Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World review

  • Occasionally snappy, fun dialogue
  • Some scenes animated surprisingly well
  • Cool main story
  • Occasionally awful, stilted dialogue
  • Some scenes barely animated at all
  • Main story buried by pointless meandering

Dawn of the New World is a tale of two realms caught in a parasitic balancing act that threatens to destroy both worlds forever. Fitting then that the gameplay suffers from the same abrasive dichotomy, where half the ideas succeed while the other half sucks the life out of the whole project. For every memorable moment or little touch that made us crack a smile there was something equally annoying to bring us back down to “oh god how much longer is this game?” territory.

Let’s start with the cast, which mainly consists of Emil and Marta. They play off each other quite well at first, with Marta always energetic and sure of herself while Emil feels inadequate in every way. Once he forms a pact with the soon-to-be-revived monster king Ratatosk, however, Emil gains an aggressive split personality that takes control whenever there’s danger. Kind of neat, but in reality this means Emil grows as a character extremely slowly, always jumping in and out of wishy-washy whiner (and oh man, does he ever whine) and red-eyed leader instead of developing on his own. Only far later does he start to shape up, and even then he’s still a bit too baby-ish for our tastes.

Above: Emil, as possessed by Ratatosk, tries to make a Pokemon-esque pact with a monster

Part of Emil’s newly acquired skillset is the ability to form pacts with the 200-plus monsters that populate the game’s real-time battles. Each has its own strengths, weaknesses, affinities and class, which very much makes the collection of said monsters feel like an extension of Pokemon. Emil and Marta are the only mainstays in your party, so the rest of the battle slots are filled by these customizable monsters. It’s easy to become obsessed with catching these suckers, trying to make a team that perfectly complements each other for huge combo attacks against some of the tougher bosses. It’s almost as pleasantly addicting as Pokemon itself.

But, to balance things out, it’s borderline unnecessary to spend all that time building up a perfect team. Emil and Marta are highly effective on their own, and once the cast from the first Symphonia game start popping into your party (including Colette, Genis, Raine and Sheena) you find they’re typically better than any monster you may have, even though their equipment and stats cannot be changed. So the question then becomes, are you willing to sink a lot of time into an aspect of the game that can practically be ignored altogether? If so, hey, you’ve got a lot of material to cover. If not, one of the game’s biggest bullet points is meaningless.

Above: Emil and Richter fight with two capture monsters on a battlefield that’s just been completely turned to the blue element

Then there are the games many side quests, which are acquired by visiting the Tales-staple Katz Guild. Each side quest awards some trinket of varying import, but we found the time invested did not match up with the payoff; weapons won by delivering a package or saving a lost researcher were sometimes weaker than those in the town’s shop. What’s even weirder is the fact that the game introduces quests to you early on, then recommends you don’t begin them until level 12. We were at level 7 or 8 when we attempted the first and got creamed. Why bring it up if we can’t really take advantage of it for an unknown amount of hours?

The Tales series is known for its chatty dialogue scenes that pop up while you roam the map. They’re only there for entertainment purposes, but serve to connect the party in ways the main plot never could. Entire conversations take place in these scenes that reveal character traits, interests and hobbies that flesh them out wonderfully, and we happily listened to every damn one we could. Then, as this strange balancing act would have it, the in-game dialogue between Emil, Marta and the various friends and enemies are so horribly clichéd and trite it’s like they were pulled from a third-rate, Japan-only RPG for Saturn. How can the bonus voicework and exchanges be so fun and then the ones that matter be so boring?

Above: Sheena looks good anywhere, but only sounds good in the dialogue breaks

The next half-good/half-bad point really ticked us off – many of Dawn’s action scenes are animated beautifully, with fluid, lifelike movements from every character on the screen. You hardly ever see JRPG characters behave like this, leaning into runs and realistically bending all their joints in the appropriate manner. When they’re on the screen, it’s hard to look away. And then for no reason at all the other half are just as stiff and robotic as every other JRPG released since the PlayStation One days. We expect the latter at this point (even the super-spiffy Tales of Vesperia is guilty), but it’s even more of an insult when far better scenes exist in the same damn game. This, coupled with the inane dialogue and the next point we’re about to drop, are what really hold the whole thing back from greatness.

The main quest is about Emil trying to find magical cores that will help him awaken Lord Ratatosk, the monster who’s lending Emil his power during battles. Along the way you keep running into Lloyd Irving, the hero of the first Symphonia from 2004, who’s apparently gone off the deep end and is killing people left and right, Emil’s parents included. This twist was known from the first press releases, but it’s still an amazingly unique and cool idea to pursue. Make the previous beloved hero, whom you spent 40 hours with, the villain of the sequel? Brilliant… except that you spend far, far more time dicking around with the downright dumbest quests we’ve seen in a while.

Above: Lloyd is constantly at odds with Emil and Marta. Too bad these encounters take forever to come around

Instead of pushing ever onward, always one step behind Lloyd and feeling like there’s an actual chase or vendetta at hand, you’re usually scattered from one task to the other in a very artificial let’s-extend-the-game kind of way. Here’s an intentionally long-winded example:

You need to cross the ocean to chase Lloyd but can’t because the town has an arsonist loose who’s setting everything on fire. They won’t run any boats until he’s caught. They thought they caught the culprit, but then another fire broke out, so he’s probably not to blame. You check this culprit out and sure enough he’s someone you know that can’t get out of jail because the one person who could stand up for him was knocked unconscious by the last fire. Checking him out reveals a toxin in his body that can only be cured by rosemary, which is in a cave outside of town. You claw through a huge dungeon to find the rosemary wilted without sunlight. After finding a way to get sunlight on it and instantly grow it to proper size, you fight a boss then take the rosemary back to heal the dude to vouch for your friend to help you find the real arsonist. Once healed, the guy says it was a magic frog that knocked him out, and your team deduces it’s all the seafood in the town that’s attracting these explosive amphibians. Now you plan to lure it into town and take it out… only the town’s conveniently out of the main component, jellyfish. Now you’re off to another town to fish and retrieve one sole jellyfish, return to fight the magic frog and still not cross the ocean to do the one thing you’re interested in doing.

Above: Get used to this screen, you’ll see it a lot

Then, cutting back on that annoyance ever so slightly is the overworld. Some might complain about the lack of a walk-there-yourself map, but in this case we happily chose our destination from a pre-set list and instantly teleported there. It’s fast, it gets you where you need to go and helps alleviate some of the back-and-forthiness of the main story.

 We don’t want to come down on it so much, but here the mediocrity, which might have flown anywhere else, mucks up the works even more than usual, thanks to the parts of the game that work quite well. Collecting monsters, visiting old Symphonia locations, listening to the dialogue scenes and watching the motion-captured characters act out the drama suck you in like few other Wii games can, only to have the hackneyed plot devices and persistently obnoxious sidetracking annoy the living crap out of you.

If you can look past the last-last-gen flaws that absolutely should be gone by now, there’s a totally playable bit of gaming here that’ll scratch your RPG itch for the time being. But if you’re unsure as to which new Tales game you should play, Vesperia or Dawn of the New World, go Vesperia.

Nov 13, 2008

More Info

Release date: Nov 11 2008 - Wii (US)
Available Platforms: Wii
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Namco Bandai
Developed by: Namco Tales Studio
Franchise: Tales of...
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes, Mild Language

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  • MaxPower - December 6, 2008 1:25 a.m.

    I know exactly what you mean Coolbeans69, The first one like practically changed my life forever since it was embarrassingly to say the first every "RPG" type game I ever played and it was what got me interested in other RPG's, even final fantasy. This review is dead- on like other games radar reviews but It isnt a whole disappointment, I have the game and atleast the nostalgia keeps me going lol
  • Coolbeans69 - November 30, 2008 11:35 p.m.

    Biggest disappointment in my life
  • GamesRadarBrettElston - November 20, 2008 10:55 p.m.

    I'm only responding because it seems like you may have missed the point of the review. It's entirely true that HALF of everything is cool and the other HALF is awful. Not all scenes are animated with the same fluidity and the dialogue suffers as well. Similarly, the main storyline is quite interesting but you spend so much time farting around with other entirely UNinteresting nothings that you lose sight of the goal. If you don't want to listen to my review, as someone who played through Symphonia years ago and plays just about every JRPG I can get my hands on, trust the 68 Metacritic average. Also realize that a 6/10 means "decent," and is still worth looking into. Just be aware of the shortcomings.
  • lenitao - November 20, 2008 8:17 p.m.

    you stupid suckers,don't listen to reviews this game rules!! i've got both Tales of Symphonia and the new one is much better!! i give it a 9.6/10!! also, this review is awful, dialogue is occasionally snappy and occasionally awful, whadda hell?? can't you decide?? scenes are some animated and some not!! for god's sake, all scenes are great! cool main story but pointless meandering?? as you've said, the story is cool, because of the meandering you stupid! buy this game, you don't know what you are missing, trust me, this game is one of the best on Wii!
  • Hurricrane - November 14, 2008 5:45 p.m.

    mmmm more Symphonia... but I think I'll pass on this to keep the original untarnished
  • iluvmyDS - November 13, 2008 9:36 p.m.

    That was a well written review. But "it’s like they were pulled from a third-rate, Japan-only RPG for Saturn."? Ouch.
  • Coolbeans69 - November 30, 2008 11:40 p.m.

    I mean just look at my picture. I fucking loved the first one. I'm probably still going to get it but still.....
  • CashWheel - November 15, 2008 2:55 a.m.

    This should've been mentioned in your Worst Release Dates article - after a far superior game in the same franchise was released, Namco decided to release this.
  • NESman - November 14, 2008 7:12 p.m.

    Unfortunate. I got my hopes up. All the reviews I've read said the same thing.
  • ikillchicken - November 14, 2008 8:52 a.m.

    Yeah, I think I'll definitely pass on this. I was a little undecided but seeing it stacked up next to Vesperia... I'd rather play through that again.
  • DEATHWISH - December 17, 2008 2:19 a.m.

    Nice comeback, Brett. n_n" Geez, some people get pissed quick. >.> While it is true that this game has some flaws, It's still good enough to pick up. It's not such a touchy subject. -__-
  • nguy123 - January 11, 2009 3:24 a.m.

    I agree that this one wasnt NEARLY as good as the first, which is the best game ever made in all of time, but it's actually still really good. My only real pet peaves were the fact that they changed some of the voices, the lack of free roaming map, and the sometimes meaningless tasks.
  • Coolbeans69 - December 27, 2008 10:04 a.m.

    Coolbeans again, i just got this game and i love it! I agree it sidetracks a lot with the story and at times the dialogue is weird. Also, the monster capture system is kind of meaningless considering once ur about 2 hours in the game u only need 1 monster in ur party! But this is definatley a great game in my opinion, so no, I'm not dissapointed in this like I said like a month ago

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