Last updated on October 21st, 2013
I picked this game to write about specifically because I hate it and I think you should too. Usually I don’t try to push my opinions on other people in my articles. Or at least I don’t think I do. However, this time is an exception. I will actively try to get you to understand why this is one of the worst sequels in modern video game history and a below-average standalone game at best.
First, this isn’t actually a review per se. This is an explanation of the fundamentals of making games fun and paying homage to previous titles in a series. If you want a review, it gets a 1/10. There, go ahead with that in your purchasing decisions.
The way this is going to work is I’m going to explain the fundamental aspects of the first game. Then for the second game I’ll explain why it’s a severe downgrade.
Party Members in Tales of Symphonia:
In Tales of Symphonia your main party consists of nine people; eight at any given time.
Lloyd: A young man being raised by a dwarf. His real father is a mystery, but his mother died trying to save him from half-elf bad guys called Desians. Serves as the hero of the first game.
Genis: A very intelligent half-elf masquerading as an elf because of half-elf persecution having almost nothing at all to do with the fact that the universal bad guys in this universe are half-elves. Best friend of Lloyd.
Collete: A ditsy girl selected to be the “Chosen of Mana” based on her lineage. She’s very selfless with a grand martyr complex and a shy love interest of Lloyd.
Raine: A healbot who serves as the above three characters’ teacher. She’s also Genis’s sister. Very wise, she has memories of her childhood and her mother whom she considers heartless, as well as a strange gate from another world.
Kratos: Too many spoilers to list. He starts as a mercenary hired to protect Collete. However he ends as a magical angel god… I never said it wasn’t corny.
Sheena: A summoner ninja from the village of Mizuho sent to assassinate the Chosen of Mana. Very clumsy and harassed for her features. She bears great sadness over her failure in suppressing a summon spirit and subsequent slaughter of many citizens of her village.
Zelos: The Chosen of Mana from another world connected to the starting world. A self-styled ladies man and celebrity. Very shrewd and intelligent despite acting the fool.
Presea: A stoic young girl whose emotions are suppressed using a magic stone that serves as a great plot point in the game. She is actually much older but because of said stone her age has been suppressed as she performed the same monotonous act of taking care of her dead father for years and years without realizing he had passed on long ago.
Regal: A wealthy man who killed his wife when she was mutated into an abomination. Because of her death he turned himself in to become a prisoner. He can’t forgive himself despite it being totally in self-defense because of his love for his wife and her memory.
Characters in Tales of Symphonia 2:
Emil: Serves as the hero. Bears a striking resemblance in personality to someone who’s afraid of his own shadow. Has an alter-ego whose only noticeable difference is that he’s much grumpier.
Marta: Serves as the love interest of the hero. That’s her entire personality.
And that’s it. The rest of your party is filled by either the first game’s characters who only level up based on story events and are always too weak to actually be useful or monsters in a monster party system that’s poorly contrived. Rather than a full set of interesting characters all we get is a Shinji (eva) clone who gets grumpy sometimes and a Bella (twilight) clone who has no personality whatsoever.
Yes, the first game’s characters are corny, but at least effort was placed into them. The second game’s characters have no effort whatsoever placed into them. However, worse than that, the second game makes the first game’s characters look incompetent by making them consistently weaker than the first game’s characters.
Tales of Symphonia’s Story:
The Chosen of Mana visits certain points in the world while going through hardships to fulfill the cycle of regeneration, making the world better and prettier because the summon spirits in one world become active and the other don’t and other fantasy technobabble. In short, the antagonist, Mithos, is screwing with the world by removing the tree of endless mana to revive his dead sister and plans to take off to another planet once she’s revived and screw over both interconnected worlds. The party has to figure out that this is happening and deal with a whole host of minor antagonists with delusions of grandeur as they seek to create a better world by stopping Mithos’s screwing with the world and replacing the previous tree of mana with a new one.
Tales of Symphonia 2’s Story:
There’s a summon spirit of monsters apparently but he turns out to be the spirit of the previous tree and Emil happens to be that spirit and that’s why he gets grumpy sometimes.
This is the main flaw of the second game. The story has almost nothing to do with the first game. The first game laid down at least a handful of hints of what a sequel would look like. The second game doesn’t follow up on any of those hints, rather giving a poorly-made followup to what happened devaluing the old heroes in favor of the new ones. Just think for a moment about the very basis of the second game: The giant question that created the sequel was “Why are there so many monsters hanging around?”
This is an rpg. Of course there are monsters. Most rpgs have monsters and most players don’t question it. The problem with this sequel is that it asked a question that could literally be applied to 90% of rpgs in existence instead of following up any of the loose ends in the first game. Quite frankly, yes the first game deserved a sequel. Quite frankly, no, this game didn’t deserve to exist. I felt insulted by the time I finished this game. That I, a huge fan of the first game would be given this kind of plot when plot is a major part of the series just shows me that this sequel was specifically meant to lure in players of the first game and rely exclusively on that for reviews and sales rather than it actually being good in its own right.
Tales of Symphonia’s Gameplay:
I played the first game on the gamecube, sometimes with friends there with me. You could turn it into a party game by having up to four people playing at the same time. This game had true multiplayer support. It didn’t work perfectly but you could control any character you wanted, all with distinctly different play styles and physics, and if you had friends you could have them play instead of the AI. You didn’t lose until your entire party was wiped out and the characters actually did have a fair bit of customized stat growth and technique gains if you knew how to manipulate the system properly. Besides that, the game looked good for its time with stylish and colorful skills and fun gameplay. A lot of effort was placed into the gameplay.
Tales of Symphonia 2’s Gameplay:
You could theoretically control four people at once with the main issue of that being “theoretically”. The human characters were generally very weak and the monster characters couldn’t be controlled directly. You lose if all human members of the party are wiped out but generally you’ll only want one or maybe two humans in your party at any time, both very fragile. The customized growth of the monsters exists but generally requires far more effort than in the first game when it was generally unnecessary. For its time, this game was way behind. This game was barely an upgrade over Tales of Symphonia (GC) with poor graphics and poor animations (Wii). Virtually no effort was placed into the gameplay as the characters from the previous game move much clunkier in its new console rather than more responsive and the monsters have extremely basic and generally slow attacks. Furthermore this game implemented an extremely pointless quest system that breaks up the main game’s plot. It’s hard to tell whether that’s a good or bad thing since the game’s plot is so terrible, but there you go, a way to waste a ton of your time instead of getting done with this game quickly. Enjoy. Or not. They don’t really care, you’re just a giant dollar bill to them. Furthermore, whereas the first game had an overworld to roam in filled with conversation points to get more background on the characters, the second game had preset map points.
The gameplay of the first game was simply more fun in every way. There’s no way around it; monster party systems are hard to implement and the second game didn’t even try to make it work well. The only thing about the second game that matches the first game is its level design, which saw no significant gains or losses. Furthermore the replayability of the second game is completely nonexistent. There’s never any reason to replay the second game whereas there were branching paths and the sheer joy of completely overpowering enemies in the first game, along with sidequest after sidequest that’s difficult to completely see on your first time through.
However, back to the point: The story. Emil is one of the most annoyingly whiny and pointless protagonists of any game, story, comic book, or television show I’ve ever seen. Even as he begins to change near the end he just develops a martyr complex and becomes more annoying. There’s a good end and bad end to this game, and I like to think the bad end was canon because it results in Emil being dead and Marta crying a lot.
I usually love characters in video games and love seeing their growth over time. However I outright hated Emil in every way and I think everyone else should too. Whereas in the first game we had in Lloyd a slightly dumb and powerful if tropey main character, in the second game Emil just makes me want to kick him in the balls and shout “Stop being such a wuss!”
In short, this game is terrible and because of it I will never buy another Tales game in my life. It ruined the entire franchise from me when I had been a fairly loyal fan of it before that. It literally devalued every game in the series that I liked in one fell swoop and I paid full price for it. Quite frankly if you like this game you have no taste and I don’t feel bad in saying that. This is one of the worst games I’ve ever played and I would’ve defended it to the death just out of the nostalgia from the first game. However, that goes beyond dishonest. This game doesn’t deserve defending; it deserves to be held up in writing courses at community colleges of how not to write a sequel to a massively popular story.
Do I suggest you buy it? Yes, I do. Buy the first game. See how good it is. Buy the second game. See how bad it is. It’s a good learning experience, if nothing else.
(Feature Image Credit to Wikipedia.org)