Square-Enix gets a lot of flak about their various ports and remakes of their games. Whether it's graphical alterations, remixed soundtracks, translation changes, or added material, seemingly anything ends up being fodder for those who want to tell the company that they broke the game in question. I'm not going to say whether or not I feel people are justified in those complaints, but I think that anyone who plays Namco's latest port of Tales of Phantasia [Free] is going to walk away with some new perspective on what exactly breaking a game entails. What has happened here is more than a little gross, and while I have my issues with the original game, it did not deserve this little Frankenstein experiment gone wrong.

Tales of Phantasia follows the story of a young man named Cress, who has a very heavy destiny ahead of him after Imperial troops come to his hometown looking for an important relic. The tale is, if nothing else, winding and told with enthusiasm, with some very well-done highs and some embarrassing lows. You'll meet some new friends, deal with a villain with a shade of depth to him, battle magical racism, take to the battlefield of an all-out war, and cook breakfast. At the time of Tales of Phantasia's original release on the SNES, not everything in the story was wholly original, but it was quite an epic tale owing to just how much happens, combined with its amazing production values. In today's light, and specifically the iOS ecosystem, the story loses a bit of its shine, thanks to Kemco's RPGs biting pretty hard off its themes, but it's still a compelling story with some good character work. It'll have you wanting to see what's coming next all the way up until the ending of the game.

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While the game was probably most famous originally because of its presentation, the gameplay systems found in it were noteworthy in their innovations. In particular, the battle system stood out for its more action-focused take on RPG combat, with battles playing out in real-time and special abilities pulled off via directional presses combined with buttons. Of course, the Tales series is incredibly long in the tooth by now, with numerous refinements and iterations made on the combat you'll find here. By comparison, as you would expect from the game that had to blaze the trail, Tales of Phantasia feels a bit clunky and slow. Characters don't always move the way you want them to, getting characters to use items properly is awkward, and chaining moves is a bit tricky. It's still fun, especially if you're not familiar with later games in the series, but it has aged pretty terribly.

I think a straight port of the game would still be welcome, however, even if it's more of a curio in modern times. Namco has remade the game before on other platforms, and the version they've released on iOS seems to be based on those rather than the SNES original. Unfortunately, they've decided to do something interesting for this port. They've released the game for free, which might seem good, especially if you've been unhappy with the comparatively hefty prices on Square-Enix's lineup. All things have their cost, however, and the cost of this "free" Tales of Phantasia is quite steep indeed.

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So let's talk about the changes Namco's made here. I'm not sure where to start here, but let's go with the fact that you have to be online to save your progress. If you don't have an internet connection, all forms of saving your game are disabled. If Namco's servers are down, well, you're not going to be playing. It's a baffling choice for a single-player RPG, but the other changes perhaps shed a little light on the motivation for this. The next big change, and perhaps the least surprising given the game's free status, is the addition of a shop that sells items for real money. For the most part, these items just grant you experience points in varying amounts, allowing you to pay to powerlevel, in essence. There's one other item in there, though, and it greatly contributes to the undoing of this game: a resurrection orb that, should you fall in battle, brings you back with a stat buff, all for the low, low price of two dollars.

In and of itself, that item shouldn't be a problem. It's not that different from the various cheat items Kemco loads into their games these days. If someone wants to cheese their way past a tough boss or avoid a grind, why not? It's not like you have to use it, right? You know, technically speaking, you don't have to use it to get through this game, but Namco has done everything in its power to make you want to, with no regard whatsoever to the considerable effect on the game's enjoyability. In previous versions of the game, Tales of Phantasia had multiple difficulty settings, which mostly manifested in the form of enemies with higher stats. In the iOS version, you have no choice, you are locked into a custom setting that sits somewhere between Hard and Mania from the other versions. This makes the fights last a lot longer and makes the enemies far more deadly, especially bosses. If that's not enough, they've outright deactivated many of the game's save points, especially those located near bosses.

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This naturally sets up the situation where you've spent a fair bit of time working your way through the back end of a dungeon, lost to the boss, and are now looking down the barrel at having to redo all that work. It's here where the game generously offers its magical resurrection item to you, reminding you sternly that if you don't use one, you'll lose everything since your last manual save. It's as unpleasant as it is transparent. Tales of Phantasia is a very, very hard game at this difficulty setting, and jerking out the save points is cruel and unnecessary. That's not the only tinkering they've done here, either. The price of every item in the game has doubled, and Tales wasn't exactly famous for its generous cash flow to begin with. The only olive branch offered to alleviate this particular change is the presence of a daily bonus that might sometimes double the gold monsters drop for one hour, temporarily restoring the game's proper economy.

I have a feeling other things have been modified behind the scenes, such as the drop rate for items, but I unfortunately have no way to corroborate that beyond my gut feeling. I don't feel Namco deserves the benefit of the doubt on any of it, though. The clear intention here was to turn a proper self-contained game into a cash grab by any means possible. There are some other changes that aren't levied at bringing in cash, and they're kind of split down the middle for how well they work. Map controls use a virtual stick, but you can just tap anywhere to have Cress scoot there. His walking speed has been jacked up quite a bit, making him ridiculously unwieldy to control with the stick. Battle controls thankfully make no attempt at using virtual controls, instead breaking the play area into three zones, each representing a basic attack. Special attacks are mapped to swipes in each cardinal direction, and items are accessed via a button push to open a menu. This was a clever way to handle the combat, and I feel it works quite well.

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It's a shame the game has been busted up so badly, because it's a beautiful port on the technical side. It seems to be based on the PSP version of the game, though the 3D aspects look a lot better thanks to the higher resolution screen on mobile devices. Battles run fairly smoothly on my iPhone 5S, especially compared to the lethargic GBA version, but if you're using anything less than a 4S, you're going to have serious problems. The extensive voice work is all in Japanese with English subtitles, but the only prior English voice work for this game is awful, so I'll forgive the lack of a dub option. The translation seems to follow the track laid down by the GBA version, though it differs in many ways. Humorously, some of the animated movie cutscenes display the Japanese romanization of the character names, and they don't always match with the version the script went with. It's not a great translation by any means, but it's coherent, which is sadly a high-water mark only recently achieved by the average JRPG on the App Store not released by Square-Enix.

If you're persistent, you can probably grind or luck your way through the game, even with the changes that have been made. After all, the difficulty setting this version locks you in more or less exists in the other versions, and people ostensibly have cleared that setting before. I suspect most people aren't going to be bothered to go past the second town, though, because Tales of Phantasia simply isn't very fun to play at this level. The whole monetization into oblivion is pretty upsetting, particularly when you keep in mind that fans of JRPGs on iOS are certainly used to paying premium prices for games, and would likely do so happily for a title of Tales of Phantasia's fame. On another level, it's also very frustrating for Tales fans, because this is only the second English version of the game, and it's inexplicably worse to play than the already-terrible version that was released before on GBA.

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If you really want a free JRPG, go download Machine Knight [Free] instead. It may not be the better game in an ideal world where you could just enjoy both titles as they were designed, but at least it won't shake you down for money constantly. Even sampling this version of Tales of Phantasia will only lead to the frustration of seeing that Namco could have made an excellent version of the game, but didn't. Thanks, but no thanks.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • NickyNichols

    Downloaded a week ago, haven't touched it yet. Apparently I won't have to. Thanks TA!

  • curtisrshideler

    Well said. It's a shame too. I've never played this game, but would've been happy to pay $5 to $10 to enjoy the original game at my leisure. But due to this shoddy money-grabbing port, they won't be getting a penny from me... Or even a download. Well, maybe a download so I can rate it 1 star.

    • mclifford82

      Please don't do this shit. Either don't download it or download it and at least give it a shot before reviewing.

      • freezestar

        Also I don't think it would change the general rating because of the Five Star Bots that will artificially increase the rating.

  • Cheeseball

    I've put around 8 hours into this iOS port of ToP and I can defnitely say that the online-only saving system is highly annoying to the point of wanting to remove the game from my iPod Touch.

    Namco-Bandai ruined a good game. It's a shame, really.

    • pdSlooper

      My thought: upload this screenshot to the GameFAQs images for the game. It should, after all, be fairly representative of the gaming experience.

      • Intendro

        What screenshot?
        The first one in the review?

        "Some power is stopping it from saving residual memory."

        That's quite fitting.

  • koryc

    Wow 1 star,haven't seen that since madden 25

  • brickwalker0

    Justice has been served.

  • EvilAbdy

    Why oh why do companies feel the need to keep doing this. Especially when consumers complain time and time again about it. UGH

    • Mestour Zouhair

      Because consumers keep buying iaps

      • 61050

        i dont actually like this post because its true, but because your words are true, i like this post.

    • chief78

      When we are presented with the preview of something that will fulfill a dream or hope of something that we fondly remember, remember this: mobile being the platform that it is, will always have d-bags trying to take the best of what we hold dear of gaming, and ultimately, either diarrhea all over it with blatantly greedy tactics, or gain the support of the communities through careful research and study of what their consumers are actually willing to pay for.

      So, if it looks like a turd, smells like a turd (and regardless of all those that jump off the Brooklyn bridge - so to say), it doesn't matter what it's based on, it's still $#!+ at the end of the day

  • uplaynation

    well its my first time ever to see TA rated 1 star. Personally downloaded the game and tried for roughly a hour and deleted it, its not that bad its just AWFULLY BAD.

    i play the original version on snes and it was sweet by that time.

    so well done namco, u just throw ur 5 star title to the drain. THANK YOU, u bunch of money grabing pricks.

  • JJE McManus

    Ow. Tough review.
    That's the way to begin a week.

  • pausiopao

    Lol 1 star, they deserve no stars Eli

    • pausiopao

      *shaun

  • rando

    I downloaded this game without reading too much into the comments because I was so blindly hopeful that I could squeeze out at least a little bit of RPG enjoyment out of this.

    Didn't take long to feel I wouldn't be getting any fun out of this - and your review justified how I felt. Thanks got that - and the Machine Knight recommendation. I'll take that out for a spin and delete this annoyance!

  • vic_viper_001

    "If there is evil in this world, it lurks in the hearts of greedy game developers"
    -Edward D. Morrison

  • imcookie

    So you didn't like it then?!!!!

  • Morgan01

    Gave it a go, being impartial and not reading any reviews. I came a Ross very similar opinions of the game as the reviewer and delete it

  • lilneo

    Well said Shaun!

  • epik5

    Who else is thinking about bitcoins in this game? Well online only to play!

    • Cheeseball

      The online-only requirement is only for starting the game, saving and loading. They're not doing mining, especially with cellular devices that output low GFLOPs.

  • zdanee

    Emulators. The worst enemy to Square-Enix. Just sayin.

    • NinjaKitteh

      That's what I was saying in the thread. DL the DeJap translation for SNES. Way better than the GBA version of this game and infinitely better than this slop.

      • texa

        DeJap's translation is deeply flawed. People who are looking to get the full ToP experience should play Phantasian Productions' translation of PSX ToP. It actually tries to stay consistent with Namco's localizations and it has the skits.

      • NinjaKitteh

        Dude thx, I'll check it out tonight. Didn't even realize anyone translated the PSX version. Looking online it does look like a much better translation! You made my night.

      • Cheeseball

        Hopefully Absolute Zero's translation for Tales of Phantasia X (the PSP's enhanced version) will also be finished soon.

  • Nanashrew

    Man... This could have gotten a nice VC release and I would have bought it. This is terrible.

  • Roleki

    I admire TA for telling it as it needs to be told!
    "Gaming news and reviews without fear or favour," love you guys!

  • Zeital

    When I saw there was this review for ToP I was like 'oh one of my all time fav games has been ported'.

    After reading it I think I need to get my GBA out and just play that.

  • Jxsgamer

    Darn, I recently started buying some of KEMCO's Jrpgs, and I was hoping this one would be just as fun. :(
    Btw, I'm having a great time with MAchine Knight. ;)

  • Bliquid

    And to think that i was upset this isn't on the italian store...

  • DemoEvolved

    A well written account of the bottom falling out of the AppStore

    When it costs you $6 to acquire a single paying customer, it's no wonder the only way to survive is by gouging the whales

  • Morgan01

    The term "free" has become an abstract term and grossly interpreted. There are actually very few really "free" games. Many games now require online access as a form of tracking people. Some encouraging the use of Facebook as a way to gauge players We have each become numbers used in marketing tools to further monetary gains. Games such as this have been designed to punish players repeatedly so as to coerce them into spending real money. And not just one time, but over and over.

  • chuckdoom

    You guys should've just gave it zero stars and Squeenix needs to hurry up and release FF VI before i change my mind about spending twenty bucks on it

  • swatbot

    I downloaded it, gave it a quick shot, but the online requirement was a deal-breaker. I think I'll stick with the original cart that's sitting next to my SNES console right now.

  • ElPumo

    Thanks for the very useful review, Shaun. Glad I read this before I started playing. Just deleted it!

  • diaskeaus

    I don't think there would be quite so many complaints if the game had difficulty settings. My pet peeve is that they made the Miracle Orb a consumable instead of an item you can purchase and reuse as much as you want. It would be an easy enough fix - charge $5 or $6 bucks for the same Miracle Orb you get in the beginning of the game, and keep the difficulty high. Then if people want to pay to power level, they can, and if they want the challenge, they can just pay the 5 bucks for the continues option the Miracle Orb offers.

    They should have put in an option for local saves as well as Cloud saves as well. Two very easy, easy, easy fixes that would make all the difference. Please Namco, make these changes. Also give us an option to press a button to run/walk, so that we can actually use the pad and not run past NPCs we want to talk to.

    1. Miracle Orb cost $5/$6, re-usable.
    2. Local saves & cloud saves, online functionality only for cloud saves and device sharing.
    3. Run/walk button.

    Bingo. 4/5 star review.

    • Morgan01

      Why not just port the game the way it was originally designed and charge $6? Sounds less complicated than further butchering it.

  • chief78

    It's Bandai Namco. Not Namco that made all those great classic games we loved, not Bandai that actually had a few decent franchises that were coveted back in the day....no, this is the $#!+ made of $#!+ that was $#!++'d out and $#!++'d again. Wait...where was I? Oh yeah....BN or NB, whatever the hell they r now....very sad company....many many sorrow

  • Salt Abdullah

    OUCH. 1 star. Thank you for the in-depth review. I won't go near this tripe.

  • gamer456ism

    Only four game ever reviewed by TA (including this) have gotten 1 star, so sad.

  • epik5

    Least is, a kemco game is better than this... Like i played a few specially alphadia and its good.

  • mankind21

    Been searching for this game for WEEKS I guess it's only available on the U.S Store??

  • David Rushing

    Stores are selling items at PSX, GBA, and PSP prices, some prices are different with the SNES version though, but those changes happened with the PSX version onward.

  • Titanio Verde

    I'm glad you played the original version before. It was a remarkable piece of art.
    And thank you for explaining this port in detail. None of my acquaintances could test it and tell me about its controls. I was really curious about them.

    I knew something about its micropayments, but I see the affair went really deeper than I thought. I also find it horrible, specially the locked save points on the biggest dungeons.

    Nice review.

  • Michael_Ponder_JR

    And this is why i just emulate on my smart phone

Tales of Phantasia(English Ver.) Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 1