Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World Review
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is an action RPG that re-unites fans of the original Gamecube version with familiar faces and scenery. Fans of the original will notice the change in visual style from the strong cel-shaded look to a more vibrant, water colour like palette along with the new addition of the Monster Pact system, giving an additional layer of depth to the gameplay.
Following on two years after the original, the two worlds of Tethe’alla and Sylvarant are finally reunited by the birth of the new World Tree after the successful journey of world regeneration. However with the death of the old World Tree it has thrown the newly united world into chaos with the adverse affects of climate change due to the flow of mana, causing monsters to roam free to attack every town. A young girl named Marta is found with the task of restoring world order by awakening Lord Ratatosk, the Lord of Darkness and ruler of monsters after obtaining his core. A timid, orphaned boy named Emil soon joins Marta after forming a pact with Ratatosk in exchange for power to avenge his murdered parents, as they both set off on a journey to restore order in the world.
You quickly get reunited with some familiar faces from the original game as they join your party along with their signature music however you are unable to control them at all, only limiting you to assign Skills, Formation and Strategy to the original cast. They also do not gain experience points so other than being a cameo, they are often unused as valuable experience points are better off used towards your monsters instead.
One thing you will notice immediately though is the sheer amount of cut-scenes in the game. Often you will be presented with a cut scene certainly before and after any major fight scene but also many in-between as an attempt to explain the storyline or a very simple task. Skits also return but with alarmingly regularity as often enough only a few steps of movement after a skit has finished will provoke another. This wouldn’t be so bad of the skits were often entertaining but they tend to revolve around cooking, love triangles/issues and some bad jokes. That’s not to say they are not entertaining at all but ones that are meaningful get lost amongst many smaller pointless ones. Thankfully Skits can be skipped by pressing B if you ever grow impatient. It also doesn’t help that Marta and Emil are extremely clichéd and lack the personality of the original cast. Add this to the over exaggerated voice acting, ridiculous amounts of flashbacks (especially early in the game) and Emil’s weak traits it certainly does not endear you to the cast.
Graphically the game is superior than the Gamecube original with a more vibrant colour palate and bright special effects for Artes during battle, keeping the visual interest engaging to the gamer. However the engine does suffer from frame rate issues when the screen gets busy, even during scripted parts however it does not distract from the gameplay too much. The character designs are not as attractive or inspiring as they could be and the whole engine lends itself more to the Playstation 2 era with jagged edges and blurred textures, especially when viewed close up.
In terms of gameplay, it is still the fast paced action affair that Tales of fans are accustomed to however it feels quite light in terms of strategy and tactics. More often enough simply running around to attack the enemy from behind is sufficient enough as the rest of your party attacks from the front. For stronger, faster enemies a simple block after your attack chain is sufficient for you to launch a counter attack as you repeat the process until you win.
New to the game is the ability to capture monsters (up to 530 plus) and to use them as your allies of which can be a great addition if you enjoy the Pokémon like ability. To capture a monster you have to pay attention to the Elemental Grid which is shown on the bottom left of the screen. Each character and Artes (magic) has an elemental attribute assigned to them such as Dark, Light, Fire, Wind, Water, Earth, Ice and Electric. The large symbol denotes the main Elemental attribute and you require four of the five smaller Elemental Attributes to match it, to invoke a possible capture.
Upon a successful capture, you can add them to your active roster and use them to fight alongside you with the AI taking control. With each win they also obtain experience points allowing them to learn new Skills, Artes and the ability to evolve into more powerful monsters, often becoming much more powerful than your main characters. Cooking returns to the game as well but this time it is attributed towards your monsters, allowing them to gain statistics upon each feed and the ability to evolve. The battle system then remains fast and furious whilst remaining fun to participate in, especially in multi-player mode but does feel light and against weaker monsters, the game devolves into a simple button basher.
Aside from forming Monster Pacts you can also Synthesize Items by combining items found from your journey with weapons, armour and so forth to create more powerful versions to make the game easier. This does offer a bit more depth if you are the sort of gamer that wants the best the game can offer, but often enough the weapons earned from the Quests and through the game are more than adequate, making this only fulfilling for completists.
Exploration is very limited as well to only towns and dungeons as on the World Map you simply travel from A to B via a menu. This eliminates any form of travel and opportunities to explore or to level up, making the game very linear. The game tries to balance this out by offering Quests which can be found by talking to Katz found in the towns available. These Quests offer you a chance to fight and to gain items along the way with the opportunity to gain rare items or weapons once completed. This wouldn’t be so bad if they were entertaining but sadly it quickly becomes a chore and is often long winded with no opportunity to save during them. Thankfully though there are also quests that only last one fight so it does balance out.
You should be able to go through all 8 Chapters within 30 hours, with a chunk of that time taken up by the cut-scenes but you can boost that figure up by completing all the side quests, capturing and levelling monsters and by synthesizing items for all the best ones.
In all Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is a solid if uninspiring sequel to fans of the original and while the Monster Pact system does give the game some depth beyond the battles, it isn’t enough to mask the light gaming mechanics that hold the game together. It had the potential to be so much more but misses the mark with supreme linearity, over use of cut-scenes and lack of depth.