The closest the fan-favorite "Tales" series ever came to mainstream success was with "Tales of Symphonia" for the GameCube. This charming Japanese role-playing game delighted Nintendo fans, but left other "Tales" aficionados in the dust. Namco is now giving Sony die-hards a chance to experience the classic title and its somewhat-less-well-received sequel in an HD PlayStation 3 compilation.
Tom's Guide had a chance to go hands-on with "Tales of Symphonia Chronicles" for PS3 at New York Comic Con 2013, and while series fans won't find much new here, there's a faithful recreation of two older "Tales" titles for newcomers (or people who really, really want to play it again with slightly better graphics).
"Tales of Symphonia Chronicles" combines "Tales of Symphonia" for the GameCube and "Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World" for the Wii on a single PS3 disc. While we had to quit to the PS3 dashboard to switch between the two games at the convention, a Namco representative told us that players could switch between games seamlessly in the final version.
We tried out both "Tales of Symphonia" and "Dawn of the New World," and found that both titles were exactly what they purported to be: HD ports without any added bells or whistles. In "Tales of Symphonia," we played through an early portion of the game in which protagonist Lloyd and his best friend Genis set out to explore some enemy-infested ruins.
A faithful port to HD
The battle system has always been the main draw in the "Tales" series, and "Symphonia" possessed one of its most approachable incarnations. While we took control of Lloyd, a swordsman, the AI controlled Genis, a mage.
The battles against enemy worms and birds took place in real time, as Lloyd and Genis ran around the battlefield, striking enemies, unleashing special attacks, and guarding and dodging as necessary. The battle system is fast-paced and fun, although the demo did not include a full four-person party.
The story has also survived the transition intact, complete with passable voice acting and long cutscenes, with unfortunately no option to skip them.
The graphics are ostensibly the game's main selling point: the game was pretty on GameCube, but it was also designed with standard-definition TVs in mind. The character models in "Tales of Symphonia" look good in HD, but everything else leaves a lot to be desired.
Background textures are very bland and ill defined. Trees, buildings and towns still appear jaggy and primitive, compared to the true next-gen "Tales" games. A colorful aesthetic and cel-shaded, anime-style characters go a long way, but the HD revamp seems to just make the graphics palatable on HDTVs rather than completely shiny and new.
"Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World" generally fared about as well as its predecessor. Although the game came out on the Wii, the graphics were not much better than the original's, and do not seem too different on the PS3. The character models generally look good, and everything else still looks bland, But this time, facial features seem a bit subdued and fuzzy as well.
Our hands-on in "Dawn of the New World" took place in the Ice Temple, where new protagonists Emil and Marta teamed up with an old friend from the original game to face off against foes that resembled terrestrial jellyfish. The battle system is still smooth and enjoyable, and Namco has replaced the Wii's motion controls with more traditional button prompts.
Taken as a complete package, "Tales of Symphonia Chronicles" is probably best suited for people who missed the two games the first time around. The games are exactly the same, for better or for worse, although getting them both on the same disc and with a slight graphical facelift is convenient.
"Tales of Symphonia Chronicles" will debut in early 2014. Namco will provide more details as the date approaches.
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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.