Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: November 11, 2008
As one of the biggest years of the previous console generation, 2004 saw the release of heavy hitters such as GTA: San Andreas, Half-Life 2, Halo 2 and Metroid Prime 2. Despite all of the hype, the one title that appealed to me the most and was my favorite game of 2004 was Tales of Symphonia for the GameCube. This title breathed life into the desolate wasteland of GameCube RPGs and will always be one of my most memorable experiences. Four years later, we've moved on to a new console generation, and Namco Bandai has released a follow-up, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World for the Wii. Does it manage to stand out in this year's wave of RPGs?
First and foremost, the only way to truly enjoy this title is if you've already played through original Tales of Symphonia. If you haven't, I'd recommend grabbing $20 and hitting up the used game store for a copy because it's a great title on its own. On the other hand, there are a handful of changes from the previous game that end up on both the good and bad ends of the spectrum, and you may not notice them if you haven't played the original.
Dawn of the New World takes place two years after the events of Tales of Symphonia, in which Lloyd, Colette, and the rest of the group have successfully reunited the two worlds of Sylvarant and Tethe'alla. While the ending from the first game would lead one to believe that the world was at peace, this is actually far from the truth. The unification has caused great abnormalities in the environment: deserts are covered in snow, glaciers are growing warmer, bodies of water are turbulent, and monsters have become more abundant and unusually violent. In addition, there has been much tension between the denizens of the two worlds. The people of Tethe'alla look down upon the people of Sylvarant as inferior beings. This has sparked a revolt group called the Vanguard, which attacks those who support the Church of Martel. To counter this, the previous game's protagonist, Lloyd Irving, is leading the Knights of the Church of Martel to attack cities that support the Vanguard. This bloodshed is what introduces Dawn of the New World's two main protagonists.
The first is a young boy named Emil, who seems to be very cowardly but kind-hearted. He's outraged that Lloyd murdered his parents and seeks revenge. Emil eventually comes across a young girl named Marta who possesses the core of the "demon lord," Ratatosk. It appears everyone is after Marta because she possesses the core, and Emil pledges to become a Knight of Ratatosk in order to protect her. Tenebrae, the Centurion of Darkness, aids Emil and informs him of Marta's quest for the Centurions' cores. The cores contain the essence of the Centurions that have control over the monsters of their respective type: dark, earth, fire, ice, light, lightning, water and wind. Collecting the cores will bring upon the revival of Ratatosk, the Lord of the Monsters, and ultimately bring an end to all of the unusual events.
The Vanguard seeks the cores in order to revive an ancient civilization to conquer the world, and Lloyd's reasoning behind collecting the cores is unknown to everyone, including his friends. It has now become a three-way race to collect the cores, and the real meat of the story doesn't quite pick up until roughly 20 hours into it. After that point, everything starts coming together, and you have about another 10 hours before it ends, making this title somewhat shorter than its predecessor. Despite the length, fans will undoubtedly enjoy every minute of Dawn of the New World, even though there are a handful of changes that affect the overall quality of the title.
The first of these major changes is the inclusion of capturing and training monsters you encounter in battle. Since Emil became a Knight of Ratatosk, who is the Lord of the Monsters, he has inherited the ability to recruit monsters to fight alongside him. In battle, there is an icon in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen that displays five small circles surrounding a large circle. These circles feature symbols that change depending on the attacks made in battle. If an attack that features elemental power is made, its symbol will replace one of the existing symbols. When three of the same symbols appear, it'll also appear in the large circle. If a monster you're battling is of that majority element, you may have opportunity to recruit it, but most of the time, I found it to be a random occurrence. Once the opportunities arise to "capture" monsters, whether they join is more or less a matter of chance. You can increase the odds of them joining by having another monster aid you in their capture, but only if they're of a compatible element.
My gripe with the monsters is that while you can capture as many as you want, you can only keep four in your party. As a result, I lost motivation to capture any more monsters after four, unless they looked cool. Some monsters level up much faster than other characters, and when a monster reaches a certain level, it gets the chance to change its class, a process that's called "evolving"; monsters can also change class when you feed them. The cooking feature from the prior title is back, but it can only used to feed your monsters. Players acquire new recipes by discovering Wonder Chefs scattered in various locations around the world. Cooking can only be done by finding one of the cat-costumed characters called Katz in towns and some dungeons. Evolving monsters will change their appearances and element as well as increasing some attributes, but they revert to level one. Moreover, certain items can be used on monsters to give them experience points or teach them magic spells.
Going back to battles, monsters act like a typical party member in that the AI controls their actions. Alternately, you can set their behavior in the Strategies menu, and the same goes for party members that you're not controlling. In addition to Emil, Marta, and the monsters you capture, you'll also have a selection of temporary party members that consist of the original characters from the first game. Since I abhorred the monster aspects of the title (they can't use items, and they don't add too much to combat), I'd always swap in these characters without hesitation. However, since the characters are temporary, they had a preset level and couldn't earn experience in battle, so it was only a matter of time before they would inevitably leave me and I'd have the monsters again.
Monster gripes aside, combat handles much like the original, but with some tweaks. The controls from the GameCube to the Wii transfer over beautifully. Normal attacks are made by the A button, and the B trigger handles the special attacks called Artes. Like the first game, each character has four different Artes: neutral B, up B, down B, and over B. The battles play out like a miniature fighting game, where multiple hits generate combos and deal more damage, which is what I probably liked the most about the original title and the rest of the Tales series in general. Characters travel on a rail toward enemies with the analog stick; there's also the free-run option, where players can run around wherever they want by holding down on the Z button, but are vulnerable to critical hits if they're attacked.
As characters deal damage, a gauge at the bottom fills up, and when it's halfway full, a Unison Attack can be initiated. These powerful attacks are comprised of the efforts made by Emil and anyone else nearby, unlike the first game, where each character would have to initiate a command at the right time in order for it to work. In that regard, the original triumphs over Dawn of the New World because of the control you had over Unison Attacks. A new series of attacks that are acquired at higher levels is called Mystic Artes and can be activated when the gauge is completely full. These lengthy attacks are exclusive to each character and have a variety of effects, ranging from dealing tons of damage to healing the party.
One problem I had with the battles this time around is it appears that the developer has buffed the enemies by a lot. Normally, you can tell that you've hit an enemy because he'll be briefly stunned and the damage/combo counter shows up in the top right corner. Now, the enemies seem almost impervious to all of your attacks, and they don't react to your hits unless you hit them enough. At this split second is when you can hope to do any significant damage to them. I think something is amiss when a regular enemy can receive two Unison Attacks and still have half of his health. Other than that, battles are still fun, albeit harder than they were the first time around.
The rest of the game remains the same. You explore towns, dungeons, and other locations, and you still talk to NPCs for information, purchase equipment at shops, and even take on the numerous side-quests from the Katz Guild. In addition to caring for your monsters, The Katz Guild will give you optional missions that typically involve eliminating certain monsters.
Dungeon exploration is also much like it was in the first game, to the point that some of the dungeons in Dawn of the New World are complete carbon copies, right down to the puzzles. On one hand, the recycling may be there for nostalgic purposes, but it could also be considered lazy game design because some of the puzzles, like switching lightning types in the Temple of Lightning and collapsing bridges with earthquake magic in the Temple of Earth, aren't the most enjoyable things in the world. On the other hand, the game makes use of some of the Wii's motion controls. The iconic Sorcerer's Ring returns for solving puzzles, and it's used by pointing the cursor, holding down the Z button, and firing with the A button. Additionally, there are a few mini-games that require some waggle control, like fishing and distracting a monster by waving it down.
One of the major changes to the gameplay is the map. In Tales of Symphonia, players would travel across a vast overworld and battle enemies along the way. All of that has been thrown out in favor of a map screen, where players simply select their destination and are automatically transported there. While I miss that sense of exploration (or getting lost), I feel the new map system is convenient and saves time.
Other changes made to Dawn of the New World are in the presentation. While the title keeps the anime-style graphics, they've been altered to better represent the characters in the game. Previously, everything was cel-shaded, everyone was outlined in a dark color, and everyone was a lot shorter than they appeared. In this game, the outlines are gone, and I think that the characters represent their anime caricatures a lot better than they did in the original. In addition, many cut scenes have been improved to feel more cinematic, which means you won't have to keep pressing the A button to continue the dialogue — although those cut scenes still do exist. Other familiar bits of dialogue come in the form of skits that can be viewed by pressing the C button when they appear. These brief scenes feature the characters' anime caricatures engaging in various discussions relating to the current situation or character development. Like in the first game, these scenes often prove to be the most entertaining since the characters will act much differently in these scenes than they do in the normal cut scenes.
A major improvement to these skits is the inclusion of complementary voices, which really help bring the skits and the characters to life. Fans of the original may be disappointed to hear that some of the original actors weren't able to reprise their roles in Dawn of the New World, most notably Lloyd's voice actor. Regardless of who does the voices, they sounded pretty good, as far as JRPG's go with voice acting. The new musical pieces are few, but they were quite charming; I don't think they are as memorable as the tunes from the original, which also reappear in their respective towns, character themes, dungeons, and so on. In general, a lot of things were reused in this game, but I think it's meant to help tie them together. Overall, the presentation was on par, if not better than what the original provided.
All in all, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is a great follow-up to the GameCube classic and is possibly the best RPG for the Wii. Dawn of the New World is geared strictly toward fans of the original Tales of Symphonia, as outsiders will miss out on the allusions to the previous game, and they won't understand the significance of the numerous cameo appearances either.
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