The following is a guest post from my husband, Logan. As part of a project where Logan is playing every JRPG of note in chronological order, he ran across Tales of Destiny and really wanted to write a blog about it.
Tales of Destiny is the second title in the long-running Tales series of JRPGs, preceded by Tales of Phantasia. Though I found the game enjoyable to play, it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of story and world-building.
Story and Characters
I love the classic JRPG storyline: saving the world through the power of hope and friendship, finding magical artifacts left by lost civilizations, stopping a power-mad demigod from destroying all that you hold dear. A lot of great JRPGs will use these themes as a framework for their story and will add in a cast of unique characters to bring that story to life. Unfortunately, Tales of Destiny fails to do so. Its characters are extraordinarily flat and add very little to the story, which relies heavily on worn out tropes and plot devices. Overall, I feel like the story could have been a lot better. The parts that I found most interesting (talking sentient swords, ancient magic, and an ancient war) were greatly downplayed and not expanded upon. To me, Tales of Destiny had the makings of a great story but squandered it in favor of a fairly generic JRPG plot.
Most annoyingly, the game has many instances of filler, content that seems thrown in to pad the length of the game. At one point, the King has a special cannon built that uses Lens power to fire, but they are unable to use it as one of the traitorous allies took the kingdom’s supply of Lens with him when he escaped. Now naturally I assumed that he would ask me to collect more, and I was okay with this as I had not had a use for Lens as a currency in quite some time. Instead, the King has you trek across the continent to find “special” Lens to power the cannon. Nevermind that I am sitting on 9999 Lens of the exact type that we were planning on using to power the cannon originally. That Lens is no good, for no other reason than to add an extra half hour to the game. This is but one example of many in which the game seems to be going through the motions of how a JRPG story typically unfolds rather than doing its own thing.
The dialogue in the game and the writing in general seems very poorly done, although this is probably due to a poor localization, which seems to have been the norm for SNES/PSX era games. This is a case where I would suggest looking into a fan translation patch if you plan on playing this game, as the original dialogue has a very wooden and awkward feel to it.
Look and Feel
I have mixed feelings on the aesthetics of Tales of Destiny. It is by no means an ugly game, but it also isn’t very impressive. It looks almost identical to its predecessor, Tales of Phantasia, a Japan-only title on the SNES,, and frankly I had expected better from it, considering that it was on the next generation of console. From what I can tell, a lot of people suspect that ToD was originally meant to be a sequel to ToP but was changed in production to be a standalone title. I am inclined to agree with this theory; the two games look and play very similarly.
I will say that the music is very good. I’ve noticed as I have been playing older RPGs that there is a pronounced jump in sound quality between SNES and PSX, and it is very noticeable in Tales of Destiny. Additionally, the game is missing the performance issues that plagues Tales of Phantasia.
Gameplay and Controls
Tales of Destiny‘s battle system is very different from the typical menu based JRPG. Instead, it features a 2D side-scrolling battlefield and lets you have almost complete control of the main character. You are able to assign commonly used special moves to button combos for easy use and can also pull up a menu to use items or spells and to direct the rest of the team.
I don’t have a lot to say about the gameplay besides that it is very engaging and fun. It more or less carried the game as the story was not engaging in the least. The battles are responsive and combine the best of action action elements with a typical stat-based RPG. The game also features a couple puzzles which are neither too difficult nor too challenging. There were a couple of dungeons that were prolonged by excessive battles, but I feel this is more of a reflection on my poor navigation skills that the game’s difficulty.
Many times during my JRPG career, I have come across games that well-written and have a great cast of characters but are so obnoxiously tedious to play that I give up. Whether it is due to a crazy amount of required grinding or unforgiving difficulty, the game mechanics take an enjoyable game and kill off any fun that it might offer. Tales of Destiny is the exact opposite in that is a well-balanced and fun game with an extremely mediocre story. Overall, I found the difficulty of the game to be very well-balanced, though the ending was a bit too easy.
My one strong complaint is about the weapon leveling system. Each character has a Swordian that they can equip as a primary weapon. This lets them cast spells, but it also causes the Swordian to level up along side the hero. At end game, the Swordian is the clear best in slot weapon due to its stat growth as well as the ability to equip Discs, augments to the Swordians that increase the stats even more. All of this is interesting in concept, but in practice it means that the optimal configuration is to equip the Swordian as soon as possible and never switch it out, which is what I did. I then saw chest after chest full of rare and shiny new weapons go straight back to the store as they were either already obsolete or only marginally better than my Swordians. I feel like the Swordian system could have been a bit more nuanced with some advantages for using traditional weapons instead of Swordians being better across the board.
If you play games for the story, I highly recommend that you look elsewhere. You have already heard this story before with a few name changes. If you don’t care about story but instead want something with solid gameplay, this might be more up your alley.