Tales of Phantasia

Two friends, Cless Alvein and Chester Barklight, go hunting in the woods one day, during which villains raze their hometown for want of a pendant Cless’s father gave him for his birthday. Cless afterward leaves in search of answers, ultimately coming into conflict with the villains who destroyed his village and traveling through time to battle them. Thus begins Tales of Phantasia, which originally appeared on the Super Famicom near the end of its life and would receive a remake on the Sony Playstation, which is perhaps the strongest incarnation of the game.

Phantasia, like its many successors, features randomly-encountered real-time combat on a linear two-dimensional field, with characters appearing on the field in whatever formation players specify in the interface alongside enemies. The encounter rate is a little lower in the Playstation version than in the Super Famicom version, with Holy and Dark Bottles respectively raising and lowering the frequency of encounters. In battle, the player controls one character, while the A.I. (or, if you find accessories called Channel Rings, up to three other players) controls the others. Each character can attack with their weapon, use special skills or magic, use items, or escape from battle by moving against the left or right side of the field.

Play control is a lot smoother in the Playstation version than the Super Famicom version, although there are still some shortcomings, such as the difficulty of attacking flying enemies, although battles are still decently-paced and enjoyable. Outside of battle, players can use various ingredients to make meals that heal HP and/or TP, with new recipes gained from Wonder Chefs throughout the game. In the end, combat, like in most installments of the Tales series, is the primary draw to Phantasia.

The interface is largely spotless, with clean menus, efficient shopping, stackable items, and many other features seasoned RPGamers have come to expect. There are maybe one or two spots during the game where the player doesn’t have good direction on how to advance the story, although other than that, interaction leaves little room for improvement.

Phantasia, chiefly with its linear battle system, was unique when the original version came out on the Super Famicom. Furthermore, while the story does involve time travel, it far from rips off of Chrono Trigger, and even today, the game remains distinct in its own right. The plot itself does have some interesting concepts and twists, though character development varies from character to character, with the player revealing backstory about the characters mostly through sidequests. Still, the story certainly won’t scare players away from the game, and has its own charm at times.

Motoi Sakuraba and Shinji Tamura provide Phantasia’s soundtrack, with many nice, catchy tracks, alongside voice acting, though as with many other Japanese RPGs, the voice actors have an unusual tendency to mispronounce English words. The graphics, moreover, are a step up from those in the Super Famicom version, with the character sprites, for once, actually resembling their designs, even if all sprites contain a disproportionate chibi look. Monster designs largely shine, though, and environments are nice and colorful, and overall, the game’s presentation doesn’t raise many complaints.

Finally, Phantasia is a reasonably lengthy title, taking from twenty-five to forty hours to finish, with a new game save allowing players to start from the beginning with some data retained from their original playthroughs alongside an unlocked higher difficulty mode. Overall, the Playstation version of Tales of Phantasia is to this day one of the best installments of Namco’s series, featuring solid combat and presentation among other things. Though it’s the best port of the game from this reviewer’s experience, Playstation Portable owners may wish to check out a recent fully-voiced version of the game, which may very well rival the Playstation version.

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