Like random encounters, the Swedish girls were coming at us thick and fast

tales of phantasia logo

Tales of Phantasia (1995)

You have me down as an uncultured oik, I know you do, so it’ll probably surprise the hell out of you when I tell you that I’m pretty well-versed in Norse mythology. No, really, I know all about that Thor fella, and he had a hammer that did something with lightning or somesuch. Something that made him overpowered, anyway.

I’m not altogether happy with Thor, Chris Hemsworth or any hammer user, if truth be told, because he ended up inventing Thursdays, and Thursdays are my busiest day in work. A bit arrogant too I find, naming a day after himself. Why don’t we get Supermansday?

And if you didn’t believe me about being a Norse student, then you definitely won’t believe me when I tell you that I picked up a few tips here and there from Swedish and Icelandic girls. Swedish girls, eh? Beauties, every single one of them, and that’s particularly impressive given that 99% of the Swedish population is female. I never noticed any males over there, anyway.

But we can run the full Norse gamut today – let me tell you about the one and only time I met some Icelanders. The place, funnily enough, was Stockholm at two in the morning, and it was bright as hell outside. Out of nowhere, a group of Icelandic girls struck up conversation with me and the lads, and they were desperate to take us to the strip club, but we weren’t having any of it.

Can you grasp that? Women trying to drag men to the strippers, only for the men to go all timid and politely decline. That’s Catholicism for you. When I protested, the leader of their bunch, a particularly mouthy little mot, simply asked me, “why are you so pale?!”

Mugged off in front of everyone in Stockholm! But it was OK, nobody noticed. The only people around were 9/10 and 10/10 Swedish birds, so we pasty Irish lads were invisible to them anyway. In fact, me being publicly humiliated, that paradoxically gave me a bit more of a chance with these blondie stunners, because now I was almost something for them to look at. They call it denial.

Jesus though, the Swedes were attractive. Sometimes at home you’re walking down the street and you’ve got a good-looking girl walking towards you. You look up at them, and she makes that mistake of making eye-contact with you for a split-second before hurriedly averting her eyes elsewhere. Ever get that? Well, maybe you have. I personally get prolonged eye-contact and sometimes a bottom lip bite, but results can vary.

Well let me tell you, the Swedish mots? They’re beyond those kinds of errors. You won’t get even a microsecond’s glance to take home with you. They are almost robotic in their disdain, but even when you think you’ve just seen the most attractive ‘real’ girl in your whole life, you don’t get too hung up on her because someone trumping her comes along five seconds later.

It’s no wonder Sweden are leading the way with reduced work hours, a better welfare state and all that because I tell you, if I was working in a country with great summer weather and gillions of top models walking down to the shops and back like it was nothing, I wouldn’t be staying cooped up behind a shabby desk either.

No no, I’d be out there, in the thick of it. You know, self-consciously shuffling down the road, looking at my feet, hoping for just that tiny whiff of perfume before I take shelter from the constant aesthetic assault on my senses and crouch down in a pub somewhere.

But it’s worse news in there. 11 quid a pint! Get out of it. I’d rather leave quickly and go all Finnish style, indulge in a bit of kalsarikännit – that is, getting drunk at home alone in your underwear with absolutely zero intention of going out.

The Finnish have actually gone and invented a word just for that specific purpose, and I never knew how much I needed this word until now. They used to say all sorts of things about how melodic and poetic the Irish language is, wonderful folklore, saints and scholars blah blah blah. But that kind of word, that Finnish mentality – that speaks to me.

Back to Sweden. They’re trendsetters in attractive blondes, aren’t they? They started with ABBA, went onto Bjorn Borg, and finished up with Olof Mellberg and his harem of 3 million blonde stunners roaming the streets. Nobody is fat either. If they are, they’re probably immediately ushered out of public sight by two overly polite, slightly unsettling police officers. Does Sweden have a police service? Is it needed?

A bit of Norse in the old back pocket is what enabled me to understand many of the central themes going on in Tales of Phantasia, although were it not for the English translation patch, my knowledge would’ve been about as useful as Odin was in Ragnarok that time he got swallowed whole. Actually, there’s a bit of version selection to do here for this game – a Japanese version for the Super Famicom; one localised for the Game Boy Advance; and another Japanese-only effort for PS1.

Pick the SNES version and you’ve got the game that sings – that’s right, a fully vocalised song coming outta your Super Nintendo, or your Super Famicom, or more likely your emulator I suppose. Everything is impressive about Tales of Phantasia SNES: the graphics, the music, the vocalised song, its length, the way there’s little picture icons next to every item, the three time periods to explore. It all demanded the largest SNES cartridge ever made at the time.

You’ll get stuck if you’re not a Japanese speaker of course, but fear not – a now legendary fan translation patch was released, translating everything into English, even against some very prohibitive code that the game fights back with as a defence mechanism.

Pretty impressive stuff, and for their trouble, the translation team added all sorts of sexual content, lewd references and our old favourite, suggestive themes. Well, what do you expect from a group of basement dwellers releasing work onto the Wild West Internet in the late 90s? God bless their souls.

I’ve got the GBA version of the game as well. And it doesn’t inspire, shall we say, although I still like ToP enough to have actually beaten it. No intro song, but you’ll still get some voices coming out of your GBA. However, they may very well be the most uninterested, flattest pieces of voice acting ever.

Bit of a comedy of errors with the translation too; at one stage they translate ‘Ragnarok’ as ‘Kangaroo’, sort of undermining the whole far-reaching consequences of the war. It’s probably one of the biggest translation cock-ups ever, and a demonstration of supreme, off-putting naiveté around Norse mythology. The battle wasn’t called Kangaroo, lads, I could have told you that myself.

Finally, the PS1 version only recently saw a definitive fan translation, released over a decade later, and fair play to the team involved. It’s got better music, better sound quality and better graphics. There are also fully voice-acted skits all throughout the game, which are a Tales tradition – just a few hundred silly conversations among your party that really helps build their relationships and develop their characters.

Phantasia was slightly old at the time of its PlayStation release and fully 2D as well, so it was hardly going to be a Final Fantasy VII beater. But ultimately, it’s still one of the finest RPGs on a system that was bursting at the seams with games from that genre. And for its part, ToP PS1 probably beats out its sequels, Tales of Destiny and Tales of Eternia.

This was it then, the kick-off point for a new RPG series that’s still motoring to this day. No farewell tours or any of that sentimental old rubbish. The Tales series has certainly suffered a few Bennys and Bjorns along the way. But no matter what version of the game you pick, you needn’t take Thor’s hammer to Tales of Phantasia – this one is a beauty, a tall, blonde Agnita.

25 September 2020

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