Hey! Let's review current gen for once. But don't get used to it!
We Europeans don't get to experience the glory of Japanese games a lot and so RPGs have always been in shortage on PSP. In fact, I don't recall a lot of RPGs being made for the handheld at all. And Tales Of Eternia isn't any different, as it is a port of an older PS1 title. This was before the days of PSN and thus it was treated as a PSP release.
The rules of roleplay apply here as always: The bad guy is out to destroy something, so you and your party are going to stop that. At least there's a resistance from the characters at first, because why should they save the day? As long as their bellies get filled, it's all good to them. Those are the kind of people I like.
On the way you'll learn about Eternia's history and kingdom, their religious beliefs and thoughts on outsiders. All this will be told with possibly the worst voice acting ever performed. Clank had more charm in its robot body than all these cats combined ever pull off in their quest. It makes getting into the story and game a bit hard and will remain so until well into the playthrough.
Other than this, there are a few original twists and turns from a generic plot, but nothing extraordinary. The fact Eternia is split into 2 separate worlds, Inferia and Celestia, creates a nice universe of opposition. Though this gets lost as the end of the feels stretched and pulled for longevity. But by this time the characters and game will have either grown on you considerably or you will have given up. I urge you not to do so, because it gets a lot better towards the end.
Visually, Tales Of Eternia offers little marvel. The anime world has you running around with cartoon puppets and cutscenes that are good enough for PS1 standards, but that's about it. Also, it's strange that you'll only get served a lot of cutscenes at the end and almost none throughout the rest of the game. There's some polish here and there, but nothing amazing for a modern handheld. The special effects in combat offer a lot of flash, but aren't a spectacle to watch. In fact, near the end your large attacks will fill the screen and zoom out the camera to create a chaotic mess.
Combat might be a bit awkward but fulfilling, once you get the hang of it. It follows the same theme of the Tales franchise combat, where you switch real-time combat with commands if you so please. With the use of skills you can string together hit combos to keep the enemy pinned for damage. If you run into trouble you can go to your menu by pressing triangle and make tactical decisions there. Here you can adjust your formation, attack and defend rate, use skills and items and even change your equipment. It offers a lot of tweaking for the tactical expert, but I mostly used it for appropriately using your Craymel summons.
These Craymel summons are bosses that join your quest for salvation after you've challenged them. You'll need the help of each one if you are to defeat your nemesis. And so your party will go around Eternia searching for them in dungeons, mountains and such. Once you've obtained them, you can use their force to use magic or combine them to create new powers.
Although combat will work well on its own, going into this is another matter. It's the first time I've ever been irritated by random encounters. Certainly when exploring the map or dungeons, it gets tiresome to have a group of monsters destroy you right before you meet your objective.
This is made worse when objectives aren't clear and you wonder around in search for clues. Most dungeons are short and sweet, but those that aren't will have you sinking your teeth into the PSP out of frustration. After getting attacked for the countless time your next shop run will see you buying Holy Bottles to keep most the annoyances away.
Don't overdo it though, because you will need to grind to meet the difficulty spike near the end. Luckily, with some exploring freedom, you can go search for areas that hold big payoffs and clear hard dungeons. This will sweeten the bitter, grinding pill a little and keep you from beating the same thing a million times over.
Although Tales Of Eternia holds a number of downsides and comes off as unappealing in styIe, I got addicted to playing it towards the end. The story grows naturally and so do the characters with it; once you get larger attacks, combat will become more gratifying and as the plot draws to a close, you will want to defeat the main antagonist, Balir, so bad! Also, exploring the world will become a little more fun when you gain some freedom and it will give you a lot to do.
Throughout the game there are a lot of hidden sidequests and mini-games you can complete for extra content. Some are part of the story and will give you a feel for the concept, but there's plenty more scattered throughout Eternia. You can deliver mail by train, race around the world, play giant dodgeball and a lot more. It's a true procrastinating adventure once you let it!
If you can get over its unattractive look and the fact Tales Of Eternia is basically a revamped old title, you can enjoy one of the better PSP titles for 40 or so hours and a lot more. If you like RPGs you really have no reason not to try it out. Except if you're expecting a modern adaptation, in which case I wouldn't hold my breath, sir.