Well, I said that I would give it a chance, as it was the only Playstation 3 game that I possessed, and I am pleased to say that Tales of Xillia is the fucking bomb. I haven’t used the expression “the bomb” for years, possibly not since the time all those years ago that I tried out Tales of Symphonia and was utterly repulsed. But the label fits, since this bomb is about to blow up the dam which will allow my raging torrent of negativity toward the Tales series to become water under the bridge. I am currently weighing two theories as to why I had such a violent reaction to that game, but unfortunately, the Scientific Method would require me going back and actually playing it again, which will not be happening. Instead, I elect that we go back and try them out through the lens of subjective, opinionated speculation, since it’s kind of what we’re all about here.
There’s a case to be made that the culprit behind Symphonia’s unpalatability was its voice acting, and by voice acting, I mean the English voices. But I won’t condemn the actors alone, because the translators are probably just as culpable for allowing a deadened, unrevivable shroud of the original Japanese become the official script of the game in the English speaking world. I haven’t played the Japanese version, but I can tell that the dialogue is a lot more fitting and a hell of a lot less awkward in Japanese. I do know that the game was written in Japanese, with character archetypes that resonate with a Japanese audience — character types that represent characters like them throughout the history of Japanese theater and literature. So if all you’re going to do to is make a literal translation of their lines, you’re going to have a big pile of shit that wouldn’t meet the intelligence standards of video wank booth. If you were to translate Tales of Xillia right now with little or no regard to the original author’s characterization, we’d have a goody-goody insecure med school dropout, an ethereal chesty bimbo who wouldn’t know how to wipe if she ever figured out how to eat, and a macho show-off frag whore with heart of gold-plated ferret shit. And I’m not saying the story wouldn’t work like that (in fact, it sounds a hell of a lot more appealing than I intended), but the lines certainly wouldn’t unless the audience could sympathetically relate to the characters.
I apologize; I used to be an English major, plus I just watched that awesomely ball-scathing review of The Phantom Menace, so I’m kind of hung up on character development at the moment.
But I’m digging Xillia. It’s not necessarily brilliant in its character development or presentation, but I’ll award it some points for originality in the face its otherwise rather formulaic assembly. First of all the main character is a med student. I don’t know any other game where you play a med student, and if they cribbed that idea, it wasn’t from the Square-Enix flagships. You also have the option to make your main character the girl, who is apparently a celestial master of elements brought to earth in corporeal human form. Okay! We’re off to a good start. Now what I don’t understand is why the four main elemental spirits have to be named Ifrit, Undine, Gnome, and Sylph. Is this a Tales tradition or do these names date way back into the annals of mythology enjoyed by Japan? Because besides Ifrit, who is a staple summon of the FF series, those are the names of the goddamn Secret of Mana elementals, and it brings into question everyone’s sense of originality. If you’re doing a tribute, that’s one thing, and it can be done tastefully. If you think these spirits can be borrowed across time and space and brand, then why shouldn’t I expect the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi to guide me on this quest? Well?
All right, I only partially came here to accuse Namco/Bandai of plagiarism, and would really like to tell you what does it for me with this game – the fighting. It’s real time combat, and when you’re hanging out in the field, it’s like hundreds of tiny Soul Calibur matches against monsters, and it’s fucking fantastic. First of all, it’s easy to button mash to success, so you never have to worry about dying while you try to learn how to fight intelligently, dodge, block, counter, heal, map special moves, and manage your combat points. I imagine that all of this will be essential to master by mid game, and find it no chore to learn how to do it right. Also, you level up at a crazy rate, which feels pretty awesome. I’ll just say they pretty much stole the FFX Sphere Grid for the level up system, but made it so that any sphere you get from levelling activates any node on the grid, and there’s hardly any shortage, so you’ll be beefy and full of special moves in no time.
Apparently, Symphonia’s battle system wasn’t so dissimilar, but I guess I blocked that memory out, too. To tell the truth, all that I can really remember about Tales of Symphonia was that one of the characters was wearing a red jacket that that I’m sure I accused them of ripping off from Trigun. Whether it was plot, scenery, characters, gameplay or design, the fact that I can’t remember anything about that game speaks volumes about its mediocrity, and that’s the second theory. Take the most generic anime style imaginable and impose it over a completely feaureless terrestrial world, and somehow you’ll have the most successful Tales game ever made. I’m looking up screen shots of Symphonia right now for any kind of environmental art, and my memory was right: there is none. In Xillia, I’ve already been in two unforgettable distinct and fantastic environments: One was an eternal city of night and blue flourescents, and the other was a Shire-like autumnal valley where you can almost smell the apples on the trees (a credit to the script writing this time around, too).
I think the worst thing you can be if you’re an RPG is mediocre. These games are fucking long, after all, and if you waste even 25 hours fucking around in the otaku moe moe jackoff factory, that’s 25 hours you could have spent playing Smash Bros., and now you’re 50 hours worse at Smash Bros. Think about that. That’s how I think with my aging wrathful ethanol-soaked mind, anyway. I know that I didn’t truly give Symphonia a fair shake and that there are hundreds, if not thousands of more despicable games with which to squander your precious time on earth. All I can say is whatever you’re playing, make it worth it. Make sure the game is tapping your dopamine producers at least half as rapidly as you’re tapping the buttons. That is when you’ll know you have a tale worth telling.