Tag Archives: ps3

Star Ocean 4 (Xbox 360/PS3)

Title: Star Ocean 4

Systems: XBox 360 / PS3

World War III left Earth a ruined wasteland, so mankind turned to space. Edge Mavrick is one of the specially trained expedition forces on the lookout for habitable planets and extraterrestrial life. What he finds is an adventure he never expected.

This is the first Star Ocean game I’ve put any significant time into. It’s supposed to be the second-worst, but I found it a fairly good game, albeit with a lot of things I wanted tweaked for quality-of-life improvements.

The story was okay (although most of the PAs you can trigger on ship journeys range from mildly interesting to extremely cringeworthy), though there was one big, big decision Edge makes in the middle that had me wondering how on earth anyone would be that stupid. And the rest of the crew doesn’t help, either—they not only unanimously agree it’s a bad idea, but they turn around and say they’ll still follow Edge’s every order. Even though he’s just gotten a lot of people in a lot of trouble.

And then, following that, Edge goes off the deep end in the other direction, equating showing off in the Coliseum with his big stupid decision. Even though no one copying his moves could possibly do a fraction of that damage.

Also I’m just shaking my head on the reasons why spacefaring civilizations are using swords and bows, even if I don’t care to fight everything with some form of gun.

From a gameplay perspective, everything I liked usually came with a “but I wish they’d done this.” The action fighting system is much lighter than a Tales game, which could be better or worse, depending on how much you like the often-intricate Tales systems. What I missed most was the ability to assign shortcuts to teammate attacks, so you can request healing or a certain attack without having to switch characters (because the AI almost never does what I want once I leave my chosen character). The targeting system is awful. Play a melee oriented character and s/he will consistently target an enemy that runs away—and rather than change targets to the enemies YOU ARE RUNNING PAST, will stick on that first enemy. This makes going for the lots of kill trophies really annoying if you’re trying to do them without setting everyone else to “Do Nothing”. Add to that it’s hard to cancel out of attacks, your spellcasters only fast-cast if you do it manually, stealing requires a knockdown attack . . .

Or take Item Creation/Synthesis. This can only be done on the Calnus. So if you pick up a new party member or finally gather/mine the ingredients you needed, you have to trek all the way back to wherever you parked your ship to use it. From a story standpoint this makes sense, but it’s one place in particular that I wish they’d ignored logic and just let you do it as long as the correct characters were in your party. Oh, and you can only carry 20 of any item, which includes materials only used in IC/Synthesis. And some recipes will call for up to 20 of one ingredient. (And using IC at all means dealing with Welch, who is supremely annoying and badly needs an option to turn off her voice.)

Also I am enough of a Synthesis nut that I went and bought the Xbox 360 version for any future playthroughs because I like being able to break the game when possible, and the rebalancing for the PS3 version cut out a lot of the more interesting synthesis possibilities.

The trek could have been less horrible if there was some way to fast travel. Nope, your advanced spacefaring explorers go everywhere on foot. The best you’ll get (eventually) is a bunny that’s not only marginally faster than your dashing (because it doesn’t hit the slowdown at the end of each dash). Also it takes a while to be able to summon the bunny where you need it, so until then have fun running to the two areas where they are found wild to pick one up for a trek across the giant maps. Which if you are coming from your ship is no help at all.

The Coliseum is fine . . . except the only good way to earn points for the prize shop is to use the bunny races. Because fighting below your level nets you 2 coins, so the only way to earn anything is to advance in the ranks, or try to advance two characters far enough for the reward to be worth it and then keep switching so they can fight each other and swap places over and over. But you’ll still earn more faster from bunny racing. Which isn’t really “racing” because you don’t drive the bunny, you just control whether it dashes or jumps. Also the PS3 version apparently interprets “50 consecutive solo wins” as “must be done in one sitting because reloading from save resets the counter.” Since you don’t get items or monster book data from Coliseum fights (why not? Seriously, this would make it at least a tad less annoying if I could farm for drops/percentage) this is just monotonous. (For the record, I only wanted 50% trophy completion to unlock level cap for postgame, so I could at least attempt Ethereal Queen. I don’t need to spend hundreds of hours for 100%.)

Finally, the postgame dungeon desperately needs a save point, or a fast travel checkpoint. Doing everything in one run would be fine if it didn’t take HOURS to get to the top due to the horrible way it gates the floors. And you have to redo those every single time. I like the challenge of creating ultimate equipment and trying it out against a superboss. I don’t like the assumption that I have no life and can throw away better than a half a day any time I want to attempt that challenge.

Overall, this was decently enjoyable, but the little aggravations were enough to prevent it from being a favorite. I beat the main game in about 100 hours (mostly because I’m OCD when it comes to things like filling out a monster encyclopedia to 100%, but I eventually gave up because beating 100 of the monsters that only spawn one to a mob got too tedious). Recommended if what’s detailed above doesn’t scare you off.

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Tales of Zestiria (PS3/PS4/Steam)

STORY: The world is in an era of chaos. Long ago, legends tell, in such times one known as the Shepherd would rise up to drive back the darkness. But the darkness closes in, and no Shepherd has yet appeared . . .

Sorey is a rare young man: raised in a village of seraphim, he’s never met another human. Seraphim are a race invisible to the eyes of most humanity, but humans like Sorey with a high enough resonance can see them. When a chance encounter with an injured knight draws him outside to the world, he takes up the mantle of the Shepherd and struggles to bring peace for humans and seraphim alike.

I greatly enjoyed the story, although it isn’t without its flaws. The humans-can’t-see-seraphim dilemma is played up more than once for laughs—or showing how other people outright fear Sorey for the incredible forces that protect him. I also liked the way Sorey’s new Shepherd powers initially grant him nothing but sickness as his body tries to adjust. Or how learning to use techniques such as armitization leaves him asking “How do I turn this off?”

I also liked the focus on one major villain throughout. Most recent Tales games have suffered from wandering plots but this one stays pretty focused. Sorey is told as soon as he gets his power that his duty will be to stand against the Lord of Calamity, but he’s encouraged to explore and grow stronger before that confrontation. And when repeated encounters leave him unable to best that individual, he diverts himself with gaining more strength and finding out more of the real story. And the Lord of Calamity seems more bent on destroying Sorey personally than with destroying the world (although he’s not opposed to that), which leads to some really nasty tricks.

Character-wise, I liked all of the characters. Sorey’s ruin mania (often exacerbated by a friendly competition with Mikleo) helps paint him as a mostly ordinary kid who got sidetracked into this whole heroing business. And it’s not unusual for him to geek out at some historical discovery (the skit with the bust you find in the museum is particularly funny, as it contrasts what the girls think of it with what the guys think). Mikleo, having a similar interest in ruins, is a good counterpoint since the two of them often butt heads about minutiae no one else cares about (and there’s a great skit where Rose is trying to contribute to their argument and failing miserably).

Unfortunately, the other characters suffer from not having a ton of depth. Edna’s teasing really grated on me at first when she was picking on Alisha, who wouldn’t fight back, but later on she had a lot of funny moments. (Not so much when she picks on Mikleo, since he won’t just sit there and take it like Alisha does.) But Edna’s main plot thread, introduced when you meet her, is cleared up via a sidequest that’s easy to skip, and it’s relatively little content for such a big personal issue for her. Similarly, Dezel had a lot of potential, but most of his story gets crammed into a set of cutscenes between back-to-back fights, and it took me reading some outside materials to really get a good picture of what actually happened with him. Zaveid could have fleshed out both himself and Edna if his relationship with Edna’s brother had gotten more than a passing mention. Alisha actually had a plot, but it’s barebones, rushed, and a lot of it happens offscreen (oddly, despite at one point being held for questioning, she never remarks on this incident, making me wonder if she actually had been detained or if that was just a lie told to Sorey). And so on.

The most puzzling offender is Rose. I liked her (well, until the Alisha DLC, which paints Rose in a really bad way in the beginning), but I don’t find her to be internally consistent. She’s mostly the feelings-not-thoughts character. But she’s involved in professions that favor thoughts over feelings, such as her job as a merchant, and she’s supposed to be a really good merchant. Frankly I thought Eguille should’ve been the head of the Sparrowfeathers. He seemed more suited to the role. On the other hand, she seems to be a vigilante, but you don’t see a lot of the passionate drive that would give such a role a context. Why is she set on taking out bad guys? That’s not explained.

Still, even with that, I had a lot of fun with the plot. The end is mostly satisfying, though a few points are frustratingly vague (I prefer to think the figure in shadow at the end is human, not seraph, but it’s basically up to you).

GAMEPLAY: This is the first attempt at an “open-world” Tales. The world map is now fully explorable at a detailed level. After Xillia’s ugly corridor layout and profusion of brown and gray, I really appreciate all the bright colors and beautiful visuals. I got the PS4 version entirely because of the cleaned up graphics. The plot isn’t too long, but I spent a lot of time just poking around maps looking at things or looking for surprises.

The battle system is a more or less seamless transition on the world map. You’re still bounded by a circular area you can’t leave without escaping the battle, but the field objects around you when you fight are now part of the fight. This is good and bad. The battle camera is generally okay for single player, but even there it tends to get stuck on rocks or behind enemies. I was disappointed in the after-battle victory quotes, as only one or two of them was genuinely funny and most of them were more boring stock quotes. Earlier games in the series had a great selection of victory quotes.

Also, the AI will die. A lot. On the flip side, the seraphim’s ability to auto-revive in the back row, or auto-revive humans on armitization, meant that I made it through the entire game without using a single life bottle.

Artes have been broken into a rock-paper-scissors system, which I personally disliked due to how insane this made enemy spellcasters (Yes, I party-wiped multiple times against the Wraiths. Nothing like ten of the buggers constantly casting tiny spells that keep you pinned in place until dead). It can be hard to distinguish if the enemy is using martial or hidden artes against you, and since they generally know how to screw up whatever you’re doing, this can get problematic.

More positively, most of the characters have enough uniqueness that they’re fun to control. Lailah takes some getting used to for her slow attacks, but her AOE spells cheese giant mobs if used correctly. Mikleo, though, I don’t really like until armitized, as his spells are outclassed by everyone else and his melee is only average. Zaveid actually has a funny quirk where if the enemy is half-human-female, he’ll change from attack cries to start catcalling them.

I also liked the new enemy designs and enemy types. Especially elephants. Because beating up woolly mammoths is awesome.

The skills/fusion system is far too dependent on randomness, even though there are a few methods provided to make it somewhat less random. Getting a good skill build is going to take a bit of luck or a lot of patience. On the other hand, I completed a Normal/Moderate playthrough without needing to focus too heavily on skills (the Medusa fights are one notable exception, because if you can’t get the stack-6 bonus skill to prevent petrification, you’re going to have a bad time. On the other hand, you get Dezel, who automatically has this skill on all his titles, for the required one, and the other three are optional fights). Getting the skills in the first place is hard, but once you have them it’s not too bad to keep upgrading your weapon through strategic fusion.

But, if you have the time and the inclination, it’s perfectly possible to set up a character with, say, 80% casting time reduction plus absurd boosts to elemental damage plus the ability to ignore enemy resistance to that element. Or set them up to ignore 300 damage from every hit, plus the first 8000 damage total in a fight, plus 10 seconds invincibility at the start of a fight. And if you use the NG+ option to apply double/triple skills 2/3x to the skill board, that only gets more overpowered. The options are wide open and “best” build depends more on how you like to play.

OVERALL: The complaints about the game are valid, but I still found it a great time and really enjoyed playing my way through it. The story is my favorite Tales so far, though I would still say Tales of Graces has better mechanics. I spent 80 hours on the main game and am working my way through the postgame dungeon and Alisha’s DLC (which was originally free but now costs money, unless you get the Collector’s Edition which has it included). A pure plot run would be a lot shorter, but I spent a good amount of time in the optional dungeons, exploring the field, and so on. I spent almost no time grinding, as the only time I needed to get extra skills for a boss fight the normin drops were sufficient to get what I needed relatively quickly.
I would add that the Alisha DLC chapter may turn a mostly satisfying ending into a somewhat frustrating one based on what I’ve seen so far. You do get the option to play as Alisha with a better moveset and the opportunity to use her Mystic Artes, but she can’t armitize, which leaves her outside the most useful mechanics (especially revive-on-armitize), which especially hurts during bosses. That said, it has its own content that can be carried back to the main game if you play from a clear save file.

I played the first game in English but plan to do another run in Japanese. The English voices are generally solid, but the dual audio ensures that those who prefer the original language can enjoy it. In addition, the music is excellent. The Collector’s Edition sadly only includes twelve tracks, but they include Rising Up and Journey’s End, two of the best in the game (none of the elemental temple themes, though). So if you like the music, importing the OST is a better option than buying the Collector’s Edition.

I will add the Prima guide is mostly useless, though the maps can help. But the text spoils cutscenes rather than give actual strategy, the data section is missing a ton of information, sidequests are all bunched together in the back and not indicated in the main walkthrough (and those aren’t even 100% complete either), and so on. So buy at your own risk, and in the meantime the free online guides are starting to catch up.
All in all, this is one I certainly plan to replay. I rate this game Highly Recommended.

Tales of Graces f (PS3)

Winter is my gaming time… Been finishing up a lot of ongoing games recently.

Story: Asbel Lhant isn’t exactly a model child, despite being the firstborn and his father’s clear choice to one day inherit the land of Lhant. When he sneaks out to Lhant Hill and finds a strange girl who can’t remember anything, he determines to take responsibility for her, despite his father’s warnings that this will involve more than he expects. But circumstances don’t work out how he hoped . . .

Fast-forward seven years, and Asbel is now training to become a knight. He hopes that this time, he’ll have the strength to protect those he cares about. But as the world begins a long slide into chaos around him, he will be forced to decide what is most important to him and how far he is willing to go for it.

It’s kind of hard to write a good plot summary of this, since so much of the heartbreak and drama hinges on events that, although they may show up fairly early, come as a real surprise to Asbel and force him to completely reevaluate his direction. That was one of the things I appreciated most about the story. Maybe because I’m old enough to have been there a few times, I can really identify with Asbel struggling to achieve a dream for his life only to have it snatched out from under him—multiple times. He learns the hard way that good intentions aren’t enough, that working hard isn’t a guarantee of success, that he can’t control other people or stop them from making the wrong decisions. And yet despite that Asbel maintains a positive attitude and forges one of the most interesting endings (regular game; f-arc is also good but not nearly the same level). His solution to Lambda is a huge personal gamble that opens the door for a change no one thought possible.

That said, I’m not blind to the weak spots. The beginning of the f-arc is particularly painful plot-wise with a lot of wince-worthy moments. Asbel’s decision at the end of the main arc is largely supported by plot details that are crammed as flashbacks in the last dungeon. Certain plot twists with Richard are hardly twists at all given that everyone but Asbel can see it coming.

Character-wise, both Pascal and Hubert took a while to grow on me. Pascal got better once she stopped being so obsessively grabby, and Hubert was just frustrating until he started to let his grudge relax (perpetually angry characters don’t do a lot for me).

On the other hand, I don’t think Malik had a single bad moment. The title he gets in a sidequest for “Best Supporting Actor” certainly fits. He’s an odd mix of serious maturity and simple fun (“I got a win stick!” . . . still one of my favorite skits). And then there are gems like when Hubert allows his inner geek out, or Pascal starts building mecha-Asbel, or Richard goes all “Mask of Barona”. Some of the after-battle skits are great fun too.

Gameplay: Graces did something a bit different than the typical Tales. You have two sets of attacks, physical (A-Artes) and magical (B-Artes), and they both use a bucket of action points called CC, with more powerful moves taking more CC. A-Artes force you to chain from a basic 1-CC attack up to the most powerful 4-CC attack (so you’ll need 10 CC total to perform a full chain), but B-Artes can be cast individually (although there are bonuses applied in many cases for tacking them on the end of an A-Arte chain).

What this does practically is eliminate the need to save big spells or high-cost moves for special times, as CC recovers very quickly. And even though the regular attack in different directions has always behaved a bit differently, I never had as much reason to use them as I do here, because not only are the attacks all different, but you can hit different weaknesses with merely physical attacks. Despite Asbel having a huge B-Arte attack stat, I played him as more of an A-Arte user because it was more flexible with move variations on the fly and more interesting for me.

Another really nice feature is the Eleth mixer, which can generate items, provide field effects like increased drop rates or enemy avoidance, and cook during battle (specific conditions apply to each meal to get it to trigger). This feeds into the synthesis system, which for items is straightforward and useful (weapons stats, unfortunately, is a completely opposite experience).

The title system has also been revamped. Titles are acquired through the main story, sidequests, and meeting specific criteria. Each title can be leveled up 5 times and will give certain bonuses upon each level increase and mastery. Mastering titles actually isn’t that difficult, particularly if you don’t mind upping the difficulty as higher difficulty levels give greater bonuses. Getting some of the titles, though, is another story (completionists beware…. some of the “Hit a weakness” titles require THOUSANDS of hits. Have fun getting that for members you generally benched throughout the game). If you’re not a completionist, then it’s pretty easy to get and master a good number of titles.

Overall: Based on sheer number of hours, this is my top Tales game at 146 hours and counting on my first playthrough (still working on the optional postgame dungeon and some completionist things so it will be more than that… wouldn’t be surprised if I top 200 hours once I get everything). I had the game mostly beaten well before that, but hunting down extra titles, working for the soul orbs that drop when you kill enough of a particular type of enemy, dualizing everything to fill my collector’s books, and generally messing around with the subsystems ate up a lot of extra hours. Still, I think that’s a good indicator that the game has a lot to offer, and if you’d rather get some of those things on a second playthrough it would cut down the time significantly.

There’s a lot to like about Tales of Graces f. The story and gameplay are both strong. The last boss of the f arc has one of my favorite enemy designs. Despite a few rough patches, by and large the game works very well. I rate this game Highly Recommended.

Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World (Wii/PS3)

Story: Two years have passed since the Chosen and her companions went on a journey that merged two worlds into one (Tales of Symphonia). But the new world is struggling in more ways than one. Strange weather disrupts cities. Monsters are growing aggressive. And the technologically-superior Tethe’allens are lording it over the Silveranti badly enough that a resistance group called the Vanguard has formed to revolt against Tethe’alla.

Worst of all, Lloyd, who was a key player in restoring the world, is now attacking cities.

Emil is a survivor of the Palmacosta Blood Purge. After seeing Lloyd murder his parents, he’s sworn to get revenge. But for now, he lives with his aunt and uncle in Luin, dreaming of things he’s too afraid to go after. Then Marta shows up—a girl who seems to know him from Palmacosta, a girl with a strange animal companion who calls himself a Centurion, a girl trying to wake up Ratatosk to save the world. Marta has the shards of Ratatosk’s core embedded in her forehead, and that’s made her a fugitive, as various groups who are after Ratatosk’s power for their own ends would need to kill her to get it. So Emil, who has no idea how to fight, agrees to become a Knight of Ratatosk and help her on her journey . . .

Despite the awkward start (flashbacks! Stop with the flashbacks, already!), I really liked this story. I think part of that is because these sequel games (Xillia 2 being the other) tend to introduce a limited number of new characters and then focus most of the story on them, with the old cast playing more of a glorified support role. Emil and Marta both have interesting character arcs, although I prefer Emil. Marta is a romantic who fell in love with Emil when he saved her in Palmacosta, and much of her side is learning that the real Emil is different from her imaginations, and how to appreciate who he really is and not who she wants him to be. Emil has two character arcs. The main one is, as one might expect from the first 15 minutes, him learning to stand up for himself and find the strength to follow his own convictions. But once he agrees to use Ratatosk’s power, his personality fragments into the “nice Emil” everyone likes and the “Ratatosk mode” that gives him the ability to fight. His second arc involves figuring out who he really is and who he wants to be.

And I can’t forget Tenebrae, the Centurion of Darkness who accompanies Marta and provides a lot of the humor. He’s dignified and capable of telling the most outrageous lies to make himself the center of attention. And his cultural references are about 4000 years out of date.

IMPORTANT: The good ending has a few non-obvious tricks, the most critical of which is the last set of boss battles. Lose the second one (the one you fight solo) to get the better ending. Or just redo the first fight once you’ve seen the bad ending if you saved before the final boss.

Gameplay: Dawn of the New World introduces something unique to the Tales series: monster catching! Although a great deal of the game’s story involves monsters, this is actually a rather optional part of the gameplay. You are given two creatures by default in the beginning as part of a tutorial, and if you wanted, you could simply use those two to fill party slots for the rest of the game. Or (especially if like me you enjoy the Pokemon-like aspect) you can try to “catch them all”. Realistically it’s way too much effort to evolve everything up its tree, so consult a guide or look at some Youtube videos of the monster book to figure out which ones you like best and work towards that. GameFAQs has some excellent guides. By endgame I had to do a bit of scrambling because I decided to replace one of the physical-attacker monsters on my team for a mage and getting the new one up to speed was a bit painful. For the record, my final team of four was Were Hedden (physical attacker), Moon Rocks (stealing/rare item drops), Vroom (mage-physical attacker hybrid), and Ravenous (mage).

Now, the non-monster teammates you’ll acquire come with one rather painful limitation. All the Symphonia characters are level-capped. By end-game they’re only going to be level 50. That said, human characters still have a number of advantages that makes the level cap less murderous than it might otherwise be. Aside from the ability to control them directly, their AI handled a lot better than the monsters, who frequently would sit for several seconds between each attack combo, and would often fumble to hit smaller or faster enemies. Monsters will indirectly penalize you because if all human characters are dead it’s game over, even if the monsters are still alive. And once the Symphonia characters hit level 30+ you have the option of a mystic arte, which is going to do massive damage.

The Symphonia characters play more or less how you remember them from Symphonia (with somewhat fewer skills). I played most of the game as Emil, with a short stint as Marta to get through Coliseum for her title. Aside from a huge variety of artes (especially once he starts picking up elemental attributes for them), Emil is the first character I’ve played where doing arial combat was not only possible but completely natural. Equip him with the Echo Tracer (a synthesized sword with Accelerate ability) and later Nether Traitor (best sword, also has Accelerate) to speed up his reaction time to the point where he can pretty much solo anything. In fact, in order to actually lose a battle near the end (required to get the good ending) I had to equip Emil with non-regen equipment because he would otherwise recover the damage faster than they were dealing it.

And Marta with two Mystic Symbols plus one piece of equipment that also has Speed Cast 2 is completely untouchable. She can basically instant-cast high level magic like Prism Sword and Divine Saber. Actually, I had far less trouble in the Coliseum with her than Emil because nothing could even get close enough to touch her.

The only real downside to playing with both Emil and Marta is that the after-battle quips get old after about chapter one. In order to have something different and interesting, the other human characters do need to be in the party (and strike the final blow).

The Katz quests also get old fast, however, if you don’t care about catching monsters or getting the chest contents, they’re entirely skippable. The fastest way to get the Treasure Hunter’s Trophy would be to fail the dungeon quests (go ahead and fight the single-fight quests since that would take about as much time as losing them) until the Treasure Hunter quests show up. So the Twilight Palace (which contains the best equipment) is possible without sinking a ton of time into the ordinary quests.
Overall: I really enjoyed my time through this. The game is short enough that it never hit long stretches full of non-plotted quests (like the boring trek of getting the last summon spirits in Symphonia, which was puzzle dungeon after puzzle dungeon with hardly any plot). It hits up several tropes I adore, like Emil’s split personality and the various complications (Ratatosk-Emil can’t understand why everyone prefers the wimpy him). And not having been a huge fan of Lloyd, seeing him cast as a villain was decidedly funny (even though it’s pretty obvious Something Is Wrong With This Picture). I beat the game in roughly 60 hours, and that was with quite a lot of time spent tracking down some of the rarer monsters (alas, I still do not have them all, but I have most of the ones I like). A better estimate would be 35-40 hours max if you aren’t too much into the monster collecting aspect.

One thing that really makes this game stand out to me is the use of motion capture. Although the graphics themselves are fairly bad, and there aren’t a lot of animated cutscenes to help with that, the way the in-game models move is a real treat. I couldn’t get over how natural the motions look in many of the key scenes, because even with much newer games I’m usually noticing little pauses or a stiffness to the motion that betrays the scripting.

Obviously, your mileage is going to vary tremendously based on what you thought of the original Symphonia (if you played it, which isn’t required but would make more sense of some of the backstory) and what you think of the monster system. But I still think this is a good time if you can get through the first hour or two of rough plot.

I played the PS3 version, but there isn’t too much difference between the PS3 and Wii versions. A few chests switched items, and the PS3 version took out the beginning bonus if you had a  Symphonia save game, but by and large there’s no significant version difference. At this point, given that the PS3 version includes both games (as well as upgrading Symphonia with additional moves and costumes), that’s probably the better option. I rate this game Recommended.

Tales of Symphonia (PS3/GCN)

In the land of Sylvarant, the Chosen is sent out on a journey of regeneration every time the world’s mana fails. Collette, the current Chosen, is all set to recieve the revelation that will begin her journey. Her childhood friend, Lloyd, desperately wants to go with, both for the adventure and to be with her. Then disaster strikes, and Lloyd has nowhere else to go but with the Chosen and her group. The adventure slowly unfolds into a story far larger than anything Lloyd could have imagined…

I’m a bit late to the party on this, admittedly. Tales of Symphonia was released a long time ago, and although I have the GCN version, the PS3 version is the one I just finished. (I have a tendancy to get stuck in long puzzle dungeons, put the game down, and forget about it long enough that it’s hard to pick back up again). Since that is the case, I’m going to be discussing some outright spoilers below, so feel free to skip the rest of the plot notes if that’s a concern.

PLOT: The story does a good job of hiding where it’s heading, so that if you haven’t been reading anything online about this game, many of the twists will likely be a surprise. I do like how Lloyd’s attempts to save the world have a tendancy to be rather destructive, and how people are rightfully mad at him for blowing up their homes or killing their relatives, and yet he doesn’t stop trying to do what he knows is right. Even when it becomes clear he hasn’t got the full story.

That said, the story is also rather simplistic in ways. There’s a good reason Kratos is one of the most popular characters in the game—I think he’s got the best character arc of all of them. Unlike Lloyd, who tends to be purely focused on whatever the goal is, Kratos has many conflicting loyalties, and although he tries to do what he can to satisfy all of them, he ends up looking really bad. But he doesn’t justify his decisions, merely lets them work themselves out.

GAMEPLAY: The battle system is the action-fighting style that makes Tales games so much fun. All of the characters are solid on the field, so who you pick is generally going to come down to personal preference (with the exception of a few bosses that will require certain characters, mostly Sheena). Raine is the only real healer, though, so she does tend to take priority in most party formations.

The dungeons are very puzzle-heavy, which can be a bit of a chore in the middle of the game when you have to hunt down multiple summon spirits one after the other. That being said, once solved the puzzles also tend not to reset, so any subsequent visits do go faster.

There’s plenty of skits and extra content available. I did most of the sidequests, although I skipped much of the Colesium simply because I was too low-leveled to make a good run of the advanced modes and did not feel like grinding (though as an aside, any Tales game does make grinding less a chore simply by turning up the difficulty, at which point even regular enemies can become as difficult as minor bosses, and they will drop additional EXP to boot).

One fairly major aggrevation for completionists is the sheer amount of replays the game will require to get everything. There is a certain scene in Flanoir, particularly, that has unique story content (plus in most cases some only-in-this-version title or items) for every single playable character. That’s nine scenes. Some of the titles will combine, so I think the actual number of playthroughs required to get a full 100% on titles and the Collector’s Book (required for a title for Genis) is 5. I was able to save right before Flanior and watch both Kratos and Collette, and I do think Kratos has the best scene of the nine, but picking him does cause some major changes in the plot later on.

OVERALL: I did enjoy this, and beat the game in about 75 hours having done most of the content (again, excluding Colesium as well as certain character weapons that required Level 80 to obtain, and skipping the optional dungeon). The ability to carry forward bonuses for new games using the Grade earned in battles from a completed game means any subsequent playthrough would be faster, but I doubt I will be playing through again anytime soon. One big difference from some of the later Tales games is that the clear files created after you beat the game do not allow you to keep playing on that same file, but rather start a New Game+, so do anything extra you want before the final boss.

Fans of the series have likely already played this, but to those who are thinking about diving in, the PS3 collection offers a great opportunity to get both this game and its sequel for a reasonable price. There is plenty of footage on Youtube if you need a visual of how the game looks and plays. The PS3 version does include a few things that will make life easier, such as additional compound Unison attacks, but they’re more tweaks than anything and either version would play largely the same. I rate this game Recommended.

Tales of Xillia 2 (PS3)

One year after the events in Tales of Xillia, the worlds of Rieze Maxia and Elympios are still moving slowly towards reconciliation. Ludger is a young man from Elympios who gets caught up in a trainjacking and a young girl named Elle who is trying to get to the mythical land of Canaan, and from there stumbles into a much larger plot involving alternate dimensions and the fate of both worlds.

It’s hard to say too much without spoiling something or other about the plot. I personally loved the story (despite some interesting plot holes), and a sequel is the perfect chance to explore alternate dimensions. Many of the alternate dimensions will make more sense for players who have gone through the first game, but the game does provide an in-game reference dictionary for terms and events. The overall plot is much more tightly focused on Ludger and Elle than the returning cast, whom I thought actually made better supporting characters than main characters. Ludger’s issues feel more personal. After failing to land the job he wanted (and failing to stay employed at the second one) he’s saddled with a massive debt, he’s trying to look after an eight-year-old girl who doesn’t know where her family is, his brother is involved in suspicious activity and may or may not be evil, and he’s trying to eliminate various fractured dimensions that keep springing up. It was a lot easier to root for him than the original Xillia cast in the first game, as he can’t help but be personally involved in everything that’s going on.

For the other characters, it’s an interesting look at how happily ever after actually worked out. The tone overall is a lot darker than the first game, and this is reflected in the various situations: Jude’s spyrite research isn’t going as well as he hoped even though he’s sunk every last penny into it, and Alvin’s business ventures are struggling to take off in the hotly competitive Elympion environment. Some did improve: Elize is now enrolled in a school and more outgoing, and Leia is enthusiastically pursing her job as a reporter. Some are more or less what you would expect from the first game: Rowen and Gaius are navigating the diplomatic process with Elympios and Milla is still off in spirit-land. Muzet actually stabilized enough to mostly serve as comedic relief, which was a shame since I think she might have been funnier with a little of the old drive. It is extremely funny to see how everyone from Rieze Maxia has adjusted to Elympios technology. Everyone now has cell phones, which means fun with ringtones, texting, and in Gaius’s case, power.

My biggest regret is that the story never fleshes out quite enough of Ludger, Julius, and Bisley. There is supplemental material which fills in the gaps, but some of that is information that the plot could have used: the reason Ludger and Julius live alone together, Julius’s backstory, more about Bisley’s character and motivations (he’s certainly a complex enough character in the supplemental materials, but he never gets much of a chance to show that in-game). Elle, thankfully, gets plenty of time, and is one of the best child characters I have seen in a game. She’s endearing and annoying, immovably stubborn but also powerless to do what she needs alone. The game never forgets she’s only eight.

Ludger’s story, being the main one, is the only required one to follow. Everyone else has optional character episodes that can be completed at various points along the main storyline, and completing them will usually grant a bonus scene somewhere else down the line. I liked that format, though I think the stories themselves were a mixed bag. Gaius, Muzet, and Alvin had boring stories—Alvin is actually a lot better in Leia’s character episodes, as his sense of humor slips right by her most of the time (and his two conversations with her are my favorite skits in the game). Alvin’s story is also a bit nonsensical at first. If he’s turning to honest business practices, why is the first thing you do for him a scam?

Ludger is a silent protagonist, for the most part. Player choices determine most of his spoken lines. The odd thing is, his voice is available to say those choices on a second playthrough, so it’s a little curious why the option isn’t available from the start.

The battle system evolves from Xillia’s in natural ways, particularly with the linking concept. Ludger has affinity ratings with each of his teammates, and building affinity will grant additional skills, special items, and eventually a dual Mystic Arte for each character. Affinity can be built through conversation choices, doing character episodes, staying linked in battle, and performing linked artes with that person. I was also extremely happy to see linking got its own strategy option, so characters can be commanded to act with you or act independently, which is the only sane way to link a mage and a melee character. Ludger additionally introduces a weapon-swapping ability which allows him to switch between fast and agile swords, a slower and more sweeping sledgehammer, and ranged dual pistols (which ironically lower agility to the point where it’s very hard to free run away). The weapon swapping was a bit much to get used to at first since Ludger has so many different artes for each one it took longer than usual to get used to his moveset, but his versatility is a very good thing since you’re required to use him throughout the main story. Xillia 2 also provides an insane amount of Mystic Artes, as Ludger can gain a dual mystic arte with every single playable character once his affinity is high enough. So Ludger alone has 2 Chromatus Mystic Artes, his normal Mystic Arte, and eight dual Mystic Artes. Jude and Milla also retain their Tiger Blade Sigma dual Mystic Arte, and Jude can get a special Mystic Arte with Maxwell if you complete all their character episodes and the subsequent bonus episode.

The difficulty does seem unbalanced. The enemies in the normal world hardly take any effort at all on Normal (such that I was switching it up to Hard to stay interested), but the fractured dimensions will adjust to your level, which means the foes are more what they should be.

On the less-positive side, the hot-swapping characters in battle from Xillia was removed, although I can sort of see why, as you not only have more characters than buttons, you also have certain characters locked in place. I was more frustrated by the fact that you can’t swap characters in your party unless you’re in a town, as this makes changing people out before you get the ability to teleport back to towns a royal pain. Food was nerfed (both in how many battles it lasts, and effectiveness—no more EXP+100%, and any EXP-increasing food isn’t available until postgame), which is even more aggravating because the restrictions from the previous game are still in effect, where you can only own one of any type of food item. And at least for the main storyline, when you’re under debt payments, it’s too expensive to be practical, though this is somewhat offset by the fact that you can pick up food on the field fairly frequently if you go after the bags.

Other changes were more neutral. I liked the Allium Orb system better than the Lillium Orbs from the first game because it was a lot easier to get skills and abilities. By mid-60s level I had everything learned except level-based skills higher than that (whereas getting to level 100 on first playthrough of Xillia was so tedious I quit in the 80s, so I never did get all the skills). The Coliseum no longer has a solo mode; it was replaced by a tag-team mode in which two characters go through at a time (party mode is still available as well). The job board mechanic pays enough that the debt isn’t as big an issue as it could have been, particularly if you save a few elite monsters for every debt repayment; jobs themselves could stand to refresh a little more often, though, as after a while the only jobs I wanted to do were the item-fulfillment ones my cats could run for me, and the monster-hunting ones tended not to go away unless I actually did a few of them (not sure how much this changes in postgame as I mostly ignored the job board once I got the Master Medal and paid off the debt). Custom items can be a nice way to get certain items cheaper by using materials to build them, but by postgame I was just wishing they would let me buy the status-preventing accessories rather than craft them, particularly because so many other custom recipes involved using one or more of them. Also, postgame gets ridiculous in crafting requirements, which means a long grind to get the best armor and weapons (because you have to have craftable components as well as the postgame dungeon material drops).

Ludger brings his cat everywhere. This amuses me. A running gag with the Kitty Dispatch sidequest is how Rollo is king of cats. Rollo also participates in many of the skits, and I love how expressive his voice actor can get while still sounding exactly like a cat. Kitty Dispatch also lets you send out any cats you have currently collected to fetch items for you from areas where you have already found cats. It’s a nice way to fill item-request jobs without doing actual work, as long as you keep a stockpile of the various rare items.

Costumes are back! Unlike the first game’s measly selection of free costumes, here there is a fair assortment, ranging from the Xillia 1 costumes and color variations to Gaius’s final boss costume (yes!) to “no jacket” versions of the new costumes and a few extras. Additionally, the attachments from Xillia are back, with a few new additions. There is still plenty of DLC costumes for those who want to go that route, but for those who can’t, at least there is now a decent selection.

I have seen many reviews complaining about the lack of new areas and the amount of backtracking that takes place. To which I say, most of the backtracking is optional. If you want to revisit all the areas from the previous game (to collect cats, if not the treasure) then feel free. If not, you can happily avoid many of the dungeons. The recycled boss fights are okay; those can be a fun challenge.

I would recommend a guide, since there are a number of things that will be easier with some help, like figuring out which dialogue options give affinity. The last dungeon particularly can be a headache without a map, as there are disappearing floor tiles that will change every time you enter the dungeon, meaning the path through will be different. I have the Prima guide and it is useful, though I wish the monster listings offered drop/steal information (weakness information is present). This may be available online as I did not peruse the site too closely.

Overall this was a very fun game, and one of the few I’ve managed to nearly platinum as of this writing. It is definitely better coming after the somewhat bland Xillia, but contains enough context to be playable alone if the first game put you off or isn’t available. I rate this game Recommended.

Tales of Xillia (PS3)

Tales of Xillia (PS3)

Jude is a medical student who stumbles into a mess bigger than he ever imagined when he encounters Milla one evening after classes. Milla Maxwell, Lord of Spirits, has come to Fenmont on a mission of utmost importance. Jude’s decision to accompany her will have far-reaching consequences, as what they discover sets them on a journey to destroy a weapon that could ruin their world.

Tales of Xillia allows you the choice to play as either Jude or Milla, and this choice will affect the beginning cutscenes, a few places throughout the game, and a brief clip at the end. There are some explanations and events for both sides that the other side will miss, so to get the full story it would be recommended to play both sides, although by and large the majority of the content will be the same (new game bonuses would allow the second playthrough to be considerably faster, however). I chose Jude for my initial playthrough.

Jude and Milla both hold fairly strong roles in the plot. While Jude’s character arc is more of an ignorant kid dragged into a world-changing crisis, Milla is someone who knows almost everything from the beginning, and her powerful personality provides most of the drive. True to the Tales games in general, the plot takes a more or less predictable course for the beginning portion of the game and then everything gets turned on its head. It’s hard to say too much about the plot without major spoilers, but it is fast-paced for the most part and very character-driven.

I found the story mostly engaging, but bogged down by a few persistent frustrations. Alvin, mostly. Perhaps this is less aggravating on Milla’s side, but after the third betrayal no one should’ve kept giving him more opportunities to sell them out. This is capped off by a weak ending which is presumably part of the reason a sequel even exists. But there are a few strong scenes as well that stand out to me, most notably one midway through where Milla’s refusal to give up her mission confronts the ugly reality that continuing is going to be next to impossible (after Fort Gandala).

The fighting engine is where Tales games shine, and Xillia introduces the concept of linked combat. Special bonuses, both active and passive, are available to linked partners (eg, new moves and a “partner skill” for things like stealing or guard breaking); and given that linking is basically how to hit overdrive and perform the biggest attacks in your arsenal, it’s key in using the combat system to its fullest potential. Unfortunately, the linking AI is not really that smart. If a melee character links to a mage, rather than the mage sit in the back blasting enemies as usual, the mage will run up behind the enemy in an attempt to pincer it with you. This is wonderful for two melee characters but usually death for mages. If you have two mages linked they’ll stay in the back where they belong and harass the enemy from a distance. Which is a shame, because someone like Alvin with his terrible magic defense could use Rowen’s Auto Magic Guard. And Milla, who’s got a rather large collection of expensive spells, would benefit from Elize’s ability to restore TP. Despite these shortcomings, it does add a good layer to combat.

There is also the ability to hot-swap characters into battle, which is a good step forward. If a certain boss turns out to need the skills of a character not in the party, or if someone in the party is simply not well suited for the fight, you can swap in characters from reserve. You can also hot-swap which character is player-controlled.

The difficulty felt about right, though I was prone to wandering off into advanced areas simply for the challenge of defeating monsters 40 levels higher than I was, which left me somewhat overleveled for the actual story bosses. Fighting the Devil Beasts (optional bosses) as early as possible were the most challenging fights of the game due to low stats and less than ideal equipment (nothing like fighting a beast that inflicts Confuse before you have equipment to prevent it….).

The leveling now uses a system which gives you some control over how you want to spend some points towards various stats. Unfortunately, since you have to unlock “key” areas in order to expand the grid, it really doesn’t offer as much flexibility as it first appears. It is nice to prioritize favorite artes or skills but since the key areas are usually on opposite ends of the grid you’ll end up spending points on less useful skills just to get to the next level.
The shops also level, using materials. This is more flexible than the character leveling in that you can choose which shops to develop and which to skip (my Food shop always took lowest priority, whereas Weapons were first). You get bonuses for turning in certain materials to certain shops, and these bonuses change periodically, so although it’s most efficient to wait for a bonus to turn in that type, you aren’t restricted to only giving items with bonuses.

Environments started out beautiful and unique, but quickly devolved into “another large area surrounded by high cliffs.” It would have been nice if the areas had a bit more variety, such as blocking you off with a river or thick forest instead of always being cliffs. That said, the general lack of puzzles (particularly moving-block environment mazes) can be seen as a refreshing thing, as it’s possible to navigate any environment without needing more than the provided maps. The music was generally nice although I don’t recall any specific pieces. If you have certain pieces of DLC, you can also get additional battle themes.

The environments also greatly expanded the search/sparkle points of earlier Tales games to the point where it feels a little crazy. Environments are liberally littered with bags and shiny spots, which are respawnable points for an extra bit of gald or materials. It makes farming for some materials remarkably easy, as you don’t need to fight the enemies in a given location to get most of what they’re going to drop. It also means that a lot of what you will pick up is piddly gald amounts and less useful junk, but the rare finds can make it worthwhile.

Titles have changed from previous Tales games. Now you have to actually do certain things to earn them, which means if you aren’t very good at certain aspects it’s hard to get them (Jude in particular was hard to trigger not just his ability but also his partner skill, since that required you to get knocked over while he wasn’t knocked over, because if you both go down he won’t help).

Food has also changed. Instead of cooking, you buy meals and consume them from the menu, which will then apply effects to your upcoming battles, such as restoring HP at the end or increasing defense throughout. The big irritation here is that you are limited to buying one of any given type of food item. This makes it hard to stockpile when running through dungeons, and more desirable effects (EXP/Gald increases, at least by the end of the game) are prone to either needing restocks way too frequently or else using less-than-ideal combinations just because you’re allowed to stock both the 30% EXP increase and the 100% EXP increase but not multiple 100%, and the effect wears off after 5 battles or less.
Another change from previous Tales games is the general lack of costumes. The costume system is largely replaced by an “attachment” system, where you can pick up various articles of clothing, like glasses or wings, and equip them to any character to change his looks. Most actual costume changes are DLC, although you do get one for Jude or Milla for beating the game on their respective stories. I liked attachments, but most of them are rather silly, and I personally prefer the full costumes.
Other random thoughts: Coliseum is harder than it needs to be because you can fall off the edge of the round ring which is an auto-loss. With characters like Jude, who may pop around the back of an enemy, or Leia, who has a lot of lunging artes, this is even more annoying. But single-player Coliseum is also the sole reason I have to play as most of these characters, so it’s always a challenge to figure out how to win using someone I haven’t directly controlled all game.
Overall, I did enjoy the game, though it will be a while before I go back to play Milla’s side. It isn’t my favorite Tales game, but the battle system was fun. Each of the characters has a unique playstyle and none of them was awkward. I am excited to play the sequel (Ludgar looks to have a very interesting moveset). I rate this Recommended.