The original Tales of Destiny failed to inspire much praise from gamers. While some people enjoyed the game’s action packed “Linear Motion Battle System” encounters, scant praise was left for its lackluster graphics (simple 2D backgrounds with a bland palatte) and unoriginal scenario (simple characters and a bland story.) Namco has been studying hard in the intervening years, though, and the evolutionary changes they’ve wrought since the original's late 1998 release mirror the level of improvement between Final Fantasy VII and VIII. Is Tales of Destiny II worth your notice? Definitely.

 The safest way to go home
This is some swell trash

   The game follows the story of Reid Hershel, a young hunter living a peaceful existence in a small town, and his childhood friend Farah. Wait…where are you going? Come back! It gets better. One halcyon day, a strange girl called Meredy from another land crash-lands in their town; speaking only a mysterious language that neither Reid nor Farah understands. Reid and Farah embark on an adventure just to find out what she’s babbling about, enlisting the aid of childhood friend #3, Keele. Unsurprisingly, this blossoms into a quest to save the world. It sounds hackeneyed and trite, but as with any RPG the true test is in the execution, and thanks to strong and dynamic characterization, the game gets a more than passing grade for scenario.

   One of the biggest improvements the game has over its predecessor is the graphics. 2D fans will be thrilled to behold the game’s hand-drawn backgrounds. Each town is packed full of detail and artistic embellishment. The game’s 3D field map is no slouch either, offering up a well-modeled and solid-looking playground for the game’s characters. The game’s occasional 3D mini-games also look good. The battles retain the fighting game feel of the original and are full of huge, well-animated sprites, as well as dazzling, showcase-level polygonal spell effects. This game is a vast aesthetic improvement over the original. This cannot be stated emphatically enough.

You bowl me over, and I'm not that drunk
Strange angels made this planet glow

   The original game in the series, the Super Famicom's Tales of Phantasia, was developed by the 2D RPG wunderkinds at tri-Ace. Since then, however, the Tales series has been taken care of by a dedicated team of veteran Namco staffers. The series has evolved drastically over the PlayStation’s lifespan. Tales of Destiny II (known in Japan as Tales of Eternia) benefits from a release late in the PSone's creative lifespan. Coming at the tail-end of a system so rich in RPG experiences has allowed the Tales team to learn from the successes and mistakes of not just themselves, but other developers. A number of Tales of Destiny II's features are clearly influenced by other games.

   After Suikoden II's tragic Jowy and Nanami and Final Fantasy VIII's cast of melancholy mercenaries hit the scene, gamers no longer had to settle for poorly characterized drones populating a stock fantasy world. ToD2’s world, Eternia, is populated by interesting and creative characters who seem to possess fragments of the souls of RPG heroes from past titles, yet are tempered with original traits. The idiosyncracies of the characters and the constant interplay of their personalities really livens up what is an otherwise basic story involving elemental spirits and and imminent catastrophe on multiple worlds. The incorporation of Meredy’s inability to speak the language of Reid and his friends adds both humorous and tense moments to the game’s unfolding chapters. Later on, as the characters begin to know each other better, the quality of the plotting shines through. An excellent text translation helps the game’s dialogue remain interesting and fresh throughout.

 Ice is unkind / 'til it freezes your enemies
As he jackknifes into winter

   Another lift from other games in the genre that isn’t quite as successful is ToD2’s incorporation of a number of mini-games, both optional and unavoidable. As in Square’s PlayStation Final Fantasy games, you'll often get the chance to play these. Sometimes, you have no choice. By and large, they’re not awful, but some can be extremely grating and interrupt the game’s flow.

   The game’s music comes largely in two flavors: mood-setting RPG tunes and rockin’ battle melodies. The former are thoughtful, atmospheric pieces that serve as excellent background to the game’s many dungeons and towns. The numerous fighting tunes are reminiscient of the vaunted tracks of the Ys series, with thumping bass and sizzling keyboards. Classic game music connoisseurs will find these tracks especially tickling, although modern gamers grown up on the battle themes of Uematsu and Mitsuda might find them incongruous. Anyone with hearing will be saddened by the game’s lackluster English voice acting; thankfully, there’s an “off” option. It is highly recommended.

Excuse me, you poor man, let's skip this town
You seperate the good guys from disaster

   Battles are handled in a thoroughly unique fashion, most similar to other tri-Ace and Tales series games. The encounters are random, resembling a 2D fighting game. Your party of four adventurers squares off against a pack of monsters. You control Reid, while the computer controls the rest of your party. As Reid, you’ll be dashing about smacking enemies around with your sword and using special attacks (which consume MP) for added damage bonuses. While you’re busy doing that, the rest of your party uses special attacks and spells to inflict damage on the enemies. A number of customizable strategies allow you to finely control the tactics of your computer-controlled allies during a fight. The battles come often, but are fun and challenging. Thanks to much improved A.I. programming, the computer-controlled characters do a much improved job of fighting alongside you compared to Tales of Destiny.

   Tales of Destiny II is idiosyncratic at times, and lots of random encounters and fairly extensive dungeons could turn some off. However, Tales of Destiny II is a truly well-planned and well-executed RPG. The game moves quickly and flows well; its mildly unoriginal scenario is heavily bolstered by clever characterization and interesting interpersonal dynamics, and the game’s lush 2D locales are refreshing in the tail-end of the PlayStation’s reign. Fans of games like Star Ocean: The Second Story and Valkyrie Profile might want to give this one a try. The Namco-developed Tales games build on tri-Ace's groundwork, and the game's active battles will prove exciting for fans of RPG combat. Tales of Destiny II proves that even a series with extremely humble beginnings can, in only a few short years, evolve into a serious contender. Like many RPGs with their roots in the early days of the PlayStation, ToD2 has vastly outclassed its original incarnation.

Review by Christian Nutt, Freelance.
Tales of Destiny II
Developer Namco
Publisher Namco
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium CD (3)
Platform PlayStation
Release Date  11.30.00
E3: Tales of Destiny 2 impressions
96 screenshots
High-res character designs
U.S. box art