Everyone loves a bit of nostalgia, and gamers are as bad as anyone for it. Even while I lament the lack of time I have to play everything I need to play in order to keep my Gamer Club Card (you’ve had yours renewed, right?), I happily go out of my way to replay old games that haven’t changed for the past fifteen to twenty years. It is why I have the Chrono Trigger DS remake/rerelease/remastered edition and made sure to get every single ending. Its why I have multiple emulators on my smartphone for the sole purpose of playing Pokemon Red and my favourite 90’s JRPGs while on the train. I have beaten all these games multiple times. I can write walkthroughs for these games almost from memory. I know they can’t surprise me anymore, but I still go back to them every now and then because they represent my childhood in digital format.
And it is probably for this reason that we’ve seen so many remakes of classic RPGs over the past year. Specifically, just this past few months I have seen a pair of PS2/GameCube era games that are clearly designed to cash in on this need for nostalgia; Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, a remake of both Tales of Symphonia and its sequel, Dawn of a New World, released in 2009, and Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD, a remake of Final Fantasy X and its direct sequel Final Fantasy X-2, released in 2004.
Both of these games feel like complete copy and pastes of their original counterpart. Yes, there are some graphical upgrades and loading times (particularly for Final Fantasy X) have been cut down to the point where they’re not annoying, but at the heart of them are the same games you’ve probably already played before. Tales of Symphonia Chronicles throws in a few short scenes from the anime adaptation, but other than that there isn’t much in the way of new content in either. They’re also a bundling of a well-received first game with a less than stellar sequel, meaning that you are probably going to get most of your enjoyment out of half of the package, which greatly decreases the value for money aspect of the remake. Besides that, the games themselves are fairly mainstream offerings of the JRPG genre, complete with teenage protagonists, a dark conspiracy that is an unsubtle commentary on our faith in religious institutions, and characters summoning massive monsters to do their fighting for them.
Both are reasonably good games, but as I played through I began to wonder; what was the point?
Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against remakes. That Chrono Trigger remake mentioned above remains one of the best purchases I made for the Nintendo DS, but that is less due to how good the original is (hint: extremely) and more down to how much they added to the rerelease. Heck, I would have paid good money just for a translation that fixed the terrible broken English some of the characters spoke with in the original. Add in new maps, new items, and a new ending to bring it in line with its underwhelming sequel, and you’ve got ample reason to reinvest. Neither Final Fantasy X/ X-2 HD or Tales of Symphonia Chronicles add this level of new content to the package. There are still some fun moments, but they come more from rediscovering things about the games you loved (Realising that Bender voices Wakka gives all of his dialogue a whole added flavour) than from finding anything genuinely new.
Without new content, comparing these two games really becomes a contest of which one has stood up to the test of time and the onslaught of technological innovation in the 10+ years since the original. On that front, there are hits and misses from both. Final Fantasy X was the first game in the series to feature voice acting and, though it is uneven at times, for the most part it works. The lip syncing, which I didn’t mind the first time I played it, is simply awful by today’s standards. Tales of Symphonia suffers from similar aging issues, but I forgive it much more readily since the character designs are more stylized, but it is still not graphically impressive even against other games of that era. The turn based combat of FF X was dated even at the time of its original release and hasn’t fared much better since, but it is the best iteration we’ve had of this classic system. On the other hand, Symphonia’s more chaotic and real time action was ahead of its time and holds up pretty well. It is as good and as deep as many games coming out today, which makes playing through this classic that much more enjoyable.
So who are these games really for, deep down? It’s a tough question to answer. Both are really too dated for most people unfamiliar to the two series to likely appreciate and yet offer nothing new to returning fans. If you have never played either Tales of Symphonia or Final Fantasy X, then they are enjoyable games in their own right if you can get past how dated both feel. If you are a fan of either and have lost either the console or the game for the original, they are worth reinvesting for when you’re feeling nostalgic, but they certainly don’t add enough to justify buying if you’ve still got the original sitting on the shelf.
An American trying to infiltrate and understand English society, Trent is a writer of novels and player of games. He has a serious addiction to JRPGs, the weirder the better, and anything that keeps him distracted from work.