[Now Experiencing] [Computer Gaming]
Last night I finally finished Tales of Phantasia (the GBA version, as played on my DS). Feel free to bring yourself up to date on my earlier thoughts as posted a couple of weeks ago (link).
I'm pleased to say that the horrible difficulty I reported on was a temporary aberration, and after finishing that section of the game I was able to progress through to the end with a minimum of grind. The game's unique battle system, which crosses a Final Fantasy style party screen with Street Fighter-esque real time 2D combat, means that certain classes of attack are significantly more powerful than others. Specifically, monsters who are direct-damage spellcasters, or who fly, or who can cause paralysis or petrification are exponentially more dangerous than their more standard peers. And, of course, flying spellcasters, or spellcasting paralysers, are another order of danger again.
Probably the most annoying parts of the game were the two places where progress depended on having an item equipped, without clearly signalling to you which item you need. In one case, the item was obtained as a random drop from a fairly rare enemy, and you needed six of them. In the other case, the items were more appropriately placed in chests and on NPCs but had I not access to a walkthrough to tell me what I was looking for I may have given up in frustration.
I didn't end up doing the Colosseum and Morlia Mineshaft quests (the ubiquitous Final Fantasy style optional boss battles), but did complete pretty much all the other content. The ultimate battle against Dhaos was almost the exact level of difficulty to be appropriately significant without being frustrating, but it did go for way too long. To beat him, you pretty much have to stop him from getting off an attack by constantly interrupting. Without Dhaos really attacking once, it still took about twenty minutes to finish the evil bugger off.
Finishing the game resulted in the obligatory New Game Plus option, along with a minigame that I really can't be bothered trying. I'm done with Phantasia - I reached the end at exactly the time I was losing all tolerance for it, so that worked out pretty well.
Overall, I'd say this game was better and deeper than Final Fantasy IV but not as good as V. It may seem a little Square-centric to rate it in that way, but really, I keep finding it hard to believe that this game wasn't a product of Squeenix - I've never played a non FF game that came so close to the key aspects of Final Fantasy design. It's a total knockoff - but it's a pretty decent one, that captures most of what makes FF good.