TALES OF DESTINY / Namco / Playstation
Tales of Destiny is a mercurial game. At times the development team seemed genuinely inspired, but there's just as many moments in the game where they're blatantly phoning it in and seem to just completely not care about the quality of the finished product. The game repeatedly earns credit from you with a well-paced, fun sequence full of kickin' Motoi Sakuraba tunes and smooth enjoyable combat, but then just as quickly turns and squanders it with awful dungeon design, an overabundance of mandatory and repetitive encounters, and head-scratching developments.
Combat is something of an improvement over prequel Tales of Phantasia in that you can actually jump to hit enemies, rather than having to specifically instruct an archer or spellcaster to target them before they rape your helpless sword-wielding main character to death. If meathead hero Stahn gets tiresome, you're also free to play directly as anyone in the party, and up to three others can join in if you have the special Playstation 4-player MultiTap thingie (though there's issues with everyone but the 1st player tending to get caught off-camera.) Particular spells can also be turned off so your dimwit mages don't keep spamming a boss enemy with something that heals them, and generally there's a greater sense of control of your secondary characters. Their AI routines are still a bit awful in that they tend to hang back and refuse to engage the enemy a lot of the time, but when they actually decide to wake up and fight they tend to operate pretty effectively.
Minor issues aside, the combat is largely enjoyable and not the problem in this one. The characters tend to be flat and uninteresting, and the plot is turgid and forgettable (after setting the game down for only 2 days I often completely forgot what was going on). But that's not even the main problem. The main problem here is terrible dungeon design, and generally a lot of long stretches of wandering about with an unclear goal while being subject to an overly high encounter rate.
Here's the worst bit of the game - there's a point where you're gallivanting about from port to port on a boat, and you get attacked by pirates. Battling them consists of running through 4 ships, one after the other, to kill the Captains. The problem is that the ships are literally copied-and-pasted entirely down to layout, enemy placement, even the same Captain with the same line of dialogue every time. It's literally an hour of non-stop excruciating tedium (in which there's no opportunity to save and quit) and samey battles that you can't avoid. Other memorable bits include a puzzle thrown at you out of nowhere at the end of a dungeon (nowhere near a save point) where you are expected to have all the Zodiac signs memorized (when these are never present or mentioned anywhere else in the game), and a terribly over-long stretch in a series of floating palaces that involve heaps of illogical backtracking and experimentation. Now, the Tales series would come to be known for large, complex, backtracking-based dungeon puzzles. And that's absolutely fine, I mean, it's worked as a staple of the Zelda games for how long now. The issue is when you're forced to backtrack and trudge around sorting things out while being subject to an encounter rate that forces you to fight every five to ten steps. That's where it gets excruciatingly tedious and starts to feel like a massive life-sink. Later game Tales of Symphonia sidestepped this for the most part by literally allowing you to sidestep enemies; Destiny's enemies usually assault you unseen in random old-school JRPG style, and in the few areas where they are visible (and theoretically avoidable), they move too fast to effectively be dodged and mob up on you in such a way that you're thrown into 3 or 4 battles back-to-back with no break.
It should also be mentioned that the localization effort to English was pretty crappy. As with later games there are "skits" that develop the plot and provide comic relief, but these used Japanese voice acting in the original release, so instead of translating them the localization team just decided to chop them out of the game entirely. All the Japanese voice work for combat was left in, though, so get ready for a heap of Engrish coming out of your speakers.
* Gameplay Video
* Game does have boss music tho