Author’s Note: This review was originally published on October 17th, 2007. Since then, a better version of Tales of Phantasia has been created that, unfortunately, hasn’t seen an English translation. Like other reviews of the time, this review features “witty” taglines for separating each section.
Can you believe that it’s been over a decade since Namco released their first Tales title? Since then, we Americans have been getting our fair share of some Tales games. At the same time we often are wondering what could have been when other Tales games never make it to our side. The latest remake of Tales of Phantasia for the PSP is no exception to the latter category. Despite the fact that Tales of Phantasia has been redone before, the only localized version we got was for the GBA. In reality, it should have been this version. Still, despite the language barrier and a few other problems, Tales of Phantasia for the PSP is well worth importing.
A Tale of Time and Space
Before the game begins, we witness the final events of an epic battle. After it ends, we are taken to the quiet village of Totus. Here, our hero Cless Alvein is getting ready to go on a hunting trip in the nearby woods with his best friend, Chester Barklight. All of a sudden, the alarm bell rings! Cless and Chester run back to Totus, only to see it completely destroyed! What happened? Cless ventures off to exact revenge on those who demolished his village. What Cless does not know is that he will begin a journey through time and space with the fate of their world hanging in the balance.
If this is your first time playing Tales of Phantasia, you are in for a treat. The story can be a bit predictable, and the idea of time travel does leave room for a million paradoxical plot holes. However, the story was enjoyable from beginning to end. If this is not your first time playing Tales of Phantasia, you will find a few new skits and sequences thrown in for the updated PSP version. Truly, the characters involved in the story are what make ToP a classic. They may fit certain molds at first glance, but as you get to know them, they end up becoming well developed. There was room for learning more about them, but what you do learn was satisfying.
One thing that should be mentioned about the story, as well as nearly every other aspect of the game, is that it plays out in Japanese. If you lack knowledge about the various Japanese alphabets, understanding what your next mission is, or learning about something may become border-line frustrating. Luckily, there is a fantastic translation guide out there for you. With this, you can follow the story easily.
Back and Forth, Hack and Slash
Progressing through ToP requires you to do things found in most RPGs. In a town, you can shop, talk to people, and learn more about the tasks at hand. Sometimes, certain people will give you items or vital pieces of information that open up one of many side-quests. Cless runs quite fast, so getting around town is relatively easy. When you leave a town, you are on the world map. Hitting the SELECT button will play a skit in which your characters talk about random happenings. One rather lame aspect of the world map is that in the beginning of the game, there is too much travel from Point A to Point B, and back to Point A. It gets redundant, especially considering you have to travel to most places via ship. Later in the game, you’ll get the power of flight at your disposal. This makes traveling through the world map much, much easier.
In a dungeon, you’ll be fighting plenty of monsters. The random encounter rate seems the highest it has ever been in a Tales game. As much as I enjoyed the battle system, I found myself cursing the fact that after about eight steps, I’d be fighting again. What is worse is that the dungeons later in the game are long. If you lack the items and resources to survive, you might as well turn off your PSP.
When it is time fight, you get treated to the classic Tales battle system. Your characters and your foes are on a 2D plane in which you fight in real-time. You take control of Cless and the AI controls the remaining three party members. You can set how they perform from the main menu. Cless can equip various weapons, and has a number of mighty attacks at his disposal. The rest of the characters fight with their own style. To some, the differences between the characters will make finding the perfect party fun. To others, they may dislike the lack of customization for outfitting your characters. Regardless, the battles have been improved since the last time I played ToP. Cless can perform two attacks instead of one, and his skills can be chained together. You can assign shortcuts for other party members’ skills, and the AI is more reliable. However, there are a few kinks. After performing his attacks, Cless will start to run back to his initial position. It was not problematic, but it did get annoying. Come on Cless, the enemy is knocked out! Keep slashing him! There is no Manual mode, and for some reason your team members insist on fighting when you attempt to run away. Despite these flaws, battles were enjoyable. Certain boss fights will upset you, however after learning their attacks and their weaknesses, these too can be finished.
When a battle is over, you will be granted experience, money, and Grade points. At a level up, Cless, Mint, and Chester may learn a new skill. The rest of your characters learn skills differently. Arche needs to find spell books, Klarth learns summons by creating pacts with spirits, and Suzu obtains ninja skills by paying for lessons from ninja around the world. All in all, battles are fun.
Big Heads are SO 1995
No two ways about it, this game is beautiful. Your characters on the world map look a bit distorted, but when you reach a destination they look much more crisp and detailed. As usual, anime emoticons help express how they are feeling. In the battle, both the characters and monsters got a complete make-over for the PSP. They remain as colorful as before, but they took away the large-head, little-body sprites that were in previous versions. Instead, characters look like they came straight from Tales of Eternia. Spells and skills look better than ever. Also, when you turn the game on you are treated to an awesome anime opening accompanied by the Tales of Phantasia theme song. Graphically, Tales of Phantasia looks great on the PSP.
The acronym following Tales of Phantasia is FVE. This stands for Full-Voice Edition. The entire game was voiced by credible voice actors. While they speak Japanese, you can get a general feeling of the situation at hand due to their tones and inflections. Again, finding a translation guide will surely help in understanding what is being said. Besides the stellar voice acting, the music has been upgraded to handle the PSP’s sound system. The tracks were not remixed, just upgraded. To me, this was perfectly fine because I enjoy nearly all of the tracks.
The Hectic Hero Life
The first time I ever played Tales of Phantasia, it took me about 50 hours to complete. Having previous knowledge of the game and it’s nuances, the PSP version took me about 30 hours. However, there are tons of things to do before you strike down the final boss. Besides endless side-quests, you can cook, go to a battle arena, and earn titles for your characters. When the game ends, you can use the Grade points in a Grade shop to make your next adventure more exciting than the last. Cless and his crew have lots of things for them to do when they are not following the story path. Will I play the game again? Probably, especially considering how I am unable to trade imports in for game credit.
Namco. Seriously. Wake up!
My biggest upset with the game is not due to the battles, the story, or the graphics. It is due to Namco’s genius decision to not localize this version. Really, this is the best Tales of Phantasia yet. Gamers who played the translated SNES patch or the GBA version were unable to fully experience and appreciate Tales of Phantasia. It may be in Japanese, but with the help of a guide, nearly anyone can enjoy the game and all it has to offer. A classic reborn, remade, and reworked in every way, Tales of Phantasia: FVE for the PSP is a great game.