February 17th, 2023.
Tales of Symphonia was for me, and will have been for many Western gamers, the gateway drug into the Namco Tales franchise. It was one of the most enjoyable role players on the GameCube, and went on to spawn myriad sequels, and a subsequent re-release for PS3 a decade after. It was a fine game which had extremely likeable characters, decent voice acting and a whimsical, high-stakes fantasy plot.
At the time of release the combo based action combat system was also an attraction for being unlike most other turn-based role-players of the time. I haven’t actually sat down and played it for many years now, but here we are – in the space of the week two remastered GameCube classics – does this stand up like the glorious Metroid Prime?
The answer sadly, is no. You cannot really fault the actual game itself – it remains a high-quality vintage JRPG that follows the moreish story of Lloyd Irving. His name may make him sound like he should be playing in the NBA – but young Lloyd is actually a winsome role-playing hero who along with his childhood pal Colette becomes embroiled in a plot that involves – you guessed it – saving the world.
Combat feels quite basic in the modern era where the clout and dynamism of battle systems are so much more advanced, yet it is still fun. You can combine normal attacks with Techs and Artes and chain impressive combos together. The AI controlled party members in Tales of Symphonia Remastered all behave reasonably intelligently and you can switch their function on the fly. Another cool thing is the way you can swap your equipment during fights. If you suddenly find you are wearing the wrong type of armour against a particularly tricky foe – switch up to a more effective bit of kit.
You split your time between exploring the overworld, visiting villages and other points of interest, and battling through dungeons. There are loads of side quests, crafting and cooking tasks, interesting in-dungeon puzzles and skits – small cutscenes that advance the plot along nicely.
The problems with Tales of Symphonia Remastered are technical, and in the value for money. Firstly, the remastered visuals are not hugely distinguishable from what I remember playing back in the day. It somehow doesn’t look as sharp as the PlayStation 3 version – and some of the textures and sprites clearly needed a lot more work. The promised ability to skip the (sometimes lengthy) cutscenes was also a bit of a white lie, as you can only use this on the shorter, aforementioned skits and not the core plot segments.
Action is also locked at 30FPS, and the game is noticeably muddier and uglier in handheld mode as opposed to docking the console. Worst of all are the weird, lengthy loading segments which leave a void-black empty screen, and the way the action transitions into combat. On the original there was a cool glass shattering effect that heralded a battle. Here, you just get a glaring, jarring white screen. I am led to inform this is only an issue on the Switch version, the same applies to some shocking slowdown and even occasional crashes. In terms of value, it baffles me that the sequel that was bundled in with the PS3 version was not included here.
We have seen that given the right respect, love, and attention, you can take a twenty-year-old game and make it fresh, exciting and worth playing again, even on a console like the Switch that lacks the power of its peers. But unlike Retro and their killer Metroid re-release, Bandai Namco has had a shocker here – certainly on the Switch.
Tales of Symphonia Remastered is still a great action JRPG, and an important one in establishing the now long-running Tales series and its many sequels. There just happens to be better ways to experience it, both in terms of retro consoles or if you really have to go down this generation’s offerings, by selecting a different format for this remaster.
Still a nice game
Great story and lovely soundtrack
Lack of content
Tales of Symphonia Remastered is still a great action JRPG and an important one in establishing the now long-running series, but there are better ways to experience it than this.