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Tales of Phantasia, Game Boy Advance

This 2003 remake of Namco‘s SNES classic Tales of Phantasia was the first time the game had been officially translated into English.

While much of the game remains the same, there are a few differences. Firstly, the screen ratio has been changed from the 4:3 of the SNES original to the ‘widescreen’ 240 x 160 of the GBA screen. Which makes it look more modern, even if the resolution is actually lower (the resolution of the SNES version is 256 x 224). The lower resolution of the GBA is not an issue though as many of the in-game characters have been re-drawn to make them look bigger in the play window. This becomes most apparent during combat, when all the figures appear significantly larger than in the SNES version. This is not a problem, though, because most combat is fought horizontally, and not vertically, so making the main characters larger has not had a detrimental effect on gameplay. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The only real criticisms I’ve read about this game are that the random battles are too frequent (didn’t seem too bad to me), and the combat system is “unrefined” compared to the ‘Tales‘ sequels. Well… No sh*t, Sherlock. That’s bleedin’ obvious. And a bit unfair.

Tales of Phantasia is a lovely game that still has a lot of appeal now and is worth a play if you can find a copy. With this GBA version being an official translation, and with its updated graphics, I’d give it a higher rating than any of the fan-translated versions of the SNES original.

More: Tales of Phantasia on the Game Boy Advance on Wikipedia

Tales of Phantasia, Super Nintendo

Tales of Phantasia is an RPG developed by Wolf Team, and first published for the Super Nintendo by Namco in 1995. As JRPGs go, it’s quite memorable.

It’s a time-travelling, party-based adventure with real-time, random combat. Yes: real time combat. Which is quite rare in this genre. The combat sections play like a side-scrolling action game, with your party being attacked from either the left or the right, and the direction of attack dictating who’s closest to the enemy. So you learn to put your more vulnerable characters in the middle! The real-time combat system in Tales of Phantasia is a refreshing change from the usual style of turn-based JPRGs and is I think what gives this game its unique appeal.

That said: there’s more to Tales of Phantasia than just the combat. The story isn’t bad, and neither is the dialogue, and the six playable characters available for recruit are all fairly interesting. There are lots of great little touches too, like the ripples and reflections in the water. There’s a ton of stuff to see and do in this game and it’s frankly more than worth the investment of time.

A Game Boy Advance remake was released in 2006 and was the game’s first official English translation. It’s somewhat different to this, though, with a widescreen display and larger character graphics during combat. Background graphics and gameplay are the same though.

More: Tales of Phantasia on Wikipedia

Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, Super Nintendo

This is the first game in the Lufia series – developed by Neverland and published by Taito in 1993 for the Super Nintendo.

Lufia and the Fortress of Doom is a cute and colourful Japanese Role-Playing game with Zelda-style presentation and turn-based combat.

It may look benign, but Lufia and the Fortress of Doom is a pretty hardcore level-grinder under the hood. That’s been a hallmark of the Lufia series as a whole – they look like kid’s games but are much, much more than throwaway adventures.

I’m a fan of the Lufia games – they’re all detailed and beautifully-made and contain all the ingredients a good dungeon-crawler needs. I’m also very fond of the presentation of this game – particularly the speech bubbles and fonts, which are clean, nicely-balanced, and easy to read.

Graphically, it’s not the best SNES RPG out there (that honour goes to Seiken Densetsu 3!), but it is beautifully-drawn and coloured, and all the monsters are well presented in combat. Boss battles are memorable too. In fact: the game starts with one!

While I do prefer the sequel to this first Lufia game, I do think that Lufia and the Fortress of Doom shouldn’t be ignored. It’s still one of the Super Nintendo‘s great RPGs.

More: Lufia and the Fortress of Doom on Wikipedia

Etrian Odyssey, Nintendo DS

This pioneering Japanese RPG was first released in 2007 and paved the way for one of the greatest series in the history of level-grinders… The Etrian Odyssey series.

Number three is my favourite, but one and two are excellent too (see also the Nintendo 3DS fourth instalment), and all follow the same credo. Which is: to base a game around exploration, mapping, and turn-based combat. And to make the party system flexible, so that adventurers can take out different parties and experiment with character skills.

Of course this first Etrian Odyssey is not quite as finessed as the second and third (or fourth) games. It’s missing some important features of the later games, like some of the usability features that make this type of game easy to play on a handheld (for example: it hasn’t got the ability to cycle through your characters using the L&R shoulder buttons, which is available from game two onwards, which makes a significant difference). It doesn’t have ‘auto attacks’, which saves time with low level monsters; and the boost system is clumsy. Also: the layout of the text isn’t right in this first game either – it’s kinda misaligned inside the dialogue boxes, which Atlus fixed in the next game.

Etrian Odyssey also doesn’t quite have the breadth of variation as seen in the second, third and fourth games, although it does establish many of the series’ staples, such as character classes Landsknechts and Dark Hunters (specialised fighters who can excel with certain weapons, like swords and whips). It also establishes front and back rows and allows some classes to specialise in either, which is a nice feature (because you can choose to take a single character in a radically different direction to the norm, which is always interesting). A lot of thought has obviously gone in to Etrian Odyssey and the way it plays, and it is good to see how many great ideas were included at the start.

Etrian Odyssey is a beautifully-produced game by Atlus. The art is wonderful throughout and the music and menu system are highly polished.

If you’ve played the later Etrian Odyssey games before this one then you might get tired of it quickly, simply because it lacks the control/menu shortcuts of the sequels. That’d be a pity because this first game has a tremendous amount of content to play through and is technically a great piece of programming. The stylus controls on the mapping system were pretty much nailed with this first game. In fact: the mapping element – as a whole – was this game’s gift to the RPG world. It is such a great feature and works brilliantly well in this – and every other Etrian Odyssey game that followed it. It’s the game’s USP, and it’s also the series’ USP.

More on The King of Grabs:
Etrian Odyssey, Etrian Odyssey II, Etrian Odyssey III

More: Etrian Odyssey on Wikipedia