[Now Experiencing] [Computer Gaming]
I mentioned before I'm working my way through the port of Tales of Phantasia for the Game Boy Advance (by way of my DS). I thought I might post some thoughts.
Phantasia is the first installment in Namco's Tales franchise. It was first released for the SNES way back in the day, but only in Japan. I'd never heard of it until the series started getting a lot of western attention with the release of Symphonia on the GameCube and the more recent releases of Eternia and Legendia for the PSP and PS2 respectively. Apparently there are a whopping 13 games in the series, putting it up on a par with Final Fantasy, lengthwise.
That's not all it shares with Final Fantasy, though, by a long way. The game follows the classic Japanese RPG format, featuring a group of four adventurers on a quest through time in a medieval-esque setting to face a great evil... thing. The plot progresses from city to city, and dungeon to dungeon, punctuated by random encounters and levelling up. The graphics are unremittingly remniscent of Final Fantasy, as are the combat abilities (going so far as to include a summoning mechanic straight out of FF). As a whole the game feels remarkably like a bastard cross between FF IV and V.
If you're willing to overlook the fact that it may as well have been named Tales of Phinal Phantasia then it's a pretty good game, though. It has a few nice touches like being able to directly control the main character in combat, in a wierd mix of action gameplay and turn-based combat. There's a cooking system (apparently not present in the original game) that ties into the systems in later Tales games and enables you to heal your party of a range of ailments, but it's a bit redundant in the face of plentiful potion-style recovery items (here called "gels").
I breezed through the first half of the game and really enjoyed it; however, I've now reached a point, beginning roughly when I entered the Tower of the Zodiac, that the difficulty seems to have ramped up sharply. Where before I was levelling up at almost exactly the right pace to continue through the plot without stopping to grind, now I'm being beaten to within an inch of my life in every battle I encounter. I'm worried that I have a long grind-filled slog ahead of me; if so, then it will severely impact my interest in finishing the game.
The other thing that's a bit sad is that early on in the game I was receiving a bunch of skills for the main character which "levelled up" with practice; when you "mastered" them you could use them in more powerful combos. But it seems as though I've arbitrarily stopped getting any more of those skills, or at least entered a dry spell, and all my old ones have been mastered already. The combat's getting a bit tedious without any mini-rewards, and there's a LOT of combat in Phantasia.
I'm hoping the game evens out for the final third; it's been a great ride and I'm looking forward to eventually following it up with Eternia once I've had some non-RPG time.