Dawn of the New World was a worthy follow up to a classic game.
Ok, let me get this out of the way. I've been addicted to Action RPGs since the original Zelda was released and was a huge fan of the Tales of series since Tales of Destiny was released. I played a ton, and I mean a TON of RPG's last gen. Tales of Symphonia just happens to be my favorite RPG of last gen. Sure, it's cliche, but the overall package was amazing. It's hard to explain, but you can't relive that experience.
That's why I wanted to love Tales of Symphonia, and at the same time I was dreading it. I came into the game with low expectations. I haven't played a Tales of game better than the original Symphonia since then, and heck, I haven't played a JRPG that was better than Symphonia since it's release either. In my eyes, Dawn of the New World had a uphill battle. Overall, the game works. There's nothing technically wrong with the game. It's a fun side story that fleshes out the aftermath of the original game. Is it better than Tales of Symphonia? HELL NO. Is was better than I expected though.
One thing about this game though, it's storyline is based way to much on the past of Tales of Symphonia. If you haven't played Tales of Symphonia (shame on you), then I would recommend to NOT play Dawn of the New World. While they do an ok job at trying to expect the previous game, it's just to much to digest. In alot of ways, Dawn of the New World reminds me alot like Final Fantasy X-2. It takes place shortly after that aftermath of each game. They're both obviously side stories, and not "official" games. Their battle systems rely on some sort of gimmick (monsters / job classes) and heck even the world maps are similar. Each game had a short mainquest with a large amount of sidequests. I could go on, but they're similar in a lot of ways.
I loved the controls, for the most part. Tales of Symphonia's battle system is based off of Tales of the Abyss'. So, there's nothing technically bad about the system. You can free roam and attack enemies from behind if you want (I thought this made the game a bit easy on Abyss and this one). There's really no Wiimote functions outside of hot key attacks, which is a GOOD thing. Everything is controlled with the nunchuck and wiimote. My only beef with the battle system controls is how you switch monsters. You have to hit the minus button, so you can't easily switch between monsters. Other than that, the system is perfect.
On the map you can control your avatar various ways. One way is to use the analog stick, this is honestly the only good way. The other is to use the d-pad and run with the B button. The D-pad on the Wii-mote is honestly not made for this type of gameplay. One stupid thing that happens when using the D-pad is Emil will stop moving if your cursor hits the screen. Speaking of that, you can control Emil by using a cursor, and it such a poor use. I have no idea why they included it even. It's hard to run, it's hard to move, it's hard to dodge enemies. It's very flawed, but luckily you can just use the analog stick. There was ONE minigame that used the Wiimote too, and it was dumb.
While some people might complain about the short main quest. I think the sidequests add a huge amount of depth to the overall experience. This reminds me of Enchanted Arms, I really dreaded the main quest, but I loved exploring the areas, item synthesizing and collecting monsters.
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is a party-based Action RPG. You only fight as one character at a time, but you can order your remaining 3 team mates around by selecting what items to use, magic to use or you can change their strategy AI. Strategy AI is fairly vague orders like "Attack the enemy I'm attacking" or "Use TP at a high level". Each character has 5 AI settings, but it might be different per character.
You gain experience and money like in every JRPG ever made by defeating monsters. You gain levels after achieving enough experience points. After a certain amount of levels, your two main characters will gain new skills or artes. Artes are your magic or physical attacks that Marta or Emil can use. If you're playing as Emil, you can set four Arte attacks by tapping the B button in battle and using the various direction pad commands. Along with these 4 basic quick Artes (which have been with the series since the beginning), you can do something new now. You can set 8 additional hot keys for attacks. You can assign ANY character and spell to these 8 hot keys. 4 of the hot keys are attached to the D-pad, up, down, left and right. The other 4 are attached to Wiimote waggle. This is a pretty cool idea and I used them quite a bit.
Skills are "behind the scenes" status effects that you can attach to your characters or monsters. Each character has a set number of skill points they can distribute among their skill set. Some skills boost your overall HP or Attack power, some skills boost your ability to kill a certain enemy. It's a huge variety.
There's also 2 kinds of Unison attacks you can perform in the game. The basic Unison attack is kinda like the ones from Tales of Legendia. You fill a meter, separated into 2 sections. Once you get past atleast 1 section you can unleash a Unison attack with your allies if they're near and filled in the elemental dial. The other is a Mystic Arte, this attack you can't learn until the middle of the game. You first have to equip the "Special" skill, then you can pull off the Arte in battle when your gauge is 100% full and you have enough TP to pull it off. First you have to use any Arte, then hold down on the B button to set the move. After the move is set, you can press the B button again for an additional move.
Dungeons are fairly basic maze like dungeons with random block or level puzzles. I did like the puzzles, I thought a couple were actually hard (but doable) but I was hoping the Wiimote would take more account into the puzzles. All the Wiimote is useful for is the Ring that shoots fire. You can change your elements to work around puzzles but it rarely is put to good use. I mean, you can shoot the Ring at a long range and anywhere on screen, but it doesn't improve beyond the Ring from the previous Tales of games.
In this sequel, the Katz Guide now offer sidequest challenges to your team. I enjoyed them quite a bit, especially early on in the game. There's only two versions of sidequests. One is where you travel through a dungeon, fighting four minibosses until you achieve your goal (get treasure, save monster, defeat boss, etc). The other is to fight one single boss character. After you win your challenge, you get a rare item. For the most part, the items you win are barely worth the sidequest. I loved doing the sidequests because they offered you time to gain more levels without feeling like you're level grinding. You can also gain a TON of loot for Item Synthesis. My only complaint about the Katz Guide sidequests are how limited they are. Through out the 1st to 7th chapters of the game, you'll fight through the same 2 dungeons over and over again (Windy Cave / Dwarf Cave). They're occasionally through you a bone with a Volcano or Ice cave, but you might have to go through the same dungeon up to 3 times per chapter (if you choose to do the sidequest). On the 8th chapter (and final) chapter is when you unlock a special hidden dungeon plus previously visited dungeons.
Item Synthesis is another good time waster. To get all the good loot, you'll have to go through the sidequests. You get loot from treasure chests or by defeating a monster and getting it by chance. Once you get all the right ingredients, you can then go to any shop in town and start forging items. You can make some pretty cool and rare weapons and armor with your old armor. So it's worth experimenting.
Monster collecting is a huge part of the game if you choose to do it. You can forge pacts with monsters if you defeat them when your elements align. Kinda like in Chrono Cross, when you use an element Arte, your little dial will get a elemental notch. Once that dial is dominated by an element, it will turn into that said element. This can effect the battle field (like in Chrono Cross), but it will also let you befriend monsters.
Once you get a monster on your team, it always starts at level 1. Monsters level up a lot faster than Marta or Emil, and you can hold up to 4 monsters at a time. If you befriend a monster when you have 4 monsters on your team, you can send it to the Katz Guide or replace it with one of your four. The monsters sent to the guide can't gain experience though, only the four you have with you. After so many levels, your monster will eventually start to twitch and want to evolve into a new monster. This is when you take them to the Katz Guide and feed them. When you feed a monster, he'll gain a bunch of stat boosts. If you feed them while they're evolving, then you can change their class. You can evolve monsters around 3 times before they start to devolve to their original state and start the evolution over again. You DON'T have to evolve a monster if it wants to. It's up to you when you want to evolve a monster. Your monsters can equip 2 accessories. Along with high level rate, accessories, you can also buy or find them skills or artes to permanently attach to them.
----------Characters / Story----------
Tales of Symphonia 2 is set 2 years after the first game. The two worlds have rejoin as one. The world is on the brink of chaos. A civil war is brewing between the two former worlds. Not only that, but the world's climate is going crazy. Desert towns get blizzard storms, Ice towns are melting, some towns are being slow destroyed by earthquakes.
You play as Emil, a very young kid who witnessed his parents murder in the hands of Lloyd Irving, the hero from the original Tales of Symphonia. Emil has no self esteem, and gets picked on by his friends and even his family. Emil hates Lloyd Irving for what he did, but he doesn't have the power or courage to face him.
Emil eventually meets up with a young lady named Marta. Marta is a pariah, wondering the world for Centurian Cores. These cores hold the "souls" of Centurian monsters. Centurians can control monsters of their element, and they control the balance of the world. Marta has the Core of Ratatosk attached to her head. She's on a mission to find all the cores and hatch them to restore order of the world.
Ratatosk is the Guardian of all monsters. He eventually bestows his power to Emil to protect Marta on her journey. This gives Emil a split personality. When Emil get's mad, he goes into "Ratatosk Mode". This is alot like Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde, or possible the Incredible Hulk.
Overall the story was good enough. There was nothing insulting about the characters. Ok, the two main leads are very cliche, but I did enjoy their character progression, especially Emil's. I loved how they weaved in the original cast and characters from Tales of Symphonia into the game. It didn't feel tacked on, which is what I was scared of. However, this story couldn't have happened without them. The story turned out a lot more exciting than I was expecting.
Also, I want to go on record by saying Alice is the greatest villain in Tales of history.
The graphics are a touchy issue. At some points, the game looks really cheap. In other points, the game looks amazing. It's hard to judge something like this game. For example, the dungeon animations, from rocks falling or monsters floating towards you, look extremely generic. The dungeons themselves look like they needed an extra amount of polish as well.
I have a few mixed feelings about some things. For one, the character models. In the original game, the character models were squatty little 3D models that used a cool celshading effect. In TOS2, the models look fully proportionate. They no longer use a celshading effect either. The graphical style looks very close to what Tales of the Abyss was going after. I personally preferred the original style but I'm ok with change. It offers more character detail, but it also shows off alot of jaggy moments too.
I love the cutscenes though. They use that same technology that Tales of the Abyss occasionally used, or for a better example Basketball games use. They use real actors and digitally replace them with the game characters. Sometimes it looks really good, while other times it looks downright creepy. I enjoyed it though, I don't often see that in RPGs. It makes the game look more realistic in their movements, but you can see the actors stutter with moves and stuff. It's not a perfect science yet.
One thing I have to get off my chest are the cutscenes, which are COMPLETELY SKIPPABLE. If you read the Gamespot review, then the reviewer claims the cutscenes aren't skippable and that he was forced to watch them all (aw poor baby). Well, he was wrong. They can easily be skipped by holding down A & B buttons. Argh, rant over.
The special moves, enemy models, and other battle field graphics look pretty good, but I think they look worse than Tales of the Abyss. One other than that's kinda annoying is when you run to fast in a dungeon or town, the entire screen gets blurry.
I'll start with the voice acting first. Emil is VERY whiny snot nosed kid. He can be very irritating, but once you get to know more about Emil, you eventually find out why he's such a whiny kid. He's a total shock when you first hear him, but stick with it, he's whiny for a very good reason. I love Marta's voice, and especially Alice's. Tenebrae talks in a smoothing, yet stern tone, which reminds me lot of the dog from Shining Force Exa, who are both very similar characters.
As for the returning characters of the game. Lloyd, Zelos and possibly Genis all have different voice actor, or at the very least they sound very very different than how I remember them. Genis sounds like he has a more mature and deeper voice, so he sounds pretty good. Lloyd and Zelos were shocks, but overall you get use to it and forget about it.
I was a little surprised by how much voice acting was in the game too. Every dialog scene, every cutscene, and even every skit are voiced over. The only exceptions are the Katz Guide sidequests.
The music is great. I haven't played the original Tales of Symphonia in atleast 3 years, so I'm not sure what's new, old or remixed, but I did recognize a few tracks.
The world map was a big controversy but I welcome it. I normally don't like Menu based maps, but who wants to re-explore the same areas over again? It's not new to you, so why bother. Also, the encounter rate in this game is massive compared to the previous Tales of games. Monsters re-appear seconds after you kill them, so you can run into the same monster twice just by grabbing a chest. Do you want to run into 100 more battles but you reach a town over and over again?
With that said, I loooove the graphic style of the world map. It reminds me alot of Chrono Trigger. I would have been nice if they adopted the Chrono Trigger world Map idea. Heck, even a Baten Kaitos or Xenosaga world map would be ok. I like those maps because you don't have to worry about random encounters slowing you down.
One cool thing about the map is how you can control it. You can use the d-pad and skim through the avalible towns or dungeons, or you can use the Wiimote and spin the globe around to pick the town. This reminds me of the game Contact on the DS. One bad thing about the map is they lock you out of areas during certain points. You'll eventually open the entire game towards the end though.
Some people might say there's no reason to backtrack into previous towns. I disagree. Some towns sell specific items, such as armor/weapons (for item synthesis) or maybe skills you can team your monsters, and especially food. You can't get the same kind of food in every town. There's also some special Richter based sidequests you can unlock by backtracking in certain chapters. It's always a good idea to check previous towns for new stuff. I'm sure there was stuff I missed even.
----------Time to Complete Game----------
I put a lot of time into this. I did all sidequests but the final unlockable one, Twilight Palace. I didn't purposely go out of my way to capture or raise monsters. I stuck with the few I liked and moved on. I watched all cutscenes and skits, overall 86% skits were watched. I never once level grinded. That's why I took me 57 hours to complete. There was alot of things to do outside of the mainquest. The game can be completed on an average of 30 hours if you watch all cutscenes and skits, but skip the sidequest stuff. Some people have claimed they beat it in 15 hours, but how can you enjoy a game rushing through it that fast?
There are two possible endings, and I kinda preferred the bad one for some reason. I LOVED the ending credits, I rarely say that. Let's just say the when the credits roll, in the background they pan across a room showing a bunch of weird pictures of the games adventure. Probably one of the best credit sequences since Star Tropics or Megaman 2. Oh yeah, I went there.
After you beat the game you unlock a New Game+ mode. Here you can spend all your grade you want. I ended up with 3,086. That was nearly enough to buy everything (4,070 total), although there are some grade that contradict each other.
I ran into 1,438 encounters. The most I have ever encountered in single Tales of.. game. This explains why I had a ton of Grade left over.