TALES OF ETERNIA / Namco / Sony PSP
Tales of Eternia was originally released in the West as Tales of Destiny 2 ... even though it's not actually a sequel to Tales of Destiny. It's a standalone game that doesn't require having played the previous Tales games ... but it's a good idea since this one throws you in the water with virtually no tutorial and expects you to already be familiar with the action-RPG style and the game's sometimes quirky general rules.
The story is about as Generic Animu as it gets - teenagers living in Idyllic Village get suddenly drawn into Quest To Save The World one day by Random Chaotic Event, will do so by Touring World to collect the Powers Of Elements and eventually going to Other World. It's actually almost the exact same plot that would be recycled into Tales of Symphonia
later, just with a few key twists involving the Chosen of that game not present. Eternia seems particularly lazy, however, as its one of those worlds where the only things that exist seem to be those that are related to the quest - enter a town and its like four screens featuring some shops and the dwelling of the one person you need to talk to. This is particularly a shame here, because the game's greatest strength is that it actually has really pretty and detailed 2D background art - think Chrono Trigger style but even better. It's a shame there's so little actual world to see it put to use in.
The Tales games to this point had always suffered from turgid/forgettable plots and flat characters, though; what bailed them out was the fun and unique combat system. Here, the system seen in Destiny - which largely worked really well - is re-used and pretty much not messed with in any fundamental way. Which is good. The one twist is the new magic system, which hinges around the Powers of Elements that you gradually gain. The game only gives you two offensive magic users, and they have to split the elemental spells between them ... but certain ones preclude you from using certain other ones. Honestly, it seemed a bit of an over-complication to me, but it does add a bit of strategy and character customization.
The other thing Tales games have going for them is a puzzle element to many dungeons, in the vein of Lufia 2 and the 2D Zelda games. As with previous entries, the dungeons here aren't as good as either of those luminaries, but still decent on the whole and more interesting than generic Cave Of Tunnels that most lazy JRPGs throw at you. As with Destiny, however, the encounter rate is a little ridiculous, making the dungeons that require a bunch of backtracking really frustrating and time-consuming.
Eternia smells of a quick, lazy knock-out for cash ... even Motoi Sakuraba sounds like he's phoning in the score while at home in his PJs nursing a mug of coffee, and the newly-implemented voice acting is about as generic tween cartoonish as it gets. That said, bits of it show genuine talent and inspiration - the background art, some of the dungeons - and combined with the enjoyable combat system the whole package holds enough appeal that it might be worth a run if you somehow saddled yourself with it. There's apparently an undub patch floating around too, if the voice acting is too much.