Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Tales of Destiny: Director's Cut

A Tale Well Retold

Namco’s Tales of series began in 1995 with Phantasia for the Super Famicom, although Nintendo of America’s aversion to any game with “controversial” content prevented its localization, and North American gamers would get their first taste of the franchise with Tales of Destiny for the Sony PlayStation, although its English release occurred when Japanese RPGs in general were still niche, and the series wasn’t nearly popular enough to warrant translation of its many future titles. Destiny would eventually see a remake for the PlayStation 2, not to mention an updated rerelease, Tales of Destiny: Director’s Cut, which too didn’t receive an official English version.

Like its original incarnation, Destiny opens with blonde spiky-haired narcoleptic protagonist Stahn Aileron stowing away on the sentient dragon ship, the Draconis, where he finds a special weapon in the form of Dymlos, an intelligent talking weapon known as a Swordian. He eventually crosses paths with other Swordian wielders, with those who infused their souls into the weapons from the ancient Aeth’er Wars, which threatens to repeat with the gradual creation of a second earth above the current world with the help of a powerful MacGuffin known as the Eye of Atamoni. The story is fairly enjoyable, with plentiful development largely thanks to the countless skits throughout the game, although there are some minor similarities to Phantasia and some narrative nods to the Star Wars series.

The PlayStation 2 version of Destiny, unlike the initial incarnation, features an encounter system similar to the third Shin Megami Tensei and Etrian Odyssey franchise where an indicator gradually turns lavender to indicate how close the player is to encountering enemies, with the frequency of encounters luckily adjustable with Holy and Dark Bottles, not to mention support skills (new to the remake) from sidelined companions. Rather than rehash the original game’s two-dimensional gameplay, the remake sports a new incarnation of the series’ signature gameplay known as the Aerial Linear Motion Battle System (AR-LMBS) that emphasizes aerial combination attacks against the enemy.

Furthermore, MP is gone, replaced by Chain Capacity points, where each of the four characters active in combat start with an initial account dictated by certain innate skills, regular attacks consuming one CC, and other skills and magic consuming different amounts. After a character has completely exhausted his or her CC, they refill, with their beginning amount increased by one, and having a cap that too special skills set up outside battle dictate. While the AI of the controlled character’s allies is mostly competent, it isn’t always foolproof, but mercifully, the player can pause the action of combat to use magic manually, or a consumable item (their use being strictly manual) after which players must wait a few seconds before being able to use another.

Outside combat, Swordian users can make use of the Swordian Device system to set special skills that require a certain number of points, with those equipped gradually gaining percentage points where, at a hundred percent, they “master” and unlock higher-level abilities. Another addition is the Rerise system where the player can use different Lens types, obtained from victorious battles, to raise their stats, with different branches that have divergent stat development paths. The system of food is different as well, players initially able to equip four different recipes that see their use depending upon certain combat conditions to recover the party’s health, with the Food Sack eventually leveling to hold up to eight recipes that too eventually see mastery.

The battle system is generally enjoyable, although the Chain Capacity system requires a certain amount of finesse to master in Semi-Auto or Manual control, and thus, I mostly relied upon Automatic control, with the AI in that regard generally being competent in spite of occasional hiccups. Combat speed is fast as well, and should the player yearn to control a character directly, switching enemy targets pauses the action of battle akin to other entries of the franchise, and players can see how much of their health remain, which elements they’re strong against, and those to which they’re weak. Difficulty is adjustable too, and there are still plenty of tough moments even on the easiest setting, yet the challenge is generally fair. On the whole, the developers did a good job assembling the game mechanics.

Control has its high points as well, with an easy menu system, skippable voiced dialogue (except during skits) and FMVs (luckily pausable as well, as is the majority of the game within and without battle), clear direction on how to advance the main storyline with indicators noting where the player needs to go next on the overworld, a suspend save function in addition to hard saves, an in-game clock that shows both total playtime and how much time players have spent in their current session with the game, and so forth. Granted, dungeon maps are absent, and there was one point in the last dungeon where I got stuck (involving an invisible staircase), but otherwise, interaction definitely rises above average.

The aurals are another highlight of the remake, beginning with the theme song during the opening anime, which has a sad instrumental version throughout the game, not to mention plenty of solid tracks from composers Motoi Sakuraba and Shinji Tamura, for instance, with three remixes of the same battle theme indicative of the main game’s current act. The Japanese voicework largely fits the various characters as well, although the seiyū, as usual, botch the English names of abilities in combat. However, there are few to no complaints about the sound effects, and overall, the remake definitely sounds great.

The visuals are nice, as well, with a style combining two-dimensional and 3-D elements, the character sprites in towns, dungeons, and battles being 2-D and having good proportions wherever they exist, alongside colorful scenery that the developers occasionally prerendered, although there are occasional three-dimensional environs that move with the player’s visible character. The graphics are perhaps weakest on the overworld, where the model indicating the player’s active party is 3-D alongside the world map itself, which has a lot of popup as well. However, the visuals are good in battle aside from a few reskinned enemies, and ultimately the remake looks good graphically even today.

Finally, Stahn’s Side of the storyline takes somewhere from thirty to forty hours to complete, with Leon’s Side taking around ten, accounting for somewhere between twenty-four to forty-eight hours total, with plenty of lasting appeal in the form of a New Game Plus mode where the player can bequeath elements from previous playthroughs, not to mention sidequests such as an extra dungeon, and aside from the lack of in-game percentage completions, replayability is well above average.

All things considered, Namco Tales Studio did an excellent job remaking Tales of Destiny, which almost feels like a completely different game, given the major modifications to the core gameplay that work superbly, alongside solid control, an excellent storyline with two different perspectives, great sound, and pretty visuals. Granted, those who don’t care much for the idea of a game that’s a lot easier to allow to “play itself” may not appreciate it, and there are some minor hiccups especially in regards to the graphics, but the game definitely deserved an official localization, and those who don’t want to wait years for a port or remaster will be happy to know a mostly-complete English fan translation exists.

This review is based on single playthroughs of Stahn and Leon’s Sides, each on Simple difficulty.

The Good:
+Great game mechanics.
+Tight control.
+Enjoyable story.
+Superb soundtrack and voicework.
+Looks good even today.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-A lot easier to let “play itself”.
-No in-game maps.
-Skit dialogue unskippable.
-Visuals lack polish at points.

The Bottom Line:
A superb remake Americans missed out on.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 9.0/10
Story: 9.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 8.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 9.5/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 24-48 Hours

Overall: 9.5/10

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