More retro goodness: I’ve been playing Tales of Phantasia for the first time on a Super Nintendo emulator. I’m impressed by the soundtrack (full-length vocal songs in a SNES game, really?) and the beauty of the low-saturation, high-intricacy sprite-based graphics. It’s a beautiful game, and a lush, evocative world to explore, which wins a lot of points from me.
I am bemused by the battle system. One look at the battle screen makes it appear to be a Final Fantasy clone, and that’s more or less what I expected, but it’s nothing of the kind; it has reflex-based battles with 1-D movement projected onto a 2-D screen with an impressively well-done illusion of a 3-D background. It’s different from the same old thing, but the battles are easy. At least they go by quickly, which is a good thing because the encounter rate is extremely high. If the battles weren’t so short, I think I would forget which way I was walking several times on my way through each room– the constant interruptions are awfully distracting. I’m tempted to use the holy potions of monster avoidance, but my characters are levelling up at a steady pace, and I don’t want to end up walking around in circles to level up for a boss later on.
As for the plot, naturally I can’t comment with any accuracy until I finish the game, but so far it has been so stereotypical it’s actually almost funny. It needs imaginative elaboration by the player to be at all memorable; every plot point is so predictable it feels like it came from putting other SNES RPGs in a blender. The translation, a fan work by DeJap, is full of anachronisms and the occasional immature joke, which, far from helping me relate to the game, feels wrong for the Renaissance-era European fantasy setting and distances me from the idea that these characters are real people. I don’t have a sense that a classic is being desecrated by it, however; the story is sufficiently banal that I don’t think I’m missing much.
It’s hard to say at this point whether I’ll stick it through and finish the game; it’s got a combination of very good aspects and very bad ones. I had assumed it must have done well to blossom into a huge series, but perhaps the graphics are its strongest point; and while they are impressive for their time and do create a lovely atmosphere, I’m not sure whether that’s enough to carry the game to its finish for me.