When you pick up a Tales game, you pretty much know what to expect. Clichéd characters. Twitchy combat. Plot elements recycled out of other RPGs and anime. Yet the better games in the series always managed to come out ahead anyway, mostly thanks to the likable party members. Unfortunately, Tales of the Tempest for the DS can’t even get that right.
The biggest problem with Tales of the Tempest is that it feels very low budget. The 3D is acceptable by DS standards, but it still looks like an early Playstation game, and vastly pales in comparison to Final Fantasy 3, released around the same time. This only gets more and more evident as the game progresses, because there’s an extremely limited tile set. Most of the towns look identical. The overworld is literally nothing but a Point A and a Point B on the map, with huge spans of nothing in between. But at least you get a map in these segments – you’re in the dark with the dungeons, which all have repetitive designs completely lacking in landmarks. It’s all too easy to lose your orientation after a battle and end up accidentally backtracking all the way to the beginning.
Outside of a few voice clips in battles, there’s no voice acting, and no skits at all, not counting a few fireside chats that pop up occasionally. As a result, all of your characters feel dull, lifeless, and more than a bit ugly. It doesn’t help that the plot somehow manages to be even more half-baked than normal. Evil church? Yup. Dude that looks like a chick? At least one of them. Underground resistances? You’d better believe it. Racial prejudice? Tons of it, as the main character is a “beastman” hunted down as an animal. The only real deviation from the RPG norm is a day/night system that controls when certain events occur, but it=s usually just a roadblock to trigger the next plot event.
The combat feels much looser than all of the other Tales games, but since the focus is on flanking bad guys as opposed to stringing combos, it feels a bit different than other Tales games. However, the battles lack the visceral kick that make the console versions so exciting. As such, fights quickly grow tiresome, especially considering you can just hammer the stylus through most of the early battles. They get more difficult as you progress, but somehow don’t get any more interesting, and just tend to overstay their welcome. When boss battles is reduced to button jamming for several minutes and praying that you have healing items left, you have something of a problem. The AI, too, is questionable, as allied characters will run around haphazardly despite being directed to fight, or healers will suddenly cease to cure other party members, despite having plenty of MP.
All Japanese text and menus, but since the battle system is menu based, you can get by knowing the katakana for item names and such. However, finding the triggers to advance the plot may be difficult, and good luck changing the AI settings. Tales of the Tempest amplifies everything the series has done wrong, and can’t even flesh out what it usually does right. Without amusing cast members, and without a fun battle system, the game flounders. At least it’s not very long (think: ten to fifteen hours), so it might be worth a quite playthrough in between rounds of better games like Final Fantasy 3 or Mario & Luigi.
Also see: First glance at Tales of the Tempest.
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