Tales of Symphonia – Dawn of the New World Wii Review

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The GameCube never really had that much of a selection when it came to RPGs. There were a few, but nowhere near the amount the Playstation 2 was getting. When Namco announced that their next major entry in the Tales series was coming to GameCube, owners of Nintendo’s console were ecstatic, which included me. I am a huge role-playing game fan, and using my acquired freeloader I imported Tales of Symphonia as soon as it hit American shores in July 2004.

Tales of Symphonia was regarded as THE GameCube RPG and one of the best in the Tales series. It gained high praise for its graphical look and gameplay mechanics with interesting characters and story. Namco are following up the success with a sequel that follows on from the original Tales of Symphonia story. It’s been out in the U.S since November 2008, but it has finally been given a date of autumn 2009 for PAL users who don’t have a way of importing it.

The story of Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is set two years after the events of the first game. If you are one of the people who played Tales of Symphonia, then you know that the story in that game was focused on Lloyd and his companions as they went on a journey to try and merge the two worlds of Sylvarant and Tethe’alla. Having been successful, the story of Dawn of the New World is about how the people are coping with the merged worlds. It’s not good I can tell you, as people are finding it hard to adjust to the joint worlds, with strange weather occurrences happening around the world along with the Tethe’allans, who have no respect for the Sylvaranti as a race, due to their inferior technology.

Taking control of the game’s main protagonist, Emil Castagnier, you start off understanding that Emil has a huge hatred for Lloyd Irving, the main character from the original Tales of Symphonia. This is because Lloyd killed his parents when he attacked Palmacosta in the blood purge. Emil is now left to live with his Uncle and Auntie in a village, where everyone worships Lloyd as a hero for what he did when merging the worlds together. Emil is an outcast in a sense because everyone picks on him for his hatred of the hero Lloyd. All changes one day when he meets Marta, a girl that seems familiar, yet he can’t quite place it. To help her, he becomes a Knight of Ratatosk to protect her from the Vanguard, a group who are after her because she has the core of the spirit Ratatosk buried in her head.

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Story wise, Dawn of the New World isn’t quite as entertaining as its predecessor. For starters Emil, for most of the game, is a huge wimp. Every time he complains you just want to slap him for not being a man. It can be irritating at times, but that negative does have a positive side because since he became a Knight of Ratatosk, he has gained a split personality. The other Emil is all up for fights and wanting to kick some arse, even though he can be a bit of a git at times, he’s still better than normal wimpy Emil. The other main character Marta, the female protagonist of the game, is a lot more entertaining and likeable as she comes out as a caring girl with a friendly personality.

The star of the show though is Tenebrae, the Centurion spirit of darkness and a servant to Ratatosk. He has some of the best lines and comical personality that helps push the game along. He’ll do the picking and get picked on but he’s just one of those characters that as the game progresses, you grow to love and adore because of his witty remarks and the feeling that he’s the guy of the group you can depend on.

There’s one flaw with Emil and Marta though, both of the main characters suffer from the exact same problem, the use of the word sorry.  I swear Dawn of the New World must have the record for how many times sorry is said in a game. In one scene, it is said about 7 times in the space of 20 seconds, it’s crazy, and you just feel like giving them Ketamine, to stop them from being so depressing.

Emil and Marta are the only new characters you will be using in battle. The entire cast of the original Tales of Symphonia make a return through different parts of the game, and they are also playable, but not like you’d expect.  The problem is that even though you get all these fantastic returning characters from the first game, they are given fixed levels and equipment, so you can’t level them up. Different characters from the original will keep leaving and joining your team and all have the same locked level and equipment. The further you are in the game, the higher level they return to you, but it’s such a huge shame that they aren’t given a proper role in the game.

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Since Emil is now a knight of Ratatosk and Ratatosk is the lord of all monsters on the planet. It means Emil can befriend monsters in battle to help him fight. This is a new addition to the Tales series and no doubt will be limited to just Dawn of the New World too, due to the story and the fact that it isn’t all that great for mainly one thing, character depth.  You see, no matter how cool the monsters you catch are, and trust me they are some pretty funky looking ones out of the 200+ monsters you can befriend in battle, they just don’t feel as good to play with, as say someone like Lloyd or Genis or any other Tales of Symphonia characters for that matter. It’s a real shame that the returning characters are limited as surely Namco would have known that fans would have loved to play with their favourites again.

While the monsters aren’t as good as playing as the Tales of Symphonia characters, they are needed to help get through the game. To get them to join your team, you need to meet certain requirements in battle, doing so will allow them to join you at the end if you have enough friendly stats with them. You can also use monsters of the same element in your team to help persuade the monster to come join you. Monsters can also be cooked food to grow into better, stronger beasts once they’ve hit a high enough level to evolve. A lot of the times you’ll just befriend the monster then leave him/her to it, as you have to level up each monster individually from level 1. They do level up faster than normal but once you’ve found your ideal monsters, you won’t bother with any others that you encounter. I ended up having a wolf that I evolved to the maximum level and kept him throughout most of the game, because he was a damn good ice wolf and I just didn’t feel connected with the whole monster hunting aspect. It felt it was more of a side thought and thrown into the game because it seemed like it was a good idea.

The staple of the Tales series is the battle system. It has always been one of the best parts of the series. The battle system in Dawn of the New World takes its roots from Tales of the Abyss, rather than Tales of Symphonia. While at first you might not think this means much, in fact it means you can now run fully 3D in fights in real time; you aren’t limited to the left and right plain. It adds an extra dimension to the fight, meaning enemies can come from any direction now. Fights in Tales aren’t usually random, as the enemies appear on screen, so you need to physically let your character touch them to get into a battle, so random encounter haters don’t need to worry. Every battle feature from Tales of Symphonia makes it in, meaning you’ve still got your equipable artes, general attacks and everything else that you’ve become accustomed too.

Namco always have a little bonus when it comes to Tales games. The game can actually be played with four people, but this is limited to fights only. During non-battle scenes, the first player controls everything. During battles however, players can be assigned to a certain character (not monsters) and be able to fight alongside each other. It’s a little Easter egg thing that has always been there and it’s nice to have that feature just in case you’re playing when you’ve got a friend over.

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For some strange reason, Dawn of the New World suffers from some technical loading problems. Occasionally when you go into battle the game will pause for a couple of seconds, looking as if it has frozen, when in fact it is loading the battle. These problems never happened on the original game, so I have no idea why it’s happening for this sequel. It doesn’t happen every time, so something must be going on to kick up the slow loading, strange indeed.

Dawn of the New World doesn’t use the same cel-shaded chibi look of its forerunner. Instead the game opts for more realistic looking character models, it’s still colourful, but there’s this sense of a darker tone seeping through the game. The graphics are only a minor improvement over the first game, but the animation is certainly a lot better between the main characters of Dawn of the New World when compared to the Tales of Symphonia. They seem to animate more naturally using the realistic anime style.

One thing that Dawn of the New World should get a lot of praise for is the skit scenes in the game. FINALLY the skits have full audio, it’s the first in a Tales game for us English audiences. Skits are little scenes that take place in the game when a button appears in the bottom left corner. Pressing that button opens up some character panels and the characters will speak to each other about random things or story plot. The Japanese version of the past few Tales games has been getting audio for these scenes, but us unlucky English had to do with just text. Not now though as Dawn of the New World speaks it all in English, all 400+ skits. There’s a lot of spoken dialogue in Dawn of the New World and most of it is solid work, there are only a couple of bad characters. The downer is that some of the original voice actors don’t come back, so the characters that you know from Tales of Symphonia don’t sound the same, a big shame there.

In the end though, when you look at the big picture, there aren’t that many RPGs on the Wii system. Dawn of the New World is a decent RPG, but is aimed mainly at the people who played the GameCube original, which is probably quite a lot of the Wii owners anyway, but fans of the first game will be both happy and disappointed at the sequel. Fans will smile in glee at returning characters and revisiting classic locations, but will be saddened by the fact that it’s a really linear game that doesn’t do justice to the reappearing cast from Tales of Symphonia. It’s also a shorter game as it can be beaten in around 30-40 hours.

People who haven’t played the GameCube hit will probably feel a little lukewarm towards Dawn of the New World, it’s purely made for fans and if you aren’t a fan, you probably won’t get the most out of it. There is a warning for fans though, when you play it, make sure you’ve got some happy pills with you, just to be on the safe side.

7 out of 10
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