The Tales JRPG series is nowadays synonymous with comfort food; a satisfying meal that is neither complex nor memorable. Full to the brim with anime archetypes and genre cliches, it is honestly difficult to pick the different games apart.
It is then hard to imagine a time when the very things the series is known for were actually incredible innovations to the genre. The unabashed anime-ness of the series was established in the first game on the SNES, where an Anime cut-scene and vocal track inexplicably fit into the cartridge. With the second game, Tales of Destiny, the series established much of its traditions and firmly entrenched itself into becoming an anime-videogame, for better or worse.
#A40(S): Tales of Destiny:-
Year: 1997, 1998.
Genre: Action RPG.
Developer: Wolf Team (Namco).
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10-point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. The recommendation for a game scoring a 7 largely depends on your personal taste.
"History books say that 6 Swordians saved our world in the ancient Aeth'er Wars"
The story begins with the hero, Stahn Aileron, stowed away on a flying dragon ship. Thanks to his heavy sleeping, which becomes a running gag throughout the game, he is found by a couple of guards just before the ship is attacked by monsters. In the middle of that confusion, Stahn finds a sentient sword, called Dymos, that forms a pact with him and helps him survive the attack. This sword, we later learn, is part of an exclusive race named, rather originally, Swordians that are awakened when the world is in trouble.
Soon, the pure-hearted hero finds himself indebted to a couple of adventurers and then hoisted to stop a mad priest from using a weapon of mass destruction to rule the world. Unsurprisingly for a Tales game, but this actually originated in this game, the story gets more complicated than that. It originates the three-act structure that the rest of the games follow closely.
The game doesn't waste any time putting Stahn into dangerous situations
What surprised me, given my ambivalence towards the plot of most games in the series, is how engaged I was with this one. Since the story moved at a rapid pace, did not bother to over-explain its concepts, and maintained some room for interpretation, it kept me engaged throughout.
Even though the Western release missed the trademark "skits" the series is known for, it still managed to effectively convey the personality of your party. That's not only due to the extensive dialogue, but also thanks to the clever use of emotional bubbles and clever sprite animations during scenes. Sweat drops, frustration clouds, tears of laughter, and other stock anime-style emotional cues are library used throughout the game, and that highlights the comedic aspects of the story and characters.
Notice the emotion bubbles in the scene above, as well as one character doing something different in the background
Overall, Tales of Destiny tells a straightforward story filled with big dramatic moments as well as smaller but no less important character moments. It doesn't kill its momentum by over-explaining things and is less cringy than many of its predecessors' thanks mostly to its brevity. Also, it should be mentioned, how the world keeps changing with events in the story, and that affects the dialogue and micro-stories of NPCs around the game's world, and that was extremely progressive for the era.
"Ah, I see we have some rodents here. I didn't think you would be able to follow us this far"
Ironically, while I am usually a big fan of the Tales battle system even if I dislike the story, it's the opposite here. That's because this is a very early version of the action-based Linear Motion Battle System. For those unfamiliar with combat in the Tales series, it's basically a real-time input system that is closer to fighting games than to Turn-Based RPGs.
You move your character and can freely attack and use special moves, but you can also pause the screen and issue commands to the rest of the party or use spells. That's all present in this game, but it's relatively sluggish. Stahn's movement is slow and erratic, and the combo potential of moves is very low. Also, with only four special moves mapped to shortcuts, it massively reduces your in-battle options.
As a result, the game is rarely challenging
Worse yet is that you can only directly control Stahn in your party unless you go through massive loopholes. That reduces the variety in gameplay that I usually love with this series. Of course, using the multiplayer option, you can control other characters, but that never was my playstyle with these games.
Another weakness of the system is the customization aspect, which is limited to buying the best equipment in every town you go to. That's fine if not for the fact that most of the weapons you find are useless. That's because there is no reason not to equip each character with their "Swordian" of choice, as that's clearly the best option.
"Do you dare to stop the winds of change and the demons of destruction?!!"
Outside of battle, the main gameplay element in the game is dungeon and overworld exploration, which is unfortunately hampered by a rather high random encounter rate. Outside of the annoyance of random encounters, dungeons are basic enough for the most part, with puzzles shaking things up a bit.
However, in one part of the game, several dungeons follow each other with the same obnoxious design premise, and those were easily my least favorite part of the game. It felt like going through the same dungeon more than four times, which is egregiously bad.
Not all dungeons are winners like this one
As for overworld exploration, it suffers from having one of the ugliest world maps I have ever seen, coupled with extremely linear progression. To be fair, this wasn't the focus of the game, and the linear nature of the game gently guides you through many towns and locations that are extremely well-realized.
One aspect that the series is known for is its myriad of mini-games, which are available here, and are fun with non-essential distractions. Yet, these non-essential aspects of the game, including the many micro-stories you gather by talking to NPCs, give the world a lived-in dimension that is sometimes lacking in JRPGs.
"How can I be alright? I just got caught and beaten up like a punching bag!!"
Made in 1997 and featuring a spiky-haired blonde hero, Tales of Destiny naturally drew unfavorable comparisons with Square's seminal Final Fantasy VII. One aspect that the old comparison clearly got wrong was any criticisms of the game's graphics since the sprite work of Tales of Destiny looks much better now than the polygonal monstrosities of many PS1 RPGs.
True, the game looks like it could run on the SNES, and it probably could. Except, it would be one of the prettiest and most detailed SNES games ever made. Graphically, it's extremely good 2D art for backgrounds, locations, special effects, and there is a lot of detail in the construction of rooms and houses.
Notice how detailed the bar is
However, the characters themselves are not ideal. Portraits are relegated to the status screen, and the design of each character is a chubby sprite in both the world and battles. Its not as detailed or masterful as Breath of Fire, Suikoden, or Valkyrie Profile. Instead, it aims for a feeling closer to the SNES classics, which is fairly acceptable.
Musically, the soundtrack is made by series stalwarts Motoi Sakuraba and Shinji Tamura, and it's easy to say that this is not Sakuraba's best work on the PS1. While there are really good tracks such as the aptly named "Despair" and the more upbeat "Memories Return", the majority of the tracks are merely functional. The main battle theme gets boring after a while and doesn't change much, and the dungeon themes fail to stand out most of the time.
The game's larger sprite models are beautiful
One thing that is missing from the game is the Voice Acting in the "skits", which was not translated into the English localization. Yet, remnants of the voice acting remain in the Japanese battle chants and special attack shouts, which coupled with some good sound effects make for exciting background noise.
Despite its nice story and cast of characters, I must admit that I had to force myself to finish Tales of Destiny past the halfway point. With the story and exploration slowing down, the game's rather mundane gameplay was forced to carry its weight, and it failed to do so.
With merely nice sprite-work and functional music, the game's production design wasn't doing any of the heavy lifting wither. Instead, the residual charm of the story and characters rushed me through, but I am not sure if that's going to be the same with everyone.
At least the first act was great.
1- Harbor warehouses contain an item once you solve a puzzle.
2- Never change your equipped weapon from your base "Swordian", except in one dungeon where the enemies absorb fire.
3- You can interact with various objects for color dialogue.
4- Enable the combo counter option for some extra EXP (once you get the valuable item allowing it).
5- You can put food in your backpack for some passive healing, but it's practically useless.
6- Talk to NPCs for some extra context and stories.
7- Never cast spells while under attack.
8- Have some special attacks that allow you to go behind enemies to involve more of your team with the attack.
9- VERY IMPORTANT: Visit Cyril before you start the scene in Heidelberg for a nice scene with Mary.
10- Before battling Lydon, use all your gold to buy the stuff you can sell later.
Torture is funny, har de hur
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now reviewing Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not on the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
This is one of the few sprite-based games that actually has reflections
Despite my relatively low score, I still liked Tales of Destiny and see why it's remembered so fondly. It has its flaws, but it has the bones of something better.
Here is hoping that Tales of Destiny II, which actually is called Tales of Eternia, is the successor that first improved the franchise's gameplay.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: