Tales of Symphonia Text Review and Story Breakdown: Part 3

Originally a script for a video review, so some parts may stick out and, without visual aids, I recommend having played the game already! Note: this is for the original Tales of Symphonia, so if anything changed in the re-release, I haven’t touched on it here.

Quick links to other entries:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Part 5

13) Where Optimism and Pessimism Converge

Everyone notices that Colette doesn’t feel pain from the wound she got for saving Lloyd’s sad self, so he spills the truth.

Becoming an angel means losing her humanity!

You’re phrasing this so negatively. She isn’t limited by pain, she’ll never fear starvation or be distracted by hunger, she can do anything she wants at any hour without being tired, and any pretty area would be a good vacation spot regardless of the climate, not to mention her ability to fly, her enhanced hearing, and her superior vision. What’s the problem?

Raine sets her second ranch to self-destruct mode and here comes another moral dilemma. I think. The party’s worried about Colette. Especially Lloyd, Genis, and Sheena—yeah, Sheena. Colette was right about her being a softy.

In fact, Sheena shows more sympathy than anyone else, though they all want her to stop the journey of world regeneration—but hold on. Let’s think about this.

First problem: Colette makes it pretty clear that she doesn’t care.

If Colette doesn’t mind her situation, why should I? People have different lifestyles. Some of them I would never consider for myself, but if the people living them are happy, who am I and who is anyone else to judge?

Second problem: Assuming she’s lost all of her sense of touch, that’s the only real loss here—but that’s a big assumption.

If I didn’t have to sleep, I wouldn’t sleep. If I didn’t have to eat, I wouldn’t eat. And I’m not sure she has lost her sense of touch. We know she can’t feel hot, cold, or pain, but what about surface textures? If she really can’t feel a chakram, how would she manage in battle without cutting off her hands? And wouldn’t it be impossible for her to run or walk? She wouldn’t know when her feet touch the ground. It would be like her legs are always asleep. If all of her sense of touch is gone, you’d think she’d be totally helpless.

Even if it was gone, she’s been getting by without it, so she’s traded a sense she doesn’t need for improved sight, improved hearing, angel magic, and the ability to fly. I’d probably trade my sense of smell for all of that.

Third problem: Even if I accept that she’s lost all sense of touch and that I should want to “fix” something she doesn’t consider broken, nobody has reason to believe there’s any way to reverse her changes.

It would be nice if Marble’s Exsphere could be turned back into a human, but nobody has any indication that that’s possible, so they don’t think about it. Why is it different with Colette?

Fourth: Her own defense.

Right now, things are a little difficult, but once I become a complete angel, it may be a lot easier.

Nobody in the party knows what being an angel is like. Not even her—and she was born for it. Literally. How do they know her changes will be permanent if they’re not immediately reversed? What if it’s just an awkward but temporary phase like pimples in puberty?

I can buy that no one believes she’s okay with everything since she’s an established liar, but even if she’s not okay with it, that doesn’t lead to the conclusion that she needs to stop the journey. They’re somehow sure that Colette will get worse and worse, which is negative, but they’re also sure that some way and somehow they can find a way to cure her, which is very hopeful. It’s a weird position to take if you really break it down.

14) Finishing One Formula and Beginning Another

Getting on with it, while Raine read the Book of Regeneration wrong earlier, Colette was right with the Tower of Mana. More role reversal at work. It’s great if your average girl character can figure out some puzzles, but your well-studied character should very rarely be wrong—and only for good effect. I guess that’s why nobody in the party brings it up. They’d emphasize it if there was a positive story point from her being wrong, but there’s not.

Over at the Tower of Mana, you can go straight in or do what I did: read how to cure Pietro with a legendary unicorn horn. Fortunately, there’s a unicorn buried underwater at a nearby lake. No explanation. No need! Sheena is a summoner and says they can reach it with Undine, pulling the Summon Spirits into an active story role for the first time, so they head back to the Geyser to make a pact. Undine says she already has a pact with Mithos the Hero from way back, but I don’t know why she mentions it since simply asking her to end it does the trick. She tests their power and they make the pact for a new ally.

Unicorns can only be approached by pure maidens, so at first the party thinks they’re only sending Colette. Sheena’s offended that they assume she’s not qualified, but, well…

If you wanted cooler clothing, Sheena, you might try looking into short sleeves. Or shorts.

They’re comfy and easy to wear!

Or even skirts. Anyway, the unicorn detects Colette’s mana and reveals that she’s actually Martel. That’s a pretty big plot point to drop down out of nowhere, but alrighty then. He wants to stop her body from racing out of control, but Martel declines because she promised to cure Pietro, so the unicorn turns into a horn and Raine learns the Resurrection spell with its energy.

Don’t ask me why a spell named Resurrection can cure a curse, but it works and now it’s time for the Tower of Mana, the final trial. The party splits up because three people have to stand on magic circles to open the door—so if Lloyd and Genis really didn’t come on the journey and it had only been Martel, Raine, and Kratos, they would never have gotten past this entryway. Great planning by whoever designed—wait, actually, Martel could have flown directly to the roof. Great planning by whoever designed these angel trials.

Before the final guardian, even Raine asks Martel if she’s sure about this, because we can’t get enough of her same answer: she’s sure. A fight, a win, a new power, you’ve got the formula. Nothing wrong with that, though. Mega Man fights eight bosses; Team Symphonia fights four.

15) Plot Exposition

On the way out, Martel loses her voice. Oh. Okay, fine, you guys win. Not eating and sleeping are arguably pluses, but not being able to speak? Sucks for her. Sucks for me.

Now, any individual might dislike her voice or her personality. Voice is subjective

I really like Heather Hogan’s voice—loved her performance in The World Ends with You also—but the direction of the voice acting in this story is occasionally spotty, like the directors didn’t give any guidance about intonation and inflection. Colette is the most affected by this, then Regal, then Lloyd; those three monopolize basically every poorly-delivered line, but I don’t blame the voice actors. If I’m right about the lack of direction, then Shiloh Strong and Jennifer Hale definitely rose above it, but when I hear lines where someone says “Summon Spirit” as if they’re introducing the term for the first time and not the fortieth, I can’t convince myself it’s their fault.

and for personality I will say the writer didn’t center enough on the only thing holding her together: her comic relief bent. She should be a lightning barrage of wacky, off-kilter observations that don’t make sense to anyone except her.

Instead she’s a batting cage barrage and her comedy shows up in spurts. But when it does show up, her out-of-left-field comments throw off the “normal” characters, which is great from an audience perspective because nothing’s more boring than everyone getting along perfectly. That’s why it’s also a good thing that Lloyd’s jealous of Kratos. He has a whole basket of chips on his shoulder, sure, but it adds flavor and makes the scenes with him and Kratos a bit more interesting. Same thing with Raine always slapping her brother around.

That night, Sheena explains why she was out to assassinate Martel. Her world, Tethe’alla, is parallel to Sylvarant. The two worlds compete for a limited mana supply, without which crops can’t grow. Sylvarant is waning, but the world regeneration can reverse it, so Sheena came to stop that and keep Tethe’alla flourishing. However, now that she knows saving Tethe’alla would destroy Sylvarant, she wants a way for everyone to win. Raine shoots down her idealism, though:

Have you considered that perhaps nothing that convenient exists in the real world?

Maybe the localization team changed her name to Raine because she rains on everyone’s parade. Lloyd offers another brilliant idea:

What if we don’t regenerate the world and just defeat the Desians?

Flapping Lloyd. Without regenerating the world, mana will disappear.

Is mana really that important?

Yes, Lloyd, something without which crops can’t grow is really that important.

Martel takes Lloyd’s hand and starts writing on it. I know this is supposed to be sweet, but why not use paper? Her grandmother gave Lloyd a Collector’s Book at the beginning. Just tear out a couple pages. But instead Ventriloquist Martel uses her Dummy Lloyd to say she’ll ask if she can save both worlds.

…If it doesn’t work out, I may have to kill you after all.

Yeah, yeah. You’ve failed, what, five times already? Martel calls her out again anyway, though:

(via ) When that time comes, I may fight back, because I love Sylvarant too.

16) Character Exposition

Ignoring that Clara’s still running wild and Chocolat’s off working slave duty, the party heads for a mountain town where they can ride dragons to the Tower of Salvation. In a nice touch, the dragon owner refuses to take money from the Chosen who’s out to save the world. Wish other RPG characters had that courtesy.

Since we’re coming up on the final dungeon, it’s time for everybody’s final speeches.

The only thing I can do is believe in the Chosen. The Chosen from this side seems to be trustworthy and all.

Didn’t she just say she might have to kill her? Colette sees through your lies, Sheena. She has more expertise with them. Don’t ever challenge her in poker.

Professor, you’re a scholar, right? Can’t we do anything?
…Don’t you understand yet? You’re not too bright.

I’ve never loved you more, Raine. …Well, there was that time you kicked a guy around. And that time you knocked Lloyd into a wall. This is your third best moment, though! Anyway, she’s only fascinated by Martel’s transformation, not concerned.

It’s at a time like this that I stop and think how stupid I’ve been. […] Because I don’t even know if the way things have turned out is good or bad.
…No one knows that. The ones who think they do are the stupid ones.

I’m with you there, Lloyd. So is Socrates.

Oh, wait, I said no more philosophy.

Next our hero tells Kratos:

This isn’t the end I hoped for.
Really? It’s the journey you started by clinging to the Chosen. This was to be expected.

Lloyd doesn’t like hearing that he’s clingy because it hits too close to home, but:

It was you who said we have the Chosen on our side, the savior who will regenerate the world.
Yeah, that’s right. I said that. And that’s why I have to protect her.

If relying and depending on the power of the Chosen at the most crucial time is what it means to protect her, then the meaning of the word “protect” must have changed significantly from my understanding.

Fifteen hours in and Lloyd’s still being smacked down! What a jabroni.

There’s an interesting point here, though, that I didn’t fully pick up on for a while because I got swept up in presentation elements. Music, voice work, cinematography—but they’re all legitimate parts of telling a story, just like dialogue and the raw string of events. So if you don’t notice plot quirks on your first time through, that doesn’t mean you’re dumb.

Or so I tell myself.

Those who appreciated the characterization to this point and believe it worked and those who grew weary of it and thought it fell apart might focus on the same underlying point. Tales of Symphonia essentially showcases four protagonists: this one

Stop apologizing all the time, you dork!

and this one

And besides, we have the Chosen on our side! The savior who will regenerate the world!

and this one

I have to go. I am the Chosen. My job is to accept the oracle on the Day of Prophecy. Everyone, wait here, all right?

and this one.

The only one who has the right to make decisions on this journey is you, the Chosen One.

fifteen seconds later

What do you think, Lloyd?

They want to protect each other. They want to rely on each other. They want to do everything themselves. They want to place faith in the power of their companions. If their words under scrutiny seem to undermine our belief in them as protagonist heroes, it’s because right now these characters aren’t heroes—they just try to be.

17) Cliffhangers

Finally up to our main girl Martel, Lloyd apologizes again about not finishing her birthday present.

Stop apologiz–

[clip cuts off] Alright already, we get it. Anyway, she says she’ll wait forever because that’s the sweet line to give and he asks one more time if she won’t regret it. She wants Sylvarant to be reborn—and it’s like her life is spreading out to fill the entire world.

I’ve been satirizing the story, but it’s all in good fun. I love the game and I feel bad about this situation too. It’s not a big leap to figure out our heroine will die if she goes through with it. Never has been. Some people would be happy to see her go. Others feel sad, but maybe not for the same reason I did—so I’ll expand on that.

In the hands of a great writer, the threat of death is a powerful tool. In the hands of a poor writer, it’s a crutch.

It can be a cheap sympathy ploy if we don’t know the character, no better for drama than a pie in the face is for comedy. Death and the threat of death didn’t do anything for me in a lot of game stories, including games I loved.

[still shot: “For example:” box art of Dragon Quest IV, Chrono Trigger, Mother 3, Dragon Quest V, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VI, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, Tales of the Abyss, Tales of Vesperia, EarthBound, Illusion of Gaia, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, Arc Rise Fantasia]

It’s even worse if we actively dislike the character. I would have been fine with Squall dying in space. And when Sephiroth killed off Aerith, he was my new hero.

Work it, Sephy. Tifa and Yuffie need their fair shakes.

(caption flashes by: Though I wonder if she was a nice girl, considering how quickly she was prodding Cloud into being her boyfriend after he fell through her roof).

I didn’t feel bad because she was a nice girl. That doesn’t entitle her to my sympathy. Nice girls are everywhere.

Colette is an odd, quirky character—and that’s the only thing allowing her to have any emotional resonance with me. Her manga counterpart is shoulder-shrug forgettable; she stands around looking cute and being friendly, and that’s boring. Her anime counterpart is even cutesier and she’s the first character who ever got me to tell my screen out loud to shut up. You don’t get free tearjerking points for being cute. Sorry. So for those who don’t find her funny even in the game, she’s probably doing nothing for you.

She does have one other strength: the crazy inconsistency of her character. That might sound like a negative, but she’s not trapped in the boxes of typical thought patterns. You can see it in her on-again, off-again bursts of insight. She can explain the history of the Tower of Mana, sift through obscure phrases in an ancient book written in angelic language, and take reasonable stands…

My opinion may not matter much because I don’t use an Exsphere, but I believe the Desians will defeat us if we throw away our Exspheres now. And if that happens, more people will lose their lives to these stones. I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want this journey to be meaningless.

[different scene]

If you wanted to save your wife, you should have resigned your position as Governor-General and searched for a cure, or help, or whatever! You’re a worthless jerk who couldn’t give up his social status even for his own wife!
Lloyd, please stop! Not everyone’s strong enough to stand up against the Desians.

…but she can also play a perfect ditz and no one questions it because of her logic-warping conclusions and her inane commentary that no one can wrap their minds around.

Hmm, well, I think if there are lots of Chosens, the odds of the world being saved go up. That would be a good thing!

[different scene]

Magnius thought the fake Chosen group was us!

But that’s not why I like her. Not really. I’ll ask for no less and never more than this: entertain me. And one way to entertain me—not the only way, but one way—is to do something weird.

A child prodigy,
an everyman hero,
a wise older mentor,
a tough girl with a soft side…

They can be fun, but ultimately they’re pretty normal. They aren’t weird; they can’t fill that void. A dual-personality scholar and violent lady is weird, so I love Raine for that. And Colette—well, she’s more than a little bizarre, and that makes her cool with me.

3 thoughts on “Tales of Symphonia Text Review and Story Breakdown: Part 3

  1. Pingback: Tales of Symphonia Text Review and Story Breakdown: Part 2 | Project Dreamblazers

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