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Tales of Phantasia
The original Tales of Phantasia for the Gameboy Advance was only released in Japan for the Super Famicom game system, the Japanese version of an SNES, in 1995. Unfortunately it didn't come to the US until the 1990s on the PlayStation and again in 2006 on the GBA. I played the GBA version, and I was still awed.
Tales of Phantasia is the first in a (now) long line of Tales games and it shows, even on the old Gameboy. It is no wonder these games have spawned such a massive fan base, almost large enough to rival Final Fantasy. The game's story is beautifully paced. You start as a boy in a peaceful town who leaves to hunt wild boars in the nearby forest. There you encounter the dying tree of life (Yggdrasil) and the spirit within it (Martel) that asks you to save the tree.
However, your journey doesn't truly began until you return to find your village burned to rubble, your family dead and you must run for your life. The set up is quick paced with none of the modern RPG bog down. There is no tutorial on how to fight and no back story to wade through; you are simply thrown into the world and asked to accept the story and survive.
And what a world it is. The graphics are beautiful with subtle color, lovely character designs and a running motif of reflections in mirrored surfaces, such as water or mirrors (it relates to the villain). Also, the music is well done and catchy (all except Olive Village).
Game play is a breath of fresh air for any Gameboy Advance lover. There is no turn based combat, but side scrolling real time combat. Although, there are times when it is difficult to actually hit the enemy you are aiming for.
The most important part of an RPG is the story and how immersed it is, and Tales of Phantasia wins on both accounts. The story is long, well over 30 hours of game play, and very involving. You will travel back and forth in time in an effort to save the world from a villain who is not all that he seems, and it is worth the trouble.
If you like the modern Tales universe you should check out where it all started in Tales of Phantasia for your Gameboy Advance. You won't be disappointed.