The Tales series is one of the oldest and most beloved amongst fans of JRPGs. One of the main reasons is because even in the ever-changing world of gaming it has stuck to its roots for better or worse. Dawn of the New World is certainly no different, and this is likely to continue to limit the game’s widespread appeal, but it will certainly conciliate its fanbase. What we end up with is a direct sequel to popular Gamecube title that does nothing to innovate and instead focuses on ushering in the series to the Wii crowd complete with all of the typical JRPG clichés you have come to know and love (or loathe).
The storyline in Dawn of the New World is about as prototypical as you can get for a JRPG. You play the role of Emil, a young warrior who is tough in battle but whiny and unappealing the rest of the time. You will be joined initially by Marta, a young girl who eventually becomes your best friend and even a love interest. So far everything is checking out. As it turns out the end of civilization as we know it is upon us and it is up to you (yes you and not some army) to save the world. Now we are getting somewhere. Everything else is just different names for the same thing we have seen a thousand times before, but as the saying goes, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Fans of the original games will be pleased to see returning characters and a familiar world, but newcomers will likely wonder if this game was released before and is being re-released. The dialogue doesn’t help matters much due to poor translation. Lines that are probably meant to be serious come across as juvenile and any sense of sincerity is quickly stripped when characters mutter lines that are nearly incomprehensible. Everything in the world is also named in a way that you begin to believe the developers strung together two epic sounding words with the preposition “of”. Things such as the Chosen of Regeneration come to mind and even to this point I cannot say it without a confused look on my face.
Just like everything else here the battle system will feel familiar to Tales fans. Unlike other games in the genre the Tales series has always consisted of real-time battles as opposed to the turn-based affairs RPG fans are used to. The button layout uses a simple three tier dynamic where A is your attack button, and can be used to string combos together. B is primarily used to perform Arte (the game’s form of magic) while C serves as a team attack button that gets all of your party members together for one massive strike. You can also roam about the battlefield instead of being forced into a 2D plane like early games in the series, giving combat a much more dynamic feel. Overall the combat is certainly well-rounded and one of the most interactive of any RPG series.
You can select up to four characters for battle this time around and if you have spare Wii remotes your friends can join in on the fun. Each different character possesses different skills and abilities that can be upgraded using skill points. Skill points are earned as your characters level up, but this time around dispersing them requires thought and strategy as the game limits you to how many you can use in one instance. All of the combos can be combined with all of your party members to create some truly unique attacks.
Another huge addition to this iteration is the ability to hunt and capture monsters to use in battle. It is worth noting that in multi-player only player one can use monsters as the rest of the team is forced to use human characters. The catch with using these monsters is that they cannot use any type of equipment during battle, so what you see is what you get, but as they level up they can be the difference between victory and pressing start to continue. You can store monsters that you don’t want to use, but this requires you to trek back to town in the middle of quests, so balancing whether said monster is worth the effort is entirely up to you. Monster hunting adds a nice new dynamic to the mix and makes playing through the game multiple times a bit more enjoyable.
Navigating the main world has been toned down for better or worse, most likely because of the system the game ships on. Instead of traversing across endless fields of repeating textures you have a static 2D layout of the world that you point and click where to go. While it may feel like a step back for the series, I actually found it more relaxing than trekking across mundane acres of repetitive visuals. You will still be required to do a fair amount of gossiping about town with local NPCs to obtain quests and progress the story, but aimlessly wondering the map and battling random monsters has been immensely cut down.
Dawn of the New World also suffers from the Wii syndrome when it comes to presentation. The game looks and feels much like the same game that was released ages ago on Nintendo’s previous hardware. The game dons a dull and saturated look with muted colors and very little detail when compared to other games in the genre. Gone is the cel-shaded bright look found in the last Tales game and it is replaced with repeating structures and an overall damp feel. The voice acting is well done, but the dialogue is again hit or miss. Some of the lines feel like they were poorly translated, but the amount of conversation here is still impressive, if not a bit incomprehensible.
In the end Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of a New World is exactly what you would expect for the sequel to the Gamecube original. Problem is that it feels like it was made for that system. Technical shortcomings aside if you enjoy the genre there is a lot to love here. The combat system is top-notch and the streamlined map navigation is a huge plus for me. However, if you are burn out on the cliché styling of the genre then Dawn of the New World isn’t going to suddenly re-ignite your love with its by-the-numbers approach to RPGs.