Tales of Symphonia was first released in the U.S. on July 13, 2004.
Ten years ago, the U.S. was introduced to Tales of Symphonia for the Nintendo Gamecube. Arguably, this was the game that made the 'Cube a must-have console during the first half of the last decade. It stands today as the best RPG on the Gamecube and third-best Gamecube game overall behind Super Smash Bros. Brawl (#1) and Wind Waker (#2), respectively. Basically, if you had a Gamecube and you were into Role Playing Games, you HAD to get THIS game. It literally speaks for itself.
I found out for myself when I finally bought the game in early 2006. When the opening cutscene played, I knew I should've listened to the critics and played the game MUCH sooner. The game simply exceeded every single expectation I set for it since I first heard about it in 2005. I could almost hear Cam Clarke (Kratos's English Voice Actor) say in character "Now that you understand the folly of your ignorance towards this game, you can repent by mastering everything there is to know about the world of Symphonia."
Whew where to begin. By the way, the song in the video is called Starry Heavens and plays in the Japanese version of the game. Unlike the song that plays in the English version, the Japanese version packs that extra punch to let you know "this isn't Final Fantasy". The U.S. song highlights the heroism of the cast but the Japanese version just fits in my book.
Tales of Symphonia was my first "Tales of" game. Since then, I've gone on to play every Tales game released since except Legendia for the PS2 (from what I've seen it's a definite pass): I got Tales of the Abyss (PS2 version) and Phantasia (GBA port of the SNES version) in 2007, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World (Wii) in 2008, Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology (PSP) in 2009, Vesperia (Xbox 360) in 2010, Tales of Graces f (PS3) in 2011, Tales of the Abyss again in 2012 (3DS version) and Tales of Xillia (PS3) last month. As you can imagine, I am a fan of the series but anyway moving on XD
As I mentioned in my resume above Symphonia got a direct sequel in 2008: Dawn of the New World (Knights of Ratatosk in Japan). We'll get back to this in detail later but the events of this game take place two years after the events of the first game. Speaking of the first game, it boasts well over 100 hours across two discs per playthrough. And by the way, this game has 8-yes, EIGHT-endings. One for each of Lloyd's party members. More on this in a second.
BEFORE I GO FURTHER, THERE ARE MAJOR SPOILERS IN THE NEXT FEW PARAGRAPHS. SKIP PAST THE NEXT PICTURE IF YOU DO NOT WANT PLOT POINTS FROM THE GAME SPOILED FOR YOU.
The premise of this game can't be put simply because the premise evolves at several intervals. In the beginning Lloyd Irving, Collette Brunel, Raine Sage and her kid brother Genis join the mysterious mercenary Kratos Aurion on a regeneration journey to save their world. As the regeneration journey draws to a close, events that pop up during their journey casts doubt on weather or not they're doing the right thing. When the group is attacked and later joined by the mysterious female assassin Sheena Fujibayashi who claims to come from a parellel world, it becomes clear to Lloyd and Raine an unseen force is working behind the scenes the shape the destiny of their world and the life of Sylverant's Chosen of Regeneration, Colette.
An unexpected betrayal by Kratos at the Tower of Regeneration reveals there is more to Sylverant and its other half Tethe'alla than anyone could have imagined. With Colette in a coma-like state and enemies on their heels, Sheena leads the group to Tethe'alla to find answers and a way to restore Colette to her old self. The group is joined by Tethe'alla's chosen Zelos Wilder, the Noble Convict Regal Bryant and the enigmatic woodcutter Presea Comatir. While exploring the Seals of Regeneration on Tethe'alla, the group learns the seals in Tethe'alla and Sylverant are connected. As long as the worlds are connected, the cycle of prosperity and decline will continue like an hourglass. To stop the cycle, the Regeneration Team decides to release all of the seals and have Sheena form a pact with the Summon Spirits who govern each seal on both worlds.
During their quest they meet a young boy named Mithos, who shares the same name as Mithos Yggdrassil, a Hero known to the people of both worlds. According to the legend, Mithos, his sister Martel and his companions Kratos Aurion and Yuan Kafei ended the great war between the kingdoms of Sylverant and Tethe'alla before they disappeared from human history. Interestingly enough, the Desians who wreak havoc on the declining world of Sylverant revere Yggdrassil as a god. This same Yggdrassil bears a striking resemblance to the boy Mithos that Lloyd and Genis befriend.
After visiting the Elven Village of Heimdall the group learns several inconvenient truths about the nature of their worlds: Sylverant and Tethe'alla were originally one world before Mithos used a sword forged by the King of the Summon Spirits to split the world in two. They exist in the same area of space but on shifted dimenisons with the Mana Seed servering as the anchor betweeen the worlds while the Mana Links the Team has been severing served as a cage to protect the seed. To complicate things further, Mithos fused his sister Martel's Exsphere so one must be sacrificed for the other.
In a matter of picking the world over a single person, the world would usually win. Except in Mithos' case, he rewrote the laws nature to keep his sister's soul and consciousness alive for four thousand years while he used Cruxis to make a new body for her. This is where The Symphonia Team steps in to make the choice Mithos, Kratos and Yuan were too weak-minded to make in the first place. They revive the Great Seed and restore the two worlds to their original form.Kratos departs from the New World with Derris Kharlan as the last remaining leader of Cruxis to dispose of the Expheres on Derris Kharlan.
The fallout from the actions of the Symphonia Team is explored in the game's sequel Dawn of the New World.
Overall, I give the game a Perfect 10. At the time it became the RPG worth getting a Gamecube for. It also opened the door to the Gamecube for third party developers to make games for the console, too. No? Not long after this game was released Capcom brought Resident Evil 4 to the Nintendo console. Hideo Kojima brought Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes to the 'Cube (A port of the original Playstation game but using the MGS2 engine and graphics). Namco also released Soul Calibur II on the Gamecube as well as the PS2 and Original Xbox simulataneously. Of the three versions the Gamecube version has always been the most popular due to Link being a playable character in the game. You can imagine how much Namco paid Nintendo to make it happen but yeah. It hasn't been repeated since.
As for the picture above yes, there is an Anime. Tales of Symphonia: The Animation was released in 2006 in Japan. There is a DVD and Blue Ray Box set but it was never released in the U.S. and no, there's no English dub either. The insane inflation puts the Anime out of reach of most folks ($280+ on Amazon) so if you want it that bad, you might have to either go to Japan or hope it's being sold by a dealer at an Anime convention.
As all OVAs based on a video game, they cut out the filler and focus on the main plot with some character development thrown in. I have the Phantasia OVA and the Vesperia OVA, both of which got an English release. The Vesperia OVA is actually a movie and prequel to the events of the game and focuses on Yuri and Flynn's days together with the Imperial Knights. The events of the movie changed the course of history for both of them: Yuri quit the knights and adopted Repede while Flynn rose through the ranks and got his own brigade.
It's a shame Symphonia's OVA never made it to the U.S. considering the huge fanbase in North America at the time. Said fanbase has shrunk considerably with the release of new Tales of Games but I have little doubt Tales of Symphonia Chronicles will renew interest in this epic game.
Lloyd is a playable character in the Wii game Soul Calibur Legends. It marks the first time a Tales character is featured in another Namco title and has never happened again since. Fans asked for it and it was made. Sadly, the game ended up being nothing more than fanservice with a terrible story mode and even worse mechanics. The game follows Siegfried's transformation into Nightmare, the iconic cursed knight whose soul is corrupted by the demon sword Soul Edge. The silver lining to this game is you find out how Soul Edge corrupted him and why his purification didn't kill him at the end of Soul Calibur III. Lloyd comes to the Soul Calibur world looking for Exspheres, which means his arrival is after the events of Symphonia.
Lloyd, Genis, Raine and Kratos are also playable characters in Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology for the PSP. Sadly, it's the only one of the six Tales of Games made that was ever released in the U.S. The first three were made for the Game Boy Advance (Tales of the World: Narakiri Dungeon) while the other three were released on the PSP (the latter two never getting a U.S. release).
What you see is Kratos Aurion's Mystic Arte Shining Bind. In English. But wait, that's Tales of VESPERIA, isn't it? Here's the deal: In most Tales of Games, a squad made up of characters from previous Tales of Games join forces to take you on in a friendly sparring match, usually in the game's arena. In Symphonia Garr, Farrah and Meredy from Tales of Eternia and Tales of Destiny challenge the Symphonia Team in Meltokio Coliseum. In Vesperia, Kratos is one of the two cameo battles you will face, the other being Dhaos from Tales of Phantasia (sporting his signature Mystic Arte Dhaos Laser). He has the name Traitor to Heaven in Vesperia, which is a nod to his role in Symphonia.
Shining Bind makes its English debut in Dawn of the New World and is used by Zelos they're both Magic Knights). Here it is:
Speaking of Mystic Artes (henceforth MAs), or Hi Ougis as they're called in Japan they're a feature officiallt added in to the North American games starting with Tales of the Abyss. Lloyd, Genis and Colette have their MAs in Symphonia but if you use an Action Replay you can see see Raine's incomplete Mystic Arte Fairy Circle in the Gamecube version of the game. Everyone has a MA in the Japan-only Playstation 2 release of the game though Sheena technically has up to 10 since her Summon Spirits (I'm including the optional Maxwell that number) can only be used in Overlimit.
Now we're going to talk Symphonia's direct sequel Dawn of the New World (Knights of Ratatosk on Japan). Dawn of the New World (henceforth DotNW) takes place 3 years after the events of the first game. It's assumed you played the first game before playing this game due to major plot and gameplay spoilers. The entire Symphonia cast returns as semi-playable characters except Kratos, who makes a cameo appearance. DotNW follows the story of Emil Castigar and Marta Lualdi, who travel the world in search of the Centurion's cores needed to restore Ratatosk's power.
Who is Ratatosk? Only the most badass Summon Spirit ever:
Ratatosk is the Summon Spirit of Mana, the Lord of Monsters and is also the guardian of the door to Nifelheim. The next paragraph containa some major plot spoilers but since I'm going to explain the premise of the game, I think you should read it anyway.
Two years after Sylverant and Tethe'alla were reunited, Aster and Richter (the latter serving as both friend and foe to Emil) paid Ratatosk a visit at the door to Nifelheim. Unfortunately, Aster is killed by Ratatosk who is in turn killed by Richter and turned into a core. To protect himself and allow himself the time to recover his strength, Ratatosk in core form teleports to Palmacosta where a man resembling Lloyd is slaughtering people indiscriminately. Seizing the confusion as an oppotiunity, Ratatosk creates a fake fore on Marta's forehead and takes the form of Emil Castigar, a boy originally thought to have perished during the slaughter. The thing is, Ratatosk creates Emil using the likeness of Aster, which would explain Richter's surprise and confusion when he meets Emil in Luin.
When Emil meets Marta and the Dark Centurion Tenebrae (Worth playing DotNW just to hear XD) he is awakened to Ratatosk's power. Ratatosk takes control of Emil's body during combat and as the Summon Spirit of Monsters, he can create pacts with them so that they will fight alongside the party. Emil and Ratatosk are both voiced by the ever-talented Johnny Bosch Young. If you don't know who he is, do a Google Search. Young revealed at a panel a few months after the game's North American release voicing the two opposites was his toughest project ever. Even harder than when he voiced Vash the Stampede in the Anime Trigun.
Emil and Ratatosk couldn't be more opposite: Emil is timid as a mouse while Ratatosk is fierce, cold and merciless. The effect the two have on each other begins to show itself about Chapter 4 of the game (the game is broken up across 8 Chapters). Emil becomes a strong person in mind and body while Ratatosk learns kindness and compassion. Both Emil and Marta view Lloyd as a threat after his supposed actions in Palmacosta but after spending some time with the Symphonia Team they realize the Lloyd they know and the Lloyd his friends know are two different people. After running into the real Lloyd a few times on their travels, it's obvious Lloyd is up to something he won't even talk to his close friends about. There is a good reason for that but if you wanna know, you'll have to play the game!
There were two controversies surrounding this game by fans of the first: One was the fact Lloyd's English voice actor Scott Melville (also voices Robin in Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go). The other was the hard level cap for the Symphonia cast at 50 (also the required level to use their Mystic Artes), who also do not gain EXP when they are in your party. Let me put it this way: Emil, Marta and your monster team mates are typically in the 70s by the time Lloyd finally joins the party.
Let's not also forget the Symphonia games take place in the same universe as Tales of Phantasia. Tales of Phantasia takes place thousands of years later but there are four clues that point to Symphonia in Phantasia: Suzu Fuijibayashi, The Eternal Sword, Summon Spirits and Dhaos. Suzu Fujibayashi who do we know from Tales of Symphonia with the last name Fujibayashi? Sheena! Suzu is one of her descendants. The Eternal Sword has more non-combat value as it allows the bearer to make the impossible possible. In Symphonia Lloyd uses it to reunite the two worlds. In Phantasia Cress/Cless (voiced by Johnny Bosch Young in the OVA) uses it to get the team inside Dhaos' castle.
The same summon spirits in Symphonia are also in Phantasia though since Phantasia was released 10 years earlier, there is an obvious grasphical difference. Finally, Dhaos himself says he is from a world Derris Kharlan. Wasn't there a place called Derris Kharlan in Symphonia, too? Yes there was. Why would Dhaos comes to Asgard to get a seed from the World Tree for his homeland unless he knew it was there? How could he have known unless the knowledge had been passed down through the ages that The World Tree on Asgard could help save his homeworld?
As it happens, the World Tree is dead in Cress/Cless's era so he and Mint end up going back in time to revive it so that mankind can have a chance against The Demon King Dhaos. The tie-in with DotNW is Ratatosk uses his power as the Summon Spirit of Mana to remove the dependancy of Mana from all things. Water, the land, living things, everything. This takes the burden off the young World Tree and also saves the world from Ratatosk's Vengeance. His original plan when he first met Aster and Richter was to wipe out all humans and half-elves but fortunately, he never got the chance to carry out his sentence.
Whew, this is a LONG review. Easily the longest I've ever done. I give Dawn of the New World an 8 out of 10. It's not perfect but hopefully, history will redeem what I consider an outstanding companion to the first game. When I realized this was the 10th Anniversary of the game's North American release, I decided to sign up to do a panel on Tales of Symphonia at Anime Boston 2014.
Confirmation pending, of course.
One piece of advice: Any pictures you see of Lloyd's mother Anna on the internet are fanmade. All of 'em are very well-made but they were made with no official image as a base. Anna likely died within two years of Lloyd's birth as Kratos says to Lloyd during their Flanoir scene he traveled with them after he was born. These are three of my personal faves of the family that could have been:
One final thing: Namco Bandai (also called Bamco for the same reason Square-Enix is called Sqeenix) has demonstrated over the years it will happily sacrifice the potential quality of a game to cut costs. This is the reason Lloyd has a different voice actor from the original game. It's not known if Bamco will use the original English audio from the first game for the HD version but all signs point to no given their track record when it comes to Bamco localizing the Tales of games outside Japan.
Why did they change Lloyd's voice actor after Tales of Symphonia? They weren't willing to pay the extra money it would have cost to cast him. Why? Because Scott Melville, Cam Clarke, Tara Stong (Presea's English Voice actor) had all since joined a joined a actor's union that prohibited them from doing non-Union work. Bamco would have had to pay them extra for the talent and they weren't willing to do it.
They took the same approach with the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo 3DS ports of Phantasia and Abyss as well. Basically Bamco said "You want it on your system? Localize it yourself or no deal." Since this is Nintendo we're talking about, it's not a problem so yeah. Johnny Bosch Young (Emil and Ratatosk's VA) is one of those Voice Actors who can get away with alot though I'm sure Nintendo (and now Sony) paid for his services.
As I said earlier Radiant Mythology 2 and 3 were never released outside Japan, forcing folks to import it if they wanted to play the game. There are rumors/dreams floating around the official Tales forums an International Version of both games will be released together on the Vita but again, this is Bamco. They really don't deserve the HUGE Tales of fanbase they have. They'd treat their fans better if they did.