Tales of the Tempest - Import Retroview  

I Was Warned, But I Did Not Listen
by Michael Baker

Less than 20 Hours
+ Not as bad as some might say
+ Good soundtrack
- Limited skills available in battle
- Annoying early DS mini-games
- Feels like a lost opportunity
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   Every franchise of any length will have its black sheep, and for the Tales series, that's Tales of the Tempest. The first "mothership" (main series entry) title on the DS, its development was handed over to a game studio called Dimps with the intent of creating a compact experience for gaming on the go. Dimps did not really rise to the challenge. In fact, Tempest was so poorly received that it became the first and only "mothership" title to be officially demoted to "escort" (side game) status. Was this warranted? Unfortunately, yes.

   First of all, the plot of Tempest plays out like someone was reading down a list. Lost civilization ruined by war? Check. Glittery macguffin-slash-pendant? Check and check. Improbable existence of identical twin? Check. Multiple antagonist groups at cross purposes? Check, check, check, and check. When taken as the sum of its parts, Tempest's plot seems to be rather standard for a Tales game, though it does produce a couple of good twists. The issues lie in the presentation and production, which are equally dull and disastrous. No single person or thing gets enough of the spotlight long enough to be truly effective as a plot device, and the heroic five-man band of protagonists careens from plot point to plot point like a runaway trolley on greased rails. Important details are doled out in huge lumps of exposition peppered with proper nouns sans context. There are attempts at character development, but they fall flat because the main cast is never given room to really breathe and grow.

   The game feels shorter than it could, or maybe even should, have been. In part that's because it's easily beatable in under twenty hours (sixteen for my game), but it's also extremely compressed. All the action takes place on a single continent, even though it's stated outright that there's another landmass to the west which is suffering problems related to the main plot. In total there are six field maps to walk over, plus eight towns and five areas that might charitably be called dungeons. This is probably the smallest scope of any Tales game. Even Tales of the World: Narikiri Dungeon 2 felt broader.

   Battles in Tempest follow the three-dimensional field model of the Linear Motion Battle System™, with three "lanes" on the field of combat. The player-controlled character (whoever's first in line, generally) cannot change lanes except when running at a new target. This happens even in Manual Battle mode, making it remarkably similar to Semi-Auto mode — except when the game arbitrarily decides not to be like that. Likewise, it's difficult to tell what is up with allied AI at times. The second major protagonist, Rubia, is especially bad about this, regularly giving up on magic (despite having triple-digit TP and a constant TP-regen effect) and just bashing enemies with her staff. When this happens on a boss battle and healing is sorely needed, it becomes a dire liability.

Always recruit random people in the forest! Always recruit random people in the forest!

   The player is able to choose four skills to place on Caius, the main protagonist, and activate them through different combinations of the B-button and direction keys. That part's pretty normal for the series. What is not normal is that all five party members follow the same pattern, and will only use their four assigned attacks skills or spells in battle. They can be directed to use items by the player, but nothing else. Most of the magic-users' spell library is likely to gather dust on this one.

   On the other hand, the game's battles have a very low difficulty level, and it's quite possible to blast through ninety percent of the game on Auto-Battle mode, up to and including the final boss. The only hiccups on that trajectory are the few event battles with only one playable character to them. Caius and Forrest (support character) both have beastman transformations that make those battles a snap as well, under Manual or Semi-Auto modes. The transformation skill generally requires a desperate situation (half-health and a certain amount of TP), which is surprisingly hard to manage when healers and regenerative effects come into play. Outside of those event battles, I personally never used the transformations or the ultimate magic spells.

   For a DS game in 2006, the graphics aren't too shabby, and are roughly equivalent to a mid-PSX era title. Unfortunately, the application is again lacking, with tons of clipping and other minor graphical issues to quibble over. Like the plot, it's another case of something that could have gone a different, better way if it were put in other hands. The polygon model faces actually look better than the portrait art, for the most part. Rubia and Arlia's eyes, green and blue respectively, will always look like brightly colored marbles about to pop out of their heads, however.

Please signal before changing lanes. Please signal before changing lanes.

   Motoi Sakuraba's soundtrack is probably the most consistently good element in Tempest, though the opening J-pop track could have been left out. Aside from the music, there really isn't much sound to this game — and what there is, no one would really write home about. The party's battle cries are anime shrill, and compressed enough that they don't always match with the name of the attack they announce. Most annoying is the typewriter noise that accompanies all dialogue with a takka-takka-tak. This game was developed in 2005; the developers should've been able to do better than that.

   Being on the early DS, touch controls were a must-have — though Tempest also allows for button control. One aspect affected by the early DS mandate means that all action occurs on the touch screen, where it's directable, rather than the top screen where it's easier to see. To make things more confusing, dialogue bubbles only appear on the top screen, despite the attendant action happening down below. And then there are the mini-games. These are thankfully few in number, and the only required ones are a series of sliding-panel puzzle games that serve as unlocking mechanisms in an early level and nowhere else. However, all the optional cuisine preparation in Tempest requires the player to go through mini-games with little or no explanation. Seeing as food has always been an important side-item to the series, this was a bit of an annoyance.

   In closing, I cannot say that Tales of the Tempest doesn't deserve all the flak it's received, because it most surely does. However, it's not the absolute, unmitigated disaster that some fans make it out to be. A full remake (with carte blanche given for plot, etc.) would probably be able to salvage this one. Still, it's hard to recommend to any but a true, die-hard Tales fan, who would probably be turned off by its bad press anyway. All I can say is that it was worth the two hundred yen I spent on it, but not a zenny more.

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