Tales of SymphoniaIt’s time to Throwback our Thursday to 2003 for ScienceFiction.com’s ongoing column dedicated to past sci-fi and look at the popular (even now!) Japanese role-playing game, ‘Tales of Symphonia’.

‘Tales of Symphonia’ was the fifth installment to a series of games creatively titled the ‘Tales of’ series. Each game is known for its 3D combat system (it’s not turn-based like most RPGs) and heavy investment into character development (there are hundreds and hundreds of skits one can unlock that pepper even the most dull of dungeons). While it is the fifth game to don the ‘Tales of’ title, it is by far and away the most popular in the series in North America. Perhaps this is because it was the first to really make it big or maybe it was because it was the only really good RPG on the Gamecube. Or, maybe it was just because it had great game mechanics, an excellent story filled with interesting characters, and shocking twists. Maybe it’s all three.

The story follows The Chosen One, Collette, and her journey to regenerate her mana-starved world by breaking the seals at various temples around the world. What she fails to tell her friends, however, is that doing so will demand her very being as a sacrifice.

It seems fairly straightforward. In fact, you spend most of the game thinking that you’re just about to complete the game. That’s where the twist comes in, so if you don’t want to get spoiled, read no further and play the game!

For the rest of you, this will definitely compel you to get your hands on it.

The group finds out from an other-worldly assassin that regeneration comes at the cost of their parallel world. Bam! Suddenly, 20 hours into the game where you just had explored an entire world map, you find yourself in a new world. 20 more hours of fun trying to unravel the mystery of why the two worlds are connected.

Honestly, the twist is nothing short of genius. It gives you quick easy victories that make you want to get to the last seal and then rewards with an entirely new world to keep you interested. While other ‘Tales of’ games have done the same concept successfully (‘Tales of the Abyss’ being my favorite), ‘Symphonia’ did it first, and that leaves a very lasting impression.

While ‘Tales of Symphonia’ is largely a fantasy game, it contains a lot of sci-fi elements so I think it can at least have a footnote in the pantheon of good science fiction. It explores the ideas of parallel universe (and how they cannot be similar at all), and it marries technology with magic to create a world that isn’t really either. In short, every minute of gameplay is worth your time, even 15 years after it was made. And fear not, if you don’t have a Gamecube, it’s still available on PS3.