Tales of Symphonia Remastered Review (Switch) – Worst Version of a Beloved Classic

    Title: Tales of Symphonia Remastered
    Developer: Bandai Namco
    Release Date: February 17, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Bandai Namco
    Genre: Action JRPG

The Tales of series played a significant role in my love of JRPGs, and of its numerous entries, Tales of Symphonia was one of the most impactful. Its fantastic narrative, terrific soundtrack, and endearing cast proved to be the ideal ingredients for an emotional and memorable adventure. So, I believed I knew what to expect when Tales of Symphonia Remastered was announced.

While I would’ve preferred other entries to receive modernized treatment, Symphonia being accessible to a new generation of gamers isn’t a bad thing. Unfortunately, Tales of Symphonia Remastered on Switch is likely the worst version to date, primarily due to bizarre technical issues and design choices.

Tales of Symphonia follows the life-changing journey of protagonist Lloyd Irving, who, alongside several others, becomes a protector of his childhood friend, Colette Brunel. She is the Chosen of their world, Sylvarant, tasked with regenerating the world by visiting and unsealing specific temples throughout the land. However, disturbing truths regarding the nature of this process cause the cast to face strife that redefines themselves and their home.

Even after two decades, this story remains one of the strongest in the genre, boasting fantastic character interaction alongside stellar developments with tense stakes. Moreover, the English dub, while quite cheesy by today’s standards, has a lot of heart to it that makes the messaging feel more genuine.

Just like other Tales of games, players will encounter a variety of skits, which are in-party conversations used to enhance the comradery and highlight subjects overwise glossed over in cutscenes. They’re always a fun time, though I should mention that these are not voiced in English, only in Japanese. So, that tidbit may make you reconsider which dub you play with.

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Gameplay is likely where new players will see the game’s age creep up. Battles occur when encountering enemy symbols on the world map and dungeons, causing the screen to transition. Unlike other Tales of entries, there is no free run, which comprises full 3D movement on the battlefield. Instead, navigation is primarily done in 2D, with Z-axis alterations occurring as you target different enemies. Due to this design, defensive maneuvers are vital to master, so knowing how to balance one’s approach is necessary. Other than that, everything is rather self-explanatory, with each character boasting unique strengths and weaknesses, with their special skills, Artes, highly individualizing them.

Although one of Symphonia’s more unique mechanics is EX Gems, which steer the cast’s actions in specific directions depending on the selected traits. While these boons aren’t accessible until the later hours, remembering to keep an eye on them is imperative to fine-tune for a specific playstyle. It’s a simple yet effective gameplay system that never gets dull, thanks to the inclusion of several minigames, cooking, sidequests, and other optional material. Alas, I’ve been avoiding talking about my experience with this Switch release.

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I have to preface that I have played Tales of Symphonia many times, probably too many. Granted, it has been a few years since I last experienced it in full, but the flaws of this release immediately stood out on the Switch release. Firstly, whenever you open the menu in this remaster, the entire background vanishes, leaving a black void in its place. In previous releases, the background is present, so this is quite odd, creating jarring displacements whenever even the briefest menu checks occur. It also harms the presentation and general ambiance; I never grew used to it.

Secondly, and probably worse, whenever a battle transition happens, the entire screen becomes a blinding white. Ordinarily, a glass-breaking visual effect is meant to be depicted whenever the player enters battles. Aside from simply looking awful, the sheer suddenness of the brightness can be harsh when playing in low light. The original effect helped give it some personality, so its absence, especially for something you’ll constantly see, weighs on the experience. Loading times are also bizarrely lengthy, especially on the world map after a battle. Other moments also took longer to load, but the world map was where this problem was the most pronounced.

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Next, something I was really looking forward to with this remaster was the advertised feature to skip cutscenes since, as someone who has gone through Symphonia countless times, even coming close to earning the platinum trophy on PlayStation 3, which required several playthroughs, I already knew the narrative by heart. This would also simply be a much-appreciated quality-of-life upgrade.

Unfortunately, unless I missed a specific information rollout by Bandai Namco, the skippable cutscenes feature is disappointingly misleading. Players are only able to skip the special movie cutscenes and skits. The in-engine story text-box scenes, which comprise the vast majority of this game, remain entirely unskippable. As a result, this feature feels  wasted since its perceived usage has been rendered moot.

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Honestly, while the previous faults I brought up are noteworthy, I would be willing to stomach them if the skippable cutscene inclusion actually applied to the entire game since that would have been a great feature. Instead, I’m left feeling certain that this is the worst version of Symphonia because there’s nothing significantly positive to this remaster. And to add insult to injury, this version even crashed a good chunk of times. I could not detect a rhyme or reason for them, as they occurred both in dungeons and towns. When considering the other issues I’ve discussed, they felt like rubbing salt in a wound.

The previous releases and ports of Symphonia not only function better, but the prior console release, Tales of Symphonia Chronicles on PlayStation 3, even had more bang for your buck. The game’s direct sequel, Tales of Symphonia Dawn of the New World, was included with your purchase. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, that sequel is not part of this release at all. Regardless of the mixed reception surrounding this entry, omitting it is confusing, especially since it would not sell strongly on its own.

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One final point I should bring up, despite it not inherently bothering me, is how Tales of Symphonia Remastered runs at 30 FPS. For those unaware, the original Gamecube release ran at 60 FPS, while subsequent versions stuck to 30. I firmly believe the game still feels fine at 30 FPS, though it is saddening that the team would go through the trouble of a re-release and not include this.

Regrettably, the remastered release, at least on Switch, has instances where it appeared to even drop below 30 FPS. This baffled me to the end, as it’s completely inexcusable. And it’s also worth emphasizing that the original Gamecube version isn’t necessarily definitive, as it lacks a plethora of content added from the PlayStation 2 release onward. So, in essence, there is no version of Tales of Symphonia that has everything going for it.

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To confirm if the issues present on the Switch version were present on other consoles, I was able to play the PlayStation 4 version. As it turns out, many of my critiques are not present in this version of the Remaster. The framerate is stable, as I don’t recall encountering any drops, the battle transitions have a glass-breaking effect, and the backgrounds don’t vanish when opening up a menu. Additionally, I never faced a crash, though considering how random it is on Switch, it’s difficult to say that it doesn’t exist on this platform.

Unfortunately, the long loading times on the world map after winning battles are still present, and the highly questionable scene-skipping feature mirrors that of the Switch release. Still, the PlayStation 4 iteration of Tales of Symphonia Remastered is the far safer and better choice to go with when compared with what the Switch received. Because this review was strictly for the Nintendo Switch version, the score reflects that version.

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Tales of Symphonia is a brilliant action JRPG that set a precedent for the genre. Even all these years later, its engrossing storytelling, vast array of side activities, character interaction, and layers of combative options all coalesce to make it a must-experience adventure. Yet, as a remaster, this specific release fails to hit the mark, ultimately providing a lackluster and disappointing resurgence that could have been so much more.

I’m sure that my critiques of this version’s faults may appear unnecessarily overbearing, but their sheer presence proves how much developmental love was missing for this classic that deserves so much more. Regardless of whether these issues are patched, they should not have been present, to begin with.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.