Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch
February 17, 2023
Bandai Namco Entertainment
Namco Tales Studio
Tales of Symphonia Remastered is an RPG classic that’s a welcome sight on modern consoles. Originally released for the GameCube in 2003, Symphonia is the fifth game in the Tales series, most recently culminating in the excellent Tales of Arise. I was able to play – and have a great time with – more recent titles due to their easy availability on PlayStation consoles, but until now Symphonia was most readily available on Steam. I put several hours into the Steam version back in the day, but found myself unable to finish – office chairs were not designed for long haul RPGs like this. The Switch version of Tales of Symphonia Remastered is the first time Symphonia is on a handheld console, and it feels right at home. However, it’s not a perfect transition, and made me wonder why it’s called a “remaster” at all.
Symphonia is set in a world named Sylvarant, where an evil race of half-elves known as Desians have conquered much of the world, enslaving and torturing humans. But once in a generation, a Chosen one appears to embark on a journey to save the world by waking the sleeping goddess Martel. You play Lloyd, a cocky, rebellious teen living in a town free from Desian influence. When Lloyd’s best friend Colette is declared the new Chosen, they and their friends embark on the journey together. Monsters will be fought, dungeons will be delved, and the plot most certainly will get twisted.
The Tales series, more than anything, is known for its fast paced yet strategic action combat. Being the first Tales of in full 3D, Symphonia’s combat isn’t as spry as it once was, but is still enjoyable. Each character has a 2-3 hit melee combo, which can be followed up with Techs, unique abilities that cost Technical Points, or TP. You can choose which character to control in battle, as they all play differently. Lloyd is the most beginner friendly character, so all his Techs are close range attacks and crowd control moves. Boy genius Genis is the party mage, blasting spells from a distance. Genis’ stern big sister Raine is the party’s healer. There’s a satisfying crunch to fighting, as enemies satisfyingly recoil every time you land a good hit. There’s even up to 4-player couch co-op in battles, which I can only imagine will be a frustrating exercise in patience you will only try once, but it’s a nice inclusion. Other elements like team-up Unison Attacks and collectable EX-Gems let you customise each character’s abilities how you want, letting you discover new abilities by experimenting with these systems.
Unfortunately, battles make the game show its age fairly often. You’re locked onto a single enemy at a time, and can only walk towards or away from them, almost like a side scroller. This system works great when you’re up against a single baddie, but makes it easy to get bombarded by enemies coming at you from all angles, since they’re not beholden to the semi-2D plane you’re on. Further, while you can slightly tweak your party’s AI in the settings, even during battle, their self-preservation skills are poor. They will constantly waste their strongest TP-costing abilities first, leading them to run right up to the enemy to melee some TP back. For low-HP mages like Colette and Genis, this inevitably leads to KOs, causing you to revive them just long enough for them to get knocked out again. Most battles won’t take long enough to get to that stage, but many boss fights tend to drag on with cycles of reviving and re-reviving your teammates. The good thing is that this is a 20-year-old game, and decades of guides and forum posts can lead you down the best AI strategies for how you want each character to perform, but it’s a shame the game doesn’t make it easy.
Much like the series’ traditional action combat, Tales of Symphonia also features skits. These short, mostly optional scenes can pop up at any time, and the best ones involve the characters interacting with each other in relatable ways. Poking fun at each other, making each other laugh, or debriefing after a heavy moment, other RPGs rarely show these tiny interactions but they’re bread and butter for this series. It’s the reason why Tales of characters are so beloved, because you get to experience, incrementally, how bonds between them form over time. Skits in Symphonia take the form of squares with each participating character’s face on them. They’re not animated or voiced (in English), but squares will show different expressions (like emojis but better drawn) based on what they’re saying. It’s cute, and shows that you don’t need animations or voice acting at all to enjoy these interactions. But I was disappointed to see that, much like the Steam version, Tales of Symphonia Remastered still doesn’t let you skip lines in skits. You have to wait for each silent line to skip to the next on its own, making skits run slower and more tedious than they should be. But it’s not the biggest issue with the game, as skits are still worthwhile to play.
So far, this has been a review of Tales of Symphonia through a modern lens, not really making a point to differentiate it from its remaster. And that’s because I don’t really know why they called this version “Remastered” at all. All the marketing touts that the game is in HD now, but so was the Steam version that came out in 2016. The Steam version itself is a port of the PS3 version from 2013, and even that came bundled with Symphonia’s (admittedly not very liked) sequel Dawn of the New World. The cynic in me wants to say this version is only called “Tales of Symphonia Remastered” because, well, that’s just what the convention is these days. It’s an old game on new consoles, sure, but there aren’t enough meaningful improvements to call it a remaster. It’s certainly a remaster of the original GameCube version, but only if you ignore the other versions that weren’t called remasters. It’s a confusing name, made more confusing by some new issues.
Being a 20-year-old game, it makes sense that elements of Tales of Symphonia are considered troublesome by today’s standards (such as a terrible camera on the open world, and an unhelpful map system) but the biggest disappointment of the Switch version of Tales of Symphonia Remastered is a bevy of new problems that weren’t in any other version up until now.
“There aren’t enough meaningful improvements to call it a remaster.”
I remember the Steam version transitioning to battle with the screen shattering like glass. Instead of this, the Switch version, for whatever reason, just abruptly cuts to a white screen before battle, which can get uncomfortable when you’re playing in a dark room. There’s abrupt cuts when travelling between certain zones too, but some others have the regular quick fade to black, so it’s inconsistent. But the worst problem of all is the near constant loading screens. There’s 1-2 seconds of loading every time you enter or exit an area, or building, and up to 5 seconds of loading (occasionally more!) after every single battle. It’s annoying for sure, but still playable, until you remember the Steam version (which is virtually identical) doesn’t have these issues at all. In fact, the most noticeable update in Tales of Symphonia Remastered is a new loading icon, which you will be seeing a lot on Switch.
Futureproofing wasn’t a concern for game developers (or anyone) 20 years ago, so it’s clear that Tales of Symphonia is poorly optimised for Switch in its current state. Which is a shame, because Tales of Vesperia – the 11th game in the series, originally on Xbox 360 – didn’t have these issues in its 2019 Switch version either. It could still be argued that Tales of Symphonia Remastered is still good on Switch, by sheer virtue of the fact that games of these design are perfect for handheld consoles. That fact alone could compel people to overlook all these other issues, and for that I commend them, because at present these issues are everywhere. The good news is that the developers are aware of the problems, and will investigate a fix. I hope that comes soon, because Symphonia being on Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation could hopefully pave the way for other Tales games to come to modern consoles, like Tales of Graces f, Tales of Xillia, and Tales of Xillia 2. Three fantastic RPGs, all currently stuck on the PS3.
- An RPG classic finally on modern consoles
- Combat is sharp and strategic
- Characters are deeply customisable
- A cast and story that have mostly held up well
- More a port than a remaster, if you're into labels
- Certain mechanics from the original have aged poorly
- Near constant loading screens on the Switch version
Tales of Symphonia Remastered is not the best version of the GameCube original, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad experience. The story still holds up, combat is still exciting, and the characters are some of the best in the series, but all these systems take getting used to compared to newer games. Worst of all is the Switch version, which brings several new technical issues to the game, includes short but repetitive loading screens after you do almost anything outside of menus. It may be a deal breaker for some, but for others it might be a small price to pay to play an RPG classic on modern consoles.