I’ve finished my 238th video game. Here are my thoughts:
Tales of Phantasia presents itself as the ultimate 16-bit JRPG. It has everything you would want out of a game of the era: beautiful pixel-art, great music, and most of all… a massive adventure.
However, for a first-time player 26 years later, I don’t think it holds up. The real-time battle system is interesting but just a bit too slow to withstand the constant random battles. The pace of the game slows to a crawl in the final act, when it really should be sprinting. Perhaps most unfortunately, the antagonist’s motivations are only hinted at until far too late in the game, which doesn’t do any favors for the narrative that should be pulling you onward. In my opinion, the game would have benefited from a little editing.
If I had played Tales of Phantasia on my PlayStation back in the day, I think I would found the experience to be a bit of a frustrating one. Of course, that would have been impossible because the PlayStation version of the game was never available in the United States. Ultimately, I ended up cheesing my way through the fetch quest that leads up to the final boss, thanks to the magic of emulation. Honestly, I just wanted to add this one to my finished list.
I don’t want to completely disparage Tales of Phantasia because I enjoyed most of my time with the game. I choose to think of it as a rough draft for a beloved JRPG series that I’ve been wanting to dip into for years. No regrets!
Moreover, if you’re not committed to completing every game you start, Tales of Phantasia is most certainly a game that warrants some curiosity. I’ve included some information below about which version of the game—and their are several—you should choose for a short tour through the primordial origins of the Tales of franchise.
But if you’ve had your curiosity satisfied and decided not to try this old game, let me leave you with a ranking of Tales of Phantasia among all the video games that I’ve ever finished:
I’ve tentatively ranked it 222 out of 238.
Tales of Phantasia was originally released in 1995 for the Super Famicom (the Japanese equivalent of the Super Nintendo). This game came late in the lifespan of the console and pushed the hardware to its limit. It’s probably for this exact reason that it wasn’t released in North America. However, there is a fan translation that makes this game fully playable in English.
Three years later, it was remade for the Sony PlayStation. At first glance, this newer version may not seem like much of an improvement over the original. But if you look at the two side-by-side, the PlayStation version is noticeably superior in every respect. The character sprites and environments are more detailed, including a fully 3D world map (e.g. Final Fantay VII). The soundtrack made use of the newer hardware’s increased audio fidelity. The PlayStation version even includes voiced conversational interludes between the characters in your party, which you can initiate by pressing the select button while on the world map. These conversations add much-needed characterization for your party members, while reminding what you need to do next. Unfortunately, this version wasn’t released in North America either, but there are two different fan translations available for this version of the game.
In 2006, an official English-language version of Tales of Phantasia was released for the GameBoy Advance; though the translation is famously lackluster. Since then, the game has been reissued multiple times, including two different remakes for PlayStation Portable (in 2006 and 2007) and a free-to-play mobile port in 2010.
So how does one play Tales of Phantasia in 2022?
The later PSP remake seems to be the “definitive” version of the game. However, if you’d prefer to play the game in English, your options are more limited. You could search for the official GBA release, but the PlayStation version is going to be a far more enjoyable experience… as long as you don’t mind sourcing a digital copy and patching the game yourself. I prefer the Phantasian translation over the Gemini, but that’s entirely a matter of preference. (Here’s a very handy comparison video.)
Which version have you played?