[i]Tales of Phantasia[/i] was originally released more than a dozen years ago on the SNES in Japan where it was a huge hit. Now sometime down the road the game is being brought to American shores as a port, not on a console, but on the Gameboy Advance. This being my first experience with an RPG on a handheld system I wasn’t so sure what to expect, not to mention how far the genre has come since [i]ToP[/i] was originally released. Will [i]ToP[/i] on the GBA live up to the accolades of the original title?
In [i]ToP[/i] you play the role of Cress, a young boy from a quant, innocent, little village with not a care in the world – until his village is burned to the ground and everyone including his parents are killed, that is. You then start out on a quest for vengeance, to find the responsible party and dispose of said party accordingly. You soon find out that the culprit, Dhaos, is only vulnerable to magic, something that doesn’t exist in the current time in the world.
The one thing that has the [i]Tales[/i] series apart from other RPG’s in my eyes has been the combat system. A linear, side to side blend of RPG item management and menus mixed with combat that is very much like that of a traditional fighting title i.e. [i]Tekken[/i] or [i]Soul Calibur[/i]. This system, however, doesn’t translate so well to the GBA world. The combat rather than being the addictive full on action of the other [i]Tales[/i] titles we have come to love feels crowded and is actually rather boring. This same feeling of crowdedness is even more apparent in the menus and windows within the game. At times you will need to press two or three buttons just to see the stats of an item and who can wear it. Other than this the controls of the game actually work pretty well, your usual RPG setup so they should be easy to pick up and play with.
Your combat party consists of up to four members so the AI is a matter of some importance. You have different strategies you can tell each of your CPU counterparts to use. You might think after hearing this that combat would be better than what it is but that isn’t exactly the case. The AI of your team is offset by a few different things. First off, the combat is rather hard. Even when taking ample time to level up you will struggle against many of the enemies you come up against, including bosses where it is almost guaranteed that you will die once or twice before besting the opposition. This is only magnified by the fact that your other party members, despite the good AI, are rather useless.
This being one of my first games on the GBA, first RPG on the system, I wasn’t sure quite what to think of the graphical side of the game. The game seems to be rather dull looking, while the characters are actually rather nice and detailed. The world map is by far the visual low point in the game, something that appears to have come straight from the days of the NES. The sound effects in [i]ToP[/i] are, as might be expected, very bland and dated. What was surprising to me, however, is the score which is rather complex for a handheld title and very well put together.
So in the end my first experience with an RPG on a handheld wasn’t exactly a positive one. I’m not sure if this is simply a poor job of porting the game itself or if RPG’s don’t work so well on a handheld level but I was expecting more in many ways. The story is there, but it’s dragged down by everything else. Tedious combat, lack of enemy variety and dated sound effects. If you’re a die-hard [i]Tales[/i] fan or desperately need your handheld RPG fix you may want to give [i]ToP[/i] a try – everyone else may want to keep their distance.