Buy Tales of Symphonia Chronicles: PlayStation 3
The original Tales of Symphonia release on GameCube was my first exposure to the long-running JRPG series from Bandai Namco. I had played Tales of Destiny on PS1, but Tales of Symphonia left a lasting impression. Itlooked great, managed to stand out on the platform thanks to little competition, and offered an active battle system and eclectic cast of characters to entertain new fans. It remains one of my fondest GameCube memories.
The sequel, on the other hand, is still a disappointment. A Wii-only release for Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World kept the Nintendo connection alive, but the sequel was a bit of a mess. Not all of the new characters were great or endearing, and one was downright annoying. The voice acting was inconsistent, and the visuals, especially when directly compared with Tales of Vesperia on Xbox 360, weren't up to snuff. Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World attempted to introduce new elements outside of the series' signature combat, but it didn't leave the best impression.
Fast-forward to the present, with the PlayStation 3 release of Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. This collection contains the PS2 port of the original Tales of Symphonia that was never released in North America, along with the Wii version of Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. Priced at $40, this collection is on par with most HD re-releases we've seen lately. It's not the top of the line and is clearly outdone by the recent work Square Enix did with its Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD release, but it's not bad. Visuals are spruced up just enough to breathe new life into the character models, and while the textures are flat and blocky, this collection is free from noticeable omissions or flaws.
The only complaint I can level at the quality is the drop in frame rate from 60 to 30 frames per second, when compared to the original release of Tales of Symphonia. It's noticeable if you're sensitive to the difference between the two, and doubly so if you've recently played the GameCube original. I doubt most players will be too concerned with it, though. Everything else seems to remain intact, including the original bosses, enemies, script, soundtrack, voice work, and so on. There are even some minor additions, like dual language tracks, and with a few cosmetic add-ons. If you haven't played either game in a while, this collection is worth a revisit.
While I could gush about my enjoyment of the original game, I'll spare you some of that. Tales of Symphonia is just as enjoyable now as it was 11 years ago. Granted, we've seen flashier Tales releases since, with recent hits like Tales of Xillia, but Bandai Namco has been so consistent with the Tales formula that if you've enjoyed any of the titles, you'll likely find something fun about the other entries. That remains true here. While the visuals may be dated, like facial animations during skits, the combat and exploration are still a lot of fun.
In particular, combat still shines as the best part of Tales of Symphonia. It's relatively simple but far more engaging than wading through menus or repeatedly mashing singular attack buttons. Your party is composed of four characters, with a handful of additions and changes throughout the story that let you swap characters here and there. You have direct control over a single character of your choice, with others controlled by the CPU. Certain parameters are set by the player, so they don't waste all of their magic or run into a tough melee encounter when they should hold back and cast support spells. For the most part, the CPU does a good job of sticking to the rules that you set, though it occasionally falls apart or ignores a seemingly smart decision.
While you start with a singular attack and block function, you quickly unlock additional Artes, which are special moves that are performed by pressing the attack button and one of four directions on the analog stick. This system is similar to a number of other Tales titles and should be instantly recognizable by fans. The fun comes from creating combos by combining Artes with standard attacks and further chaining and timing those combos with attacks by the rest of your party. You eventually gain access to stronger team moves, allowing you to dish out significant damage. Combat is brisk but rarely boring, and it's given time to shine during the boss encounters. You often encounter enemies in the field, but even with frequent fights, you don't feel burned out by the combat.
This HD version of Tales of Symphonia is worth the asking price, even without the second game. It remains one of the classic RPGs from its era, and it's still a lot of fun. The HD makeover doesn't break the game or have any significant faults, aside from not being nearly as flashy as its competitors. There's over 60 hours of gameplay to explore in Tales of Symphonia, so you'll get plenty of mileage out of it.
Revisiting Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is a little less ... exciting. I don't think it's a great game, but the HD port doesn't cause any harm to the original content. However, when compared to the original Tales of Symphonia on the same disc and played back to back, Dawn of the New World's faults really stick out like a sore thumb.
There are a host of problems with the game, most of which aren't mechanical but stem from the characters, story, and general mood. This tale picks up shortly after the end of the first game but doesn't capitalize on the characters with whom you've just spent dozens of hours. Instead, you're introduced to a few new characters, though none feel as fleshed out as their predecessors. The biggest culprit in the new cast is the protagonist, Emil, who has an interesting tie to Tales of Symphonia's Lloyd. Emil isn't personable, has a poor attitude throughout the game, and suffers from insufferable voice acting.
The story often drops the ball on the story. There's a very interesting premise in the conclusion of Tales of Symphonia that I won't spoil for new players, but Dawn of the New World's failure to capitalize on it is one of its biggest crimes. The combat doesn't change much, but it introduces a monster-collecting mechanic that feels largely unnecessary. When we finally get a glimpse at our previous party members, they seem to have changed considerably. It'll leave you scratching your head long after the credits roll.
That's assuming you bother with those end credits. If you find yourself fully invested in the Tales of Symphonia world, you might want to see this through to the end, but in my mind, Tales of the New World is better left as a "What if?" story instead of actual canon. It left a bad taste in my mouth when I first played it on the Wii, and it continues to do so in this HD collection.
Again, Tales of Symphonia Chronicles is worth picking up for Tales of Symphonia in HD alone. It remains a fantastic RPG to this day. Whether you've come to the series further down the road via Tales of Vesperia or Tales of Xillia, or if you have fond memories of the GameCube original, you should consider picking up Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. It doesn't shine as brightly as other HD collections or ports, but it doesn't suffer under a new coat of paint, either. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Lloyd and the gang, and I think you will, too. We'll just ignore the B side, and we'll be better off for it.
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