Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World isn’t perfect. It can be cheesy and may not be as epic as expected. Despite that, it is still a Wii RPG, a game in a genre that is somewhat neglected on Nintendo’s latest system. If you go into the game without delusions of grandeur or elevated expectations, you’ll find an enjoyable spin-off of a classic entry in the Tales of series.
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World takes place after the two worlds of Sylvarant and Tethe’alla have been saved and reunited by the Chosen of Regeneration Colette. There have been many environmental repercussions due to this, and the two societies that were abruptly forced to merge together are clashing. It is up to Emil, an introverted and verbally abused young man who suddenly becomes a Knight of Ratatosk and Marta Lualdi, a former Vanguard member who has Ratatosk’s core embedded into her forehead, to awaken the centurions like their associate Tenebrae so that Ratatosk can be woken up and balance can be restored to the new world.
At times, it almost seemed like Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World was designed for a younger audience, despite the Teen rating. The generic plot, the script that seems like it was written for Naruto or Inuyasha’s fanbase, the simple controls, the Pokemon-esque monster recruiting system – it all seems like it was designed for beginners, rather than the Tales of fans who have been playing the games for years. Sure, it is still satisfying to see our favorite Tales of Symphonia characters return, and learn what happened after the worlds were saved in the first game, but it somehow feels like it is missing some of the classic Tales of magic. It feels more like a spin-off than a true entry in the Tales of series.
Battle is fairly simple. At first I was a bit frustrated that just moving the directional stick on the nunchuk didn’t move Emil around the battlefield (who would think you’d have to hold Z as well?), but I can see the reasoning behind the control scheme. Personally, I’d have preferred some sort of scheme that used the directional button the remote and the B button for special attacks and the nunchuk’s directional stick used for movement, but I’ve learned to work with what is given.
I found that you can get by in most battles by pressing the A button three times in the row to trigger a standard combo, and then (after equipping your most powerful arte to the B button) pressing the B button to unleash a fourth, special attack strike. I didn’t find myself using the Z defend button at all, and only moved Emil around the battlefield if some of the other computer controlled characters got in his way. It all seemed rather rudimentary, and I think that after the first chapter, most players will have mastered battles.
The graphics can also be considered a bit dated, as Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World looks very much like the original Tales of Symphonia. You could call this a good thing, since it helps reinforce that you’re in the same environment and talking to the same characters, but you may also be wondering why a small update couldn’t have been done.
I liked the motion captured story scenes, that didn’t cut to animated sequences or flashy FMVs. I adore animated sequences and FMVs in games, but sometimes it can be too much, and can cause a bit of a disconnect when the game and characters that you’re playing as look nothing like the characters featured in the elaborate cutscenes. Everything looking the same, whether you’re wandering the world, in battle or engaging in a cut scene, helps the game flow better.
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World also has a pretty good English voice acting cast, and goes so far as to even have voice acting for the optional short skits. The two lead actors, Johnny Yong Bosch (Emil, Vash from Trigun, Ichigo from Bleach), Laura Bailey (Marta, Tohru from Fruits Basket), are both well known for their roles in both anime and other video games. The other voice actors also seem to fit their respective characters well. There aren’t any dreadful casting decisions here, which make you want to switch to the Japanese voice actors.
It is a shame that only Cam Clarke (Kratos), Heather Hogan (Colette) and Tara Strong (Presea) returned as voice actors from the previous game. If you played Tales of Symphonia recently, you may experience a bit of disconnect when hearing the new voice actors for returning characters. If you haven’t played Tales of Symphonia recently, then it may be easier to hear all new voices with the familiar faces.
One quirk that truly annoyed me were the quests that could be taken at the Katz Guild. Not the quests themselves, but the fact that if you fail, you lose that quest forever. Upon reaching chapter 2, my characters were at level seven and I really didn’t feel like level grinding them up to the suggested level of 12 for the quests. I’m lazy and the Chapter 1 dungeon wasn’t exactly thrilling. I did one quest and passed, so I figured the level suggestion was just that, a suggestion. Not so. I tried two other quests with both Emil and Marta at level 7 and failed them both. After each, I was taken back to the Katz Guild and informed that another group was now assigned to that quest and it was now unavailable.
I also missed cooking, which is now done exclusively at the Katz Guild and only for monsters. I remember truly enjoying having characters cook to make food that could later give an extra, needed boost in a dungeon in the earlier Tales of games. Now that it has been changed, I found myself only cooking when a monster needs to evolve.
As for monster catching, I didn’t focus much on it. It often seemed like the actual joining part was more about luck and chance than actually getting characters to cast the appropriate spells to make the gauge in the bottom left corner the correct color. If a monster joined me after a battle – good. If not, no big deal. I also didn’t form any kind of attachment to the monsters, like I do to actual party members. So the monsters expendable, rather than being valued party members.
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World does have some interesting extras, if you take the time to really complete the game, or if you took the time to complete the previous game. I liked that there were three endings that could be seen, depending on what choices you have Emil make and how you handle the final battle. The two optional dungeons were a nice touch as well. I also think that Namco Bandai was smart to make cleared Tales of Symphonia GameCube save data useful, since Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is a direct followup.
RPGs are scarce on the Wii. For that reason alone, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World will stand out and be granted a bit more leniency in terms of story, script, characters and quality. I mean, there’s Opoona, Baroque, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon, Legend of Zelda The Twilight Princess, and if you don’t mind stretching the bounds a bit, Dokapon, Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility, Paper Mario and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. If this game appeared on the PS2, it would likely fall between the cracks. Since its on a system that is in desperate need of RPGs, that makes it more tolerable.
In general, the people who are going to appreciate Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World the most are fans of the Tales of series, patient RPG gamers looking for a title to play on their Wii or new gamers who have never actually played an RPG before. It has its moments and some charm, but isn’t as good as it could have been. If you take the time to play through it, despite its slow or frustrating parts, you’ll come to appreciate it for what it is, as opposed to what it isn’t.
Images courtesy of Namco Bandai.