIR- Flight defines itself as a Doujin Game in two ways: It plays like the classic game Flicky, and it borrows the characters, settings, and ideas from the graphic novel, AIR. (Which I also would recommend checking out, as it’s a fantastic VN with an outstanding story.)
-AIR- Flight plays much like the old game Flicky, as can be told by the mechanics of the game. Basically, you’re saving your companions from silly enemies ranging from cats, stuffed dinosaurs, and chickens, just to name a few. Luckily, you have various items (Cups, stars, etc) you can toss at those “enemies” to stop them dead in their tracks. In addition, if any “enemy” touches you, you lose a life. If they touch your friends while they are following you, then they run away and you have to gather them again. The goal of the game is to take all of your friends, and bring them back to the door (Exit), as fast as you can, with as many as you can at a time, while still “killing” the “enemies” and gaining bonus items like invincibility, 2x bonus, and extra lives. Unlike Flicky, -AIR- Flight gives the option of three players: Misuzu Kamio, Kano Kirishima, or Minagi Tohno. Each character, surprisingly, utilizes different physics than the others. Misuzu and Kano seem to be more agile, whereas Minagi has more force and momentum when moving. It truly provides a unique playthough with each character. -AIR- Flight also contains a bonus round at each of the rounds ending in five (5, 15, 25, etc.). These bonus rounds have been adapted almost exactly from the original Flicky, with little to no changes from the original. However, at each round ending with zero (10, 20, 30, etc.), there contains a special boss that you must defeat. The bosses seem simple at first, and later begin to get irritating and annoying, yet aren’t unfair enough to cause reason to blame the game.
The game takes the fantastic AIR soundtrack and amplifies it into music suitable for gaming. I absolutely love the boss theme and the remix of “Tori no Uta”, which by itself is a fantastic song. If you loved the original soundtrack for the game, then you will love this. I would provide samples for the soundtrack, but I can’t extract the songs from the data file. Sorry. =(
-AIR- Flight shines as an arcade “time wasting” game, where the main objective is to beat the top score. Countless methods to rack up your score exist in the game, from the bonus rounds to combo chains. The game contains three levels of difficulty, yet on normal difficulty the game proves to be very difficult during the later half of the game. You can easily find yourself racking up continues attempting one simple boss. However, score attack mode proves to be the more re-playable, as it consists of bringing as many of your “friends” back to the exit in huge chains, without dying and destroying the “enemies”. Score attack doesn’t end until you die, allowing points to reach high, high numbers, and challenges between friends.
-AIR- Flight consists of 50 levels in the Story mode, and three different levels to choose from in Score Attack mode. For a doujin game, -AIR- Flight covers so many little details that it’s hard to tell that the game was created by a small team. Little additions to each characters Game Over pose, to the door they enter the room in. In addition, visual changes are included with each character. For example, Misuzu collects crows (If you have seen AIR, you can relate the crows to Sora, a main character in the later half of the series), Kano collects Potato (Her pet dog), and Minagi collects her “friend”, Michiru. The designer polished the game so well, and as a result the game definitely shines.
-AIR- Flight excels as a tribute game to Flicky, and as a doujin game for AIR. The gameplay leaves the player attempting multiple times to beat their score, beat the boss, or even passing a simple level. The game, although hard, generously gives players many attempts to beat levels or bosses (You have unlimited continues), and sends off a vibe you wouldn’t expect from a doujin game, in a good way. I love AIR, and this game just made me love it even more. If you enjoyed Flicky or the Visual Novel (or Anime) AIR, then you should definitely check this out.