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Featuring a battle system that feels like the perfect blend of fighting and role-playing encounters, Super Nintendo classic Tales of Phantasia was kept out of Western gamers' hands until it was ported to the Game Boy Advance nearly a decade later. Now almost 20 years after its original release, this classic Japanese RPG makes its way to the App Store in a universal iOS release. Unfortunately for those expecting a seamless port, its new free-to-play format and associated changes make it a less-than-enjoyable trip back in time.
Tales of Phantasia follows the story of a young man and his friends, who must work together to save the world. It’s a pretty common premise for a JRPG storyline, but Tales manages to hook you in with each character you meet. Visually, the game retains its classic look (albeit borrowing much from its PSP remake), but it does feature some updated artwork and menu designs. The touch controls are mostly responsive, but do sometimes pose a problem during battles since you’ll need to flick different areas of the screen to attack.
It’s true that you don’t need to spend anything to play this JRPG, but the game tries its hardest to make you to buy something at seemingly every turn. There are no difficulty modes to choose from, so you're forced to take on battles that last longer than usual and face bosses that are built like tanks. This makes leveling up even more of a chore, since you’ll be fighting the same enemies time and again for meager experience points.
In-app purchases to help you level up or revive your party wouldn’t be so bad if the game hadn’t been reformulated to feel so unfair. In-game shops have their prices doubled, for example, and battles won’t net you very much gold. You do get daily bonuses that increase the amount of loot you get from monsters, restoring things back to normal, but it only serves to make the experience even more tedious. To further amplify the challenge, this version removes critical save spots in dungeons, making it even more difficult to prepare for those tough encounters. And when you do get to save, you’ll strangely need to be connected to the game’s servers, so an Internet connection is required.
The bottom line. Tales of Phantasia's crass cash-in on nostalgia — via brutal gameplay tweaks and a heavy focus on in-app purchases — comes at the cost of its own magic and value. Keep your beloved memories intact and dodge this damaged port.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or later
Japanese voice cast brings emotion to the story. Updated visuals look good.
Unfair game changes that make battling and leveling up difficulty and tiresome. Fewer places to save in dungeons. Online connection needed to save.