Note: This review will contain spoilers for the original Tales of Symphonia.
The original Tales of Symphonia on the GameCube was a popular RPG on the system in and out of Japan, so it was natural that Namco develop a direct sequel, entitled Tales of Symphonia: Knight of Ratatosk, which appeared first on the Wii. Direct sequels are nothing new for the franchise, as demonstrated by Tales of Destiny 2 for the PS2 and PSP (unreleased outside Japan due in part to the decision to call Tales of Eternia for the PlayStation Tales of Destiny II when the game saw its North American version). Localization issues aside, the sequel, localized as Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World and being part of the PS3 collection Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, provides an experience on par with its predecessor.
The first Symphonia sequel takes place a few years after the events of the original, with the worlds of Sylvarant and Tethe’alla fused, rendering maps useless and causing climate change in many areas. The Church of Martel and the Vanguard are also at war, alongside a violent “Blood Purge” that claims the lives of the parents of protagonist Emil, who Lloyd Irving is responsible for the various atrocities committed during the Purge. The story is somewhat better than in the first game, but derives elements from Valkyrie Profile 2, for instance, with the summon spirit Ratatosk’s occasional possession of Emil, and the plot revolves around collecting various elemental MacGuffins central to the plot. The translation, furthermore, contains plenty of flagrant errors involving missing punctuation and many run-on sentences, but even so, the narrative is definitely one of the stronger ones of the franchise.
Like its direct predecessor, Dawn sports visible enemies in dungeons, and this time around, how the player approaches them or how they approach the player affects the start of battle. If the player sneaks up on them from behind, all enemies will have a temporary stat decrease in the following battle, but if the enemy catches the player from behind, the player’s party will experience a stat decrease on their part. Most of the time, however, odds are that the player and the enemy will be facing one another during the encounter contact, with neither side having an advantage.
As in the first Symphonia, the sequel features a three-dimensional battle field where the player’s characters have linear paths depending upon which enemy they’re currently targeting, the player able to change the targeted enemy with the R1 button. Lightly tapping the button will instantly switch targets without pause, although holding down the button for a second or so causes the action of battle to stop, during which the player can choose the desired antagonist before resuming the battle. Besides linear movement, the player can hold the square button to make the controlled character guard, although the button doubles to allow the character to roam the battlefield freely, although as they do so, they’ll be vulnerable to critical attacks from foes.
Most of the time, the player will want to approach the enemy and slash them with assaults consisting of a few normal attacks, which they can follow up with a base arte and then an arcane arte. The sequel no longer tracks the number of times the player uses particular artes, meaning that there are no hidden abilities, not necessarily a bad thing. Protagonist Emil, alongside other characters the player can bring into battle and set as the controlled character, ultimately gain the ability to perform ultra-powerful mystic artes following the execution of an arcane arte, these skills sometimes being the difference between victory and defeat against the toughest bosses.
A significant feature in the sequel is the occasional ability to capture and level monsters defeated in battle, though there is a high failure rate of doing so. If the player does manage to obtain a monster, they’ll occasionally be able to feed it with a recipe sometimes found from the Wonder Chef throughout the world, which will grant it stat increases and maybe the ability to evolve to another form. However, it is possible for the following form to actually be weaker than the original form, and evolving a monster resets its level to one, their stats reflecting this as well. The player can teach healing magic to monsters via scrolls purchased from some shops, a godsend since captured monsters can’t use items.
The battle system mostly works well, buts odds are most players won’t want to bother with monsters, with the sequel often bringing in characters from the original Symphonia as playable allies, although there are some instances where the player must use at least two monsters alongside protagonists Emil and Marta. The defeat of all non-monster characters in battle results in a Game Over, the player then needing to reload their last save or return to the title screen. Some of the bosses can be fairly daunting, especially when the player has to use monsters in their party, some grinding consequentially being necessary, but the battle engine nonetheless helps the game more than hurts.
The controls in Symphonia 2 are surprisingly better than in the first game, with the sequel, for instance, ditching its predecessor’s unrealistic overworld exploration in lieu of a system where the map of the new world is visible, with players selecting a location from a list. This results in greater linearity and a consequentially better direction on how to advance the main storyline, a step above the original game’s poor direction. Dungeons still lack automaps, however (but are generally hard to get lost in), and many cutscenes are unskippable, but otherwise, the sequel interacts well with the player.
While the sequel utilizes tracks from its predecessor alongside plentiful original pieces, the vast majority of the music coming from the first game are remixes, making the second game hardly feel like a retread in the aural department. The voice acting is well above average, as well (although Emil is a bit whiny), and for once, the localization team dubbed the skits in English. In the end, an excellent-sounding game.
The visuals are also a step above those in the original Symphonia, ditching its predecessor’s cel-shading in lieu of a style neither fully anime nor fully realistic, the character models more anatomically correct and actually showing various emotions other than happiness. Slowdown is also pretty much nonexistent and animation smooth, though the environs still often show blurry and pixilated texturing. Even so, the graphics are well above average.
Finally, the sequel is shorter than its predecessor, taking somewhere from twenty-five to thirty-five hours to complete, with things such as acquiring every game trophy potentially padding out playtime.
All in all, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is a direct sequel that those who enjoyed the original definitely won’t want to miss, what with its solid Tames gameplay, great control, enjoyable narrative, nice music and voicework, polished visuals, and plentiful lasting appeal. There are some rare hiccups such as the monster-capturing system being something of an afterthought and the spotty translation, but the sequel more or less rounds out Tales of Symphonia Chronicles well.
+Solid Tales gameplay.
+Good music and voicework.
+Plenty lasting appeal.
-Some tough bosses that necessitate grinding.
The Bottom Line:
A great sequel.
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable, Slightly Hard on Normal
Playing Time: 25-35 Hours