Completing My First “Tales” Game! | Blogmas 2017 Day 7

Hey everyone, welcome to day 7 of Blogmas!

Another quickie today, but a celebration nonetheless! This past early spring, I completed my first Tales game. For those unfamiliar with the massive franchise, the title Tales refers to a sprawling series of games, most unrelated, created by the game company Bandai Namco in Japan. They’re known for their iconic and elaborate character designs, fantasy-inspired landscapes, Celtic-inspired soundtracks, and most of all, their deep, thought-provoking adventure stories that can take just as long as a Final Fantasy game to complete. We’re talking about clocking no less than 30 hours per game!

Anyway, the Tales franchise means a lot to me. Not because I am overly familiar with the gameplay (as you can see by the title of this post, I’ve actually played very little Tales in my life T__T), but because I get my roots as a fan of entertainment in general from the fantasy genre, the Tales franchise being rich in the source. I’m a kid born and raised on attending Renaissance Festivals and Madrigal Feasts, often loosing myself in the adventurous worlds of tabletop gaming like (our adapted version of) HeroQuest (anyone remember that), TCGs like Pokemon and Magic the Gathering, books like John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, or even iconic films of the genre, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to name a couple. I love fantasy—essentially, its themes of valor, honor, and justice compose my heart for entertainment.

Most importantly, Tales of Symphonia: The Animation is one of only a handful of shows to get me started on anime. If  didn’t come across the Japanese opening of the game, “Starry Heavens,” which I’ll link below, I would never have discovered the wondrous world of Japanese animation.

So here we go: to the best of my ablility, I will briefly discuss my experiences playing both Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Zestiria on the PS3 from the weak non-gamer perspective that I have!

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Loose Discussions on My Experiences Playing a “Tales” Game

(These will DEFINITELY NOT be formal reviews.)

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Tales of Symphonia

Looking back on it, Symphonia‘s anime does a really, really good job at sticking to its source material. It’s got all the major locations, major backstory elements pertaining to the main characters, and even some of the minor characters. Heck, even most of the theme songs for specific characters and towns were brought back for the anime! But this isn’t about the anime, I suppose. Back to the game.

One of the biggest problems I had with the game was the use of annoying side mazes that involved using a “magic ring” to properly traverse. It’s gimmicks like these that tend to ward me off of games—I JUST WANT TO SEE THE STORY. Some of those were really hard, too; as a beginner, I found myself referring to YouTube walkthroughs more and more as the game’s climax neared just to get passed these stupid little travel puzzles.

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OH MY GOD WELGAIA’S FREAKIN FLOORS SCREW THIS

Another beef I had with it was the English audio. As a who’s fan loyal to what I hear first, that being the anime in fansubs, I couldn’t stand the English voices for Lloyd or Zelos. This was easily fixed by changing the game’s audio back to the original Japanese, however, so it’s not so much of a problem as it was just a preference. Raine’s VA for both  was good though, so way to go Kari Wahlgren!

Where it has its minor issues, I found myself immensely enjoying all of the sidequests or story elements that were dropped in the anime adaptation; piecing together the events and locations, however major or minor, that were missing from the anime was tons of fun, as I learned many new things about Symphonia‘s two worlds and their peoples. And while I did think that the final confrontation with Mithos, the ultimate antagonist, was a bit lousy in game format (or at least it had way less of an emotional appeal to it, though movies do tend to resonate with me more), I much rather preferred the game’s handling of tying up all the loose ends—specifically, resolving the pact with Origin and the birth of the new World Tree. It had more time to fully explain itself, and now after all these years I FINALLY understand who Origin is! Woohoo!

All-in-all, finally getting around to playing (and actually finishing, holy shit) Tales of Symphonia (PS3) after six LONG years of putting it off, I can’t help but feeling so complete—the story has finally come full-circle, the adaption introducing me to anime as a media and the PS3 game engrossing me in JRPGs. Do I now despise the anime for excluding so many “crucial” plot points? Absolutely not. I still hold Tales of Symphonia: The Animation in the highest regard, as it’s still a beautiful, moving tale of the harsh realities of racism and revenge, and the hope that comes with uniting two fundamentally broken worlds—I love both iterations of the story, and I probably always will. I DO recommend both the anime and the game, so pick your poison and head out on your own adventure ASAP! (Or be like me and experience both! More Symphonia is a very good thing.)

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Ultimately, I was just so happy I could say I completed my first Tales game, but I immediately knew that It wouldn’t be the last. In fact, my second Tales adventure was awaiting me just around the corner—the end of a good school year, and the start of a brilliant summer!

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Tales of Zestiria

I remember seeing a promotional poster for the anime Tales of Zestiria the X circulating years back, and I do recall being excited for it despite not knowing anything other than that it was another Tales adaptation by the GOD STUDIO, Ufotable. After getting to see the English voice actor for Zestiria‘s MC, Robbie Daymond, in person at this year’s Naka-Kon, I knew the first thing to do as soon as I got home: purchase the PS3 game (I actually ended up doing it in the hotel room, tho >.<).

My recent success with Symphonia set my passions ablaze for tackling the next big JRPG. Once you’ve played one JRPG, you’ve played them all, right? Or perhaps, you want to play them all. From the reviews alone, I already knew that this one was going to be the easiest-to-understand in the entire franchise so far, and that it was arguably the “not-very-smart one” in the series. The character designs charmed me too much, however, and the sparkling armitization sequences just blew me away! The real draw-in for this series, voice actor meeting aside, was the anime’s OP theme, “Kaze no Uta” by FLOW. It was just the smooth, crisp 60 fps display plus the ridiculously catchy tune that made this show a MUST for me. Anyone see a trend here?

That’s right, both Tales games that I have played drew me in through their gorgeous, catchy openings. I suppose that should speak volumes about their music choice and soundtracks, no? Easily some of the best stuff I’ve ever listened to. And I still jam to this song every time I’m working out (which is rare) or whenever I need something to lift my spirits (which is often).

Unlike Symphonia, however, Zestiria had yet another thing winning for it: the fandom. Oh the ships, all the ships, I tells ya!! I’m such a sucker for anything Sorey and Mikleo, Alisha and Lailah. They’re all just so pretty, AHH!!

EHERM. Tales of Zestiria, despite all my senseless fanboying, is a beloved game that, honestly, treads many of the same lines that Symphonia did: two races trying to coexist, one “chosen” person designated to heal the land, a loudmouth (yet adorable) MC and his reserved, intelligent best friend. “Best friend ;)” All of the parallels and similarities just make me glad that Zestiria, though argued as the “dumb one,” was my second Tales game.

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As a PS3 game itself, the reviews ARE true in that the game is likely one of the easier ones in the franchise. I had very few problems in it . . . as in literally none at all. Sure, the story isn’t as deep or intricate (or emotional) as I would have wanted it to be (AKA more like Symphonia’s darkness), but that in itself makes Zestiria‘s almost overwhelming optimism contagious, and fun to play regardless of whatever mood you’re in. The visuals are, holy god almighty, some of the finest I’ve ever seen in gaming (THOSE SKIES THO F*CK ME), and the orchestral soundtrack should be on EVERY tabletop gamer’s background music playlist. Like, shit, need something that sounds absolutely LEGENDARY for a whole freakin’ hour, here you go:

To recap the Zestiria (PS3) experience, it was easy, simple, fantasy fun at its finest. You don’t need to collect many bonus items (if any at all, I skipped most of them), and the fights themselves are, WOAH, WHAT’S THIS, the most FUN part of the gameplay! I’m no gamer, and I found swingin’ around Sorey’s massive armitized swords, bow, giant fists—what have you—to be greatly pleasurable. If you’re not looking for the deepest Tales game, but one that’s great for a first-timer, Zestiria is the one for you. I recommend it.

FUN FACT: After meeting Robbie Daymond, I played through all of the game in English and loved it—proof that once again, whatever you hear first is likely your favorite. I was also incredibly hyped for the anime adaption, as it looks like the best thing to come from Ufotable besides Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, and that’s one of the most top-tier anime you could ask for! I’m currently watching the anime, and while the inclusion of the Berseria *promotional episodes* were pointless and time-draining, it’s a pretty good show. I won’t make any judgement calls now, but I’d love to review it whenever I finish! Also, for all I know, Berseria could very well end up being my next Tales game to experience, as it, too . . . well, I bet you can already guess.

It had a rockin’ OP. 🙂

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What did you think of Symphonia or Zestiria? Any opinions on their anime adaptations, either? For the record, I have seen the Tales of the Abyss anime, but that was also very long ago, so want to rewatch that some day. Lastly, are there any particular favorites or recommendations from the Tales franchise out there? Let me know! I’ve heard that Symphonia is actually one of the bests, and though I haven’t played the others, I’m gonna probably call it as my favorite. Sorry, it’s just first-timer’s bias. This wrap up Blogmas Day Seven of the 12 Days of Anime! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host

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Log Horizon 2nd Season Review

I’ll be doing a review of the first season sometime this summer, but until then, here are my thoughts on the fall simulcast season’s Log Horizon 2, the sequel to the realistic adventure/ trapped in a game anime that is NOT Sword Art Online. :3 Enjoy~

We return to Elder Tale through the eyes of veteran gamer Shiroe who, along with all of the other players, has been trapped in the game for six months now. The Round Table Alliance continues to bring order to Akiba, and the People of the Land have begun to trust Shiroe by teaming up for war against the Goblins. As a result, Princess Lenessia has moved to Akiba to protect the Cowen family wealth and name.

Presently, winter is approaching quickly, and the Adventurers start to ponder their goals in this world: Are we going to keep living in Elder Tale? Can we get back home, and if so, how will we get there? Should we travel to the West or remain here in Akiba? What about the North or even further? These rival opinions cause mayhem and disorder to spread. Shiroe and his team, of course, do the best they can to maintain public order and expand their knowledge of the mysterious world, stumbling into new foes that might know a way out . . .

Log Horizon is known for its slow pacing – despite the great story, it does drag often. This sequel is no exception, and in fact, it drags even more than the first season. The plot starts strong with Shiroe leading the largest raid to the Abyssal Shaft, the supposed source of the world’s gold flow. Meanwhile, Akatsuki the cute ninja and the women of Akiba fight off a player-killer who stole transporting armor from the Royal Guard. Both of these stories flesh out characters, and allow us to get to know them better all while watching action-packed fights . . .

And then there are a few filler episodes that lead up to the children’s arc, which like the first season, focuses on the kids of Akiba and their own adventures. IT WAS PAINFULLY SLOW TO WATCH. Not only was it boring, but besides Rudy’s depressing truths, there wasn’t much development for them. The only things good that came from this dull period was a new mysterious character Roe2 and a personality reveal of Nureha and other Plant Hwyaden members, both of which raised more questions than answered. None the less, the new additions are still awesome!

Best for last, the series ends with a couple of thriller episodes pertaining to a way of going home, and as such leads off with a direction already pointed towards a third season. I suppose I don’t mind a third, but I was really hoping the series would end considering the drastically slow pacing at times.

As I mentioned, Roe2 is a new character among a few others. The “villains” of Elder Tale have also been splattered in here and there, but they sadly weren’t very interesting or the main focus. Akatsuki gets sidelined for quite a few episodes, so if you liked her like I do, you’ll be disappointed. The best thing that came from the characters in this sequel were the epic encouragement speeches made by guild leaders like William, who in particular brought tears to my eyes 😥 So freakin’ relatable! Such powerful dialogue!

Now the animation, yikes. A switch in animators to the infamous Studio Deen – most likely caused by budget issues – causes a lot of changes in art style compared to the old studio – specifically, the eyes are drawn differently and characters are bland as hell. It takes a while to get used, but it’s not necessarily “bad” by any means. The finale was superbly animated, however, which ended this category with an overall positive review.

The electric/orchestral music has always been one of this series’ best features, and this second season only continues to impress. While most of the adventuring and Renaissance-esque pieces return from the first season, there are many new tracks like “This World and its Music” by Yasuharu Takanashi that are absolutely bliss. There are tracks like “A Hopeful Journey” and “The Uncertain Path Ahead” that ring with the Log Horizon SPIRIT in just the perfect moments! Seriously, one of my favorite OSTs.

“database feat. TAKUMA (10 Feet)” by MAN WITH A MISSON returns as well as the show’s annoying rap opening. In addition, the ending “Wonderful Wonder World” by Yun*chi represents Akatsuki’s sweet, shy attitude perfectly! Love that song 😀

So, does the practical “stuck in a video game” adventure anime live up to its first season’s standards? No, but then again, that bar was already pretty high. Filler episodes about Valentine’s Day, slow anticlimactic Children’s arc, and overall poor pacing ONLY to be led to a third freakin’ season has me awarding Log Horizon 2 4/5 stars. While that’s still pretty darn good, this slightly disappointing sequel could have been better – in all categories. Fans of the first season should like it, so long as they manage to stay awake for the whole thing!

“There are things you can only learn by accepting your weakness.” – Akatsuki

You can watch all of Log Horizon 2 and the first season on Crunchyroll for free! I was rather impressed by Sentai Filmwork’s English dub of the first season, so I hope to see a release of this soon. I’d like to extend my thanks to all of my newest customers and my frequent café-goers – you’re all awesome! Thank you for reading and as always, this has been

Takuto, your host

Sword Art Online II (Caliber) Review

Following the much dragged-out Phantom Bullet arc is the Caliber side story arc. This will be my brief thoughts about these few high-spirited episodes.

Kirito and Leafa discovered the legendary Holy Sword Excalibur a year ago, but could not acquire it due to guardians blocking the path. Well recently, towards the dawn of New Year’s Eve, Suguha discovers that the “Caliber” quest has been unlocked to the public. Kirito immediately bands with his friends Asuna, Klein, Lisbeth, Silica, Sinon, and his sister’s avatar Leafa to conquer the castle Thrymheim in Jotunheimir and claim the most powerful weapon in ALO before the year is up!

The whole GGO experience lacked the traditional SAO feeling of ‘playing’ in a game, considering the high stakes. Now, Sword Art Online II brings back the basic concepts of gameplay to add a very crafty and cool mechanical undertone. Many people do not like ALfheim Online, and for obvious reasons I can understand why, but this arc doesn’t dig up those brash emotions and opinions for the Fairy Dance arc; this here, fellow cafe-goers, is traditional RPG, and with its playful references to game terminology envisioned in unique, colorful and appealing animation. This change of pace is absolutely necessary to Kawahara’s planned plot progression and character development, whether we like it or not. Besides, it’s just the characters doin’ what they do best and love!

It’s always wonderful to see the older characters, but I have to spotlight Sinon and Asuna in particular. Upon entering this new fantasy world, Sinon dons the Cait Sith cat attire, complete with cute little ears, and becomes flying fan service! She’s not all fluff, though, as she uses a magic bow to target enemies from far away. This subtle yet crucial decision is very befitting for her sniper-like character.

And Asuna, dayum! She is given the front lines for parts of the fight against King Thrym, pulling out hidden rapier for combat, and might I say that Asuna battles with the swift furiousness of a true KOB commander once again; however, it’s not quite enough to make up for her time served as “Titania.”

So if ALO is a Norse-based world, then why the hell Excalibur of English legend?! The World Tree design in SAO is by far favorite, and the consistent “-heim” worlds add to the Norse feel, but I don’t know why they chose Excalibur; is there no other legendary weapon from Norse Mythology?

*spoilers ahead* Now this side story was pretty mediocre, so what made me change my view was the way Sinon let it end, or rather, didn’t let it end. Thrymheim begins to collapse, and ultimately Kirito is forced to leave the heavy Excalibur behind. Sinon, disagrees, and whips out her bow, calculates distance, takes aim and fires a retrieval arrow at the holy sword, hoisting it back up by a magical rope then giving it Kirito as a token of remembrance in her honor. This on-the-spot action was just so freakin cool, as it made the whole arc worth it. Seriously, Sinon is waifu material :3

Last thing to mention was the new opening, “courage” by Tomatsu Haruka, Yuuki Asuna’s voice actress. It is matched in its fast beat with crisp, brightly colored visuals of Alfheim and the characters. It’s a really respite-filled and cheery song, so give it a listen!

Thanks for reading! Check out my Sword Art Online II (Phantom Bullet) Review for more thoughts on SAO’s fun and adventurous sequel. You can watch the entire anime for free at Crunchyroll. Till next time,

– Takuto, your host