It occurred to me that I hadn’t put a review up on my blog in a long time. It also occurred to me that despite my obsession with Tales of Phantasia, I had never posted a proper review, never given people a reason WHY they should be interested in using the full translation I did of the game. Some of this might overlap with what I’ve said in the translation itself, but I hope to give a new understanding of my love for ToP in writing this.
Tales of Phantasia was originally released in 1995 for the Super Famicom (SFC) in Japan. [Note: The US knows the SFC as the Super Nintendo or SNES.] Phantasia marked the beginning of the Tales series, which over time would grow to be one of Japan’s most successful RPG franchises. However, the SFC version of the game would never arrive on foreign shores. Several years after the original release of the game in Japan, DeJap released a fan-translation of the game, which exposed many people in the English speaking world to Tales for the first time. Although the script was far from accurate at times, many fans still look back to the DeJap translation as the definitive one.
Following the release of Tales of Destiny for the Sonly Playstation in 1997, Namco remade Tales of Phantasia on a modified version of the Tales of Destiny game engine. As a result, the remake featured a battle system which was vastly improved and is much more akin to what modern Tales fans are used to. The remake also featured more changes to the food and cooking system, as well as adding a fully animated anime opening, voiced Face Chats, and Character Titles. Tales of Phantasia PSX also saw the addition of Fujibayashi Suzu as a playable character, among a slew of other changes to sidequests and plot elements. The game was truly remade from the ground up.
In 2003, the game fell victim to a poorly done port of the PSX version to the GameBoy Advance. The game was downgraded from the greatness that had been Tales of Phantasia PSX. The graphics and battle system failed to match up with the previous version and the sound likewise suffered setbacks. Although the game was licensed by Nintendo (an unusual party to license the Tales series) and localized, the localization suffered mistranslations in several places. The decision was made to translate the character names differently from what fans had become used to from both official Japanese sources (including the game itself) and from the DeJap translation. The Japanese vocal opening was removed (although this is common in Tales localizations) and the game was dubbed. Whether due to poor GBA sound capacities or simply bad dub actors, the voice acting was heavily criticized. Many regard the GBA version as the worst version of Tales of Phantasia, being the only version of the game which seemed to be a regression. The only additions to the GBA version was the post-game minigame “Let’s Go Arche!” and an altered version of the Elven Bow sidequest in the game itself. Most agreed that these additions were hardly enough to offset the downfalls of the GBA port. Regardless, it is the first and only officially localized version of Tales of Phantasia.
Finally, 2006 brings us to the version of the game which I regard as the greatest. Tales of Phantasia ~Full Voice Edition~ for the Sony Playstation Portable (PSP). Although this is also a port of Tales of Phantasia PSX, it made several improvements that put the game firmly in line with more modern Tales games. First, as implied by the name, the game features a fully voiced main story. The original seiyuu for the main cast return to repeat their roles, excluding Dhaos. However, perhaps the most important addition to the PSP version is the GRADE Shop. As in past Tales games, GRADE is collected based on performance in battle (although in ToP PSP, it was given out like candy). At the end of the game, GRADE can be used to purchase upgrades for future play-throughs of the game, giving the game additional replay value without adding much additional content. Also, the Elven Bow sidequest in the PSP version was changed to be the same as it was in the GBA version. A few small changes were made to the script in the main story, but most of them are rather seamless. Now then, with that history lesson out of the way, let’s get down to specifics.
Of course, like all Tales games, Tales of Phantasia is an action RPG. It is built upon the Linear Motion Battle System, in which all characters and enemies are set on a 2D plane. The player controls one member directly and controls the other 3 by customizing their AI and issuing direct commands. The Tales of Phantasia engine is, of course, one of the more primitive examples of the system, but it has smoothed out many of the flaws of the two systems that came before it. It’s the first Tales game in the series to feature what I consider to be a fully functioning version of the standard Tales battle system.
Given that the battle system was built off of the Tales of Destiny engine, I think it’s rather surprising how much it was improved in so little time. Tales of Phantasia PSX featured the largest changes to the battle system to date, and marks the larger part in bridging the gap between the Destiny and Eternia battle systems. Fans of more recent Tales games will feel right at home with it. Special attacks and be mapped to four different slots and two buttons are mappable to other characters’ abilities. Any character can be set as the controlled character and any 4 characters can make up the party. With the use of an item, the controlled character can be set to either Auto, Semi-Auto, or Manual control modes. In the PSX version, a separate item also enables multiplayer functions, meaning that with multiple controllers, the entire battle party could be controlled directly. However, given the nature of the PSP, this item as well as the multiplayer features were removed. Cless, Mint, and Chester all obtain Tokugi simply by gaining levels. However, Cless can also gain Ougi by finding Ougi Books scattered around the world. In order to use an Ougi, Cless must master the two skills that make it up. Additionally, Cless has two secret abilities. One is a Tokugi, Satsugeki Bukouken, which is obtained if the player has the sword S.D. equipped and gains a level (assuming Cless is at least level 99). It is executed with a series of commands that is not unlike a fighting game move combo and the full combo can be used only with the S.D. equipped. The second technique is ToP’s version of later games’ Hi-Ougi. When Cless is in critical HP, pressing Square + X + Circle lets him execute a devastating special attack. Klarth gains many of his summons throughout the course of the game, but like Arche and Suzu, some of his later abilities must be sought out. Arche and Suzu also obtain many abilities by purchasing them.
On the downside, both the PSX and PSP versions suffer from spell-freeze. This means that whenever a mid-level or above spell or summon is cast in battle, time and movement are halted for the duration of the spell. This causes battles to become elongated and many fans were disappointed that the PSP version didn’t make the effort to remove the delay. I didn’t find it to be that bothersome, but as the game went on, I often opted to remove the two spell casters from the party in favor of the physical fighters (except in boss fights). I should also comment on the PSP itself. Due to the number of buttons on the PSP compared to the PSX controller, some of the button mappings are a bit awkward. Select + Left/Right chooses the target, Select + Up inverts the battle formation, and Select + Down stops the party in place. It takes some getting used to, but again, it isn’t unplayable. Likewise, the joystick and the D-Pad on the original PSP left much to be desired, and first time PSP users could find playing Tales of Phantasia on the PSP more awkward than its PSX counterpart with a controller.
Normally I don’t consider visuals to play a large enough role to be specifically mentioned in a game review, but Tales of Phantasia ~Full Voice Edition~ may be an exception. The PSP is a widescreen display, unlike PSX games, which were fit to the common 4:3 television resolution. Interestingly, not only does Tales of Phantasia PSP expand the viewable area on the horizontal, it also gives additional viewing area on the vertical side thanks to the high resolution PSP screen. This can be most clearly seen when opening the menu, which filled the whole screen in the PSX version. In the PSP version, the menu only covers the center of the screen, leaving a portions of the background viewable all around the menu. This additional viewable area really adds to the impact of the game and makes playing a much more pleasant experience. Some scenes that come to mind that really benefited from the graphical upgrades were those that took place around the World Tree, Yggdrasill. It’s somewhat hard to explain, but to those who have played both versions, I think most would agree that the game certainly benefited from being properly displayed in widescreen, neither stretched nor cropped.
One other visual element of the game worth noting is the battle scenes. Like with the rest of the game, the PSP’s screen resolution allowed for a wider display of the battle area. To take further advantage of this, the character portrait and statistic displays were changed as were the sizes of the enemy information boxes. These factors received little criticism, but another portion of the battle display did. The decision was made to replace the Tales of Phantasia PSX battle sprites with updated sprites based on those in Tales of the World: Narikiri Dungeon 3. At first, I was a die-hard fan of the PSX sprites and I wasn’t happy with the changes to the game. However, it didn’t take long before I was singing praises to the new sprites. ToP PSX fans might need to make the same adjustment, but I think in the end, the majority of people are happy with the decision to change the sprites. The 3-head high sprites featured in Tales of Phantasia PSP definitely made the game feel more ‘real’ than the PSX sprites had. This of course comes down to opinion, but I do think in the long run, even the critics of the new sprites changed their tone for the most part.
Tales of Phantasia represents some of my favorite game music and the soundtrack contains many songs that have become staples of the Tales series. Between Tales of Phantasia PSX and PSP, there’s no real difference in the music. The only thing that comes to mind is that the ending song was changed to an instrumental for the PSP version. In all honesty, I preferred this instrumental to the vocal ending of the PSX version. I can’t really think of much else to say in regard to the music. It’s some of the best, it’s as simple as that.
I’ve always loved the voice acting in Tales of Phantasia. In the PSX version, it was mostly limited to the Face Chats and select portions of the main story, but it was enough of a taste to leave me wanting for more. Thankfully, the Full Voice Edition was everything I could have asked for in that regard. Truly, the addition of voice acting to the game adds so much more then I imagined it would. But obviously there isn’t much need to say that voices add to the impact of the story, that’s common sense. If I had to pick a favorite member of the voice cast, I think it would have to be Iwao Junko as Mint. She has been one of my favorite seiyuu since I first heard her in Card Captor Sakura, and her work as Mint is fantastic.
Characters and Story **No Spoilers**
I think the overall story and development along the way are Tales of Phantasia’s strongest point. In all Tales games, these are the elements that really set the Tales series apart from other game series. That being said, there was something about Phantasia that really took it above and beyond for me. It’s actually very difficult to put my finger on what exactly it was. In terms of its story, I wouldn’t call Tales of Phantasia all that revolutionary (especially now, when so many similar games have since been released). I think it must be the development that each individual character receives. Having a small cast (only 6 characters), it is much easier for the game to give each character specialized development while ensuring that their role as a part of the whole is maintained. Tales of Phantasia takes special care in providing extensive introductory events for each character and from the beginning, it never feels as if a stranger is joining the party. In addition, extensive sidequests and face chats expand upon the developments of the main story, providing a background and personality for not just the main cast, but even many smaller characters and villains. In all of the Tales series, I find Phantasia makes some of the best use of its characters, providing a balance of unique and yet equally likable personalities.
Without a doubt, I would describe Tales of Phantasia as what I consider to be the most ‘epic’ of the Tales games in terms of story progression. This isn’t something that every game is capable of capturing, in fact, few truly are. To me, that kind of epic feeling is the sense that the party accomplishes much more then anyone could have expected. ‘Save the world’ stories aren’t uncommon these days. In almost any RPG, the player is responsible for saving one world or another. But to me, Tales of Phantasia is really more about the what, why, and how of the journey. What does it mean to save the world? Why does any one of these characters go to such great lengths? How is it that a group of 6 people who were only tied by the thinnest of fate’s strings came to this place? The sense is very much that the party, and by extension the player, have been cast as the heroes in a legendary tale. What begins as a quest for vengeance quickly grows beyond that, the story expanding and swallowing up the player before you even realize it has happened. All of the characters have their own flaws, their own regrets, their own passions. No one character is like the others, and Tales of Phantasia is one of those rare games where I cannot name a favorite character, nor can I name a least favorite. They simply are who they are, those imperfections just one part of what makes them such fantastic characters.
Tales of Phantasia is my absolute favorite game, without exception. The music, voices, and the story itself enable the game to set a mood that I’ve rarely encountered in my gaming history. It was everything I hoped for and more. It was when I first played the PSX version that I was first inspired to translate the game. It was a project that allowed me to push my knowledge and test my ability to translate, in turn allowing me to gain even greater knowledge and appreciation of the game. And of course, knowing that there were many people out there who were unable to play what was at the time, the best version of Tales of Phantasia, I couldn’t help but want to translate it. I hope that people will make use of the guides I’ve provided here. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the kind comments offering their thanks for my work. In the end, this was a project that I did for myself, but if others can use what I created to enjoy this game to its fullest, that’s all I can hope for. I can’t remember how many times I’ve played Tales of Phantasia at this point, but each time, it’s like being reintroduced to old friends. This project was one that I’m sure I’ll never forget.