JP title: テイルズオブファンタジア クロスエディション
Here it is: the grand ancestor of all Tales games. The one JRPG that started it all. Well, more specifically, this is the PSP remake of Phantasia that comes bundled with Narikiri Dungeon X. At its core, it’s more or less the same game, though it does feature some enhancements and additional content, including a brand new character.
So, what do I even say about Tales of Phantasia that hasn’t been said a million times? It’s a bog-standard 90s fantasy JRPG, with a group of teenagers saving the world from doom, although, in its defense, there’s actually more to Phantasia’s main villain than meets the eye. It’s an interesting take on the whole “we must defeat the evil overlord because… well, just because!” trope that so many JRPGs use without really thinking too hard about it. The original game, by the way, came out for the SNES and was a huge part of my childhood, so it felt really nice coming back to a title that played a monumental part in shaping my tastes in video games.
Anyway, so Phantasia’s plot is basically about Cless, a budding swordsman whose peaceful life is interrupted when his hometown is destroyed, his friends and family are massacred, and he’s whisked away a hundred years into the past after the evil overlord Dhaos (previously sealed away by another group of heroes) is released from his prison. You could say ol’ Cless is up shit creek at this point and you’d be right, but there’s hope: by finding a way to defeat Dhaos in the past, he could alter history and save the land. His parents will stay dead regardless, but still. ADVENTURE, HO.
Now, when I called this a bog-standard JRPG, I meant it. You journey across continents in search of powerful elemental summons to bolster your arsenal (you can’t just waltz into Dhaos’ castle with your little stick of a practice sword, after all), visit the ruins of an ancient civilization and later forge The Legendary Sword of Asskicking, basically going through all the usual fantasy JRPG motions in your quest to save the world. There will be a fire dungeon, an ice dungeon, a bunch of other dungeons, and you even visit the cliché of all clichés, that is, a maze-like forest where it’s easy to get lost. You’ll go to the desert and look through oases. You’ll visit a snowy town. You’ll flip switches and solve puzzles. There’s even a classic onsen scene with peeping involved. You get my point.
The fire dungeon was bullshit, by the way. More specifically: having to grind enemies so that they drop a piece of accessory that needs to be equipped on ALL your characters so the intense heat in the dungeon doesn’t kill your party in seconds… was bullshit. But other than that, the dungeons are fairly neat, with some pretty cute puzzles here and there; there was definitely more effort put into them compared to the dungeons I’ve seen in recent Tales installments.
The old 90s legacy certainly works in the game’s favor when it comes to the overall presentation: simply put, the world of Phantasia still feels very much like a traditional medieval fantasy RPG universe when compared to the colorful, somewhat cartoonish and almost sterile look adopted by a number of future titles in the franchise. It has a certain rugged, retro charm, not to mention a whole abundance of references to Norse mythology; you can definitely tell that this is the same team that went on to do Valkyrie Profile a few years later.
The plot, other than a quick surprise revelation at the very end (and by quick, I mean it’s literally summed up in one sentence), isn’t particularly special, though. It really is just about you and your friends trying to save the world from Dhaos, and I’m not even trying to simplify it. That’s really all there is to it. Hell, the phrase ダオスを倒す is repeated so many times by the characters that even the game itself pokes fun at it in a couple of skits. (For those that don’t know JP, the joke is that the phrase “defeating Dhaos”, that is, “daosu wo taosu” sounds funny when you say it in Japanese because the two words are phonetically similar)
As for the main characters, they’re iconic enough for being the first Tales cast, but… they’re actually not that amazing. I mean, Arche is of course fantastic and I love everything about her, but the rest… are kinda just okay-ish. Klarth can be amusing enough, I suppose, but Cless and Mint in particular are mind-numbingly boring; Chester’s barely in the game and Suzu, while cute, is optional and doesn’t do much. But like I said earlier, this game has Arche. And Arche makes up for everything. Arche is good. At the very least, the fully voice-acted story scenes, along with the voiced skits, add quite a bit to the overall mood and help liven things up a mite.
There’s one more character we need to talk about, though.
Rondoline E. Effenberg, or just Rody for short, joins you as a temporary party member in the Cross Edition, and it’s perfectly okay to admit that you’ve no idea who she is. I’ll tell you, anyway: she’s a character from Narikiri Dungeon X (which I haven’t played yet) who also happens to show up in Phantasia from time to time (because time travel!), despite not being in the original at all. I initially thought that her apparent connection to Dhaos would make the plot a little more intriguing, but it actually didn’t go anywhere. Nothing about her is fully wrapped up, and she’s taken out of the picture before she could interfere too much with the original Phantasia plotline. So in that sense, she feels a little redundant. A touch shoehorned in. On the other hand, she’s a badass brown girl voiced by Kitamura Eri, so naturally, I welcomed her into my party with open arms. Now, if only I knew she would leave without warning before I used my stat-boosting herbs on her… But yeah, she doesn’t actually do much here other than brood about her dad a few times. Her presence basically felt like the game’s way of saying that you should play Narikiri Dungeon X if you want to know more about her.
The battle system was also revamped compared to the original and it feels pretty alright, although I find it kinda funny that defeating tougher bosses is basically just a question of how well you can stunlock the living fuck out of them. To put things into perspective, I basically defeated the final form of Dhaos at the end of the game by spamming one skill with Cless. Enemies can also do this to you: I even ended up getting slaughtered by regular mobs a few times because I accidentally got sandwiched between two monsters. This game still uses random encounters, by the way, and it gets pretty frustrating when you’re just trying to explore a dungeon or solve a puzzle but still have to grind through enemy after enemy. By the end of the game, I pretty much had my supply of Holy Bottles hooked up to my veins at all times.
All in all, this game was hot shit back in the day but nowadays it’s just… okay. It does do a few things better than newer Tales games, though: its dungeons are better designed than the pile of dogshit Zestiria throws in your face, and some of the music is actually pretty good. Like, I don’t remember a single song from Berseria but I can, even after twenty goddamn years, recall the basic melody of Fighting of the Spirit from this game. Anyway, my point is that Phantasia is definitely showing its age these days but it’s not a bad game by any means, and besides, there are far worse things you could be playing. So if you go into this not expecting to have your world rocked, it’s a decent enough journey. Play it if you’re feeling nostalgic or want to see where the franchise began. Or if you want to play Narikiri Dungeon X at one point.