Time can be a funny thing at times. When Tales of Symphonia Remastered was announced last year, I was a bit confused as I had thought it had just came out on PS4. It turns out that the game was released back on the PS3 at the start of 2014. Which at the time was just at the start of the PS4's life cycle and at the end of the PS3, which is what may have confused my brain a bit. Upon replaying Tales of Symphonia I also realised that not only did the game get a re-release 9 years ago but I first played it during Christmas in 2004, which was nearly 20 years ago. After dealing with the crisis of feeling old I readied myself to step back into the World of Sylvarant and see how this new version compares.
I was instantly reminded how great a game Tales of Symphonia is and how much I loved it playing it as a teenager during Christmas break. This game was my first ever in the Tales series that I played on Gamecube. From a nostalgic stand-point it was great to be immersed in this world and see the characters again. After playing Arise recently it was nice to go back to an earlier game in the series to see components that are now tried and tested series staples.
Tales of Symphonia is an action-RPG that has a party of up to 4 characters fight on a field where skills and magic take up TP, which can be recovered by landing basic attacks and using items. The game has a system where basic attacks can be linked into skills known as "techs" that are a level above the other. An example would be landing a basic 3-hit combo and then using the demon fang tech, a level 1 move and then immediately following up with Beast, a level 2 move. Getting to grips with this combat as early as possible leads the way to success later.
The game allows multi-player, wherein each party member can be controlled by a player or AI. The player can also switch around the order of characters and control any of the party members, setting up the tech and skills they want to use. In order to learn skills the game has a character learn them at various levels, but also has the Ex-Sphere system where a character will level up as a Strike or Technical character. By equipping certain ex-gems, a character will gain bonuses such as more health, better evasion or buffs such moving around faster on the map. When certain gems are combined a compound skill is unlocked. The player can change the skill that each gem provides but once equipped a gem itself can't be removed. It can only be replaced by a new gem. This allows the player to adopt a bit of strategy and can experiment with the skills that gems provide and what techs the characters will learn.
Each base tech can unlock an upgraded version, while either the Strike or Tech version can be learned depending on what gem skill is equipped. If a player does not like the version learned or wants to experiment they can change gem types to the opposite, forget the move and re-learn it. The game also has a series staple; Titles. At certain story points or by doing certain actions in-battle, the game will allow the player to switch a character's title which will allow bonus stats to be added when levelling up. This makes it fun to switch between characters, experiment and find titles that offer good bonuses.
The gameplay still holds up rather well. With a solid foundation it doesn't feel like a game that's nearing 20 years old. However there are certain aspects that show its age, with save points, the overworld map and certain side quests that will halt story progression until they are dealt with. Another odd facet is the load times. I'm not sure if its the game itself running on the switch or my switch hardware getting on in years but at times loading from battles to the overworld map and in battles with a lot of enemies the frame rate dipped and load times went up. With it being a remastered version I was expecting it to run a bit smoother than this. However the remaster effort does look very nice. The characters and backgrounds are nice and sharp, bright, colourful and clean looking. The game has both English and Japanese audio so looks and sounds great on a TV and in hand-held mode. I could put up with the odd hiccup here and there to enjoy playing the game on modern hardware.
This in itself is the biggest selling point of the game. The chance to play this game again on modern hardware. The game holds up really well with an interesting story revolving around a "chosen one" on a pilgrimage to save the world, with the inevitable twists and turns they meet along the way. Woven into the story are some really heavy themes that revolve around genocide, concentration camps, self-sacrifice told through the lens of characters who, at times, are clear cut in their stance and at times morally grey. The game is broken up with some levity however, with the series trademark skits cropping up which are side conversations that comment on plot points and add a bit of depth to characters told through some rather comical interactions.
Overall Tales of Symphonia Remastered is a definite one to play for those who have played it previously and want an easily accessible version. Those who have played Arise or other later games in the series like Bersaria or Zestiria and want to experience an earlier game in the franchise will find much to love here also. Even those who haven't played it before and want a good gateway in to the Tales series, the game is still a solid title that holds up in present day, and for a 20-year old RPG, that's quite an achievement.