E3: Tales of Destiny 2 impressions

[05.24.01] » Namco's latest in the Tales series offers a solid, traditional 2D RPG experience with a greater sci-fi angle than previous titles.

   Available at the rear of Namco's booth were two stations showcasing Tales of Destiny 2, Namco's third installment in the successful Tales series. Known as Tales of Eternia in Japan, the game, like previous titles Tales of Phantasia and Tales of Destiny 1, is unrelated to other games in the series and exists completely independently of the other games' worlds and storylines (save for a few cameo character appearances). But while the plot may not overlap between titles, the game's fundamental gameplay engine and atmosphere appears to differ very little -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing, given the series' reputation for offering a solid, traditional, lighthearted RPG experience with a unique battle system.

   The current build available at E3 -- 70% complete -- began with a letterboxed anime intro, with Japanese voiceovers and English subtitles. Eventually, the game opens on our hero Reid (curiously appearing to wear a midriff-baring halter top), who looks off into the distance beyond his town with his childhood sweetheart Farah. The two make idle conversation, with Farah ominiously hoping that nothing ever falls from the heavens to bring doom and gloom on the pair's village. Farah explains that no contact has been made with Celestia, a nearby planet, for 2000 years. The foreshadowing doesn't last long, however, because moments later -- gasp! -- a mysterious object crashes from the sky. The duo set out to investigate the crash site and discover, among the ruins, a strange girl (later discovered to be named Meredy). The girl speaks a bizarre tongue, and together, the three return to the village, find only rejection and intolerance from the town's elder, and eventually set off on a quest to learn more of the girl's origins.

   Tales of Destiny 2's English dialog, so far, appears to be well translated. Text flows smoothly with humourous inter-character banter, using CAPITAL LETTERS and bold text to EMPHASIZE stressed words. Some of the dialog seems a bit hokey, but fits the light-hearted, anime-heavy style of the characters' behavior -- the script also makes sure to make liberal use of sweatdrops, exclamation marks, and hearts appearing above characters' heads. The relentless pounding of volume from nearby booths made hearing difficult, but some of the English voice acting sampled at Namco's Tales 2 display sounded appropriate to the game as well. Additionally, each dialog box in the game fades in quickly instead of flashing instantly to the screen -- with RPGs being comprised of thousands upon thousands of dialog boxes, the softer appearance of boxes is a nice touch.

   Graphically, Tales of Destiny 2 is one of the more visually impressive 2D RPGs on the PlayStation to date. Sprites are clean and sharp, and meld perfectly with (generally) highly detailed 2D backdrops much more advanced and varied than those seen in Tales of Destiny 1. Each character seems to have a wide range of sprites to animate a variety of movements and expressions. The world map is once again animated in 3D, but without a visible spherical curve to the land on the horizon and a with camera that can be rotated -- and there's no side-scrolling animation of your party trudging along through the fields. Battle animations are particularly impressive, with intense, polygon-based elemental spells cast while your sprite-based swordfighter simultaneously executes dramatic sword sweeps. Most importantly, unlike Tales of Destiny 1, the game's color palette has expanded beyond 256 simultaneous colors to paint a beautifully colorful, vivid world.

   Battles retain the series' Linear Motion Battle system where the player moves one character across a side-scrolling 2D battlefield executing sword attacks or special skills assigned to d-pad directions at the tap of a button while the game's AI controls your party's remaining members. While time spent battling at the game's kiosk was limited, the system feels largely the same as previous Tales titles, though AI customization has been refined significantly to allow for greater precision in controlling your teammates' strategies. You can customize (among many other options) how often a swordfighter might choose between slash and thrust attacks, whether he'll focus on attacking retreating enemies, those hurting his companions, or whether he'll focus on simply defending. Overall, the battle system is still fast-paced and fun, and doesn't get tedious as quickly as many traditional turn-based battle schemes.

   The first Tales title in North America was relatively well received, and the next Tales installment to reach our shores appears to be a solid, if somewhat unchanged progression in the series. Namco estimates that Tales of Destiny 2 will take players over 60 hours to complete, and has set the game for a release on the PlayStation in North America sometime in September.

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