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Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World


The Tales series is quite the force to be reckoned with when you're discussing the role-playing genre. The franchise has carved a slice out of the market over the years and it's to the point now where it's giving leaders such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy a run for their money. The series' popularity is definitely high over in Japan and slowly but surely its fan base is rising in the States as well.

In basically every installment of the Tales series there's a new story to tell and new characters to be introduced to. Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World breaks from that tradition somewhat and for all intents and purposes it is a sequel to the original Symphonia title that came out for the GameCube in 2004. The gameplay is also a step up from the first installment, but quite honestly the engine in Tales of Vesperia was significantly better. That leaves Dawn of the New World feeling somewhat dated even though it's a new adventure. Yes it's a spiritual successor to the first Symphonia, but taken as a Tales game it's a step backwards.

The plot is more of a continuation of the original as it takes place after the two worlds were united by the protagonist Lloyd and his companions. Dawn of the New World introduces us to Emil, who has a chip on his shoulder against Lloyd for personal reasons. It's also worth noting that Emil is a just about the lamest protagonist to come along in quite some time, but I digress. He soon meets up with a mysterious young girl named Marta and together they set out on a mission to restore the world and exact a little revenge in the process. It's not a bad story by any means and fans of the original Tales of Symphonia will love how the plot is well- integrated. Newcomers may be a little lost on the details and the game is full of many ups and downs. Regardless of that fact Dawn of the New World is an entertaining adventure that is definitely worth checking out if you own a Wii. After all, there really aren't any other traditional RPGs for the console, are there?

Gameplay


If you're familiar with the Tales series then you basically already know what's going on in Dawn of the New World. Rather than be dry like most turn-based RPGs, Tales is known for its combat area and real time action. Basically when you enter battle with an enemy the environment opens up to a new location and there's a little field to move around in. In Vesperia we became accustomed to free-roaming during battle and thankfully that has been ported over to Dawn of the New World. This is a definite step up from the original Symphonia and it feels much less restrictive.

Much like Vesperia and its other Tales compatriots the fighting in this latest installment has an addictive combat system. Attacking is accomplished without the need for opening menus and like the other games in the franchise it's one of the better action-RPG engines out there. Dawn of the New World is thankfully no less enjoyable with regards to this and the Arte and skill systems are virtually identical to Tales of Vesperia's. The combat also includes some motion abilities with the Wii-mote and nunchuk in addition to traditional controls. It's an easy to use system that implements the Wii functionality well enough and thankfully there's really no loss of quality.

One new addition to the mechanics of the Tales franchise is the ability to capture, use, and grow monsters. It feels very much like a Pokemon feature and it's not quite as robust as it could have been, but overall it's an entertaining addition that adds a nice level of depth to the already deep gameplay. There are some problems with regards to party size and the lack of ability for monsters to use equipment, but it's still a nice feature that allows you to expand your party options.

While Dawn of the New World keeps the familiar combat system of other Tales games the exploration of the world is handled very differently. For starters the Wii-mote is brought into the mix, but the biggest change that alters the way you play the game is the fact that the overworld map is significantly changed. Rather than exploring like you traditionally do in a Tales game by walking around the world, Dawn of the New World keeps you stuck to paths and it keeps you from being able to move around willy-nilly. This keeps the traveling down to a brisk pace, but it also leaves things feeling extremely linear. One of the feather's in the cap of the Tales series is the ability to free-roam, but having that stripped away definitely doesn't help matters. This is compounded by being forced to go through events before some areas are unlocked in towns and such. It all makes the game feel very structured and leaves you with a rigid by the numbers sensation.

If you're returning from the original Tales of Symphonia then it's worth noting that Dawn of the New World is riddled with familiar locations. The mix between old and new here is about fifty-fifty and depending how much time you dropped in the first title it may start to feel a little stale after a while. There are some nice touches such as weather effects and slight changes due to the merging of the worlds, but ultimately much of the game will give you the sensation of déjà vu.

As a sequel Dawn of the New World offers a decent follow-up story and it improves upon some of the gameplay elements of the original. It feels slightly different, yet the same in many regards. The game also has a nice length to it and even though the pacing can vary greatly, the linearity of the experience keeps things typically moving at a decent clip. There's not much replay value with this title and if you're coming to it from playing Vesperia it will feel like a step back. Ultimately the game is a success and it's a worthy effort that RPG enthusiasts will want to check out, but it's not a landmark achievement and it doesn't do much that's original.

Graphics


Even though this game has been released about four years after the first Symphonia title, Dawn of the New World looks about the same. The graphics aren't rendered particularly well and the level of detail isn't as striking as it was with Tales of Vesperia. It's also worth noting that while Vesperia's characters looked almost identical to the anime cut-scenes, that's not necessarily the case here due to muddy textures and low resolution. The environments are also a slight letdown and are even less impressive than the character models. This is ultimately a slight step up from Tales of Symphonia, but it's not as good looking as more recent RPGs.

Sound


I hate to keep going back to it for comparison, but Tales of Vesperia was an audio tour de force. It had everything from an outstanding soundtrack to quality voice acting and good sound effects. Dawn of the New World features a terrible voice cast that shadows in comparison even to the original Symphonia. There are tragically few moments here where the talent rises above mediocre and that's a shame since Tales is known for its charming personality. The music is also a sore spot and the soundtrack is by no means as enjoyable or memorable as other role-playing games.

Conclusion


Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is a worth-while role-playing effort for the Wii. It's a true successor to the original title for the GameCube with a continuing story and improved gameplay elements. Unfortunately if you have played other, more recent, Tales games such as Abyss or Vesperia it will feel like a step back in some regards. The graphics aren't as smooth, the sound isn't very good, and the gameplay feels a little "too" familiar. The linearity will keep some people happy, but it definitely keeps you from being able to explore it to the fullest extent. Still, the adventure is enjoyable and it's definitely a trip worth taking if you liked Symphonia. Newcomers may want to check out 2004's title first though.