Tales of Symphonia Remastered (Xbox Series) Review

It’s all about preservation
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Tales of Symphonia Remastered has the unenviable status of being a port, of a port, of a divisive port.

Purists are quick to point out that Tales of Symphonia was a visually striking and fluid 60fps GameCube title before the 30fps PlayStation 2 emerged – a port brought with it bug fixes, new combat moves, tougher bosses, and new story scenes. With the GameCube source code seemingly lost, this remaster is based on that PS2 port (and the subsequent PS3 port) and saddled with the same framerate limitation – something I honestly didn’t find too significant given the real-time take on JRPG combat is still perfectly responsive.

Personally, Tales of Symphonia Remastered‘s biggest problem is that it was released during a dominant period for JRPGs and all too often looks, sounds, and plays like any number of other JRPGs from circa. 2003.

Twists, turns, and predictability

Returning to Tales of Symphonia constantly reminded me of how many JRPGs from the 1990s and 2000s followed the same basic quest structure, tackled similar themes, and did a staggeringly awful job handling heavy topics. For its part, Tales of Symphonia has cartoonish, squeaky-voiced characters hurling racial insults (think dwarf, elf, human, and “half breeds”); soldiers burning down settlements while using terms you’d associate with genocide; “ranches” with human slaves, death quotas, and implied forced reproduction; fanatical religions willing to sacrifice children; and the frequent physical abuse of minors for comedic purposes. If nothing else, it serves as an awkward reminder of very different times.

Tales of Symphonia Remastered Dialogue

On the upside, the narrative is dense, convoluted, and compelling – if predictable. The world of Sylverant requires a “Chosen of Regeneration” to go on a world-spanning journey, overcome many trials to prove themselves, ascend the “Tower of Salvation”, and awaken a slumbering god to defeat the half-elf Desians and restore the flow of mana – something that has been thwarted by evil forces for the last 800 years. In classic JRPG fashion, nothing is that simple and the group of mostly under-age warriors have to fulfill prophecies, travel between parallel worlds, suffer betrayals and redemption arcs, go up against almost every other faction, and ultimately find a magical McGuffin that can save both worlds.

As wild as that might sound, there are few genuine surprises for JRPG veterans. However, Tales of Symphonia has three things going for it that many JRPGs from that time do not: Firstly, the entire cast is likeable and rarely annoying, even if they’re all common archetypes. Secondly, the storytelling moments are frequent enough to keep you on track and there’s a handy synopsis if you get sidetracked. These are predominantly text or voiced in-game conversations, short “skits” featuring animated character portraits, and infrequent flashy cutscenes. Finally, there are dialogue choices that can result in minor variations at key moments, shifting the attitude of party members and changing who might be supporting the party or going up against them.

Tales of Symphonia Remastered Party Members

A familiar structure, brisk pacing, and hands-on battling

Much like the narrative, gameplay in Tales of Symphonia Remastered often feels traditional to a fault – though it’s not without a few novel mechanics for those that, like me, grew up playing SquareSoft’s more popular Final Fantasy games.

Now a lot of the JRPG basics are present and accounted for: You’ll sit through dozens of crudely-animated dialogue sequences that drive the story forward or push you into battle; explore improbably small towns and talk to the tiny cast of quest-givers, storekeepers, and innkeepers; traverse a mostly barren over-world with respawning monsters; discover dungeons with light puzzles and boss battles; and continuously gain XP toward character levels, boosting attributes and unlocking new abilities. Much of the experience felt instantly familiar.

Tales of Symphonia Remastered Puzzles

As in most JRPGs from that era, optimising your party build and engaging in combat is the meat of the experience. In that regard, Tales of Symphonia Remastered features an active, engaging, and streamlined battle system that’s both simpler and tougher than the turn-based or active-time-battle systems so common in classic JRPGs.

The “Multi-Line Linear Motion Battle System” offers a mix of real-time action with a pause-and-command option. You go into battle with up to four party members and, by default, you’ll manually control the party leader, picking targets, attacking, triggering Tech or Magic abilities, and performing defensive moves on a 2.5D plane.

In some ways, it feels like a technical brawler, and you can configure party AI strategies to support you automatically. At any time, you can pull up a menu to manually trigger party member abilities, consume items, switch AI strategies, or flee when things get rough. If you want, you can even set the party leader to act automatically and simply micromanage abilities and consumables.

It’s a hands-on and engaging system that gives combat a real sense of impact and brisk pacing – but it does place a lot of pressure on the player to memorise and trigger an expanding move-set, using a combination of directional inputs and face buttons. It makes tackling tougher foes while under-levelled much harder than in turn-based or ATB games, but the quick battles make level-grinding and resource-farming – mostly for cooking or gear upgrades – more enjoyable.

That brisk pacing is one of the game’s greatest strengths as grind you shall. There’s no shortage of EX-gems to socket and combination attacks to unlock in battle; optional dungeons, secret battles, and high-tier gear to find; ingredients and recipes to discover and cook; and monster checklists to tick off. If you have way too much time on your hands, there’s a new-game-plus mode that allows you to use your GRADE currency – slowly accumulated based on your performance during battles – to carry over character titles, gear, and abilities (along with other new-game modifiers).

Tales of Symphonia Remastered Strategies

Doing what they can with what they’ve got

With the foundations of this “remaster” going all the back to the PS2-era, there’s clearly a limit on how much could be done to modernise the experience for high-resolution displays.

On one hand, the use of 3D environments in towns and dungeons makes it easier to up-scale without the same degree pixelation you see in the 2D backdrops of other remastered JRPGs. However, the results are inconsistent and some scenes do feature blurry distant backdrops. Tales of Symphonia had a strong cell-shaded look but that only holds true for the character models in this remaster. The environments in towns, dungeons, and battle arenas look attractive enough but lose all defined edges, resulting in characters that feel less grounded in the world. The world map, on the other hand, is just hideously bland. At least the CG cutscenes still look and sound great, the voice acting is decent, and the soundtrack enhances the atmosphere of any location or sets the mood during character interactions.

It’s all about preservation

Overall, I enjoyed returning to Tales of Symphonia Remastered but it remains a game of its time. The narrative structure, world design, and elements of party levelling often feel interchangeable with so many other games in the genre. Where it shines is the real-time combat mechanics and brisk pacing. It’s rare you’re left aimlessly wondering a world map or sprawling dungeon without hitting another story sequence or progressing the plot in some meaningful way. Similarly, grinding for experience and resources is far more tolerable than JRPGs with turn-based or ATB systems – though grinding can feel more essential given the lack of fine control over every action.

Personally, the most important aspect of Tales of Symphonia Remastered is its preservation value. As much as I enjoy retro gaming, with multiple emulators set up on PC and the Xbox Series console, most people just want an easily accessible version of an older game they loved or always wanted to play. In that regard, released on current-gen and last-gen consoles, Tales of Symphonia Remastered is a success.

A review code for Tales of Symphonia Remastered was provided to gameblur by the publisher.

Tales of Symphonia Remastered is also available on PC, PS4/PS5, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

Tales of Symphonia Remastered (Xbox Series) Review

Tales of Symphonia Remastered (Xbox Series) Review
7 10 0 1
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    7/10 Good
  • Gameplay
    7/10 Good
  • Visuals
    6/10 Normal
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good

The Good

  • A convoluted and intriguing plot with likeable characters and minor story choices
  • The "Multi-Line Linear Motion Battle System" is still fun
  • Plenty of system to consider as you upgrade and optimise your party
  • Brisk narrative pacing and quick battles

The Bad

  • The narrative arc and gameplay loop trod a lot of familiar ground
  • The remastering effort is a mixed bag
Total
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