Game review: Tales of Symphonia

TL;DR: It pissed us off.

Written by ritabuuk and dubiousdisc
Posted on March 10th 2018

Please know that this page is going to be full of unmarked spoilers for Tales of Symphonia, so, if you don't want spoilers, don't read this page. Sorry, but the way this game is, and the way we are going to be talking about it, there is no way we can mark them.

Tales of Symphonia GameCube Boxart

Our first experience with Tales of Symphonia was when Denise started playing a borrowed copy of the Game Cube version on her own during college. One of the first things she encountered was an optional dialogue section, and the game explained that these are definitely optional, and you can skip them if you want. Denise said, "Optional dialogue sections? Sign me up!" However, as the cutscene played, she was irked at how slow they were: Denise finished reading the subtitles way before the characters were done speaking their lines, and they insisted on doing a whole silly animation with their faces before moving on to the next line of dialogue, which was just as painfully slow. We're not sure if this worked differently in the Game Cube version, or if Denise was just being extra picky at the time, but these cutscenes bothered her, which was troublesome because she would want to know all of the optional dialogue, but wasn't sure if she could stand these cutscenes.

Denise played a bit further, but then a friend accidentally told Denise what Denise thought was a massive spoiler. It was indeed a spoiler, but not quite as massive as she thought.

So, considering the annoyance with the cutscenes and the unfortunate spoiler, Denise lost the motivation to play the game, and that was that.

It wasn't until years later when Denise and Rosy were together, and they were looking for more co-op games to play, that Rosy suggested they play Tales of Symphonia. Rosy knew essentially nothing about the game except some vague awareness of some of the playable characters. Denise, on the other hand, was apprehensive, given her negative first impressions. However, she figured maybe she had been too hasty to judge, that spoiler had become vague in her memory by then, and maybe it would be more fun to play it together. So we got the enhanced re-release on Steam and started playing that.

Our new first impressions were okay: the plot was setting itself up, and we wanted to know what was going to happen. However, it wasn't long before certain things in the plot just weren't adding up. The more we thought about it, the more we realized just how little sense everything was making. In fact, there were so many things that were bothering us, we felt like we'd better write them down before we forgot them: thereby spawning this article, and also being one of the main forces for us getting Staircase Spirit itself online, which was something we've discussed making for a long time, but we needed this kick in the pants to actually start it.

Our first note dump was a retrospective around when we reached Palmacosta. Then we started a pattern of playing the game for the evening, and once we were too pissed off, we vented our thoughts and feelings together into our notes. Once we felt a bit better, another day, we would play a bit more, and then vent more into our notes.

By the end of the game, we ended up with almost 60,000 words of raw notes about everything that upset or confused us about this fucking game.

The other articles we've made so far for Staircase Spirit have been much more retrospective, possibly based on notes taken in the moment, but overall, digested and made into an essay. For this page, however, we're not going to do that so much. There's no way we can take those 60,000 words and put in all the effort into somehow rearranging them into themed sections that still make sense when read linearly down the page. We had enough trouble doing that with our article for Eternal Sonata, and there we were starting with only 16,000 words worth of raw notes. Here, it is probably more meaningful and more fun to read our consecutive thoughts mostly the way they happened as we descended into madness.

So, this page is going to be a bit more raw and a bit more haphazard than our usual standard, but we hope that you still enjoy. In any case, this was very cathartic for us, and we are hoping that sharing these notes can be cathartic or at least amusing for someone else as well.

As you've probably guessed, this is going to be a somewhat negative review. We know this is a beloved classic, and we don't have any hatred for the fans of this game. It just wasn't our cup of tea, and we will explain why. Anyway, if you really love this game, maybe don't read this. We wouldn't want to piss in your jam.

This is going to span four pages, because we had so much to say.

Oh my god, where do we start??

Colette at school
It seems unfair to quiz the Chosen One in a class about the Chosen One.

The initial main characters of Tales of Symphonia are Lloyd, Colette, and Genis. They are friends and students in a small school, and today's lesson is about the Chosen One and the Chosen One's quest to regenerate the world. Lloyd is a human who has been raised by a dwarf named Dirk who lives in the forest just outside of town. Lloyd also is notably a bad student, and is in trouble at the very start of the game. His best friend Genis is an elf and the goody-two-shoes pet of their teacher Raine, and is also Raine's younger brother (talk about conflict of interest ). And, funnily enough, their classmate Colette is the Chosen One, a descendant of the angels, and she is the one who will need to go on a journey to regenerate the world. In fact, preparations for her journey are starting today!

Iselia, the lovely and friendly little town in which they live, just so happens to be located right next to what is essentially a concentration camp for humans, run by half-elves. The village tolerates this "human ranch" because they have a treaty with the half-elves designed to protect the Chosen One within the town, with the hope that she will eventually be able to overthrow the half-elf oppressors.

The characters know what the player knows

Before Colette sets out on her journey as the Chosen One, together with Raine and a mercenary named Kratos, everyone in town has complete faith in her. Colette even says something like, "Don't worry, of course I will succeed, I am the Chosen One, after all." But then Lloyd and Genis discuss that there was a previous Chosen One, and she failed. So, they knew that the previous Chosen One failed, but they didn't react as if they knew this information before. Even worse, a few minutes of gameplay later, we hear that every Chosen One has failed for the last eight hundred years and suddenly now everyone in town is acting as if they are skeptical of Colette's chances of success, even though just a little while ago, everyone was confident and triumphant, when they should have had these reservations before as well.

Lloyd wanted to accompany Colette on her journey, but the night before her departure, she intentionally gave him the wrong time for when she would be leaving, and so, the next morning, he arrives at town to find out that he has completely missed her.

It is not until after Colette is long gone, that Genis is all, "Hey Lloyd, do you think Colette was being weird last night?" To which Lloyd says, "Yes, she was being overly cheerful, which is how she always gets when she is hiding something." If they both noticed and knew this, why did they not say or do anything about it when it was relevant? It is totally a moot point now that the player knows that Colette tricked Lloyd, and now they are all, "Yeah, I saw this coming even though I did nothing about it."

These are the first two examples of a writing mistake that this game will do a few hundred times: the thing is, this game is written totally in the function of the player and what the player knows. Even if the characters know something, they will act as if they don't know it because the player doesn't know it yet. Once the player learns the relevant information, then the characters can be all, "Yeah, I've always known that." But if they knew, they would have behaved differently before. That doesn't make any sense.

Banishment, i.e. being forced to start the quest already

Marble
Genis, my grandchild I've never had!... Wait.

Anyway, it turns out that, against every rule of the treaty, Genis has somehow befriended an old woman named Marble who is being held in the concentration camp. Genis also introduces Lloyd to his human friend.

Marble is all, "Oh you boys that I just met are so nice, you are like grandsons to me." Much later, we learn in Palmacosta that she has a granddaughter named Chocolat. But Marble had been talking as if she didn't have any grandchildren. Maybe she dislikes Chocolat that much?

By the way, by what we have seen of Genis so far, we can't believe that she had formed such a bond with such a nondescript asshole.

How did Genis end up meeting Marble anyway? We can imagine that maybe one day he was going to visit Lloyd, and on the way he got lost or whatever and wound up at the fence of the human ranch and had a conversation with her. So, then he develops a special friendship with Marble and sneaks her food. But... what are the other humans there, chopped liver? The game presents this as, aw, how good are Genis and Lloyd for caring for this poor Marble in the human ranch.

Marble with the Exsphere
"I noticed you have a plot device!"

But they only do self-serving goodness for her. They see that she has a plot device called an Exsphere, and they risk the safety of the whole town to monologue and show off their knowledge of exspheres to a poor oppressed old woman. Since they stood there for so long, they managed to get her into trouble, and instead of reflecting on their poor choices, they now want to go play the hero.

Okay, Lloyd has already been established as being a bit of an idiot, but model-student Genis should have known better. He agrees to Lloyd's not-very-well-thought-out scheme of just, "I'll run the other way and make sure they don't see my face. Nothing could possibly go wrong." When it does go wrong, Lloyd goes, "Oh, don't worry, I'll just kill everyone who saw me!" As if the dead bodies won't be a problem, and as if murder is just something he does whenever things don't go his way. It's okay for a character to make mistakes, but the way this all played out was simply absurd.

  1. Genis

    Lloyd, they saw your face! I’m sorry! It’s all my fault...

  2. Lloyd

    Don’t worry about it.

  3. Genis

    But...

  4. Lloyd

    I took out the ones that saw my face, and the rest of them are still back up on the cliff. As long as we hurry up and get out of here, they’ll never know.

  5. Genis

    O...okay.

  6. Lloyd

    Just do my homework for me, okay?

Genis better do Lloyd's homework, or else he'll be next!

Anyway, all these "heroics" were intended to "save" Marble from what would have just been a beating, but because of all this, the half-elves feel like the non-aggression agreement has been violated, and so they go burn down Iselia. They also bring a horribly mutated Marble and force her to fight the boys she supposedly loves as grandchildren even though she just met them and this is all their fault.

Marble sacrifices her life as a mutated form (which must have taken incredible willpower) in order to save Lloyd and Genis. She saves them, and in so doing, explodes. Later in the plot, the characters will talk about this event as, "Lloyd murdered her -- well, it wasn't like that, he had to". But Lloyd never killed Marble, murder or otherwise. Maybe they have gotten too used to the idea of Lloyd murdering people to solve his problems, but that was not what happened with Marble. Way to erase her loving sacrifice and use it as self-serving angst-fuel, you jerkasses.

Mutated Marble
Like the grandchild I never had... Wait.

Anyway, because Lloyd and Genis risked the non-aggression agreement and caused the entire village to be burned, the two of them are banished from Iselia.

By the way, what is up with the town and the non-aggression agreement? Are we to believe nobody is at all bothered by the fact that they are ignoring whatever happens at the ranch just to protect the Chosen One (even though they all know that no Chosen One has been successful for 800 years?), and no one even has the slightest hesitation or resistance or argument to this idea?

In fact, while Lloyd is being banished, one human woman starts yelling that all those humans in the ranch should be doomed to rot there. What?? I mean, this could be a psychological thing that is known to happen: when you set someone apart as inferior on bullshit reasons, other people might even start to believe it, even if the experiment based the difference on something obviously silly... but we don't think we give this game that much credit. Why would a human be so okay with humans just like her being tortured in a concentration camp right over there? What makes her think that she won't be next? Do they really have any reason to believe that they will not be attacked by the half-elves even if they do uphold the treaty? They are just a tiny village and they are the evil oppressors. What really is stopping the half-elves from ignoring the treaty and doing whatever they wish? How can the people really feel so safe, to the point of practically spitting on the humans in the ranch?

By the way, by bringing Marble to the village, the half-elves revealed their secret schemes to mutate people into monster weapons. The whole village saw this, and yet they still don't care enough to do anything about it.

What about Dirk? He's got all those dwarven vows promising to always do the right thing, to always help those in need, blah blah blah, but he just lives right there and isn't all that concerned about the human ranch being there. He's more concerned about Lloyd getting hurt or messing up the non-aggression agreement.

Genis tells Lloyd that he hated humans before he became friends with Lloyd, but Lloyd taught him not to hate humans. Woah, really? He's even to the point of befriending Marble at the human ranch? But then he says crap like, "You humans are all the same, what are your eyes for, decoration?" Either Genis is secretly evil or he really isn't as progressive now as he thinks he is.

Three slices of bread
Believe it or not, this picture is relevant to our adventures in the desert.

So, after being banished, Genis and Lloyd are conveniently forced to go out on an adventure and catch up with Colette and the others in the desert. For further reading, this is the part of our play-through that we call The Ballad of the Cabbage Sandwich.

After Lloyd and Genis reunite with Colette, she says at one point to Lloyd, "I am glad we got to go on this journey together, because before you were my only friend, and now I have so many friends!" Wasn't she friends with Genis before too? And what friends? Raine? Kratos?? There's no one else in the party, who are you talking about??

This is without a doubt one of the worst menu hells we've had the misfortune of interacting with.

Menu
AAAAAH!

Every menu is categorized by what the action is, split into like 10 different categories. For example, if you want to see the characters' moves, you have to first hit "Tech" and then select the character whose moves you want to view. If you want to see what they have equipped, you need to first select "Equip" and then select the character. Same with "Stats" and -- actually, "Cooking" is a separate Hell, wait for that one. Underneath all the menu categories is a list of the party. When we want to check, say, Kratos's stats, our instinct is to go click on Kratos's face. But doing that changes the mostly cosmetic view of who is walking around in the overworld to Kratos and does nothing else.

A random classmate berates Colette as if she were Lloyd.
Don't berate Colette as if she were Lloyd. :(

We are glad this is a feature, and it is a cool thing to include, but it's hardly important. Later in the game this will have some more importance (we'll talk about it when it's relevant), but, at this time, it is purely cosmetic. It actually makes things more confusing, because, even if you switch character, people still talk with you as if your character was Lloyd. Seen how prominent this feature is, this was the very first thing we did when we started to play the game. We poked in the menu, accidentally switched to Colette, and were like, oh, cool, you can be Colette. So, with Colette, we talked with a classmate in the school, who insults her as if she was talking to Lloyd. So, we immediately learned that changing the overworld character is mostly meaningless. Great!

So, the most easy-to-get-to function of the menu system, taking up the vast majority of the screen, is for making a change that is mostly cosmetic. We change it all the time by mistake because we wanted to see what Genis has as his moves. What the heck. Instead, it takes so many button-presses to see any information, which could have been all presented in a simple character menu.

Controller
Did they have an agreement with the controller manufacturers?

The functions of this menu should be accessible with what is the usual standard: A (for yes), B (to go back), and the left analog stick and/or D-pad (to move and scroll). And you could optionally have the nice feature of using the right/left trigger buttons (to flip to the next or previous character). Instead, in Tales of Symphonia, all the buttons get needlessly involved. You have the Y button (sometimes lets you compare things), the X button (sometimes lets you forget things like moves), and the back button (to select the fighting mode), start button (to see more info on an item), and even the right analog stick (to flip pages in books). What, is there a rule that they had to use every button on the controller?!

Menu - Raine cooking
Even her best sandwich is bread with some meat and a lemon...?

For cooking, you need to pick the chef first, then the recipe. If you want to see the way the other characters cook the same dish, you then need to switch the chef. This is so clunky, and if you happened to look at Raine last, she is now the designated chef, even though she is the worst cook and you never wanted that, you were just looking.

Speaking of cooking and information that should have been given but wasn't, if you want to make yourself an omelet in the overworld to cure poison, make sure you don't eat a sandwich after battle, or else then the characters will be too full. Which makes sense, but NO ONE TOLD US THAT WE ALMOST DIED! We would have skipped eating the sandwich if we had known it would doom us to a slow death of poison.

Initially, we couldn't figure out how to get the two-player co-op to work (even though that is one of the prime selling points of this game). We had to give up navigating the menus ourselves and look it up online. We then had to look it up again because we still didn't get it. (Everyone else in forums and such sounds just as confused, so it's not just us.)

Menu - Colette set on Manual
Note the arrow on that box in the top right corner.

Okay, here's how you do it. You have to first go to Tech. Then pick the character. Then press B! B!! Which usually means go back! But in this case, moves your cursor to the top corner window where you can select Manual, Semi-Auto, or Auto. What do these mean? What's the difference? We had to look that up too. Much later the game did explain it kinda, but it was much too late, and the game's explanation didn't really make sense.

Anyway, we set Colette to be Manual and Lloyd to be Manual so that Rosy and I could play as them. Okay, into battle we go and... Colette is just standing there. What. She died. What.

Ooooh, not only does Colette need to be set to Manual, she needs to be reordered in the character list to be in the second position so that she is controlled by the second controller and not being not controlled by the non-existent fourth controller. Ooooh. Do you think the game could have told us that? Or maybe told us before leaving the menu that, hey, the fourth character is set to Manual, and there is no fourth controller detected? Is that asking too much? From the enhanced re-release no less.

Menu - manual
Buh buh buh buh?

This game either gives you no information on game mechanics, or drops a textbook on you. Literally. How not to convey information to the player: just pop up an info box talking about things that you don't have any clue that they mean yet, why do you want to know this, what are these points they are talking about, when does this even come into play, they are emphasizing that the order of the buttons is super important, omg, what is this, we are scared and we never want to do this. But that's how this game usually tells you things.

Back on the topic of Menu Hell, we initially didn't realize there were more pages to the in-game instructions. We saw the arrow pointing down, but Denise showed Rosy, "Look, I am pressing A, I am pressing down on the D-pad, I am pressing down on the control stick, I am pressing every button, nothing happens to go down, it must mean something else." It wasn't until much later that Rosy discovered it is the right analog stick that turns the page, which is otherwise essentially unused. And not only is it the right analog stick that turns the page. You have to ever so slightly touch that analog stick. You need to flick it in the gentlest way ever to get it to turn just one page, and not just scroll through everything immediately. It is really disturbing to hit it just right, it feels so perversely sexual, we just want to know how to play the game, we don't want to have to turn it on...

By the way, the second player can also cause the page to turn, so you can do dueling page turns!! (It's not a bug, it's a feature!!)

But the second player can do nothing else in the menus. They can't bring up the menu, they cannot select the menu, they cannot switch the character being viewed... they can just turn the pages in the manual and scroll the character list. That's all. Mostly just to piss off player one.

The second player can also trigger post-battle cooking. Mostly by accident.

And the second player can also scroll the shop inventory. We guess anything involving the right analog stick, the second player can also do. Except trigger the special unison move thing (which would have been helpful).

Item Stats
This Kendama has 250 Attack, Defense is 0, Accuracy is 0, Defense (again) is... blank? It boosts Intelligence by 5, Evasion by 0, Luck by... snowflake and zero? and Attack (again) is... blank? Wait, what happened here?!

In the menus, there is no convenient way to compare items. It is easier to unequip the item again and then try to re-equip it to see how the stats changed. You can't tell what's going on while the item is equipped.

It doesn't help that the item stats menu is somehow... misaligned? It took us awhile to realize that somehow this got all glitched and jumbled, and we're not really sure what to do to read it correctly. How did this happen? The item stats screen is broken in the enhanced re-release. Someone clearly was fired.

Customization problems

Colette
"I can't seem to let go!"

Speaking of unequipping, you cannot upgrade Colette's chakram while she is holding the chakram. She can't stop holding the chakram unless you have another weapon for her. We don't want to buy the expensive new chakram, we want to upgrade this one (for free!). We think we see why the developers did this. They never want Colette to be without a weapon, because then you might go into battle without a weapon and crash the game. But if we are upgrading the weapon in her hands, she doesn't need to be without a weapon. This particularly pissed off Denise because she knew there is a chakram for sale back in Iselia, but Lloyd and Genis are banished, so we can't go there and buy it, and if Colette could just let go of the chakram for 30 seconds, it could be upgraded for free! We didn't buy a chakram before because we had one. We didn't know her chakram is glued to her hand.

When you are able to do the weapon upgrades at the customization shop, there is no confirmation that anything happened. We would expect there to be a noise, and for the game to show us the new weapon, tadaa! Nope, it just now shows that you can't make the thing again because you no longer have the necessary ingredients. If we ever have two of each ingredient, we are totally going to accidentally make two.

The game is mum when you upgrade a weapon, but you get a major you-did-it sound effect for simply buying white silver, what the fuck?

The overworld

Overworld Mario 64
Just look!

The overworld of this game is so ugly and so empty. There is nothing to distract you from the three polygons. It looks worse than Mario 64. Which came out in 1996. Tales of Symphonia came out in 2003. For reference, this game came out while The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was in development. There are indie games with no budget that look better than this horrid wasteland of green geometry. And we're playing the updated Steam release!

This game came out on the GameCube originally, then on the Playstation 2, on the Playstation 3, and, finally, the Playstation 3 version was ported to Windows for the Steam version. However, it turns out that the version that we're playing, the newest one, is one of the worse ones. It lags like you wouldn't believe, which apparently didn't happen when it was running on a GameCube. The computer we are playing this on is aged, but certainly more powerful than a GameCube. That's a pathetic port.

By the way, how many overworld modes does this game have? There's dungeon mode, which is for exploration. Then there's overworld mode, where you are big, running around these polygon mountains with the camera up your nose, giving you nausea. Then you press X and omg you can ride Noishe and the camera zooms out a bit so you can actually see what you are doing? But we can only access this mode if we find these tombstones in the overworld, which unlock the ability to ride Noishe in the area. What are these tombstones and why does Noishe need them in order to save us from the bad camera angles? Are they the tombstones of the other overworld mode? However, while you ride Noishe you can't see the optional conversation points. What's the point of splitting all of these modes? It's just annoying!

Random encounters

Anyway, in the overworld, you run into these black gooey things that look like Miyazaki blobs, and those represent enemies, and get you into a random encounter. Right, now that we're all set up and we're going on an adventure, we're able to have battles with the local wildlife.

Tales of Symphonia random encounters Zelda II random encounters
Lloyd, he come to town...

We were looking forward to finally running into the gooey black blobby monsters that the overworld introduced to us... but they are not representative of any actual monster, but merely symbols of any potential monster, like a 3D-version of the random-encounter symbols of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

Later in the dungeons, you'll see other symbolic critters like the thylacine-shaped monster... that also never is literally a monster. Boo! It's really odd that they bothered designing so many critters that don't actually exist.

As for what concerns the way the battles are played, this game is actually pretty good in that regard. Tales of Symphonia was among the first RPGs of this kind to let you directly move the characters and use attacks in real time by pressing the buttons, rather than being constrained to a turn-based system and selecting Attack and then just watching your characters do the thing. The result is that it sorta plays like a fighting game. Which is good, and it's cool that it's co-op. Compared to many other games of that time (and even of later), this is one where you actually have to pay attention and be active during the battles. In other games, things often end up getting so repetitive and passive that both the player and the spectator are in danger of falling asleep (read our article on Fixing Skies of Arcadia for a good example of that). But here in Tales of Symphonia, both Denise and Rosy are running around hitting buttons and not falling asleep. Yay!

The battle system still has one main flaw: that not every character is fun or useful to control.

The game is obviously designed around the Player 1 character being Lloyd. We mean, he's the main character. He wields swords and, when you control him, you can attack enemies by swording them. That's good, and rewarding. You press the button, Lloyd swords. Good.

Genis
What were you expecting from that more than a bop on the head?

However, Player 2, in the beginning especially, might have some more trouble. At the beginning of the game, Player 2 has no choice but to control Genis. Genis' weapon is the kendama, which, as expected from a child's toy, does essentially no damage. His real skills are in magic. In Tales of Symphonia, magic works differently than the basic attack, requiring magic points and a charging time. A long charging time. Even Genis's beginning-of-the-game moves take several seconds to pull off. So, when Rosy would be playing as Genis, this entire innovative battle system would all go back to... pressing a button, waiting a long time, and finally watching the attack.

In this game, magic points are restored by using the basic attack repeatedly, which also means that magic users come with a particular disadvantage. Because, when their magic points are over, they now have to go up to the enemy, where they are in danger of dying with their little magic user defenses, and they have to attack with their little magic user attack, which does almost nothing. But that's what they have to do, it's the only way to get their magic points back and return to doing something useful.

Once we join with Colette and company, we have some more characters to choose from. We can now play as Colette, but she has the same problem as Genis, having a weak attack and mostly relying on magic. We can also play as Raine, who is the healer. Raine has the same problem, but even worse.

Raine
Heal plz?

This is because, when your character is player-controlled, you have access to 4 special moves, which are inputted kinda like the special moves of a fighting game - based on a combination of buttons plus a direction. Since there are only four directions, you only get four moves. In the case of Raine in particular, you have to carefully gauge what these four moves will be. Do you want to bring the healing move? The big healing move? The status healing move? The resurrection move? Some sort of attack magic? We already mentioned five. And she has a big pool of attack magic, with all sorts of elemental advantages and disadvantages. Good luck!

However, when the character is CPU-controlled, the CPU is able to cheat, and can select any move that the character knows. So, Raine can now do anything. The AI of this game is actually pretty good, so CPU-Raine can choose the most cost-effective and time-effective healing moves for the situation, and is still able to use attack magic and choose the right spell for the right enemy. So, essentially, as the player, don't control Raine. The computer is better at playing Raine than you could ever possibly be.

So you're left with the last option, which is Kratos, who thankfully has a sword (and some supplemental healing magic, if you want). So, for the first part of the game, we're taking turns between being Lloyd and Kratos.

Random encounter
It's the only way.

By the way, you can play this game with up to four human players. We have no idea who Player 3 could play as and still have fun. And we certainly don't know what Player 4 should do, considering that you want to have Raine almost always in your party but you can't let a human control her.

But we're not actually that critical of Tales of Symphonia regarding these flaws. It was one of the first games to attempt this kind of battle system, so of course there are going to be a few kinks. Later games smoothed this out - Eternal Sonata, for instance, clearly grew out of this sort of gameplay. (It's also a terrible game for other reasons, but not for the gameplay. We already wrote all about it, so, if you're interested, go read that article).

Cutscenes rendered by PowerPoint

The developers were obviously really quite pleased with themselves and their PowerPoint-style emoting faces. You can't have a conversation without the heads just swinging and flipping and animating around all over the place. The movement does not really convey anything. Sometimes the head sinks down when the character is embarrassed, okay, but what does the swinging side-to-side even mean?? Their facial expressions are not always matching the tone of the voice actor, which is really weird to see when the voice actor is yelling, but the lips are just going bipbipbipbip. There's also the problem that the lips are flapping totally randomly, and since everything is animating all over the place, it is especially jarring that it's not matching.

Colette swinging head
None of what's happening in any of these boxes is conveying anything of use.

We can use our imaginations to fill in the blanks, but if you fill in the blanks for us, poorly, then there is no place for our imaginations to squeeze in.

Sisterly abuse

By the way, the game is presenting Raine as being a good person, but really, call the police.

Raine spanking Genis
By the way, searching anything Tales of Symphonia on Google Images almost always yields this screenshot somewhere.

The SPANKING SCENE WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT??? Although Raine is later established to be Genis's legal guardian, she's canonically age 23, and he is 12. We're not clear on the cultural norms of elves, but at least from a human perspective, Genis is much too old to be put over a knee and spanked on the bottom by his older sister. Even if this is totally normal for elves, then she goes to spank Lloyd too, who is 17 and not part of her family, and so that is clearly unacceptable, what the fuck!

At the start of the game, Raine has given Lloyd humiliating corporal punishment (forcing him to hold two heavy buckets while standing in the back of the class), and she hits him in the face with a dirty chalkboard eraser, so yeah, abuse seems to be pretty standard with her.

She also slapped Genis across the face multiple times. One of those times, she slapped him across the face so hard, he fell to the ground.

This is really all not okay.

Raine has beaten everyone up
WHAT THE HELL?????

Lloyd's pet

Lloyd and Noishe
Oh right, you're in this game.

Lloyd has a pet dog-thing named Noishe that seems oddly important, but it really... isn't. It's established much later in the game that it was the first lifeform that existed, and that it will eventually become human but... Noishe is a dog for the entirety of this game, so this reveal doesn't matter in the slightest.

At one point, Kratos was looking at Noishe in the stable, and there was this conversation between Lloyd and Kratos that was so disjointed that we nearly died with laughter. This is the literal transcript of the dialogue:

  1. Lloyd

    Do you like animals?

  2. Kratos

    No, not particularly...

  3. Lloyd

    ...Well, Noishe seems to be quite comfortable with you. He usually doesn’t like strangers.

  4. Kratos

    I once had a pet, long ago.

  5. Lloyd

    Really?

  6. Kratos

    Lloyd?

  7. Lloyd

    Wh...what? What are you staring at me like that for?

  8. Kratos

    ...Your swordsmanship is unrefined. You should focus a little more on eliminating your vulnerabilities.

Just... I had a pet once. By the way, you suck at sword-fighting.

We get it that Kratos was probably on verge of revealing a bunch of spoilers to Lloyd in that moment and instead talked about swordmanship as a way to disrupt the conversation, but this really tickled us.

And there's all this foreshadowing of, hm, Kratos seems to know Noishe, hmmm... the big reveal later in the game is that... Kratos used to know Noishe. That's it. Why did they bother?

Mighty Washington

By the way, what is up with these super literal names? There's Genis Sage, the class genius and a magic user, so a sage. Kratos, named for the god of war, literally meaning "strong", is a mercenary. Rosy joked, who is next? Mighty?

Omg, there he is. In Palmacosta, we meet Mighty Washington.

Mighty Washington
He'll save children, but not the British children.

Wine and Whine

Broken wine bottle
Not the grape juice!

Upon arriving to Palmacosta, the party bumps into another party that looks suspiciously like them. Since Colette bumped into one of the dopplegangers, she broke an expensive bottle of wine they were carrying. The next plotpoints involve replacing the expensive wine, and discussing the fact that there are impostors running around.

The game prevents us from going to the Salvation House near Palmacosta until we pay for the wine. During the course of exploring the town and re-purchasing a new bottle of wine, we checked out the steamboat. While at the steamboat, Sheena appeared, and her name was visible as the label of her dialogue box, even though she didn't say her name yet, and so far, we have only known her as "Clumsy Assassin". It is only later, after we go to the Salvation House, that we learn her name. Considering that the game is herding us at this point, this kind of continuity mistake is not excusable.

On the way to check out the steamboat, there is a conversation where Colette is all, "It's kinda funny to have impostors of me, it's like I am famous or something." To which Lloyd replies that she is famous, she's the Chosen One! She's all, "Oh, right, I am not used to this yet." ...But she has been the Chosen One her entire life! She said earlier that the whole reason she was known to be the Chosen One is because she was born with a gem in her hand. So, she's never known the experience of not being the Chosen One!

A bit later on, we learn that Colette has read books written in Angelic since she was a kid, as part of her training as the Chosen One. So, she's clearly been the Chosen One since she was a kid.

Welcome to the Sorcerer's Ring

Sorcerer's Ring
Can't we just throw this in a volcano and be done with it?

For no adequately explained reason, Lloyd has the Sorcerer's Ring, the ring of puzzle solving. You have to aim precisely while turning at odd angles in the overworld, and it will spit out a fart of flame.

Who was the Sorcerer of this ring? Nobody knows, and nobody cares.

In the second dungeon of the game, if you touch some changerbob, the Sorcerer's Ring will shoot out electric balls instead of fire. This changing of the Ring's power is going to be an annoying gameplay element for the rest of the game, but you'll see.

Anyway, in this dungeon, there's a part where, to progress, you need to electrocute two robots (which shall be henceforth referred to as "roombas", because that's what they look like). You need to hit both roombas while they are over the pad, without triggering a battle and within a time limit of each other, while aiming sporadically everywhere. This is almost impossible and took a good half hour, not because it was challenging in a fun puzzle sort of way, no, just because we can't get Lloyd to shoot the right direction at the right time and oh no, he bumped the other roomba and started a battle with it, alwhelagkjsgkjag. This is not fun, this is just hell. Why couldn't it have just been two battles to unlock the door or whatever. This is unreasonable.

Spinning dungeon
Or maybe none of this matters.

The spinning the room puzzle also didn't make sense, in the way that, it is obvious what you need to do, but it is not clear which combination does what, and so it is just a matter of trying each combination. It also didn't matter that the three pillars turn the room with different angles because you could just use the tiny angle to achieve all possibilities. It wasn't a puzzle like, you need to do an odd angle to get shifted odd to hit something. All the angles were even, so they are all essentially equivalent. All that mattered was how many times do you need to hit the button. And it's not like there was a battle every time you hit the button so you want to do it in as few turns as possible. Nope. Just use the little angle and make sure you hit every combination before you leave to make sure you get that one bonus treasure chest you might have otherwise missed. There was nothing satisfying about this.

Similarly, the quiz for Genis. We answered a few questions. We don't even know if we got them right, or if it even mattered.

Monsters in the sea

What is the whole big deal of, oh no! Monsters in the sea! All these NPCs keep talking about how horrible and scary it is and that they can't possibly take a boat right now because there are monsters in the sea!

  1. Raine

    A ship…hmm. I wonder if there are any ships sailing with the way things are right now.

  1. Man

    There aren’t any passenger ships running. It’s too dangerous.

  1. Max

    There are giant monsters at sea now. It’s dangerous, and I care about you too much to let you come aboard.

  1. Max

    Okay, then let’s set sail. …Don’t blame me if we run into any monsters.

We've crossed the sea three times now without so much of a jellyfish attacking us.

Tub Boat
Where are the monsters? Where's Noishe? Where's anything?

Correction, we went back and forth another two times at least, and still no monsters.

Correction, we've beaten the entire game and there was not even one single monster in the sea.

It's like this was a plot point they forgot about.

By the way, did Noishe drive a boat to Thoda island?? We can't even give the benefit of the doubt that he rode along with Lloyd because we saw Lloyd alone in his tiny bathtub boat. But Noishe is totally there to protect the party from clumsy assassins.

Noishe can't drive a tub
We can't seem to find who drew this wonderful picture (tell us if you know), but the artist obviously had the same thought as us regarding the impossibility of Noishe driving a tub-boat. Thank you.

The first dungeons, and especially the water dungeon

The game is non-linear, but not really. It would have been way more convenient to have finished the water dungeon when we were there the first time. But, since the puzzle was total bullshit we thought we didn't have something we needed and progressed through the game, even going through the whole wind dungeon too, and then we had to backtrack the whole way to go back and try the water dungeon again.

Pinwheels
Pinwheels.

All the puzzles in this game suck. Not only are they they minimum possible thing that could possibly be considered a puzzle in the lamest sense of the word, but also, just imagine having been at the brainstorming meeting for this. "Okay, okay, in the fire dungeon, you need to light every candle. In the water dungeon, you need to fill the cups with water. In the wind dungeon, you need to blow the pinwheels." How did nobody in this meeting go, wtf, that is boring and obvious and uncreative?

The wind puzzle was totally tedious and boring, but at least we could just look up the solution and move on with our lives. We know we could have solved it ourselves, but we didn't feel like wasting our time. If we did want to solve it for real, we'd need to go through the random encounters to re-read the signs and waste a precious piece of paper to write down the clues, and just, ugh, we can't even make ourselves care.

But the water puzzle on the other hand was crap. The reason why we couldn't solve it immediately is because this is the first time ever you need to change the function of the Sorcerer's Ring of Puzzle Solving mid-dungeon.

So far, throughout the game (and in the wind dungeon too), you go through the dungeon until you find the thing that changes the function of the ring to the special thing that solves this dungeon, and then you use it to solve the dungeon. Same as always, in this dungeon, you find the thing that changes the ring, and now the ring squirts water like a cheap water pistol, and you go to the room where you obviously need to put water in the cup, but the lid is on! Oh no! You can't squirt water in the cup while the lid is on! And you can't possibly just reach out and take the lid off with your hands! That would be madness!

Removing a lid
I just, I just can't!
Ring changer
Oh, now you tell me.

So you can do absolutely nothing in this dungeon until you go backwards and by accident happen to press the ring changer thingy whatever the hell it even is, and it tells you that the ring has been changed back to fire. Which never happened before. We didn't even know you could do that.

Now that the Sorcerer's Ring shoots fire again, we can do the obvious thing, which is to go back to the room with the water cups and light the two torches, so that now the lid is magically gone! Now you have to go back again, and change the ring back to a water gun, so that that you can fill the cup for whatever reason, we don't even know why we are doing this really, so now that cup has water in it, which tips the scale which... closes the door? No. No, don't close the door. At this point, we used the water gun to extinguish one of the torches, which somehow made the scale re-balance, the lid go back on the cup, and the door reopen.

Detourne Scales
This was one of the most annoyingly weird dungeons in Baten Kaitos.

You thought the water puzzle in Baten Kaitos was bad? Think again! At least that one made some sense! And that's saying a lot for a puzzle that involves using water to tip a scale to change gravity in between rounds of playing an Atari game.

But anyway, back to Tales of Symphonia... um, so, now we obviously have to move the only block in the entire dungeon within the range of six whole tiles where it could possibly be, onto the floor tile with the marking, such that it will jam the friggen door. What a puzzle!

Now we can go back and forth and back and forth and relight the stupid torches and change the ring to water-mode and refill the water cup, and now when the door tries to close it gets stuck open because of the block we moved, yay! Now we can go around to the lower level, and fill another cup, which somehow causes the platform to rise (of course, opening a new passage on the upper level, not the lower level where we are standing) and yes, every time we have to go around or back and forth to change the ring or move the block or get to the platform and all that, all the enemies of course respawn, and this was totally all an exercise for the game developers to see how many random encounters they can force you into in the course of solving this nonsensical "puzzle" that has zero satisfaction value.

And then we got to the platform and went through the warp and, omg, that's it. That's pathetically short but thank god there's not more.

This is not the type of puzzle that it would be hard to make it make sense -- not necessarily good but just making sense -- but here we are doing random things that don't make any sense. It's like, if we had suitcases, and you had to catch birds to make the suitcases move so that a door would open... that would make about as much sense.

Water Dungeon
It's crap.

It's like the sort of thing where, we found the solution just by, the limited number of things we could do, we did them, and they made things happen. Not by any sort of logical thought or... our only logical thought here was, ah, this is a scale and we need to tip the scale, we will put water in the cup to tip the -- there's a lid. Well, take the lid off. No. Hm. Maybe we need stronger water. The whole dungeon is full of geysers, so can we do anything with the geysers? No? Um... And that's how we eventually accidentally clicked on the ring changer again and realized we could light the torches and what does that even have to do with anything?!?

Fire Dungeon
Just, light the candles.

Also, we were expecting this to be a tip-the-scales puzzle, and we like the tip-the-scales puzzles, but this actually wasn't a tip the scales puzzle. You just put the water in the cup when the lid is off. You can only put water in one of the cups and the scales only get tipped one way. So it wasn't actually a puzzle. It doesn't matter. It might have as well been a light switch or a button. Just because it was the water dungeon, it's putting water in a cup.

Like the fire dungeon wasn't a puzzle, it was just light every candle, and at any time there's only like one candle you can light, which lets you reach the next candle you can light, so there's zero thought involved, it's not really a puzzle, it's just a chore.

Lol, the bible talks about magitechnology

We don't care about Raine's jargon-filled exposition -- even though in another game we would be eating that shit up with a spoon, fork, and butter knife (see Oblivion). But everything Raine says is just meaningless jargon, and we don't have any context for which to care about it.

Magitechnology
Who cares!

Insensitivity

Cheese on fish
Who would do such a thing?!

Quick test to see if your game is somehow insensitive, illogical, and silly. Replace the name of the bad guys with "Nazis". Get gems like: "This place would be lovely for tourism if it weren't for the Nazis".

We're not Godwinning, either. The entire plot of Tales of Symphonia is about concentration camps and half-elf nazis. This is indeed what the game is about.

Except that they are handling a serious issue like nazism and concentration camps in a similar way as, sometimes people put cheese on fish, that's bad.

Problematic plot point: WHAT IF THE OPPRESSORS WERE OPPRESSED ~TOO~??

A quick catch-up on the plot so far

Angel Colette
This is good, right?

Since this was early on in our note-taking adventure with Tales of Symphonia, we didn't really write much about what was going on with the plot up until now. We were enjoying it and waiting for it to come together, and not necessarily expecting it to let us down quite so hard. So, let us take a moment to catch you up on the key points of what the plot has been doing so far.

For Colette's Journey of Regeneration, she needs to reach the altar of several elemental temples, which will enable her to transform into an angel in stages, and then be equipped to save the world. At the first temple, Colette gains beautiful glowing angel wings. How nice, and Colette is able to bring out the wings to the delight and giggles of the party. This quest to save the world is just a fun trip with her friends and a bundle of sunshine, isn't it?

However, that evening, Colette feels ill. She had been warned that the angel transformation will be a trial, and it will involve suffering.

Gradually, Colette stopped being able to eat, or sleep, or feel, or even speak. This transformation starts being more and more disturbing, and causing the characters to question this Journey of Regeneration more and more. But Colette is steadfast in her decision to endure whatever suffering is necessary in order to save the world, and she even tries to hide her pain from the rest of the party, in order to spare them any worry.

Sheena: Time to die!
But why would anyone be against the Chosen One? Hmm...

Along the way, the party starts being followed by a clumsy assassin named Sheena, who is for some reason trying to stop the Chosen One from saving the world.

The party also meets Clara, a woman who has become a zucchini-monster just like Marble. She's on the loose and causing panic all around. The party vows to save her even though they have no idea if that is even possible.

Our thoughts on the characters so far

Colette
We're sorry, Colette.

One really cool thing about this game is you are not playing this game as the Chosen One, you are the friend of the Chosen One but... Colette has no real agency and she's written to let the male main character make every decision for her. They even had a whole scene where the party says, the decision should be up to the Chosen One... that is, if you agree Lloyd. Is this game listening to itself???

But we do like Colette. We just wish the game revolved around her, like it was supposed to.

So far, we don't really hate Lloyd. He's just boring and annoying. And there's no reason for him to be the main decision-maker. He's only following Colette. And if they're not going to listen to Colette, there's no reason why it couldn't be anyone else calling the shots instead of Lloyd. What about Kratos, the professional mercenary?

As for Kratos, we like him so far, but he's obviously the character with some mysterious backstory that we're going to hear all about later.

Genis
Who cares, Genis.

The character with the worst introduction in the whole game so far is Genis. We are supposed to care, but there is nothing compelling about him at all.

Raine is abusive and terrible, but the bad thing about it is the framing. She goes and slaps someone, and the party treats it all as, aww, she's quirky, aww, she cares about her brother, aww, it serves you right, you dickbag. It could be an interesting thing about her if it was addressed as a character flaw rather than a source of quirky antics.

But Genis is just... smart. And a bit of an ass. Okay, a lot of an ass. And he says everything with that know-it-all hand wiggle that doesn't even match most of his dialogue. We don't care about him. We don't even hate him.

And now Sheena arrived in the party! Quick, let her have a bunch of dialogue with her annoying familiar so that we can have a clue who the fuck she is -- and still we don't and we can't really care! This is not how you introduce a character!

Luin, the City of Hope

Luin
Luin, The City of DEVASTATION MWAHAHAHA

When we first arrived at Luin, the name of the town was shown as "Luin, the City of Hope". Then later, after it is destroyed and you arrive at the last remains of the town, the introduction happens again, and this time it is "Luin, the City of Devastation" (okay that was clever).

Though note that Luin is pronounced the same as "ruin" in Japanese. Ah.

We played the game in a dumb order (thanks to all of our confusion regarding the water dungeon), but could we even have not seen this city before it was destroyed if we had played it in the more reasonable order? We think so.

Also, we noticed that the town had very little going on, and that all the items for sale were redundant with those for sale in the nearby town of Hima, but rather than tipping us off to the fate awaiting this poor city, we were just seeing it as lazy game design at this point. How sad.

Asgard and the fucking rock

Welcome to the city of wind! Haha, we have windmills.

  1. Kratos

    Remember any time you are fighting an enemy, it is their life in your hands, and killing someone is a terrible burden to bear on your soul.

  2. Kratos

    (leaves the same enemy wounded on the ground to die in an explosion without even the slightest hesitation)

Genis: The security is intense.  It's completely different from last time.
Yeah, they put a rock in front of the vent and everything.

So, at the human ranch near Asgard, there's this really obvious air vent with this really obvious boulder in front of it, right there on the screen with no other scenery to distract you from noticing it while the characters have a long pointless dialogue about disguising themselves, blah blah blah. So, you're totally going to notice this thing. But nothing happens when you try to investigate it. No one even says anything. It is not examinable.

Desian Disguises
Only girls can be in disguise.

So, since we can't enter from the vent, we had to do something else to infiltrate the facility. First we had to go and steal the uniforms, and then blah blah blah, only the one girl uniform was usable, so it has to be Raine in disguise. Then Sheena pulls another costume out of her ass, so she can be in disguise too. Why does it need to be convoluted in this way? It would have been just as easy for there to have been two usable female costumes uncovered. Come on. Unless this is some dark secret for Sheena to have had this, and this revelation is a clue that she's such a spy, omg, but it's still stupid even in that case. Then this whole costume thing lasted about three seconds. Once you get through the one door, everyone takes off their costumes, and Lloyd runs around as usual in front of all the guards. So much for this whole elaborated plan and arguing over who gets the costume, and argh.

Anyway, we already forget exactly what the deal was, but they get kicked out of the ranch somehow. And there's that rock, but you still can't touch it.

So instead, we go back to Luin and hear about how Sheena knew someone who had escaped from the ranch, maybe he knows about a secret entrance, and then we have to go to Hima to find him, and we get to the inn, and we talk with the inn-person Sophia and we have this horrendous piece of dialogue.

Sophia: He passed away.
  1. Sophia

    Sheena!

  2. Sheena

    How’s Pietro?

  3. Sophia

    …He passed away.

  4. Genis

    Did he say anything? Something about the human ranch perhaps?

  5. Sophia

    I…I don’t know…I don’t even know if he really escaped from there.

  6. Raine

    What about his belongings?

  7. Sophia

    He didn’t have any.

  8. Raine

    Where is his grave?

"He passed away". And nobody seems to be in the slightest distress about this. In fact, they start bombarding her with heartless questions. It's as if she had just told them he had gone for a walk, and wasn't sure when he would come back. This is especially weird given how much they have been caring about everyone else whose lives have been ruined by the human ranches, and how much they've been lamenting Marble and Clara and all the people who died who they couldn't save. But when they hear the story of Pietro, who supposedly went through the same torture and managed to escape but still died from all the suffering he had endured... they don't give a fuck? And wasn't this person Sheena's friend or something? Why doesn't she seem to care? They all act like he's only a useful piece to their puzzle and they are more upset that he can't tell them about the utterly obvious secret entrance than the fact that another victim of the half-elves has indeed died. Geez.

Pietro's grave
Anyone have a shovel?

But then, they go to his grave (with half a mind to dig it up for clues... why would they even think there is a clue in the grave?), and who should walk by, but Pietro himself! Alive and... well enough, maybe a bit delirious, but that's to be expected after all the suffering he has gone through, right? And then Sophia shows up and they are all, "Why did you lie??" And she's just, "Because he's sick! And I won't help you unless you find a cure for him!" So they agree, but say they will help him later, because first they need the secret entrance, and although Pietro has been pretty lucid in explaining where the secret entrance is, they don't understand. However, Sophia knows and knows that they will need the McGuffin in Pietro's grave (why is there a McGuffin in Pietro's grave??) and so now they dig up the grave to get the McGuffin and alwkhjlwne

And wait, is Sophia lying to everybody in Hima? She made the whole fake grave and buried a McGuffin in it and everything... why? Just so people wouldn't try to talk with him? And her charade doesn't even seem to be working since people around town have seen him walking around mumbling. Why is there a grave? Why is Pietro a secret? Why is Sophia coercing the party for help? What is going on?

Couldn't this have all just gone:

  1. Sophia

    Hey, Sheena, how are you?

  2. Sheena

    Hey, pretty good! Hey, do you know where my friend Pietro is?

  3. Sophia

    Oh, hm, he’s been very, very sick. I am not sure if he can talk with you at all. He’s speaking all jumbly and strangely.

  4. Pietro

    (opens door and comes in) OH NO THE ROCK THE DESIAN THE CHOSEN DIE ANGELS ROCK VENT

  5. Sophia

    Shh, it’s okay -- see what I mean? He’s been like this since he escaped.

  6. Sheena

    Oh, no... Pietro... I’m sorry.

  7. Colette

    Oh no... Is there anything we could do to help?

  8. Sophia

    I heard there was a book in the Tower of Mana that might have information about a cure.

  9. Raine

    Maybe we should go there. What do you think Lloyd?

  10. Lloyd

    Yes, let’s go!

This would have been terrible, too, but somehow infinitely better than what actually happened in the game. We would have never thought it possible to see as bad of dialogue as "he passed away," followed by, "where is his grave?" Geez.

Also it's like the developers were really excited at the idea of having a scene where the characters dig up a grave and kept putting it into the dialogue too soon.

Anyway, after all that nonsense, guess where the secret entrance is?? The rock? In front of the vent? No fucking way!

Psyducks with headaches
At least you do a good deed and cure their headache to get past them, rather than literally harassing concentration camp survivors.

Except you need to somehow "use" the McGuffin to move the rock... uhhh... somehow. This is so obviously the programmers making sure you did the right things in the right order but couldn't there have been something a little bit less clunky? We have a newfound respect for the pathetic roadblock of Psyducks with headaches from Pokémon Diamond & Pearl, and that was pathetic.

By the way, let us take a moment to mention that the music from Hima will probably haunt us forever.

Exspheres are people!

What a shocker! Didn't they all see Marble explode and then converge into an Exsphere? I mean, it's okay if they didn't get it fully, but it's not that astoundingly surprising. This is kinda a trope.

  1. Kvar

    That Exsphere was cultured on host body A012, human name, Anna—your mother. She took it and escaped from the facility. Of course, she paid for her crime with her life.

Why would Kvar even:

  1. know her name
  2. remember the name
  3. care to know the name
  4. say the name to Lloyd
Inferior beings
Have I mentioned that you're an inferior being yet? Because you are. Inferior. Very inferior. I'm better than you by the way.

That's the whole point of prisoners and oppressed people being numbered. They are stripped of their humanity, and the oppressors don't care who they are, they are just a number. That is literally the point, and the one that they have been trying to make so hard. Kvar just called humans "inferior beings" like three times in this conversation. Why does he care her name is Anna? And in telling Lloyd, he is giving Lloyd a gift (since we don't think he ever knew his mom's name?). So, why would Kvar tell him?

Lloyd has a crisis over this and is going to throw away his mom's Exsphere, and everyone tells him why he shouldn't do it.

The first thing everyone says is the most important: it is the sole possession that ties him to his mom, she died to protect him and it, and it is literally her life-energy in a ball. It's her soul, and you should keep it. Lloyd is an idiot, but would he really want to throw away his mom's soul over an ethical question he's pondered for 4 seconds? He has no problem killing people to avenge his mom. But his mom died for the sake of this thing, oh, well, that needs to burn.

But then, after making this lovely point that this thing is bad, but it is your mom's soul and that can be beautiful... then everyone goes and ruins it all, well, but if you throw it away, then you won't be able to fight well enough. We need it for battle! Keep it at least for now, because it makes you strong! Oh, okay, nevermind any ethical concerns you might have if it suits your purpose right now. Wonderful!

  1. Colette

    Lloyd, wait. What will you accomplish by taking that off? It’s not just an Exsphere, it’s also your mother’s life, remember?

  2. Lloyd

    But these things make a mockery of human life.

  3. Kratos

    But we would have lost long ago had we not had them.

  4. Lloyd

    Don’t you think I know that?!

  5. Kratos

    Do you really? If you throw away that Exsphere now, do you think you can finish this journey?

Also, the story of the game here is at complete odds with the gameplay because, uh, are the Exspheres actually useful? What do they actually do? We are not sure if we are even using them? We forget to set the attribute thingies entirely. And that doesn't seem to matter much.

It's not that this game is non-linear, it's that you can do things in the wrong order

For the next part, we somehow did everything in the wrong order, and the game did nothing to stop us. We just got dialogue that spoils things and assumes we've already done the other thing.

So, we've mentioned this before, but the game is somehow non-linear in that you can do things out of order, but it's not really non-linear, because it was clearly made in a linear train of thought. They either needed to just put blocks and make it linear, or check if we actually did the thing before people talk to us about it.

The unicorn
How did it even get down there?

We went to check on the unicorn. We had gone there before, and they said we needed a summoner -- in really contrived dialogue, of course... but now we had Sheena in the party, and she can summon her moon-squirrel Corrine or whatever, so, let's see if she counts as the summoner we need. So we go, and we had one inkling that this might be wrong when the characters say that the unicorn might be able to cure Colette and/or Clara. Is Colette sick? Eh, I guess they mean the Angel Toxicosis. We didn't think that counted as an illness, since it's more of a side effect of her angel transformation. But whatever. Anyway, Sheena says she can do it, but we have to go back to the friggen geyser again, and we were en route to the Tower of Mana, but this is seeming somehow bonus, so let's take care of this first.

Please, Undine
Somehow do your thing.

So we trek back on down to the geyser, and omg the boats are free now, even though now we have funds. Sigh. But we go there, and Sheena makes a pact with the summon spirit Undine, and then we go back, and Undine makes the unicorn come up to the surface. Why was Undine needed for this anyway? Why not manually move the logs, or Genis has magical powers, and just, there's like 500 ways they could have approached this problem, why was it the first time they saw this all, oh, that poor unicorn, if only we had a summoner in the party who could summon Undine to make the unicorn... float? But alas, all summoners have been lost to the mist of time! Woe is us and woe is the unicorn. It's like if Denise was trying to build IKEA furniture, and Rosy came in all, oh, woe is us, we could build the furniture if only we had access to the tomes from the Library of Alexandria! But alas, the Library was burned thousands of years ago! We shall never get this dresser together! And while that's in character for Rosy, it would be as a joke, not for serious. But anyway, whatever reason it needed to be Undine, the unicorn floats and we see the unicorn... and now they are talking about saving Clara and/or Pietro, but there won't be enough for Colette. So, wait, is this the cure we were supposed to learn about in the Tower of Mana?? From the book?? Whoops!

So okay, we go back to Luin, and the priest tells us that the key to the Tower of Mana was eaten by a monster! But we never asked him about it. He's talking like we're already looking for the key, but we didn't know we were looking for the key.

Then we go to Hima, and apparently the only monster in the world is poor Clara. Here Denise was thinking that we would need to farm random encounters for however long to find the right one, and Rosy was thinking there was going to be a unique monster on the map somewhere for us to learn about and fight, but no, just reuse Clara again. How did she get here? Why did she eat the key? And how did she conveniently leave it behind for us if she had eate-- nevermind, don't answer that one.

Speaking of linear and non-linear, at one point later, they told us that Chocolat is in the human ranch near Iselia. So, Denise insists that we trek all the way back to the human ranch near Iselia, in a vain attempt to save her. Rosy was more skeptical that this was something that this game would let us do, but Denise argued that, why would they tell us that she's there if we weren't supposed to go there? Anyway, we arrive, and... we're not allowed in because Lloyd still acts like it is the beginning of the game. At least Dirk gave us some presents while we were there.

The Tower of Mana and Team-Splitting and Errors

Before, we went through Asgard's human ranch, and they did the whole thing of splitting the party into two groups. Okay. We wish we had known that we were going to have to use both groups in isolation. We assumed we were just going to pilot Lloyd's group, and the others would trigger the door off-screen and then rejoin us. But anyway, we made it. This was not a good dungeon by any means, and who designed this bullshit conveyor belt that you need to turn off before you can reach the controls, but whatever, we've seen that sort of bullshit before, so, decent enough dungeon from this game. In any other game, this would be mediocre, but here it kinda shines.

One weird thing we noticed is that Raine somehow has the Sorcerer's Ring even though we know Lloyd has it and we know Lloyd is in a completely different part of the facility, so there is no way Raine has it... but we figured it was an oversight, you never needed to use it as Raine, so they forgot to disable that. No biggie, we can forgive that. So, all in all, decent dungeon. Comparatively.

Tower of Mana Switches
Okay, you losers stand here on the buttons. Ciao!

But then, we make it to the Tower of Mana. And they start doing the thing again of needing to divide the party so that some of them can stand on the buttons while Lloyd and the rest go ahead. Rosy was all, oh, are they doing it again? And Denise was all, well, not exactly, it's not two teams, but rather, one limited team, so it's a bit different. We put our least favorite characters on the buttons, and charged ahead...

Except then you do play as the other team. Again. So then it is the same exact mechanic as the other dungeon immediately after! We even had ourselves a little detour for the unicorn that we clearly were supposed to do later, so actually, if we were playing as intended, this part would have happened immediately after we just did this. This is unacceptable. You could maybe even reuse the same idea twice in the same game, but you need to space that out. And even there, it might be all, oh this shit again. But here, it's twice in a row!! Wow! We'd almost admire the balls, if we weren't so disgusted.

This dungeon actually uses the Sorcerer's Ring to burn away the red curtains, revealing the bright light. Lloyd uses it on one curtain in that part of the dungeon, and then waits in the depths of the dungeon for the second team to arrive (in our case, Raine's team). Raine's team has a different, separate path of the dungeon to explore. They go to the first room... and there's a red curtain that needs to be burned. So... SHE USES THE SORCERER'S RING. THAT LLOYD HAS. AND HAS NO WAY TO GIVE HER.

Tower of Mana
"Can you pass me the sorcerer's ring through this solid wall?"

Before we were giving it the benefit of the doubt because it was completely irrelevant in the other dungeon and could have easily been an oversight. But in this case someone designed it that someone other than Lloyd must use the ring, even though Lloyd isn't there and can't reach them. This was designed and nobody stopped to think that this was impossible. This is not a forgivable oversight, this is a flat-out error, and it makes us want to retroactively repeal our generosity on excusing it in the previous dungeon.

And this totally could have been avoided by just having them move the curtains with their hands instead of having to burn them. Why are they going into this ancient library and burning the curtains. Actually, we'll tell you why. It's because the creators were so fixated on the idea of having the Sorcerer's Ring be the puzzle-gimmick of every dungeon that they had to come up with something here for the Sorcerer's Ring to do, so, why not, burn the curtains!

Tower of Mana Lightbeams
OMG is this a PUZZLE?!

As for what concerns the Tower of Mana, it actually has a puzzle. It involves moving blocks containing lenses to redirect a beam of light to our goal. Sure, it is a very limited puzzle, and it would have helped if the lens blocks had some clearer indication on what happens when they interact with the light beams, but at this point, we are so starved for a puzzle that, yes, give us this shitty lightbeam puzzle, yes! We're shoving mirrors up our asses! Yes!

But we hate the Sorcerer's Ring, omg. It feels like some sort of gimmick to promote the Wiimote, but what, is it a gimmick to promote the X-button, what is that?

In retrospect, there actually is no reason that the human ranch dungeon needed them to split up into two teams. The two teams start in the same room, and decide it would be more efficient to be two teams. Why? Time is not of the essence, there's no bomb or anything. The only boundary between the two teams is... an open door, that they just say, let's not go that way, we'll leave that side to the other team. There's no reason that it couldn't have just been a case of, we get to the teleporter, realize it needs to be turned on, backtrack to the other buttons and turn it on (or get lucky and go to the buttons first, and then need less backtracking). The only reason for this split seems to be to minimize backtracking with a contrived two-team approach, but backtracking sure wasn't a problem with the water dungeon...

Compare with Daccat's Island in Skies of Arcadia. The two teams were completely separate and did things that changed things for the opposite side, allowing them to alternately progress through the dungeon until they met up in the middle. We have a few critiques for this -- mostly that the dungeon is straight-forward, there only is one thing to do at a time, and from the characters' perspectives, it is much more accidental than intentional. But it's cool, and miles better than any of this.

More about Colette's lack of agency

We hate how badly the writing treats Colette. Though many games give us similar gripes, it's still frustrating and angering.

Shit is going down, we're going to the other world

Colette has almost completed her angel transformation. Sheena has a heart-to-heart with the party explaining that she comes from another world linked to this one, and, if Colette saves Sylvarant, Sheena's world, Tethe'alla, will suffer. Colette vows to find a way to save both.

Evil!
Evil twist!

Now we only need to go to the Tower of Salvation and she can save the world. Or so we thought. There, Kratos reveals himself to be an evil angel and a traitor, and to have led Colette there because she's some sort of pawn in a greater scheme to revive the goddess Martel. Colette loses her last shred of humanity and becomes essentially a zombie.

Kratos in the bad guy clothes
Kratos in his bad guy clothes, which, as the dress code of bad guys mandates, must include a lot of crissycrossies.

We then have an unwinnable battle with Kratos. We hate it when games do that, but it's kinda an established trope, so we suppose we cannot blame Tales of Symphonia in particular for that.

Yggdrasill
Finally, the evil bishonen arrives.

But then, after we lost that battle, there's another battle with someone named Yggdrasill, who's obviously the big bad guy. Since we just lost the battle with Kratos, everyone has one health point, and we are forced to immediately lose again. You don't have two unwinnable battles in a row! Especially considering that the entire point of the trope of the unwinnable battle is to impress upon you just how impossibly strong the enemy is. Which it even failed to do with Kratos, because we weren't feeling helpless against him, even with all his evil angel powers. Yeah, we lost, but we were holding our own pretty well for awhile, and it felt like we might have won if we hadn't run out of items. In fact, we were getting ready to reload the game, but then the cutscene started and, oh, yeah, okay, we were supposed to lose this.

But if you have us all there with one health point, how can we even tell how impossibly strong this Yggdrasill even is? He could have just blown on our foreheads and we would have dropped dead. That's not impressive! And then they all talk about it later all, ooo, did you see how strong Yggdrasill was? At least Sheena chimes in that, well, they were on the brink of death at the time anyway. But they don't have much inkling how strong he is given the circumstances. The developers did the trope twice without realizing the point of the trope, agh.

So we run away, carrying zombie-Colette with us. Sheena tells us that she can bring us all to her world, where we can find a cure for Colette. We do so with these rocket-airplane things that are conveniently in the hangar over there!

References

Notes

  1. Rosy is the daughter of two teachers, and even in their small town, there was no way she could be in any class remotely connected with her parents. It only happened once that there was no other option, and Rosy's mom had to substitute for her class. It was only for one hour, and yet Rosy describes it as not being a good experience. While Sylvarant is a fantasy land, Rosy cannot begin to fathom how the writers of this game would have even imagined this scenario as not being a problem.
  2. Since this dialogue happened in an optional cutscene, we wonder if they only intended us to unlock it after there are more party members. But, if so, they failed to stop us from accessing this cutscene earlier and being confused.

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