Tales of Symphonia/Recap
WARNING: This page contains nothing but spoilers.
Tales of Symphonia takes place in the world of Sylvarant, where Mana is the source of all life. Periodically mana begins to depart from the world, at which point The Chosen One has to undertake a pilgrimage to various shrines scattered around the landscape, making pacts with various Summon Spirits, and eventually completing the Journey of World Regeneration by renewing the flow of mana to Sylvarant. This tradition was begun by two great heroes, Martel and Mithos, and carries on to this day. Our game concerns an upbeat young man named Lloyd Irving (Scott Menville), who, after a traditional Doomed Hometown, agrees to accompany the current Chosen, Colette Brunel (Heather Hogan), on her trip. Accompanying them are Squishy Wizard and Bratty Half-Pint Genis (Colleen O Shaugnessy), White Mage Raine Sage (Kari Wahlgren), and Badass Longcoat Kratos Aurion (Cam Clarke). As Lloyd completes his journey across Sylvarant in the company of the Chosen, he gradually discovers that the Chosen will have to sacrifice her life at the end of the journey to bring prosperity back into the world, and that the Corrupt Church has been participating in this conspiracy. Because Lloyd is Colette's Canon Love Interest, she has been hiding this from him. He, because she is his Canon Love Interest, begins to look for a way to Take a Third Option, which involves coping with the fact that there is another world besides his own, not to mention defeating his father.
The first twist in Symphonia is that the pilgrimage turns Colette into an angel. After opening the first seal, she gains wings. Later, she loses the capacity to eat, and then feel pain, and eventually even speak. She doesn't actually have to die to complete the ritual, but she does essentially have her soul suppressed, becoming an Empty Shell just waiting to be filled. More on this later.
Second, there are people trying to prevent Colette and her guardians from Saving the World, for whatever ridiculous reasons of their own. (Well, besides the fact that she's gonna die.) One is an organisation called the Desians, who are half-elves. Historically, Half-elves have suffered ridiculous amounts of Fantastic Racism, and the Desians are (understandably) on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against their human oppressors. (The weird thing is, there are no elves on Sylvarant, so where did these people come from? It's not like there's another world in the story or something.) In any case, the Desians are run by a higher organization called Cruxis, on whose behalf they maintain concentration camps where they breed humans for their own weird purposes. (The game's Doomed Hometown comes because Lloyd and Genis venture too close to one and call down some pretty serious wrath.) The other is an assassin named Sheena Fujibayashi (Jennifer Hale) who claims that if Colette regenerates this world, it'll destroy hers. After Colette manages to get Sheena to join your party via The Power of Friendship, Sheena explains that there is another world, "Tethe'alla," which co-exists with Sylvarant. Mana flows from one world to the other, like sand in an hourglass; Colette regenerating the world will flip that hourglass over. The leaders of Tethe'alla, unconcerned with the Inferred Holocaust, sent Sheena to prevent this. There should be a World Tree providing mana to everyone, but for some reason there isn't.
Long story short, Colette regenerates the world and becomes a creepy doll, Red Eyes, Take Warning! This leads to Lloyd's Heroic BSOD. Furthermore, the leader of Cruxis, a fellow named "Yggdrasil," (James Arnold Taylor) shows up and claims her body, explaining that he's been looking for a way to resurrect his long-lost sister Martel. He also thanks Kratos for helping with the job, and Kratos reveals himself to be The Mole and one of three members of Cruxis. After two Hopeless Boss Fights (Kratos can be beat if you've done enough Level Grinding, but Yggdrasil is unstoppable, as befitting the Big Bad), Lloyd and party are saved... by another group of Desians, or so they think. As it turns out, this is La Résistance, led by a fellow named Yuan, who nonetheless keep Lloyd and company hostage. From their base, Lloyd is able to hijack the game's Global Airship... and travel to Tethe'alla, in the hopes that their Magitech and greater advancement will yield some answers.
There's a lot of politics involving the discovery that the Church of Martel is making a mess in Tethe'alla too, not to mention three new party members in the form of: Zelos Wilder (Shiloh Strong), Tethe'Alla's Chosen and replacement for Kratos; Presea Combatir (Tara Strong), a 12-year-old lumberjack and Emotionless Girl; and Regal Bryant (Crispin Freeman), a Bare-Fisted Monk and Atoner. Oh, and we haven't even talked about the Expheres. Okay, we might as well do that now. The reason Presea is an Emotionless Girl is that the Church of Martel, which is essentially a front for the Desians, has been running experiments on creating "Expheres," Green Rocks that requires the death and/or mutation of a human host for maturation. All the party members have one; Lloyd's is from his Missing Mom, as she was a prisoner in one of the Desian concentration camps. Well, Presea hasn't been given the seed of an Exsphere; instead she has a "Cruxis Crystal", which is different somehow. But since the effects it's had on her are similar to those on Colette, Lloyd decides to try to fix both of them.
The next step in the journey is to figure out how to fix everything. The World Tree is gone, but there is a seed available, if it can somehow be convinced to germinate. Lloyd learns that the two worlds, Sylvarant and Tethe'alla, were deliberately separated thousands of years ago After the End of a massive war, and the World Tree seed prevented from germinating in order to limit prosperity and the inevitable descent into Magitek-fueled destruction. The man who did this? Yggdrasil. Mithos Yggdrasil, the legendary half-elf hero who stopped the Great War. This is the game's major Wham! Line, on par to the moment when Tidus discovers his true nature as a dream of the Fayth.
Anyway, Mithos stopped the war all those years ago, but not before losing his beloved sister Martel to it. With his two traveling companions, Kratos Aurion the human and Yuan the elf (and Martel's fiancé), he managed to save her soul inside the seed of the World Tree, and founded the Desians as a breeding organization to create the perfect Soul Jar for her. He also made a summoner's pact with the spirit Origin and gained control of Tales (series) recurring staple The Eternal Sword, which gave him the power to re-shape creation to his will. Having said that, he's clearly become a Well-Intentioned Extremist: driven by Martel's dream of a world without Fantastic Racism, he is planning to use Exspheres to enforce Brainwashing for the Greater Good. Kratos and Yuan have turned against him, one founding The Resistance and the other aiding Lloyd's party behind Mithos's back. Of course, Kratos has another motive for doing so: Lloyd is his son by Anna, whom he (Kratos) was forced to kill after the Exsphere-maturation process turned her into a mindless-killing-machine-thing. (One of the plot fights we've skipped over involves attacking the human ranch where Anna lived, and fighting the Desian who runs it. Lloyd wants revenge for his mother's death, but Kratos gets in on it too. And good lord, is it satisfying.) Even better, Kratos made the pact with Origin, so to gain control of the Eternal Sword and undo what must be undone, Lloyd has to defeat his father.
But we were speaking of Yggdrasil. Mithos actually joins the party for a while as an NPC (which the characters don't notice) and using a different voice actress (okay, maybe that excuses it), and comes off as sympathetic and understandable. Lloyd and his party are keenly aware of the fact that Mithos is a Fallen Hero, trying (in his own weird and twisted way) to make the world a better place. And, like Lloyd, he is driven by the fate of someone he loves. This is why (in this editor's opinion) the casting of the voice actor was a wonderful bit of Actor Allusion: Yggdrasil is played by James Arnold Taylor, none other than Tidus himself. In this way, the character of Yggdrasil can be seen as a Deconstruction of not only the rather selfish Idiot Hero who tries to change the world, but of Tidus and Lloyd as well, who both fit that mold. (To be fair, they do a much better job at it than Yggdrasil does. Their plan: Step one, fall in love; Step two, Character Development; Step Three: Profit. Mithos' Tragic Flaw is that he skipped the second.) Yggdrasil is a classic Shadow Archetype, acknowledged by Lloyd himself in-game, and having Tidus play Yggdrasil just adds to the resonance.
Anyway, there's subplots dealing with Character Development. Genis and Raine have been passing as elves, but they're secretly half-elves who were exiled to Sylvarant by their Missing Mom, a Telle'athan who hoped they'd manage to avoid the Fantastic Racism there. Part of reuniting the two worlds involves making summon pacts with every Summon Spirit in both worlds, and that gets into Sheena's Dark And Tragic Past: when she was young, she tried to form a pact with Volt, and failed, causing another Doomed Hometown and the death of her parents. No pressure, kid. Zelos doesn't get a whole lot of development (or rather, a lot of it is optional), which is a shame, because he's hiding a lot under his careless playboy facade. One of the branching plot options is that he can choose to betray the group while everyone's trying to rescue Colette, which either turns into a Batman Gambit by a Fake Defector or a Plotline Death on his part, at which point Kratos, who has an almost-identical moveset to him, rejoins the party. (The sequel indicates that the former option is the canon one.) And Presea and Regal's histories are intertwined: he used to be engaged to her sister... until she also got Exsphere-monster'ed. In her few lucid moments, she begged him to kill her; he did, which he cannot forgive himself for. This is why he walks around in shackles all the time, and only fights with his feet. And as to Colette... Well, actually she kind of gets shoved to the side a little. She is a Stepford Smiler and it is totally in-character for her to hide her problems in the face of everybody else's, but that doesn't do us any good.
In the end, Colette is almost a MacGuffin Girl, and her main contribution to the plot, post-catatonia, is to be captured every now and then. This does prove crucial, because not only is this Zelos's semi-betrayal, but at this time Mithos actually does manage to resurrect Martel into Colette's body. Martel looks at him and says, "Umm, Mithos, bro, you're missing the point. What you've done is really not what I meant. I'm leaving again now, bye." ...Okay, she says it a little more nicely than that, but the end result is the same: a Villainous BSOD and Mithos' decision to simply take the Kharlan Seed and fly away through space, leaving the entwined Sylvarant/Tethe'alla collective to die of mana starvation. Well, obviously we can't allow that to happen. Cue the Final Dungeon.
...And then the Eternal Sword vanishes. The heroes conclude that they are pretty much screwed, until Lloyd gets angel wings and he and Colette fly up to the seed. Then the Eternal Sword comes back, the seed is germinated, and we meet Martel. Tabatha, the Artificial Human created to house Martel is filled with the souls, including Martel's. She speaks to the party and tells you that the tree needs love and a name. Then Lloyd pulls a His Name Is--, but with the ending, not death. If you're curious, the tree in the distant future shown in Tales of Phantasia is known as Yggdrasil.