It’s no secret I’m a huge Tales fan. I’ve played almost all of the series and have even imported some that were not released outside of Japan. Out of all of them, Tales of Symphonia is my favourite. So it shouldn’t shock anyone that I couldn’t wait to play Dawn of the New World after it was announced. A direct sequel to my favourite Tales game? Yes please! Sadly, the reality is far from impressive. In fact, three other RPGFan staff members already tried to play through this game in the hope of reviewing it. None could bring themselves to play more than a few hours. Believe it or not, I couldn’t finish it either. I played nearly all of it, but finally decided I couldn’t stomach it any more by the end. Is it really that horrendous? Read on to find out.
The story begins on a rather interesting note. A couple of years have passed since the first Tales of Symphonia game and the previously separate worlds of Sylvarant and Tethe’alla have physically merged to become one. As may be expected, not all is well. Differences in technology, culture and beliefs have led the people to become fearful of one another. On top of all this, the climate around the world has drastically begun to change. Previously dry deserts are covered in snow and huge lakes have completely dried up. During this chaos an army of Sylvaranti, known as the Vanguard, rise up to fight against the Thethe’allans and the Church of Martel. Allegedly leading this army is the former hero of the first game, Lloyd Irving. The game begins as we witness Lloyd leading an attack on the city of Palmacosta and slaughtering hundreds of innocent people. This sets up the only interesting part of the entire game. Wanting to find out why Lloyd was doing this was the only thing that kept me going. In the end, even that wasn’t enough. The ending turns out to be just as disappointing at the rest of the story with a simple cliché twist to explain things.
Caught up in this tumult is the ‘hero’ of this game (and I use that word loosely), Emil Castagnier. He lived in Palmacosta when the Vanguard attacked and both his parents were killed by Lloyd. Years later, he now lives in the small town of Luin with his abusive aunt and uncle. Initially you will sympathise with Emil because of how badly he is treated. This, however, will quickly develop into loathing after less than an hour. Emil is one of the worst heroes ever to emerge in a role-playing game. He is constantly moaning, complaining, apologising for no reason and has absolutely zero redeeming qualities. On top of that his dialogue and voice acting are exceptionally poor. You’ll literally want to reach inside your television to give him a good smack. And really, he deserves it.
Soon after the game begins, Emil meets Marta- a young girl being chased by both the Vanguard and a mysterious man named Richter. She plays the typically ditzy, free spirited and overly perky female character often found in Japanese games. Although not quite annoying as Emil, she’s not a whole lot better. She obsesses over Emil the entire game and falls in love with him from the get-go. The reasons for this are explained briefly over the course of the game but they never really make much sense. To add insult to injury, Namco doesn’t give you any additional permanent party members for the rest of the game. Yes, you read that correctly. Whilst heroes from the first game briefly join as guests during the course of the game, Emil and Marta are your only permanent members. It’s a curse you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy.
Marta, along with the doglike Centurion of Darkness Tenebrae, have been on a quest to restore balance to the world by waking an ancient being named Ratatosk. To do this, all the elemental cores of the Centurions must be collected. Being the proper RPG hero, Emil decides he wants to protect the cute young girl and goes with them. So he will actually be useful, Tenebrae bestows on him the power of Ratatosk which gives him great skill in battle. While in ‘Ratatosk Mode’ Emil’s emotions are heightened, making him angry more often than not. Initially this is a nice change from his usual pathetic behaviour. But soon enough it will just feel like he goes from whiny to abusive. Not much better if you ask me. The entire story is dull, excluding early sequences with Lloyd, and full of meaningless scenes and appalling dialogue. The pacing is terrible too. The game is often artificially lengthened by mundane tasks or backtracking.
On the plus side, the scenic graphics are rather pretty. Environments are detailed nicely and some even manage to be somewhat impressive. The colours are lush and the textures attractive. Most of the towns you visit in the first game are revisited here and are replicated well. They’re just the same as you remember them apart from sporting a few improvements here and there. Character models are decent, but facial features look literally flat, especially where secondary characters are concerned. They also tend to be a little rough around the edges. That being said, it is nice to see all the old characters again. It’s great to see what has or hasn’t changed about them over the last two years.
The other graphical issue is recycling. Whilst having the environments from the first game provides excellent nostalgic value, you can’t help but feel the development team was just being lazy. There are less than a handful of new areas to explore and there isn’t even a proper world map. Instead, you get an image of the world and a menu to select where you want to go. Very disappointing, really. It cuts out any sort of exploration the game could have offered.
The sound has similar problems. Almost all of the tracks are reused or remixed from the first game where they weren’t really all that great to begin with. It’s great to start humming along to all the old music again, but you still end up feeling the laziness of the developer’s. As previously stated, the voice work is atrocious. Emil is by far the worst, but no one in the entire cast shines. Very few of the actors from the first game are back, which is somewhat disappointing too. The only character I wasn’t tired of listening to by the end was Regal. He wasn’t great, but at least it was believable. Sound effects are decent, but often lacklustre. This also applies to the surprisingly underwhelming opening theme music.
As mentioned earlier you only have two permanent party members throughout the game. Heroes from the first game come and go, but otherwise you are forced to populate your party with monsters. Enemies you fight during battles can be caught and then trained to fight for you. Theoretically it could have been an okay system. I don’t know about you, but when I play a Tales game I expect my party to be populated by characters with interesting backstories; not random monsters I couldn’t care less about. The way you catch the monsters is also overly complicated and often difficult to use. To catch a monster you first need to have killed enough of a similar element type. Even then, it isn’t guaranteed you can catch the monster. At the end of a battle they will often run away or the catching process will simply fail. Ultimately I couldn’t even be bothered. I just used two monsters I caught very early on the whole way through. It was so boring that it wasn’t worth the trouble to experiment with for long.
Whilst we’re discussing the battle system I want to warn you not to be fooled by appearances. At first glance this is the excellent 3D battle engine used in most recent Tales games. It isn’t. It is a highly watered down version of it. For those of you unfamiliar with the system you fight enemies in real time in small arena-like areas. You can then use regular attacks along with special attacks, known as artes, assigned to joystick directions to defeat your foes. In Dawn of the New World you learn significantly fewer artes than in other Tales games. The controls also feel clunky and unresponsive at times. Artificial intelligence for both enemies and your party are frustrating too. You are given a strategy menu for each party member but there are very few options to use. There isn’t even an option to force a party member to focus on healing! This makes a number of boss battles frustratingly difficult when magic users are not saving their mana for healing. Enemies also have a horrible tendency to suddenly gang up on you. They often deal far too much damage per hit, regardless of your level, and you can suddenly find yourself with many dead allies. More than anything, this erratic level of difficulty never allows the combat to be fun.
Outside of battle there are a number of other changes from previous installments in the series. The first is the cooking system. Typically you can prepare meals after battle to restore small amounts of health or mana. Here, that system has been removed entirely and instead implemented to feed monsters. This can be done at specific Katz Guild locations in towns. At these Guilds you can also access side quests to gain items or money. These side quests provide quite a number of extra hours to the game but are pretty much all repetitive dungeon crawls. Another frustrating aspect is how frequently monsters respawn. The camera literally only needs to move slightly outside of where they were killed and they will reappear on the screen. Most of the dungeons have at least a small amount of backtracking required and you’ll find yourself fighting the same monsters over and over and over again.
If you can actually make it through the corny dialogue, uninteresting story, repetitive level design and horrible voice acting to the end of the game then you deserve a virtual cookie. This is a watered-down version of a Tales game and barely deserves to see the light of day. It is a very underwhelming and lazy production on the part of the developers. Even if you were a fan of the first Tales of Symphonia, there will be little here for you to enjoy. Do yourself a favor and run as far away as you can from Dawn of the New World.