I’ve been playing a LOT of great games this year. A couple of my favourites so far are Metroid Prime and Fire Emblem Engage. Those games just so happen to be Nintendo Switch exclusives. I am really amazed at the visual quality that the Switch is capable of and these games really do an incredible job of showing that off. Metroid Prime is a remaster but appears to be a full blown top to bottom remake at times. It’s so amazing when a game from decades ago can be rereleased and still feel so fresh and current. So you can only imagine my excitement when I learned about the Tales of Symphonia remaster that was coming to current gen consoles. One of my favourite games from my childhood, I could not contain myself knowing that I’d get to revisit my old friends Lloyd, Colette and Genis again. I was 7 when the game originally released and I wound up playing the whole way through. Tales of Symphonia is very special to me and the first real JRPG I had ever completed. This remaster was tailor made for me. So it breaks my heart to say that this is not a good remaster nor is it even the definitive way to play this classic.
Similar to my major issue with the Persona 3 remaster (this really is the year of remasters, huh?) they decided to remaster the worse version of the game. Much like that game, Tales of Symphonia Remastered almost feels like a demaster. The original GameCube release ran at a constant 60fps with 30fps on the world map and a few other spots. That was very impressive for its time and is still amazing that a game with so much visual goodness could run that well on old hardware. So tell me why the brand new remaster of a 20 year old game runs at a capped 30fps? It’s 1080p, which I guess looks nice. However the general upres of the visuals is hurt by the performance. 30fps games typically make me feel a little motion sick. It’s something I have to get adjusted to unless it fits the art design. My memories of Tales of Symphonia had it running beautifully at a smooth 60fps. I figured maybe they’d bring the world map up to 60fps as well. It’s ALL 30fps. It seems the reason this is the case is because they decided for some reason to remaster the inferior PlayStation 2 version that released only in Japan. The Japanese version of the game ran at 60fps and had some additional content. I cannot imagine how they came to this decision when it seems so obvious to me and others that the Game Cube version was always the definitive version.
The graphical and performance issues are a massive issue because the game is so damn GOOD. The combat has always been one of the major selling points of the ‘Tales of…’ series. Symphonia is famously not turn-based like a lot of other JRPGs of its era. Instead, it uses a real time combo system that is so engaging and fun to play around with. The three main characters all have very interesting weapons. Lloyd dual wields katanas, Colette has her rings, and Genis uses a kendama. There are quite a few other characters who join your party, and they are all very lovable and memorable, but I’ll leave meeting them up to you! Of course, there’s also magic and items that can be used in battle to add an extra layer to the system. Weaving magic into your melee combat allows for long lasting and high damaging combos. This combat system has been done to death now (and better), but it’s cool to go back and see the game that sort of brought this style of combat to JRPGs in the first place. I think this combat was perfected in the most recent entry to the series, Tales of Arise. While I have a lot of issues with the graphics and overall presentation in Tales of Symphonia Remastered, the general gameplay is not one of those issues.
The story is a lot more mature than I remember from my childhood. Most of it likely went over my head. It involves a lot of typical JRPG fare of collecting mana and seals and there’s a girl with a journey and you’ve gotta help get her there blah blah blah; it’s all very very familiar and of its time. However, the main antagonizing force is a shadowy cabal run by a race of half elves called the Desians. The Desians have human ranches where they perform experiments on abducted people. These ranches further use mana and take mana away from the world. A major part of the story is that you need to get mana brought back to your world and to seal away the Desians from the world. Things get pretty crazy pretty quickly and there are quite a few major twists that still feel great to watch unfold. The nice thing is that the story is actually easy to follow, which is so not common in JRPGs of this era.
I LOVE Tales of Symphonia. However, I do NOT love Tales of Symphonia Remastered. This should be the definitive way to play this all time classic, but unfortunately I would just recommend emulating this on your PC instead. I would argue that this should have the same pricing as the Persona remasters. Roughly $55 Canadian dollars is a little too much for this bare bones remaster. If you have an original copy and your GameCube is still in working condition, play that instead. If you are able to handle 30fps and have always been really eager to try this game, then you should get this. Personally, I can’t recommend it without those caveats. It’s disappointing that a remaster of a twenty year old game has worse overall performance than the original release. It seems backwards. Such a shame this terrific classic wasn’t really treated with the respect it deserves.
Now onto something completely different…
Blanc is a beautifully realized co-operative platformer. You play as a little black wolf cub and a little white fawn. The beginning is very charming and sweet. Our two silent protagonists see each other on opposite sides of a stream and are puzzled by each other. Watching them bark and yelp at each other while running up the stream makes you want to get these two together ASAP. The main goal is to get these two adorable animals back to their respective families. Their friendship is unlikely but also very natural. I could gush and gush about how cute these two are. They’re fuckin’ adorable.
Blanc is presented in a stunning black and white palette. The art team deserves all the money in the world. Every area feels fully realized even though there is no colour to accompany them. The steam page says, and I am going to directly quote it, “Immerse yourself in the stunningly beautiful black-and-white world of Blanc – completely hand-drawn on paper in 2D before coming to life in 3D.” IF what they are saying is true, that the game is completely hand drawn and then brought to life in 3D, that shit is incredible. It feels like that is the case. The art style is immaculate and really made me think about how this game will never poorly age in the graphics department. Not to mention the gorgeous soundtrack and overall sounds the game has to offer. Blanc has some top notch presentation and it really should be commended and recognized.
Unfortunately the actual gameplay is where everything falls apart.
Blanc is co-operative, but you have the option to play it solo. Biff Bam Pop!’s very own Andy Burnshad asked if I wanted to play some Blanc with him. Due to my ridiculous schedule as of late I wasn’t able to make it happen. However, I’m genuinely curious if it would have made my experience worse based on what I’ve been reading online. Due to how the two characters control and the way the camera jumps around I could only imagine how much more of an issue the camera would be if someone else also had control. I personally found the solo experience to be a complete slog. The game itself only takes about 90 minutes to 2 hours to complete. It’s not a long game by any stretch. But the controls were so frustrating. You use the left stick and left trigger to control one character, and the right stick and trigger to the control the other. That means there’s no actual way to control the camera independently. So you are stuck with a camera that is trying to follow both characters. Sometimes it becomes a massive issue with constant camera angle changes. It often becomes very disorienting. The camera also makes it difficult to control your characters properly.
Another issue is that in general it’s just hard to control your characters properly! Movement and platforming feels very janky and I was constantly falling off of things I should not have been falling off of. Puzzles were essentially just move this thing over here. Playing the game itself didn’t require any major effort or thought. The only thing I had to think the entire time through was “why isn’t the other character just controlled by an AI?” I would argue that it’s not a great thing that I was actively wanting to have some gameplay taken from me and handed to a computer, but I thought it would have made the experience a much more positive one. I also found the overall experience to be very one level. I was hoping there would be some monumental part of the game that made me go “WOW!” like THAT moment in Playdead’s INSIDE but that never happened. The lack of any collectibles or secrets makes exploring moot. It feels like a misstep to not include anything of the sort, as it makes the mostly empty game world feel even emptier.
Blanc is a stunning achievement in art, design and music. The same cannot be said about the gameplay. Blanc is a shockingly short experience. I finished my playthrough in just under two hours. I am not saying that short games are inherently bad. Playdead’s INSIDE is one of my favourite games and that game takes about 3 hours to finish. I am so upset that I could not find much enjoyment in Blanc. I think it’s a decent way to knock out a chunk of an afternoon with a friend or a loved one, but it’s not something you’d decide to revisit later. Blanc is a one and done experience. But it might be the most beautiful one and done experience you’ll ever play.