Being the third game in the series, but only the second game released in the West after Tales of Destiny, this game was mistakingly branded with the Tales of Destiny II moniker as to attract fans of the first PS1 Tales game. This decision would come to bite Namco later when they released the actual sequel to Tales of Destiny on the PS2, which they just called Tales of Destiny 2, using Arabic instead of Roman numerals. This brief history lesson is just a preamble to the actual review and an explanation as to why I am just going to call the game Tales of Eternia of ToE from now on.
One thing the original localization title made clear is that this game is a sequel to the first, and sequels, especially in the video game space, do not only mean a continuation of a story. Indeed, more often than not, sequels constitute an evolution in mechanics and presentation, which is what Tales of Eternia clearly demonstrates.
Here, we see the Tales series maturing in style and mechanics to the treasured JRPG franchise we know and love today, but that's not all that it represents. Despite some minor flaws and shortcomings, this game has the charm to stand tall alongside its more accomplished peers
#A40: Tales of Destiny II (Eternia):-
Year: 2000, 2001.
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.
"The Grand Fall is when Celestia and Inferia come close together... and then... BOOM!!"
The story of several Tales games (and indeed many JRPGs) is centered around the conflict between two worlds, and ToE is a progenitor of that trope. When Reid's quiet and boring life is disturbed by the emergence of a mysterious stranger, his extremely nice and capable childhood friend Farah convinces him to help the troubled stranger.
Obviously, the stranger is from a different world, and at first, the party cannot talk to her due to the language difference, only being able to figure out Meredy as her name. Soon, they are joined by another childhood friend, an obnoxious jerk named Keele, and the grand story reveals itself through the emergence of a literal "grand" catastrophe.
Typically, the Tales series plots lean towards preventing environmental catastrophes rather than killing God
The world of Eternia is divided into two realms facing each other through a magical barrier of sorts, Celestia where Meredy is from, and Inferia where the beginning takes place. Due to some shenanigans happening in Celestia, the two worlds are set to collide in an event defined as "the grand fall".
Most of the story consists of the party's attempts at collecting the support of the world's elemental spirits, maneuvering the political obstacles of the xenophobic ruling class, and resolving minor issues in the places they visit. The stakes get higher as the story develops, and even the ultimate bad guys receive some dimensions to them (albeit too late to be of much substance), but that's not the story's main strength.
Indeed, like with the many Tales games after it, the strength of the story is in its characters, and that's even more pronounced because ToE allows its characters to be jerks sometimes. Both Reid and Keele undergo believable growth through the journey, but Farah shines as an infectious, extremely capable, and occasionally flawed moral core to the party.
Farah is one of the best female JRPG characters in her era (and in any Tales game)
Unfortunately, the character dialogue "skits" the series is known for weren't localized for the PS1 version, which is a shame considering the solid voice acting throughout the games (except for a few side characters). You bet, even Meredy's voice actor, which could have been grating with an intentionally foreign-sounding accent was mostly well-done and solid throughout, which is just a pleasant surprise considering the game's development era.
"There are people I love that life in this world. I'm not letting them die!"
For a series that is frequently lauded due to its Action RPG battle mechanics (personally, I care more for the battles than the story in the latter game), the first PS1 game was a bit lacking on that front. In comparison, ToE takes great strides in improving the battle system, but it still falls short in some key areas.
Almost immediately, perhaps thanks to the larger and more realistically proportioned sprites, you feel a greater fluidity in how the characters move and attack. Yet, this extra fluidity to the movement doesn't prove useful until much later in the game when you unlock skills that can chain into each other seamlessly. Before that, there is a stunted feeling to the gameplay, especially when you control Farah who I feel doesn't start feeling good to control until the halfway point of the game.
But its always annoying getting interrupted by enemy attacks
Speaking of controlling other characters, here is where the game massively improves on its predecessor, by allowing you to control any of your character members. However, one of the franchise's core issues is presented here, which is solved differently (and with various degrees of success) in every game but is not solved at all here.
Simply put, it's not fun playing as anyone other than Reid or Farah (and only later with her). Playing as one of the two casters isn't much fun, and neither of the two extra characters is useful in any capacity regardless if controlled by the player or the computer.
So, here we have an improved battle system that still doesn't reach near the heights of its potential, and that is only marginally fun when playing as two out of six characters for the entire game. It's notable progress compared to Tales of Destiny but is far from ideal.
"Spreading lies all over town about the destruction of the world... Kneel before the King! And accept your death sentence"
Another thing that is far from ideal is the heavy linear progression of the game. Given the fact that you are supposed to collect a series of McGuffins, it would have been appreciated if there was some freedom in the order of doing so. Instead, you are going through a linear path, encountering story sequences, going into dungeons, and so on.
Since the game is nicely balanced and continuously moving forward, this is a minor complaint, especially since the latter part of the game gives you a sub and a GPS for finding the locations based on given coordinates, offering an illusion of exploration.
Dungeons are beautiful to walk around in this time around
Outside of dungeons and overworld exploration, there are multiple systems to engage with. First and foremost is the "spell fringe" system, which allows you to equip different elemental spirits to Keele and Meredy, hereby unlocking different spells depending on the combination. It's an engaging system in theory, but there is one hard combination you must follow (give Nurse to Meredy).
Second, there is a cooking system that is much improved from the food system in the previous game, and it allows you to quickly recover health and spell points after battle without spending much time in menus (if you refresh frequently with ingredients).
Lastly, as is traditional with games in the series, there are several mini-games to enjoy, and while none of them is quite deep or consequential, they do offer a nice break from the game's linear monotony.
Now, let's pivot to talk about the game's graphics and presentation. When talking about the game's battle system, I already suggested that the character sprites are bigger and more detailed than the chibi representation of characters in the first Tales of Destiny, and that alludes nicely to the graphical upgrade that happened to the sequel.
Thankfully, the game's graphics are all done in 2D sprites and backgrounds with little use of 3D models in the overworld. This allowed the art style to shine at the time, and to still look beautiful today. Many of the game's key locations have gorgeous backgrounds, which are complemented well by the more detailed sprites of the game.
The sprites look great against the cool backgrounds and limited 3D elements
It helps that the art design has a unifying look to it, in both the art style and the world-building details. Houses look livable, with recognizable items to use, and cities look distinct with their own culture but still retain a throughline in design that unifies the look of the game.
Complimenting the in-game graphics are a couple of nicely done CGI cutscenes, which, along with the amount of voice acting in the game, explains the game having 3 CDs.
I already spoke about the solid VA work when talking about the game's story, so let's discuss the game's soundtrack as well which is done by series composers Motoi Sakuraba and Shinji Tamura. With the first game, I felt the soundtrack was promising in some areas, but lacking in its overall scope, and that's no different with this game. This soundtrack is a prime example of Sakuraba at his most basic.
The majority of dungeon and town themes are forgettable, and so were the main battle themes. Only in the latter stages of the game, where some usually throwaway march and/or rebel group songs play did I hear anything memorable and cool. Considering the vastness of the soundtrack, it's a disappointment that it had so few memorable songs in it.
Even the limited polygonal elements are not bad
Tales of Eternia (or Tales of Destiny II if you prefer) isn't only a massive upgrade over the first PS1 Tales game, but a very good game in its own right. It has a nice and engaging story that is headed by a very good cast of characters, with Farah being a special highlight in both story (and later) and combat.
It helps that the story is being told through surprisingly good voice acting, and is supported by the solid Action RPG gameplay the series will be known for in the future.
Thanks to its great 2D art and sprites, it still looks great today, with the rough but limited 3D polygons adding to its charms rather than subtracting from the overall presentation. It will even allow you to forgive the rather disappointing soundtrack.
1- Grab the collector's book from the village's elder at the beginning of the game.
2- You can interact with objects to uncover funny skits and get some detail on the world.
3- To get cooking recipes, interact with out-of-place objects in rooms, which are quite obvious most of the time. This will uncover the hiding Master Chef.
4- There are some secret areas on the world map, which are mostly obvious to figure out.
5- Cooking is really useful throughout the game.
6- You can assign the shoulder buttons for spell usage by other characters, which you should utilize for healing spells.
7- On the world map, you can press Square to open the travel menu, which gives you hints about what to do next among other things.
8- To unlock Chat as a party member, talk to her to join inside the ship.
9- In the final sections of the game, use the Seyfert Key in the valuables menu for a beacon to show you the correct way.
One thing I didn't mention is that the series's humor is still present
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 them.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
And so is its penchant for brilliantly exotic world-building (and its own weird terminology)
After enjoying Tales of Destiny but recognizing its clear flaws, I hoped its sequel on the PS1 improved on it, and that was the case with Tales of Eternia. It would have actually been more impressive to me back then than the Tales series's current status with me these days.
The next game I am reviewing is a Squaresoft cult classic, Brave Fencer Musashi. I don't know what to expect from the game. However, knowing Square's pedigree in that era, I am confident it's at least going to be a really interesting game.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: