Tales of Symphonia Remastered review: "Great game, minimum effort"
The video game remaster, bringing classic titles to modern platforms, is designed to combine the best of the past with technical improvements and features made since its original release. Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Skyrim - Special Edition, and the recent re-release of Persona 4 Golden, are just a few that come to mind.
Often regarded as one of the finest titles on GameCube, Tales of Symphonia getting such treatment was welcome news for fans of the 20-year-old classic. After playing Tales of Symphonia Remastered for review, it’s clear what was beloved about this JRPG favourite still remains. Be that as it may, the game's age and a “do the bare minimum” attitude behind this remaster's creation is just as prevalent.
Tales of old
With no new bells and whistles to the gameplay and story, Tales of Symphonia Remastered is simply Tales of Symphonia in a locked 30FPS and a cleaned-up 1080p resolution across the board.
In the fictional land of Sylverant, you start playing as Lloyd Irving - a plucky young swordsman who must venture off with his friends to protect Collette, the “Chosen” who must go on a pilgrimage to awaken the powers of an angel and regenerate the world.
For role-playing fantasy and anime fans, it’s an epic adventure with tropes you almost definitely have heard of before: traversing across various locales, dungeon crawling, fighting all manner of enemies, sword-swinging/magical combat, and customising your party. But it’s the growing cast of characters that develop over the course of a long campaign - and the depth of the combat system - that sets it apart.
Clean and lean
Depending on whether you’re lapsed Tales player or had never heard of the series altogether, you might be in two minds about its visuals and performance. On one hand, the resolution upgrade to 1080p does do Tales of Symphonia justice. On the other, going from 60FPS on GameCube to 30FPS in 2023 feels like the 50% downgrade that the maths imply.
Certain character models have not survived the passage of time, but most other assets - along with its towns, forests, dungeons, and other locations across the world - give Tales of Symphonia’s presentation a renewed clean and retro charm, even for larger displays.
The map problem
Although it’s a shame the originally gorgeous anime cutscenes have been left looking a bit blurry by being omitted the remaster treatment themselves, what really could have used a full uplift was the game’s World Map used to travel from one location to the other.
Not only is the world frustrating to look around when you unlock a mount later in-game, but the graphically ugly enemy character models will also spawn far too close to you. Aggressive ones will just run right into you to start a battle. If you’re trying to save health or just simply want a break from the many encounters you’ll have in this game, it’s easy to almost feel anxiety whenever you realise you need to hop into the map to go anywhere.
Strategy and bonds
That said, if you prefer gameplay over the story in RPGS, the combat will be your favourite thing about Tales of Symphonia. Especially for new players, it’s rather fun to master but incredibly frustrating to learn. Although, like the rest of Tales of Symphonia’s audio, the vibrant soundtrack does ease this a bit.
With four party members at a time, Tales of Symphonia’s combat is real-time instead of turn-based. Along with basic attacks, blocking, and health, you’ll also unlock special moves to use with your limited TP metre. The controls for this can be clunky though, so odds are you’ll only want to use those with the shortcut controls.
Your other party members also have these skills and you can switch to control whichever you like. You even later unlock Unison attacks to deliver even more damage.
In big fights where you’re fighting more than three enemies, these encounters can get messy. Nevertheless, that’s where the Strategy mechanic comes in. For each character you don’t control, you can customise how the three other members of your party members go about battles in three different areas: attacking, using skills, and moving.
For example, if you want to make the most of each member’s strengths, you can make it so the Spellcaster Raine only uses skills to heal, whilst having her attack from afar to better avoid damage. For heavy-hitter, Kratos, you can make sure he attacks up close with you.
For the biggest multi-enemy brawls, you can even set all of your comrades to always attack the same enemy as you. So, for intense boss battles, you can take out the smaller enemies to better focus on the main foe even more quickly.
Visually and functionally, this combat system from the GameCube era still feels like just that, which will take some getting used to. Once you do so, this might be the first time you’ll actually trust AI companions to not let you down.
Japanese vs English
Tales of Symphonia lets you switch between the Japanese and English dubs as you see fit. Both are fantastic to fit whichever you prefer, but there are some cons at play.
With actors like Scott Menville (Robin in Teen Titans) and Tara Strong (Harley Quinn in Batman: The Animated Series), the English dub is arguably better overall. However, only in the Japanese version are Tales of Symphonia’s Skits - frequent in-game interactions between party members - fully voiced, whilst being totally silent in English, making it seem lifeless and boring by comparison.
Since it would have made little sense production-wise to re-recruit English actors for recording new dialogue, even just a system mode allowing for the Skits to play in Japanese whilst in English for the rest of the game would have been welcome. Sadly, such an oversight shows not nearly as much thought was put into making the modern version of this game the best it could be.
Is Tales of Symphonia Remastered good?
As a whole, Tales of Symphonia is still a challenging but immersive game that it always ways - feeling more rewarding the more you invest in its unique combat system and story with larger-than-life characters.
RPG fans looking for something new will feel right at home in this revamped epic adventure. Nevertheless, they’ll have to do with the caveat of clunky controls and a half-done English dub if they're not a fan of Japanese audio.
For longtime fans, if you loved Tales of Symphonia and want to play it on a modern console - great. It’s still the classic JRPG you always loved. However, if you were looking for anything beyond a barebones remaster, you’ll be disappointed.
PS4 version played on PlayStation 5. Code provided by the publisher.