** Note, this writeup quite likely contains spoilers
of the storyline of this game, whichever version you play. Read with caution.
I was at Wal-Mart yesterday, and I saw Tales of Phantasia for the Game Boy Advance, so I said "What the hell, I'll give it a shot."
I had Tales of Phantasia on an emulation system, namely, ZSNES, for some time, and have yet to beat the game, although I have gotten to the very end. I know almost everything about the storyline and have infered much from reading between the lines. So I thought it would be an interesting project for me to play through the GBA version, and see how it compares to the emulated version I have.
My reason for this is that this is the first time TOP has been released in America. This is because it likely took them a long time to even consider bringing it over here, and then an even longer time trying to figure out how to clean it up. I have now gotten about a third of the way through, and I will continue to update this writeup. Here are some things I have already noticed:
In the emulated version, the heroes are Cless Alvain, Chester Barklight, Mint Adnade, Klarth F. Lester, and Arche Klaine. In the GBA, the names have been improvised as follows; Cress Albane, Chester Burkright, Mint ???, Claus F. Lester, and Arche Klein. Also, the ability to rename your characters whatever you want them to be called (to a maximum of 8 letters) has been removed in the GBA. A BIG new change, that I can't believe I didn't notice sooner, is the ability to change the character you control! In the original, you cannot do this. I used to wish that I could play as Chester and shoot arrows from safely behind a computer controlled power fighter (Cless). Now I can! ... (after you get Chester back from 100 years in the future, that is). I always did think it was pretty messed up the way they just drop Chester like a hot potato so early on and don't give him back to you until two-thirds into the game. In the original, Chester, Cless' best friend from childhood, is a master archer. He has no special techniques; all he does is shoot arrows, but as long as you have him equipped with a decent bow, he usually can do more damage with one good hit than even Cless. Since Chester has no skills, his Technical Points (depleted as you use skills and magic) are maxed out at zero.
Well, guess what? In TOPGBA, they gave the man magic! That's right! Chester has now been imbued with Technical Points of his own, and can now shoot off arrows enchanted with fire, ice, and lightning. I am not sure what other kinds of skills he has yet, but I look forward to finding out, and I will include them when I update.
You can also control the witch, the healer, or the summoner now. This is cool, because not everyone likes to play as a fighter-type character. Now we have the option.
Another thing that has been changed is skill names. For instance, in the original, one of my favorite moves is "Tiger Teeth." Cless swings his sword (or whatever) jumping up and then again coming down. In Tales of Symphonia, that move is called "Tiger Blade," and performed by Lloyd with two swords instead of one. But in the GBA version of TOP, Cress calls it "Tiger Blade" also. He also now uses "Sword Rain" instead of "Blade Storm," and "Swallow Kick" instead of "Dual Kick." Personally, I prefer the "Japanese-English" names (Tiger Teeth, Blade Storm, etc). And the english voices in the GBA version are somewhat dorky in my opinion. I guess I just got used to hearing the japanese voices. Well, whatever.
There is now a cooking system very similar to the one in Tales of Symphonia, although in TOPGBA, you can eat single ingredients (such as chicken without bread to make it a sandwitch) without having to cook a meal. In the original TOP, you have a food sack which holds a different value of food depending on what size sack you have (each seperate food having been assigned a value). As long as there is food in your food sack, you will regain Hit Points, or life energy, chi whatever, as you walk. In the GBA, you must select a piece of food, and then select the character to eat it.
TOPGBA has a title system, again, very similar to TOS. As a matter of fact, let me go ahead and say that they really "Symponized" Tales of Phantasia. There is even new artwork in the same style as the artwork for TOS. Depending on which title the character is currently mantled with (such as "Apprentice Swordsman" for Cless... umm... Cress, or "Snob" for Mint), the way that character's stats increase per level up will differ.
Also, the graphics are pretty damn good! In the original, no matter what kind of sword, axe, or spear Cless is using, it always looks like the same sword, axe, or spear. In the GBA, if you are using a curved sword, Cress' avatar has a curved sword in battle. Also, his graphic has changed for every single shield I have equipped so far. In the original, even if Cless doesn't have a shield, he always has the same shield. The characters all in all simply look more detailed, as do the monsters, and the magical attacks and such look far more flashy and detailed now.
And American Namco has changed some of the items around as well. Well, the Jet Boots are no more. Now you can always sprint by holding down the B button. In the original, you could only sprint with the Jet Boots equipped on someone. In the original, the Jade Ring is what cuts TP (technical points, not toilet paper) usage by 1/3. In TOS, that item is called the Emerald Ring. In the GBA version of TOP, they made it like TOS, with the Emerald Ring cutting TP consumption (still makes me laugh) by a third. BUT, in the original, the Emerald Ring is what allows Klarth to make a pact with one of the summon spirits (I forget exactly which one), so I am interested in seeing how they replace this. I will fill in here once I find out.
In the original, when your party first goes to Euclid, there is a band of rather poor-looking bards, to put it bluntly. There will be a boy standing closeby, and when you talk to him, he says "These guys SUCK ASS!" In the "kid-friendly" version, he says "They're not very good, are they?"
Also, you will have the opportunity to unite a young couple, Elwin and Nancy (actually, I believe you must do at least the first part of that little side quest in order to progress). But Elwin's father interferes, slandering poor Nancy for every peasant poor dirt cheap dirty slut he can think of. It's pretty bad. In the GBA, he just says that Elwin has no future with a poor girl.
Also, the character named Lia Scarlet gets improvised as well, being changed to Rhea Scarlett, who of course turns out to be Arche, my personal favorite half-elf female.
They've given some of the major bosses their own graphics instead of changing the palette of a standard monster. Also, Dhaos, the main "bad guy" (even though he was only trying to save his own world by destroying ours, which brings up the whole conjecture of "who's the good guy?") is no longer nine feet taller than everyone in your party. He is more reasonably sized now. I'm sorry, but I don't care if I could summon Luna, use the Indignation spell, and had a Moon Falux sword, I am NOT fighting a 17 foot tall dude with ass-long blode hair and two little planets orbiting his head. But somehow, making him only a couple of feet taller than me makes him much less menacing. Don't ask me why.
And yes, the infamous "boat scene." This is basically a boat trip where Klarth, Arche, and a pirate woman get drunk as hell and Arche has a wet dream about Cless (or whatever you named him. Personally, it shocked me tremendously the first time I played to have Arche yell out "OHH! Ivix! Give it to me! Give it to me HARD!" I lived a very sheltered life... one of the rare but cherished times a video game made me blush). Now, here is what they did. Instead of Klarth and Arche getting drunk with Meia, Meia tells them that there is an all-you-can-eat special going on. So they get stomach-aches instead of hangovers. In the original, Arche was the instigator in her dream, in this one she says "Stop, Cress, we really shouldn't be doing this..." And in the end, instead of "Oh Cless, you were WONderful...," she says "Cress, you dummy, ohh..." Interestingly, Mint's condition the following morning (sea-sickness) does not change ^_^. This reminds me of how Japanese with English subtitle anime, and English dubbed anime are two completely different worlds, but that is another writeup entirely, and likely already covered by someone else.
At any rate, there is more to come on the comparisons between these two very different takes on the same game. I have been playing each at the same time, switching versions between saves. The differences are subtle, but extreme, and I imagine only a true RPG/Anime enthusiast would be able to appreciate this little "quest" the way I do.