Playing Tales of Destiny for the Playstation 1 is a lot like eating a sandwich from a shady stranger on the subway: The first few bites are so delicious that choirs of angels sing as you chew, but then you bite down on a razor blade and it completely ruins your day. Many flawed games, especially those for the PS1, have redeeming qualities that make them ultimately worthwhile. This game is simply too full of razor blades for that to be possible.
I tend to love sprite-based JRPGs. The Chrono Triggers and Final Fantasys of the past practically defined my childhood, so I’ll always look on such games with fondness and be willing to tolerate a certain level of padding and fetch quests in order to move on with the story. The problem with Tales of Destiny compared to the sprite-based beauty of other old JRPGs, however, is that the story is awful. To be fair, such games have a tendency to rely on hallmarks of the genre at the time: A hero rises from nothingness to save the world, meets random people along the way, travels on boats (getting attacked by a sea monster at some point), hangs out with kings and solves their problems, etcetera. The formula is repeated in just about every old JRPG out there, but the greats of the genre used this as a backdrop for truly interesting stories. Tales of Destiny, on the other hand, is completely defined by these things, being content with offering nothing beyond everything you’ve seen a hundred times before.
If one were to take out all of the unnecessary padding from having to run back and forth grabbing random things for random people, the entire second half of the game would disappear. While the first third or so is promising, it quickly devolves into pointless fetch quests and badly-explained puzzles that seem to serve no purpose other than adding to the play time. The entire second half of the game is guilty of this.
The puzzles are a nightmare, often so poorly-explained and unintuitive that, barring the usage of a walkthrough, you’ll likely be stuck on them for days at at time. It makes absolutely no sense to include such pointless puzzles. There’s one in particular that requires knowledge of the zodiac signs, so anyone who isn’t aware of which animal represents which sign and can’t use the internet to find out is simply out of luck. There are a bunch of doors you have to walk through in a specific order, and the number of potential permutations makes guessing your way through virtually impossible. Puzzles such as this aren’t too frequent, but having them present in the game at all is ridiculous. Good puzzles are never cheap, nor do they require knowledge of things outside the game.
Character development is a little better, but still an abject failure in the end. Out of all of the characters, I only actually ended up liking two of them: Mary and Rutee. They were interesting and had a good dynamic in the beginning, though Mary gets boring later on and Rutee doesn’t get fleshed-out as much as I would have liked. In fact, no one really gets fleshed out. I kept expecting to see the dialogue, of which there’s plenty, actually show the characters growing and changing as the game progresses, but it doesn’t. They remain largely as they are throughout the entire game, with the exception of Mary. Of course, she winds up being less interesting for it, so it almost feels like backward character development.
The combat is where the game (almost) shines, which is a good thing since it’s basically all you’ll be doing. It’s something like a 2D action game mixed with an RPG, where you can run around attacking things in real-time and pause at will to issue orders to your party members. This allows you to set up complex strategies where you time your attacks so that your enemies can’t get any of their attacks off. The only problem with this is that the fighting system quickly becomes easier than boxing a wheelchair-bound hemophiliac in front of the world’s largest flight of stairs, even if you completely neglect manually choosing your party members’ attacks.
After a few levels, fights become a matter of killing the weak things and then pressing X to use skills until you win. Even bosses can be rendered crying pansies when faced with this strategy, including the final boss in the game. At no point will you be forced to employ a different strategy, because doing this single thing will make you unbeatable. In fact, I only used healing items three or four times in my entire playthrough since most bosses simply couldn’t hit me as rapidly as I could hit them (and those who could had the damage they did to me quickly healed by Rutee as I pummeled them senseless).
Random battles are a huge annoyance, however, because the encounter rate is too high. They won’t be difficult fights, but they’re frustratingly time-consuming and feel more like padding encounters to extend the length of the padding quests you’ll be on than anything designed to be fun. All of this padding surrounding every aspect of the game quickly becomes draining, and I found myself avoiding this game for days at a time because of it. If the bosses were more difficult and the random encounters less frequent, combat would be a good experience, and that squandered promise is disappointing.
Graphics are probably the closest thing I have to a favorite part of the game. I love sprites, and I really like the art style that permeates the game. It’s oldschool, but then again, it’s an old game. Point is, anyone who can enjoy sprites should have no problem with the graphics in Tales of Destiny. Its music, on the other hand, is hit-and-miss, alternating between good themes and others so infuriatingly repetitive that you’ll consider smashing your game disc with a hammer. The random encounter rate probably plays a role in that, since it seems like every fifth step you’re hearing the “battle” music. It’s maddening. Overall, it’s difficult to recommend this to anyone; those who like Tales games may love it, but I find it too flawed to be able to recommend it. A legendary tale, this is not.
Here’s what you should do: