Tales of Symphonia was a huge hit for the Gamecube some four years ago, and now Namco-Bandai Games is bringing a direct sequel to Wii gamers in the form of Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of A New World. Those who played through and are familiar with the original Tales game are sure to have a much more satisfying experience (in fact if you have your completed save game from the GC, you get a bonus item at the start of the game), but for the rest of us, Dawn of A New World may be one that gets put on the back burner indefinitely.
The New World
The adventure begins with a long cutscene that, after some reading online, I learned places us two years after the events of the original Tales of Symphonia. The two main types of people in this world are Sylvarant and Tethe'alla, with the latter being much more advanced than the former. The Tethe'alla also harass and act out violently against the Sylvarant, and in response to that a group of Sylvarant folks form The Vanguard to fight back against the forces of the Tethe'alla. In one battle, Lloyd Irving, who I believe was a good character in the previous Tales game, actually kills two Sylvarant These Sylvarant are actually the parents of Emil, our protagonist who is a very timid, whiny kid that lives, unhappily, with his aunt and uncle. Meanwhile, a giant tree that had brought balance to the world withers and dies, and with it severe weather changes occur and darkness begins to overshadow the people and the land. Emil came to the town, Luin, where his aunt and uncle live at the wrong time, right when they were most effected by the tree's death, and he is blamed for all of the bad events happening.
The ultimate goal is to confront Lloyd, leader of the Tethe'alla and murderer of your parents, using the help of the spirit of the powerful monster lord named Ratatosk. At the same time, a new tree is also being created by The Chosen. To be honest, I don't completely understand what is going on in Dawn of A New World, having not played the first game. Details of the story are provided through numerous cutscenes and dialogue sequences, and do okay, I suppose, to fill the gaps, but overall the story feels very generic and typical for a JRPG anyway. Many of themes in the game are typical for a JRPG as well, which is inherently not a bad thing, but notable.
So that said, your adventure begins in the house of your aunt and uncle in Luin. You're free to explore, although it's rather small town and there is very little to interact with, but eventually you're guided to a large fountain at the center of town, with some young boys praying to a statue of Lloyd. You're given the choice to join them or refuse to. Moments later you meet your first major NPC, and the pace tends to pick up from there as you begin to explore your first 'dungeons' for items and partake in battles. The battle system allows you to assign certain combat actions to functions on your Wiimote, and battles are primarily a free-flowing, button mashing affair with characters shouting the names of their attacks and spells. Under certain conditions, you can recruit monsters that you were just fighting to join you, and by doing so you empower the Lord of the Monsters, Ratatosk, who while seen as evil by most, is good (or so you're assured by your companions).
Ultimately, there is a lot of typical JRPG fluff amidst the characters and the story, elements that I think only established Tales fans or hardcore JRPG fans will appreciate. For me, I didn't really take to the characters or the battle system, and the entire affair seemed like a kid's fairy tale. While I understand there is an audience for that, it didn't appeal to me.
Dawn of A New World may be directed at players of the original Tales, but there may be enough for newcomers who are JRPG fans to still check it out. In the positives column go several things like that the controls work very well, and the music and voice acting is okay. There is enough mystery surrounding the different events and characters in the story that you're likely to be compelled to play at least a couple of hours to find out more. The combat and recruiting system are pretty cool but there are better implementations of both in other titles.
On the negative side, I found it really hard to care about any of the characters, especially the main character, Emil. Emil is a frustratingly whinny and overly apologetic kid during any time he's not empowered by Ratatosk (i.e., anytime he's not in battle). The other characters also seemed so typical of a JRPG and childish that it was hard to relate or be interested in them. The story depends heavily on the first Tales and while it's not required, I imagine everything makes a lot more sense if you've played through the original. Otherwise, becoming immersed and involved in the characters and themes of the story is a real challenge. Furthermore, I didn't think there was much freedom in Dawn of A New World and every major event or quest seemed to be book-ended by cutscenes that took you out of the game world and back into 'sit back and watch mode' to “harshly” at times, if you get my meaning. Speaking of cutscenes, I thought there were too many of these in the first place and they only compound the amount of loading from disc that you'll experience.
I think ToS: Dawn of A New World is a real treat for Tales of Symphonia fans from the Gamecube era. While I haven't played that game myself, I could appreciate some of the aspects of Dawn of A New World, but soon realized that this is a truly a sequel for fans of the original. If you're one of those fans, chances are you've probably already picked up your copy of Dawn of A New World and you're more than likely happy with it. For everyone else, give this one a rental first; it may be too fan-focused to really come off as a satisfying adventure.