RPGs most certainly have their fans. But among those who don't enjoy them, the main complaint seems to be that the battles are boring - you're usually limited to picking options off of a menu, after all. Well, Tales of Phantasia is the game designed to fix that. While it has the look and story of an ultra-traditional RPG, the battles give you direct control over the action. It's a welcome change of pace whether you love or hate turn-based fighting, and it's little surprise that the series has flourished in the decade since this game was originally introduced.
Yes, Tales of Phantasia is yet another Super Nintendo classic shoehorned onto the GBA. Originally appearing on the SNES and later the PlayStation - in Japan only - this game reeks with the rotting plotting of a fantasy left sitting in the sun too long. The main characters, Cress and Mint, are so thin on personality as to verge on disappearing, with requisite tragic pasts (parents slaughtered) and hero lineage (their ancestors beat a powerful baddie in the distant past). No surprises: the game pits you against that same generically super-evil tyrant.
That sounds crappy, but this game is about jamming on the A button, not reading reams of poorly-translated dialogue. By the time you get bored of any story sequence, it's already over; you'll spend much more time running through the game's puzzle-filled dungeons, hacking up foes right and left. Cress is a speedy little guy, and you won't find yourself bogged down by exploring the world at all. The quick pace is fantastically suited to a portable game.
Battling puts you directly in control of Cress. You can run, jump and slash your enemies from a side-view. Those of you who played 2004 GameCube hit Tales of Symphonia will know the score: this title laid the groundwork for that one. Phantasia isn't quite as refined, though. Cress is a little touchy as he runs and jumps at enemies, though the ability to juggle them in the air with multiple attacks is a definite joy. Especially when you work together with your computer controlled party members. Your attacks are broken into "slash" and "thrust" which means that you'll be doing crappy damage about half the time, since most weapons play to one of these strengths. It's easy to make up for that with Cress' abundant special attacks, however.
Tales of Phantasia is a solid RPG. It doesn't have the story chops of the last classic to hit GBA - Final Fantasy IV did a much better job of making its cast and its quest worth caring about. Phantasia makes up for this by offering a detailed world, energetic gameplay and a battle system that is fast-paced and entertaining. Few role players are renown for their action rather than story, but Tales of Phantasia is definitely one of them. The whole package should be entertaining to anyone who wants some fantasy action on the go.