Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is a game about change. But not just the idea of changing a world, a person or the direction of a society. It branches out and takes a broader look, looking at the motivations and causes of change, the gradual steps and advancements as a change is happening and the results and repercussions of such change.
The opening movie begins with a live-changing event. The town of Palmacosta is ravaged by Martel Church followers, led by Lloyd Irving, because a rebel group called the Vanguard was rumored to be station there. Our hero this time around, Emil, watches Lloyd murder his innocent parents, and runs because he can’t do anything. He comes upon a girl being accosted by people from the Church or Martel, and saves her from them.
Both the decimation of the town by a figure previously established to be not only a hero, but a good-hearted and likable character, changes not only the lives of any survivors of the Palmacosta event, but also casts a shadow of doubt on the mind of the player. When I first heard that Lloyd and Collette, the two heroes of Tales of Symphonia, would be the villains of Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, I was incredibly skeptical. I had invested hours helping them save the two worlds of Sylvarant and Tethe’alla, thought I knew their characters and what they were capable of. By beginning the Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the World in this manner, Namco Bandai is able to create doubt in the minds of returning players and create a vivid image in the minds of newcomers.
The other two striking changes both take place over a longer period of time, throughout Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. These are changes in Emil, our initially introverted hero, and in the new world created by the combination of Sylvarant and Tethe’alla. The changes in the world, and how these changes have impacted the lives of people of both worlds, is incredibly obvious, but you don’t get to see and comprehend the entire impact until you really get into your travels with Emil and Marta and see how each place has changed. The depiction of the town of Luin in the beginning especially helps players realize that, even if they knew what the two separate worlds and their towns were like in Tales of Symphonia, they likely won’t even recognize them now. The lake in Luin is completely dry, and while some of the people (and even animals) may be the same, the locations and attitudes have transformed.
The change in Emil, tends to be a tad more subdued. Yes, within the first hour or two he does experience a somewhat sudden breakthrough concerning his personality, demeanor and the way he’s been living his life. This breakthrough does help him decide to give up everything he knows to try and make a difference. But people don’t change that easily, even when they do meet people who help them decide that something about them isn’t working and they need to improve it. Emil starts by taking the right steps – standing up to his abusive uncle, deciding to step up and aid a person depending on him and helping to protect a town and its people even though they’ve always hated him. But he can’t change overnight, and players get to see throughout the game how Emil gradually does grow from a shy, traumatized and scared little boy into a man.
Of course the game isn’t obvious about the theme of change. It doesn’t beat you over the head by pointing out the obvious, or narrate what you can watch happening before your eyes. Instead, its sort of infused into the background. If you don’t pay close attention, you won’t even realize the progress the world and its characters are making. If you do, you’ll gain a much better appreciation for the game.
Images courtesy of Namco Bandai.