They say that you can never truly go back… sometimes they are right. Find out why in our Tales of Symphonia Remastered review.
The rest of the team at Qualbert will tell you that I am a huge JRPG fan. Ever since the Super Nintendo days, I’ve been a sucker for that JRPG feeling. It was the continuation of some of the best series in Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, but it was also the start of a new franchise.
SNES JRPGs – The best of the best of the best!
The Tales series has also been around since the days of the Super Nintendo. The first title Tales of Phantasia was released way back in December 1995, but only on the Super Famicom in Japan. Once the series kicked off and gathered a large following, the original title did eventually receive a re-release of its own on the GameBoy Advance in western regions in March 2006. Now boasting a whopping 18 main series titles in addition to a few spin-offs, Tales deserves to be talked about as one of the ‘big three’ JRPG series along with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest.
That is a lot of Tales.
If you asked a bunch of Tales series fans what their favourite title is, there is no doubt that Tales of Symphonia would be one of the highest vote getters along with Tales of Vesperia and the most recent entry Tales of Arise. Tales of Symphonia was originally released on the Nintendo Gamecube in 2003 in Japan and 2004 in the rest of the world.
At that time, Symphonia was easily the high point of the series. During the PS3 era which had already widely expanded the Tales series (as you can see in the photo above), the Bandai Namco team decided to re-release the Gamecube-only release Symphonia packaged up with its Wii-only offshoot Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World on the PS3 system in 2013 as Tales of Symphonia: Chronicles.
If you somehow missed out on both the original release and the PS3 version, or if you have never played any Tales game before: don’t worry – similar to Final Fantasy, each entry in Tales is an individual story (with the exception of a couple of direct sequels such as Dawn of the New World). With this new ‘Remastered’ version now available on PS4 and the Nintendo Switch, is now the best time to revisit, or experience for the first time, one of the best-loved titles in one of the greatest JRPG series ever made?
Tales Of Symphonia Remastered Review – Story
One thing that hasn’t changed at all in this Remastered version is the fantastic story of Tales of Symphonia. As with most Tales titles, the colourful anime presentation is a thin veneer that hides a narrative with dark and twisted ideas. The overarching subjects at the heart of Symphonia are racism and discrimination – issues that remain as important now in 2023 as they were 20 years ago. The twin worlds of Sylvarant and Tethe’alla are home to Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and various other creatures large and small.
It is a breed of Half-Elves who hold both the aggressive spirit of Humans and the longevity and magical skills of the Elvish race that are at the core of this tale. Abused by the true Elves who look at them as lesser beings, the Half-Elves use their power to control the lesser Human race, holding them captive in ranches as slaves and performing experiments on them.
The Half-Elves aren’t the only problem though. Sylverant is in decay, the world’s supply of mana is dwindling away and this has been further accelerated by the Half-Elves evil experiments. Only the ‘Chosen One’ can save the world by undertaking a pilgrimage to awaken the Summon Spirits and the angel Martel.
Of course, the Chosen One is a teenage girl
Colette isn’t the main character of the story though. We play as the swordsman Lloyd, raised by a Dwarf after the mysterious death of his mother he is a happy-go-lucky and not-too-bright young man who will do everything in his power to protect his friend Colette and anybody else who is in danger.
Lloyd looks like a child, fights like a man
As is standard in the Tales series, there are twists and turns abound as you progress through Lloyd’s journey. Friends become enemies, enemies become friends and the fate of the entire world is at stake (more than one on this occasion). But it isn’t all serious business. The Tales series classic skits are here, and not only do they build on the story and provide interesting interactions between all of the main characters – they are often hilarious.
The story of Symphonia is what made it an absolute classic back in 2003. Despite some other games since then tackling similar themes, this is still one of the better narratives that you will find in a JRPG. In Japan, the story of Symphonia was such a hit that it spawned not only the game sequel, but also multiple manga and anime adaptations as well!
Tales Of Symphonia Remastered Review – Gameplay
The Symphonia story can easily survive untouched from 2003 to 2023 and carry the same weight and emotion that it ever did. Can the same be said for 20-year-old gameplay? Sort of.
Why do young hero wannabes always start with a wooden sword?
The Tales series had separated itself from the majority of its JRPG contemporaries by using a unique 2D action battle style that played like a cross between Final Fantasy’s ATB bar and Street Fighter 2. Symphonia was the first title in the series to make the move into a 3D battle plane, whilst maintaining the action-oriented style the series was known for. Back in 2003, this was absolutely amazing. However, the Tales series itself as far surpassed the original offering in 2003, and other titles like Star Ocean have also expanded on this style of RPG battle.
I’m not saying that the battle system is bad by any means. But it would have been nice to see the Tales team put some effort into revamping things a little bit. But this is only a ‘Remaster’ not a ‘Remake’. Everything is the same as it used to be, for better or worse. Lloyd can allocate skills to each of the directional buttons, and holding these when pressing special attack will unleash the skill as long as you have enough TP (that is Tech Points, not Toilet paper. Lockdowns are over).
TP can be refilled using items, or more commonly by simply landing basic physical attacks. This leads to a battle flow where you will pound on enemies with regular and special attacks until you run out of TP, following which you will move to just using regular attacks until you build TP back up again.
In your way, get we will.
Up to three other party members will accompany you into battle. They can all be set with rudimentary AI behaviours like ‘don’t cast spells when TP is below 50% or 25%’, or to target flying enemies first when they are in battle. Teammates will generally act in line with your directions, but for some reason your mage characters have a bad habit of getting up and close to physical enemies. The other thing that is important to remember about battles is there is a button to block (square). It is absolutely essential to block in this game, and block often. If you don’t, be prepared to see the game over screen regularly.
One of the other major gameplay elements of Symphonia are the various dungeon puzzles you will encounter along your journey. None of these are particularly taxing or difficult, but they do provide a nice break from the battles that can become a little monotonous at times when you are grinding for levels to beat the next boss.
Welcome to Nine’s Wide World of Puzzles.
I think that the gameplay of Symphonia holds up well enough. Sure, if you are coming to this straight after Tales of Berseria or Tales of Arise you will find it a little lacking in many areas (particularly battles). What is here is definitely functional and playable, but it’s certainly starting to show its age a little bit.
Tales Of Symphonia Remastered Review – Visuals
So, if the story holds up and the gameplay is still passable, that means the presentation must be fine as well right? Right?
Presentation was easily the biggest disappointment of the package for me. Mainly because it feels like the developers have done basically the bare minimum of work to get the game in a passable state for release.
What class even is this? Language? Maths?
Yes, the Character models have received a much-needed sprucing up. The crisp outlines are a massive improvement over the pixelated Gamecube-era graphics. The font used throughout the game is also much more crisp and easier to read. However, the backgrounds clearly didn’t receive the same amount of love. In fact, it looks like they barely received any love at all.
Parts of the game didn’t need to be touched – the fully animated anime-style cutscenes that pepper the game still look great. The various skits that also share an anime-like style remain adorable and retain their charm. However, some of the in-engine cutscenes look either downright awful or so bad they are actually hilarious. Take this boat trip for example and compare it to the skit that follows:
The overworld travelling is also a disaster, due to extremely poor camera controls and featureless enemy blobs that mindlessly roam the poorly textured ground.
Despite playing the PS4 version of the game on PS5, I did still encounter some frame slow-d0wn, particularly in battle when multiple enemies and particle effects were going off. This is from a baseline level of 30fps as well – there is no option to play this game at a higher frame rate (for some unknown reason). Fortunately, I can advise that I didn’t have any major crashes or soft-locks. However, on a few occasions I did have an issue where in a shop the cursor would automatically go to the bottom of the list and could not move ‘up’.
Seems like a happy old chap.
Tales Of Symphonia Remastered Review – Audio
Whilst the visuals range from ‘passable’ to ‘absolutely deplorable’ for a 2023 game release, the same cannot be said for the game’s audio. The game can be played with either English or Japanese audio, however it is STRONGLY recommended to play in Japanese, as for some reason the skits are only voiced in the Japanese version. Funnily enough, there are some parts of the standard gameplay where it appears there is English audio recorded, but not Japanese. Personally, I find the skits to be some of the best parts of the game, and it is a shame to miss out on these.
Another part of the game that is very strong is the stellar soundtrack. Lead composer Motoi Sakuraba’s work sounds as good now as it did in 2003. Well, in terms of musicality that is the case – the audio quality itself leaves something to be desired. Sakuraba has written for a number of the Tales games, in addition to other classic games such as Dark Souls, Eternal Sonata, Star Ocean 3, and the Super Smash Bros. series.
The intense and upbeat battle track of “Full Force” gets the blood flowing.
The overworld theme “The Land of Sylvarant” definitely carries a sense of adventure.
It was a pleasure to return to the world of Tales of Symphonia and experience the fantastic story once again. However, it was not a pleasure to look at this version of the game. Maybe we are spoiled in this era of 4k / 60fps games, but I honestly found it hard to push through this one, even knowing the excellent narrative that awaited. We have seen some absolutely phenomenal Remasters and Remakes over just the past 1-2 years (Resident Evil 4 Remake, Metroid Prime Remastered, Dead Space Remake, Diablo 2: Resurrected). When a developer puts their heart into a re-release, the results can be magical (I expect to see Metroid Prime and RE4 on many end-of-year lists).
Sheena’s character model certainly received some work
Tales of Symphonia didn’t receive love, it got a tussle of the hair and a pat on the back as it was pushed out the door. Bandai Namco are lucky that the game was so phenomenal on initial release that it does still stand up today. Just barely.
For anybody that hasn’t played Tales of Symphonia, particularly big fans of the series’ recent efforts, it is still very much worth a playthrough – with the caveat that it will seem a bit rough around the edges if you are coming off Tales of Arise or even one of the PS4 era titles. For anybody who played it in the past, and certainly for those who still own a copy or two like myself, you are better off looking back fondly on your memories or simply playing the versions you already own, as this ‘Remaster’ is not the best way to return to a classic of the past.
So, why should you play Tales of Symphonia Remastered?
- The ‘Tales’ series is one of the best RPG series ever made, and Symphonia is regarded as one of the series top titles
- A great (only occasionally cliched) story supported by some excellent voice acting and a banger soundtrack
But, why shouldn’t you play Tales of Symphonia Remastered?
- You have already played Tales of Symphonia, or own it already on another console
- Anime styled games or JRPGs in general frustrate and annoy you
- Visuals feel dated and despite the remaster are still rough around the edges
A review code on PlayStation 4 was kindly provided by Bandai Namco for the purpose of this review. Enjoyed our Tales of Symphonia Remastered review? You should definitely check out our review for Tales of Arise (aka the best game in the Tales series, aka Game of the Year 2021). You can also follow us on Facebook or join the gaming discussion on our Discord Server!