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Yet Another "Epic Journey"
About 10 years ago, in the final years of the SNES era, Namco released their first Tales game. It was called Tales of Phantasia, and is by a few considered as the best SNES game that was ever released. Unfortunately though, the game never made it outside of Japan. With that said, it wasn't a big surprise that so many got excited when they heard that the Tales series was moving on to the Playstation. In 1998, Tales of Destiny was released.
Just like in Tales of Phantasia (for those of you who have played it), the main focus in ToD is on the battles. Very similar to a fighting game, battles are entirely in 2D, where the characters and enemies can only move from one side to the other. While your party consists of up to 4 characters, you can only control the main character (Stahn) manually in battle. This is more than enough though, considering that the battles are in real-time and very fast. To perform attacks with Stahn, simply press X to slash the enemies with your sword. Doing that over and over isn't going to do it though... so you'll have to rely on special attacks. Stahn can have a maximum of 4 special attacks equipped at the same time. To perform them, you have to press different directions on the directional pad, and then press circle. These simple combinations are very similar to basic moves seen in any ordinary fighting game. The rest of the party sort of act on their own, but you can give them different strategies so that they don't waste their MP directly on weak enemies, or just stand around doing nothing. Unfortunately, the AI of your allies isn't really great, so you'll most likely end up finishing off most of the monsters yourself. If you need to, you can also bring up a menu in battle where you can cast spells manually (with any character), use items, change strategies and so forth. The battles are what really shines in this game, and with the extremely high encounter rate this game has, I'm glad they do.
Back in 97-98, there were already several RPGs that had rotatable cameras on the world map. Tales of Destiny however, did not have anything like that. Also, Stahn can only move in 4 different directions on the world map... up, down, right and left, you cannot move diagonally. These flaws become very annoying, especially on a world map such as the one in Tales of Destiny, where there are tons of rivers and mountains etc. that you have to move around in order to find your way through. When it comes to menus and battle control though, the interface is spectacular. Everything is fast and smooth, nothing to complain about.
With a game concentrating this much on battles, it is important to have good battle themes. Tales of Destiny does have a few beautiful tracks, especially in battle... but those are but a few. Most of the other tunes are played in several places of the game, making the game feel a bit repetitive. Also, some of the dungeon themes were so horribly annoying that my ears hurt, especially towards the later parts of the game. The voices and effects in battle were all wonderful though.
A bit more work on the translation wouldn't have hurt. I experienced quite a few weird sentences and grammatical errors at certain points in the game. Also, most conversations felt a lot longer than they really needed to be. Some converstaions were endless, and most things the characters said were totally without meaning, and could easily have been shortened down a lot. Perhaps it was because of the lack of depth in the plot that they put in all these annoying comments, just to make the game feel longer.
Tales of Destiny had some pretty nice graphics, even for its own time. While it may not have been the most beautiful game of 1998, I still think it deserves a score above average. The most important thing in this kind a game is the flow in the battles though, and Tales of Destiny handles this perfectly.
Not to forget, Tales of Destiny does have a plot. The game is about a young country-boy called Stahn. As he sneaks onto an airship in order to get home, he finds a mysterious sword onboard. The sword actually talks to Stahn with a human voice, and it tells him that he is chosen to wield it, and that the world is in danger. Not too surprisingly, strange things start happening around Stahn shortly after this weird meeting, as he meets up with a few other people who possesses the same type of swords. The plot is simple and very predictable (I think you can figure out by now how it's going to end!), yet quite entertaining at times. If you're looking for a more deep and touching plot though, don't play Tales of Destiny, it is way too light-hearted for you.
Judging by the things I've said in this review so far, it shouldn't be that hard to understand that this game is very similar to its predecessor. In fact, it is too similar. The plot ends up being very much like the one in Tales of Phantasia, and the battle system is almost identical. This goes for music style and interface as well. While it indeed is a fun game, and I enjoyed playing it, they could've done things a bit more different.
There are quite a few side quests to complete, including a giant 60 floor bonus dungeon with all the best items in the game for you to collect. However, replaying the game from the beginning is something that you probably won't do for a long, long time. If you just want to experience the plot and finish the game without doing any sidequests, you'll probably end up somewhere around 25-30 hours. You won't be having any problems anywhere throughout the game either, as it is ridiculously easy. You can basically finish off most battles with Stahn alone. The only place that could be a challenge at times was the bonus dungeon, The Tower of Duraga.
In conclusion, Tales of Destiny is a fairly good game. It has some serious flaws, but it is still an enjoyable adventure. While not the deepest game out there, the cool and fast battle system should be enough to please most RPGamers out there, at least for a while. It is the lack of originality and true character development in this game that really prevents it from living up to the reputation that Tales of Phantasia has.
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