Tales of Symphonia Remastered Review - Screenshot 1 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Though it’s never quite had the popularity of the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest franchises, the Tales series has set a good reputation as the ‘other’ classic JRPG series that’s consistently maintained a decent quality for quite some time now. Back in 2004, Namco (no Bandai yet) was only on the fifth iteration of the Tales series, which made the bold transition to full 3D with the release of Tales of Symphonia on the GameCube. Sporting an attractive cel-shaded visual style and packing enough content to last for hundreds of hours, there was a lot to love about this release back when the pickings were much slimmer for great RPGs on Nintendo consoles. Now, Tales of Symphonia Remastered--which is based on the 2013 PS3 rerelease, which in turn uses the PS2 Japan-exclusive version as a base--has brought the classic experience to modern hardware and while it still remains a charming adventure, it’s definitely showing its age.

The story is set in the land of Sylvarant, which is experiencing a bit of an ecological crisis. A critical shortage of mana caused by the lingering effects of a war from thousands of years back means that the world is itself dying, and time is running out fast for the inhabitants. The only hope is for the Regeneration to take place, in which a person dubbed “The Chosen” opens various seals across the land to awaken the goddess and return life to all things. You take the role of Lloyd, good friend of the current Chosen, Colette. Lloyd is the headstrong son of a dwarven smith, and after he inadvertently causes a terrible tragedy in his village, Lloyd sets out with his best friend Genis to accompany and protect their friend Colette on her journey to fulfill her Chosen duties and save the world from destruction.

Tales of Symphonia Remastered Review - Screenshot 2 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Tales of Symphonia tells quite a compelling tale, at least in the broad strokes. What initially seems like a run-of-the-mill exercise in tired tropes soon gives way to a much more interesting adventure featuring some shocking plot twists. Admittedly, several of these twists are telegraphed in advanced, but we were still impressed by the narrative ambition on display.. The downside to all this, however, is that the writing itself is quite stiff and often unintentionally hilarious. Some of these cutscenes cover a ridiculous range of emotions in just a minute or two, and dialogue rarely feels natural—it’s the epitome of a ‘video game script’. In some ways, the unwieldy exchanges certainly add to the charm of Tales of Symphonia, while in others they blunt it. Suffice to say the uneven writing holds back the overall story from reaching its full potential. Still, it's a great ride all the way through, and we’d say that story is overall Tales of Symphonia’s strongest suit.

Gameplay follows the typical JRPG conventions of exploring a big world map, visiting towns, and exploring dungeons nearby to keep the plot moving. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but we feel that the pacing here is good at pushing you through content before anything starts to overstay its welcome. Dungeons are a highlight of the overall gameplay loop, bringing to mind the likes of Golden Sun with the use of puzzles before you reach the boss at the end. None of these go much beyond the torch-lighting or block-pushing kinds of things that have been done to death by now, but they help break up the monster battles and give you a little more of a challenge for reaching certain chests. Plus, each dungeon introduces some new idea or gimmick, which helps to differentiate them and create a more concrete sense of progress as you move on.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Combat in Tales of Symphonia is action-based and bears a lot of similarities to 3D fighters like Tekken. Your character is always locked on to an enemy and is restricted to a 2D plane where they can run either towards or away from the enemy in a straight line, while attacks are designed to be chained together in short combos based on directional inputs paired with button presses. Once you build up a nice collection of abilities--called artes--for your characters, the combo system really starts to come together, but by today's standards, battles feel awfully stiff. Compared to games like Ys VIII or Kingdom Hearts II, which feature similar hack ‘n’ slash combat, Tales of Symphonia feels like it’s a few steps behind.

For example, it can be irritating trying to dodge attacks from multiple enemies because you can only move in two directions while their attacks can come at you from various angles. Meanwhile, you can’t cancel out of your own attack animations once you initiate them, which incentivizes you to take it slow and be selective with timing and skill usage, yet the overall fast pace of combat pushes you to fight reactively and recklessly. Bear in mind that Tales of Symphonia was the first 3D release in the series, and while later games improved on the drawbacks and iterated on the strengths here, unfortunately it's not aged terribly well in this entry. Combat is okay once you get to grips with it, but it always feels off.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Character progression is handled via an interesting equipment-based system that determines stat and skill growth. Completing objectives, finishing side quests, and reaching certain milestones will unlock Titles that will either help or hinder the growth of specific stats when your character levels up. The Drifting Swordsman title, for example, gives a slight bump to your HP growth and a slightly larger increase to your growth in both strength and defense. You’re not told specifics such as numbers in-game, guides online showcase that there’s a fair bit of strategy underpinning Titles; not only is getting the Title itself often a challenge, but which ones you equip and for how long you keep them equipped will massively affect a character’s build over time.

For skills, the most important element of building your party is the EX Gem system, which affects the kind of artes characters can learn along with passive skills. You get EX Gems by beating bosses and thoroughly exploring dungeons, and each one will grant you little buffs to things like accuracy or strength. Each character can have up to four equipped, and depending on the combination of gems you use, you’ll get unique effects like being able to guard mid-air or automatically recovering from status effects. We enjoyed the focus here on experimentation, as there are a lot of different skills you can discover by trying different combinations.

On the visual side of things, Tales of Symphonia Remastered doesn’t do very much to noticeably improve the visuals from the original release. The original cel-shaded look is downplayed here, and while everything has been brought up to an HD resolution, it feels like a little more work could’ve been done to give this aging release more of a facelift. The chunky character models and muddy, blurry textures look rather dated now. And while the anime style works well enough here, there’s a distinct lack of creativity in environment design, relying heavily on familiar settings like ‘dry desert ruins’ and ‘quiet seaside town’ without much unique visual flair.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

We feel it needs to be said, too, that the porting job itself feels rather sloppy. While the original GameCube release ran at a smooth 60fps, this version is capped at 30fps, and we noted instances in both dungeons and combat where it appeared to slip to 20 or lower. Couple this with the fact that Tales of Symphonia Remastered doesn’t come with the sequel, Dawn of the New World, that came bundled with Tales of Symphonia Chronicles on the PS3 in 2013 and it’s tough to see the value proposition here. In some ways, then, this new port is inferior to both the original release and the remaster that came out a decade ago. It does include the extra content (additional costumes, artes, etc.) from the 2013 release alongside some minor quality of life updates like being able to skip some cutscenes, but it feels like not enough was done to take advantage of the opportunity of bringing this back on new hardware.

Conclusion

We’re admittedly a little mixed on Tales of Symphonia Remastered. Though the story is compelling, the character building is satisfying, and there’s lots of content to experience, Bandai Namco’s near-nonexistent efforts to scrub out the rough edges of this 20-ish year old game definitely hold it back from greatness. Things like the stiff combat, dated visuals, and awkward writing limit the appeal here, which makes this remaster feel like a missed opportunity. It’s easier to recommend this to those who have nostalgia for the original and want to relive those memories, but it's tough to say whether newcomers should pick it up. This is far from the best action RPG on the Switch, and it’s arguably not even the best Tales game on the Switch. We’d give this one a light recommendation as its positives do outweigh its negatives, but with the caveat that you should probably wait for a deep sale or buy it used. There are much better RPGs to play on the Switch today, and this one doesn’t quite deserve a spot near the top of your list.