Saturday, 9 May 2015

Ten Years Ago: Tales Of Symphonia

(Hi! This has nothing to do with NES, sorry! Instead it's me being an old nostalgic fart and thinking about things that happened ten years ago. Please enjoy me remembering old Gamecube RPGs. Thanks.)

I never got to beat Tales of Symphonia.

We are casting the net back quite a ways here. Wikipedia, which did not exist back in the time I'm thinking of, says that Tales of Symphonia came out over here in July 2004. I would have been on the Summer Works Program, doing odd jobs for my town council. Cutting down overgrowth around playgrounds on hot summer days, planting the first seeds of what would eventually become my NaNoWriMo winning empire. And, oh yes, playing multiplayer Gamecube games with my pals. There was Super Smash Bros Melee, which I always got creamed at but still enjoyed. Then came the glut of FPS games, which... I was even more terrible at. Those three other pals I played with, the crew, they were all army cadets. One of 'em even did join the army. They knew their way around the militaristic. I did not, and as such my soldier or my British secret agent was frequently headshotted. That's fine. I had yet to discover my latent talent as a Hard Game Beater, a Beast In The Shape Of A Man. That was fine. What I ended up becoming good at, or had the most fun with, rather, was Tales of Symphonia.

It would have been the end of my Summer Works when I first heard about it. That lovely lady who captivated my late nights on dial-up Internet mentioned it. Said it was awesome, as I recall. Who knows, it's ten years ago. The saga of me and that lovely lady spread on through the rest of 2004, but that has nary a lick to do with Symphonia. The holidays approach. I return on Christmas break, and now my friends have Symphonia. I see the final boss battle, without context. A translucent winged boy attempts to murder a party of four as they battle, a kinetic frenzy of rhythm, positioning, and panache. Game looks pretty cool. Matt made a good purchase here. It's not the last good purchase he'll make, either. Meanwhile, bad decisions have left me mighty high and stranded for most of 2005. Ding dong, the new year approaches and I am banished to the dark reaches of small-town Newfoundland. This is oddly cyclic, as the end of 2005 will lead to much the same thing. Again, that saga has naught to do with Tales. The upshot? Lots of time to spend playing video games with my pals, after their own school times are said and done. Most of it is spent on the weekends. The same fun times. Smash Bros. Shooter games. Card games, who could forget those? Then comes the decision to replay Tales of Symphonia, with the four of us. That's the exciting bit. It is an RPG where multiple folks can join in, a souped-up Secret of Mana for the Gamecube age. The PS2 may have a billion Japanese RPGs, but here and now? The Gamecube gets its best one.

I take my character selection. Matt is the leader, Lloyd Irving with his dual blades. Blazey takes on summoner Sheena. I forgot who our third pal took, but I went with Genis. The small child who casts the spells that makes the peoples fall down. I blame Brian Clevinger and his comics for turning me into a mage-lover when it comes to these sorts of games. Hurling all sorts of things arcane and elemental at your foes. What's not to like? I took to my role well. While the others rushed in, melee ready and hacking away with their Sonic Thrusts and Demon Fangs, I stood back. I charged and concentrated, and then unleashed my power. The rest of it, the out of battle exploration and plot twists and whatnot, I only watched unfold. The leader piloted Lloyd through all of that. I was only needed for battle, and I assisted in battle well. I liked this role. I liked being a support. I enjoyed watching the tale, and was eager to beat the game.

It never happened. Matt made another good purchase in the spring of 2005. Resident Evil 4. Another achievement for the Gamecube, sure. I remember watching the opening cutscene with them all. Everyone was amazed at how good it looked, but I scoffed that it was just pre-rendered. Then the game started, and it looked the same. You were playing a game that looked that good. Holy shit. We petrified poor Blazey. I got him to shoot the lake. Matt got him with the Regenetators. It was a game they all flocked to, and I loved to see...but it wasn't Tales of Symphonia. We never picked up our file again, and now it is lost to time. As good as Resident Evil 4 is, I am inclined to resent it a little for taking away the climax to the RPG for me. Ten years ago, we were playing a lovely little RPG that I enjoyed playing a passive role in. Survival horror came and took it away. What a shame.

If we look further ahead into the future, we see some fun things. Blazey getting me a copy of Resident Evil 4 for my birthday, once I owned my very own Gamecube. On a later visit to his new home, he spied a copy of Tales of Symphonia for 15 bucks. He snagged it first. I was inclined to be a bit envious at him for this, but only for a while. Matt returned home for Christmas, having sold all of his Gamecube collection for new hi-fidelity Xbox 360 things. All but one. "Merry Christmas", he said to me, handing me Tales of Symphonia. The same copy that we had played all those years ago, and now I own it. Tragically, though, I still have not beaten it. My passive magic skills are naught in single player. I lack the know-how to use Lloyd properly. The end of the game still eludes me. I eventually did get a sort of catharsis, however. Summer 2012. Over three weeks, the three of us were back again. On the Playstation 3 we went non-stop, playing Tales of Graces F. Me as Pascal, a lady with fabulous hair and magic power for days. We did it. We actually beat the damned thing. It was glorious, and it was fantastic... but it still wasn't Tales of Symphonia.

Maybe someday, I will get to beat it.