From the outset, Namco makes no secret that Tales of Symphonia is not intended to be a new addition to the RPG "Hall of Fame". With a story revolving around the world currently being held under the iron fist of an other-worldly Nazism, one chosen hero (creatively named, The Chosen) will rise up and save the world from peril. The story isn’t special; lacking any memorable plot twists or climax. As you progress through the game, things go from better to worse; clinging to every typical cliché, and overused, uninspired plotlines with bravado.
But even the most clichéd story can be saved by interesting, likable characters. Again, the game's failure bears on account of its characters being cheap caricatures of every quintessential RPG or anime character you’ve ever seen. Even after giving it the old college try, you’ll still find yourself unable to grow fond of the characters. They’re unlikeable, boring clichés who have no original quirks, backstories, or actions to make them endearing. Every attempt at using one of the characters’ “quirks” for humor fails. A brother/sister combo is meant to instill a sense of humor into the game but instead promotes groans and rolling eyes at their abuse of sub-standard off-the-shelf character archetypes.
And even then, there is still a final line where Namco could have made the game more interesting: text and translation. Earthbound is a game with one-dimensional characters and a cookie cutter story, but the text and dialogue really brought the game home. If a game has good, engaging text, even the most pathetic characters in the most boring story can somehow seem interesting. Strike three, Namco. The text and vocal script in Tales bring shudders of embarrassment rather than fear when you’re facing the big enemies. Should you decide to play the game, keep a notepad handy to write down predictions, and give yourself a cookie whenever you’re correct. But be ready for disappointments that will invoke a fair share of RPG quibbles.
But, to be fair, there are a few significant features. For starters, some of the level designs, particuarly the cities, are the best I've seen in any RPG. But with as much work as the designers put into making these areas look attractive, they don’t get a lot of use. Many rooms and locations that could have been used to hide treasures or secrets are useless. Which is another complaint to be made: there are a distinct lack of secrets in this game. Sure, there are mini-games and the such, but compare this to Final Fantasy VI or VII, respectively; both of which were filled with an abundance of secrets to discover.
Another requirement for RPGs, an admirable score, is also missing in Tales of Symphonia. The music falls just slightly above the mediocre scale. At times, the music is repetitive, and often out of sync, (why does the happy, bubbly music continue when bad news is given to the party?). Ultimately, the soundtrack just fails to impress or inspire.