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Jeremy Jastrzab
14 Feb, 2006

Tales of Eternia Review

PSP Review | Rejoice! The PSP gets a proper RPG.
We can all laugh and joke about the lack gaming prowess on the PSP, but one serious area of concern has to be the distinct lack of RPGs. With the PS2 overflowing with Japanese role-players, owners of both must seriously wonder whether or not this is the same company? While the Japanese have been spoiled with a quite a few titles last year and the US had a couple, us PAL gamers have got one back – and that one barely counts. With the release of Tales of Eternia, it marks a number of significant events. This is the second Tales of game to make it to PAL territories after Tales of Symphonia. It’s the first game that Ubisoft have brought to PAL territories in their crusade in keeping the PAL regions in touch with the rest of gamers. And, it’s the first proper RPG for our PSPs.

Namco have pulled a little bit of a shifty move though. Tales of Eternia is actually a reworked port of a PS1 title. That title never made it to PAL shores but it was known as Tales of Eternia in Japan and Tales of Destiny II in the US. Still, for what it shows in age, it’s easily made up for the fact that this game does try to be a portable as possible. This Tales of title happens to be the third in the long running series.

She's tyring to explain how to properly localize a game.

She's tyring to explain how to properly localize a game.
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The world of Eternia is divided into two parts, Inferia and Celestia. When in Celestia, looking up causes you to see Inferia. So essentially, these empires are directly opposite each other. Reid and his friend Farah (both from Inferia) are wandering in the outskirts of their town one day when a mysterious object falls through the Seyfert Ring, a barrier that has kept the distance between the two places for 2000 years. Upon closer examination, they find that the object was a flying machine from Celestia and it carried a strange young girl. In somewhat usual RPG (or at least Tales of) fashion, this girl is the bringer of news, apocalypse predictions and a reason to leave their sleepy village. So it eventuates that Reid, Farah and the girl, Meredy, set out into the wider world. Initially, Meredy was speaking in a foreign tongue so, the first task was to try and find a way to understand her. They go out to find the fourth member of their merry group, Keele, who is a university student and old friend of Reid and Farah.

The story really does catapult from there. We learn that the two empires are heading on a collision course for each other and due to the state of things and the stubbornness of the higher ups, it’s left to this group of youngsters to save the whole of Eternia. The story on it’s own has a few major twists and goes along at a pace that will keep you interested, but it’s not that spectacular, but still has quite a bit of depth. There are so many themes and layers to both the worlds of Inferia and Celestia. Themes of intolerance, racism, religious conspiracy, treachery and more fill the worlds and the story. The majority of the main characters all have their own characterizations and personalities, as do quite a few of the NPCs. Tales of Eternia doesn’t throw it in your face, it’s all there for you to explore and discover for your self.

That’s one of the best things about Tales of Eternia. Despite being somewhat linear, you can still go your own way. The depth in the story and in the gameplay itself allow you to really play as you wish. As an action RPG, as the Tales of series is built around the Linear Motion Battle system. And as is the case with most things in the game, there is a lot more depth than you initially think. It’s actually a bit of a backward step, when compared to Tales of Symphonia. In the GC incarnation, the system sat on a 2-D plane but the arenas in which you fought in were fully 3-D. Tales of Eternia is pretty much in pure 2-D. However, it’s more a matter of being different rather than lacking.

When you enter a battle, you are on a 2-D plane. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the perspective in most 2-D fighting games except it’s flat and very long. You can move and dash left and right with the d-pad or jump-up by flipping the analog nub. There are several controllable characters but you only take one. Pressing the X button will initiate a physical attack. Combining it with the directional commands on the d-pad, you can string together a few combos with the more “physical characters”. Your controlled character will have numerous spells, technical and special moves that are set by you. They can controlled by the Circle button and a corresponding directional pad press. The Square button blocks and the Triangle button pauses the battle and opens up your options.

Fire Birds in a forest?

Fire Birds in a forest?
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As simple as this may sound, there are a few things that make this a brilliant system. One is that the battles go at a furious pace. There really is no room for dawdling but at the same time, precision is required. Tales of Symphonia allowed for a bit more lenience where in Tales of Eternia the system is a little more technical. Basically, your timing of attacks and the balance of attacking versus defending needs to be much more at the forefront of thought. On average, the battles won’t last over twenty seconds. Despite this, the game manages to retain a bit of old-school RPG challenge in that in normal progression, a few battles will leave you gasping for air and the boss battles can be pretty nasty. Button mashers may need to start thinking and stop mashing. However, the most critical element to the game’s success is that it gives you the choice to play the way you want.

There are seven characters that you play as and most of them play very differently to one another. I mean, they range from swordsmen, to fist-fighters, to mages, to Meredy, who uses a whistle to command her “pet” to attack and can cast spells. You can’t say that there isn’t someone to suit your style. On top of that, the way that you fight will not only earn you experience for leveling up but for increasing the strength of your battle components. That is, Reid is a swordsmen and has two types of physical attack, slash and thrust. They will increase in strength as you use them in battle and the strength of each will determine what new moves you learn. This is part of what makes the game amazing, that you’ll be learning and discovering moves at seemingly random yet frequent increments throughout the entire experience.

A unique feature in Tales of Eternia (compared to other games in the series) is the use of the Craymel Cage. This just happens to be the vessel for storing all of the elemental spirits in the game. The capturing of elemental spirits has always been apart of this series and here they happen to be called Craymels. As you gather and use these Craymels, their strength increases and you have the opportunity to learn more moves and summon attacks.

Another main aspect of the battle system is that you have a max of four main characters at once. The ones that aren’t controlled by you are AI controlled. You have the option of numerous AI settings, again which can be set to suit your style of play. It’s recommended that you take this seriously, as tactics will have an affect on your success. The AI in general is pretty good but the game design did leave itself open for one telling flaw. The character Farah is a physical character who uses her fists to fight. However, she also learns healing powers as the game progresses, which in turn takes up a lot of her TP (technical points – measure of magic use). The problem lies in the fact that she’ll use up too much TP, too quickly. However, if you restrict TP usage, you risk in losing a healer for your group. The game doesn’t cater for this but it can be a negligible issue. However, if you are a character other than Farah, you can program a “short-cut” command that you can use to initial the action manually. You can do this with other moves as well.

Artistically Excellent

Artistically Excellent
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Outside of battle, the world is set in a more notorious part of the Tales of games. The towns look great but the overworld leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn’t have as much to do as in Tales of Symphonia and it still uses random battles. The random battles are prevalent in the dungeons as well, of which some are very challenging – enemy and puzzle wise. However, just as it gets tiring to traverse, you always find a means of travel to help you out. The townships aren’t very big but there’s quite a bit to do. Each has a unique mini-game that can be quite challenging and addictive. Each has the wonder-chef hidden and waiting to be found, so that he can teach you a new recipe. Cooking happens to be quite handy, especially when you’re out of other conventional potions and items. Each has a few hidden goodies that can be seen but take a bit to figure out how to get to them and each has quite a few interesting characters. Sure, there have been situations where all this been done better but it just comes together here very nicely.

To call Tales of Eternia a standard RPG would be unfair. The battle system is easily one of the most robust to be found in action-RPG titles, you can play your own way and simply, everything comes together in a simple but eloquent and deep package. The game also has near perfect pacing. You’re always given something to do and despite being somewhat linear, you’re always learning a new skill, finding a new weapon or discovering a new plot line. OK, so it’s not as engrossing as Tales of Symphonia and not as grand as most current generation RPG titles, but you have to remember, it’s now a portable game.

As a portable game, Tales of Eternia has been reworked so players can save on the go. Thankfully, most of the story sequences won’t last over ten minutes and with battles that take, on average, twenty seconds to complete, it seems that the Tales of series was tailor-made for portable use. On top of that, the game is quick on start up and pretty much slaughters any load-times. Since it doesn’t do much loading from the disk and it’s mainly in 2-D, it doesn’t drain the battery as much as other games. Than there is the little fact that there is no way to finish the game in under 30 hours. Stopping to sniff the roses may push it over 40 and even close to 50 hours on a single play through. Finally, you’ll notice that after every battle you’ll earn some points. These points go to the end, where upon finishing the game, you can exchange points for some excellent goodies. Not only does this make Tales of Eternia the most substantial game on the PSP, it’s one of the most substantial portable games ever released.

Graphically, the game is primarily in 2-D. The townships are beautifully rendered in an anime style and every town is distinct in it’s own way. The characters are also anime inspired and look great and distinct, but their animations have aged over time. The stiffness may put a few people off. The overworld is done in something of an ugly but competent 3-D. Thankfully, the other 3-D sequences in the game are well made without looking spectacular. The battling is in full 2-D and looks a bit ordinary at first, but it gets hectic, chaotic and even spectacular very quickly and doesn’t stop through out the entire game. Some of the effects are old but still look amazing. Basically, as with all of this series, the visuals can be technically challenged but are artistically brilliant.

Reid demonstrates his manly prowess to the ladies.

Reid demonstrates his manly prowess to the ladies.
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The sound is a very pleasant surprise. Not only is the game driven by a fantastic musical score but the developers have grasped the PSP hardware in such a way that the quality of output is easily some of the best to grace to system so far. The tunes are all distinct and fit most moods very well. The sound effects are primarily confined to battle but are rich with quality and atmosphere. There’s even some decent voicing but it has been used a little sparingly. It’s one thing to have good sound but for the developer to show how good the quality can really be, it’s something else.

Enough has been written above and it’s better not to repeat it. Simply, Tales of Eternia is one of the best games you can get for the PSP. It breaks the RPG drought and is one of the best handheld RPG’s since Golden Sun. Kudos to Ubisoft for going out on a limb to get this game to us. Despite a little ageing, a difficulty level not found in a lot of RPG games these days and a few other minor gripes, there is an exceedingly deep and engrossing experience and now it’s in the palm of your hand. Not only that, but you can pretty much play the game as you see comfortable and in the way that will maximise your enjoyment. That and it’s likely to keep you busy until they actually decide to release another substantial game on this system.
The Score
Tales of Eternia is easily one of the finest games on the PSP. Fans of RPG's and substantial portable games must own and play this game. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 Comments
8 years ago
*Adds to List*
8 years ago
Wow - now there is actually a reason to buy a PSP!
8 years ago
i loved Tales of Symphonia so i'll be getting this soon icon_biggrin.gif
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  9/02/2006 (Released)
Standard Retail Price:
  $79.95 AU
Publisher:
  UBI Soft
Genre:
  RPG
Year Made:
  2006

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