Old RPG Review #18: Tales of Phantasia

NuMetalManiak
"Mint has that quiet elegance about her, but I bet Arche f**** like a tiger"

That pretty much sums up this review.

JUST KIDDING

Tales of Phantasia is the first game in Namco's Tales series, which has spawned several games like Vespera, Symphonia, the Abyss, well I haven't played any of these. But I have played Phantasia, and it's intriguing to say the most. Tales of Phantasia was released on several platforms: the SNES, PS, GBA. PSP, and there's even an iOS version for you phone junkies. However, the first North American translation was on the GBA, and I played an SNES ROM. Meaning? Meaning I had to find a translation to English online, because I can't read Japanese.

Gameplay: It seems traditional at first glance, as you have basic town, dungeon, and overworld navigation, item and armor shops, the usual fantasy status ailments, and random battles. Plus specialized save points, which for some reason are depicted as Stars of David. The real kicker that Tales of Phantasia has is a rather unique battle system. The characters in battle are pitted on the left side while enemies will be to their right, almost like a fighting game. If you are ambushed then the characters will be in the middle of two enemy groups. The battles are active, so you can move around, and attack enemies. The battle can be intermittently stopped when accessing a menu in battle, where you choose a spell for a supporting character or an item to use.

Now, when it comes to controlling characters, you really are only controlling one! In this game Cless is the character you control in the battles, and he is the most physically offensive character, so this means he is good as far as physical attacks go. Other characters in the party actually follow him if he moves, and in order for them to do what you want, you need to set their AI outside the battle. Like if you want Mint to consistently heal the characters or not at all, etc. There's always the option of accessing the menus in battle though, but only in a pinch. The random battles can be quite difficult, as some very good tactical knowledge is needed to win them. So what happens if Cless dies in battle? Well, his ghost appears, and you can control that. But the rewards for winning are always nice, even if they are mostly food items.

And that brings us to the food sack. The other unique thing in the game in which you get lots of food after battles, they are consumed in the case that your party members are hurt. Helpful when you are not fighting. I do also need to mention tech points in battle. As far as they go, your healer uses them to heal characters, and your two offensive mages use them for summoning and offensive magic. Cless on the other hand has specialized physical moves that can deal a ton of damage to the enemy, at the cost of tech points. They're basically the MP of this game. Gameplay Grade: B-

Characters: Cless Alvein (Cress Albane): The main character and the son of a grand fighter. As I said before he is the only controllable character in a battle (and in the field as well) and he's excellent at physical prowess. My problem with Cless is that he's difficult to level up, as him getting into the fray of enemies results in the most damage incurred on him. Grade: B+
Chester Barklight (last name Burklight in the remakes): Cless's friend from the same town who is an archer. Good for long distance physical attacks, but otherwise no good with techs. You don't have him for long when you go to the past, until you revisit the present. Grade: C
Mint Adenade: A priestess and a healer, so that means very little combat power but lots of healing and support abilities that can keep characters alive. Great to have, with a nice shy personality and smile. Grade: B+
Klarth F. Lester (first name Claus in the remakes): The oldest of the party members and one who has researched on spirits. This makes him the summoner of the group, and he wields books to do so. Not too shabby, but you need to find and sometimes fight the spirits in boss battles in order to earn them. Grade: B+
Arche Klaine (last name Kleine in the remakes): This girl is a half-elf, and flies on a broom like a witch. Because of her mixed heritage she is not really welcome in the elves village. But she's an excellent offensive magician, and her flying ability helps avoid pesky ground enemies. A lot of her spells need to be found too though. Grade: A-

There's one other playable character but only if you are playing the remakes. Suzu Fujibayashi is a girl ninja. I don't really have an opinion on her because in this game she's an NPC. There are other NPC's in the game that join the party in special cases, but don't appear in combat.

Plot: I appreciate the fact that every character is pretty talkative, in some ways. In battle, there's some voice acting too.

Okay, Tales of Phantasia actually starts out with an automated battle with four heroes taking out this Dhaos guy with long blond hair. Years later, we see Cless and Chester in their village, going for a hunting voyage in the nearby forest. Disaster strikes the town while they were gone, and everyone died there including Cless's parents. Chester stays behind in order to bury everyone while Cless sets off for his uncle in a bigger town. Turns out that he's a turncoat, and Cless is put in a jail with his pendant stolen. He meets Mint there, and also found out that the women in his cell was actually Mint's mother. After escaping and finding Chester, the trio find a guy named Tornix D. Morrison (first name Trinicus in remakes). He explains that he was one of four heroes who defeated and sealed away Dhaos. The other heroes were Cless's parents and Mint's mother. The characters reach the place where Dhaos is sealed, only to find the guy who jailed Cless (named Malice, or Mars in the remakes) breaking the seal. Oh no! Dhaos is released. Malice is killed and Tornix decides that nothing in the present can stop Dhaos at this time. Chester attacks but fails, and Tornix uses powerful magic to send Cless and Mint back in time, before he is presumably killed.

Cless and Mint arrive at the past time before Dhaos was ever sealed, and when going to Cless's hometown they learn about magic, which might be the key to defeating Dhaos. They seek out Klarth in another town, he joins in the hopes of contracting spirits for use as summons. Later on, a girl named Lia Scarlet comes along (as an NPC). After fighting off Demitel (some guy controlled by Dhaos), and then Lia is revealed as Arche, the half-elf that is capable of magic power. After crossing the sea to another continent (on the boat ride is where Klarth says the line shown at the very top of this review ;), and there's also drunk scenes), your characters then journey to spirit caves so that Klarth can make contracts with them. Then they all go to Midgard, joining the battalion preparing to defeat Dhaos. After storming his fortress, they confront Dhaos, who warps away during battle. The party then reaches a lost city known as Thor and warp back to the present, where they confront Dhaos at the same point.

After Dhaos gets defeated in the present, apparently he's not dead. According to a traveler named Harrison, the future is at stake from Dhaos, so once again, the time machine at Thor will be used. To stop the bad guy from moving through time, Cless obtains the Eternal Sword, and the party finally finds him in his fortress once again. After Dhaos is defeated in battle, the ending shows that he was actually a visitor for another planet, hoping to keep his world alive as it was dying. But in attempting to do so he endangers this world by obtaining a seed from the mana tree. He found out that the humans here were endangering their own kind and wanted to destroy it. So really, who was the real villain in this RPG again?

Confusing as it was adventurous, this plot was pretty damn cool. The time traveling aspects were nice (keep in mind that this game was released a few months after Chrono Trigger) and so was the dialogue. I liked the chatty characters, as well as the voice acting. Grade: A+

Music: I like how the sound test is freely available at the start of this, allowing me to hear all the nifty tunes. A lot of atmospheric ones, some silly ones, make the soundtrack, all around good. Grade: A

Overall Grade: A-

You'd want to play Tales of Phantasia for it's nice storyline, with many diverse moments in it. The gameplay though, can be pretty hard to get used to, but it has its own blend of uniqueness. Nice chatty characters and great music. Only problems are the number of remakes and the SNES being Japan-only, meaning a ROM translation is necessary, along with an illegal ROM. :o

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