Wednesday, November 9, 2011

#0026: Tales of Symphonia

The Nintendo GameCube may well have been my favorite console. Not necessarily for it's catalogue of games (though it does feature magical titles like Smash Bros Melee, Wind Waker and Pikmin!!), but because of the memories I have associated with it.

It's lifespan of 2001-2006 corresponded with my high school years, a time when your mates could just swing by your place after school and have a gaming session, and it would be SWEET.

Melee, Mario Kart, Phantasy Star Online, you name it, we'd sink hours into 'em. And for that reason, we were always on the hunt for multiplayer games, particularly ones that allowed for cooperative play.

So that's how #26 on our list (or should it be 25, since I cheated with the talking Pikachu?) came into the collection. It was a title that toted cooperative four player gaming and a great, big immersive adventure. How then, did Tales of Symphonia disappoint? Read on, you crazy diamond...

First, some background: one day, as a joke, I put a couple of dollars into an envelope, that I creatively dubbed 'the Lovely Envelope', and asked my friends to make a donation. They did, and as time went on, we continued putting in the occasional coins until the envelope swelled with money.

We transferred our funds to an empty Pringles tin, and the cash kept going in there. I guess when you're that age, you don't have much to spend your dough on, so offloading a few bucks for no particular reason is more acceptable.

We had determined that we would use the money to buy gaming-related items. We started with a multitap for the PS2, allowing us to plug four controllers into the console instead of just two. A good start, and our SmackDown sessions thrived as a result.

Our second purchase (and if memory serves, the last one) was ToS here. My buddy Matt had done a bit of sleuthing and come across it. It fulfilled the necessary criteria to be appropriately awesomesocks, so it was with great anticipation we popped it in the little black cube and started it up.

It's story follows the escapades of one Lloyd Irving, tasked with awakening a goddess to prevent the destruction of the world; a dire fate set off by the sacrifice of a hero to save a particularly important tree.

Yeah, I dunno either, but it's not like we're playing this for the story. (Our first of many mistakes!)

As Lloyd and an ever-changing cast of allies, you travel the world, encountering enemies and battling them in an arena-like enclosure.

So that would make this an RPG with real-time combat. And right off the bat, that proves to be a chaotic gaming style. Because, if you weren't aware, RPGs are most often heavily story-driven and laden with dialogue. This would be fine under usual circumstances, but this is a multiplayer game, and most sweaty frantic teenagers aren't keen on sitting around and taking in a whole lot of text.

From the opening scene in the classroom, we moaned about when they'd cease their incessant blather and let us play.

I wanna move! I wanna kill stuff! What's that, a chair? CAN I KILL IT?

Then finally, Lloyd came free of his stint in suspended animation, and we were permitted the exciting gameplay element of MOVEMENT.

And what did we have to do? to people? No! Killing! Pleeeeease! If we were playing Smash Bros, we would have each amassed twenty kills by now! (Except my mate Dom. He was shithouse.)

Herein lies the dilemma: the combat is appropriate for four people. The overworld, however, is 100% RPG, and that's a problem. Even when there's something interesting happening, like exploring a dungeon, only player one is even present.

So you watch a lengthy cut scene, you take a few steps forward, you watch another cut scene, you might progress a few more inches, then finally you have a little fight, followed by a cut scene expressing how you all felt about said fight.

Furthermore, as the cast isn't static, there are times when there simply won't be enough playable characters for everyone. You wait around for four folks to turn up, you smack some cronies around, then you go onto the next storyline arc, and all of a sudden, Lloyd is alone again.

What kind of demographic are they hoping to appease with that? Patient children? Frequently absent gamers? One person with eight hands?

In case you couldn't tell, this game's failings really stemmed from the fact that it didn't suit my friends and I. Not necessarily it's fault, but when you're eight minutes into a multiplayer game without having done a single thing that even vaguely resembles gaming, you have a problem.

Then finally, you get out in the field and start killing some zombies, ghosts and unlucky little bunny rabbits, and you think... that's it? The combat is nice, but it's not exactly enough to hold your attention amongst the overworld stuff.

...I think I should have preceded that video with 'spoiler alert', but it seems as though every ToS fight on Youtube is one. My lore is no more! Also, that fight looked kinda cool, which really contradicts the point I was trying to make. Er-hem.

Effectively, the biggest fault of ToS is that it's a single-player experience masquerading as a multiplayer game. It has a large cult following, so obviously it's doing something right, but it most definitely was not for me.

...Wow, this entry wasn't funny at all, was it? It was borderline informative, in fact! I guess I'm still dwelling on my Sonic Generations plight.

Oh well. At least selling ToS will bring be approximately three dollars closer to my goal...

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