Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World (Wii/PS3)

Story: Two years have passed since the Chosen and her companions went on a journey that merged two worlds into one (Tales of Symphonia). But the new world is struggling in more ways than one. Strange weather disrupts cities. Monsters are growing aggressive. And the technologically-superior Tethe’allens are lording it over the Silveranti badly enough that a resistance group called the Vanguard has formed to revolt against Tethe’alla.

Worst of all, Lloyd, who was a key player in restoring the world, is now attacking cities.

Emil is a survivor of the Palmacosta Blood Purge. After seeing Lloyd murder his parents, he’s sworn to get revenge. But for now, he lives with his aunt and uncle in Luin, dreaming of things he’s too afraid to go after. Then Marta shows up—a girl who seems to know him from Palmacosta, a girl with a strange animal companion who calls himself a Centurion, a girl trying to wake up Ratatosk to save the world. Marta has the shards of Ratatosk’s core embedded in her forehead, and that’s made her a fugitive, as various groups who are after Ratatosk’s power for their own ends would need to kill her to get it. So Emil, who has no idea how to fight, agrees to become a Knight of Ratatosk and help her on her journey . . .

Despite the awkward start (flashbacks! Stop with the flashbacks, already!), I really liked this story. I think part of that is because these sequel games (Xillia 2 being the other) tend to introduce a limited number of new characters and then focus most of the story on them, with the old cast playing more of a glorified support role. Emil and Marta both have interesting character arcs, although I prefer Emil. Marta is a romantic who fell in love with Emil when he saved her in Palmacosta, and much of her side is learning that the real Emil is different from her imaginations, and how to appreciate who he really is and not who she wants him to be. Emil has two character arcs. The main one is, as one might expect from the first 15 minutes, him learning to stand up for himself and find the strength to follow his own convictions. But once he agrees to use Ratatosk’s power, his personality fragments into the “nice Emil” everyone likes and the “Ratatosk mode” that gives him the ability to fight. His second arc involves figuring out who he really is and who he wants to be.

And I can’t forget Tenebrae, the Centurion of Darkness who accompanies Marta and provides a lot of the humor. He’s dignified and capable of telling the most outrageous lies to make himself the center of attention. And his cultural references are about 4000 years out of date.

IMPORTANT: The good ending has a few non-obvious tricks, the most critical of which is the last set of boss battles. Lose the second one (the one you fight solo) to get the better ending. Or just redo the first fight once you’ve seen the bad ending if you saved before the final boss.

Gameplay: Dawn of the New World introduces something unique to the Tales series: monster catching! Although a great deal of the game’s story involves monsters, this is actually a rather optional part of the gameplay. You are given two creatures by default in the beginning as part of a tutorial, and if you wanted, you could simply use those two to fill party slots for the rest of the game. Or (especially if like me you enjoy the Pokemon-like aspect) you can try to “catch them all”. Realistically it’s way too much effort to evolve everything up its tree, so consult a guide or look at some Youtube videos of the monster book to figure out which ones you like best and work towards that. GameFAQs has some excellent guides. By endgame I had to do a bit of scrambling because I decided to replace one of the physical-attacker monsters on my team for a mage and getting the new one up to speed was a bit painful. For the record, my final team of four was Were Hedden (physical attacker), Moon Rocks (stealing/rare item drops), Vroom (mage-physical attacker hybrid), and Ravenous (mage).

Now, the non-monster teammates you’ll acquire come with one rather painful limitation. All the Symphonia characters are level-capped. By end-game they’re only going to be level 50. That said, human characters still have a number of advantages that makes the level cap less murderous than it might otherwise be. Aside from the ability to control them directly, their AI handled a lot better than the monsters, who frequently would sit for several seconds between each attack combo, and would often fumble to hit smaller or faster enemies. Monsters will indirectly penalize you because if all human characters are dead it’s game over, even if the monsters are still alive. And once the Symphonia characters hit level 30+ you have the option of a mystic arte, which is going to do massive damage.

The Symphonia characters play more or less how you remember them from Symphonia (with somewhat fewer skills). I played most of the game as Emil, with a short stint as Marta to get through Coliseum for her title. Aside from a huge variety of artes (especially once he starts picking up elemental attributes for them), Emil is the first character I’ve played where doing arial combat was not only possible but completely natural. Equip him with the Echo Tracer (a synthesized sword with Accelerate ability) and later Nether Traitor (best sword, also has Accelerate) to speed up his reaction time to the point where he can pretty much solo anything. In fact, in order to actually lose a battle near the end (required to get the good ending) I had to equip Emil with non-regen equipment because he would otherwise recover the damage faster than they were dealing it.

And Marta with two Mystic Symbols plus one piece of equipment that also has Speed Cast 2 is completely untouchable. She can basically instant-cast high level magic like Prism Sword and Divine Saber. Actually, I had far less trouble in the Coliseum with her than Emil because nothing could even get close enough to touch her.

The only real downside to playing with both Emil and Marta is that the after-battle quips get old after about chapter one. In order to have something different and interesting, the other human characters do need to be in the party (and strike the final blow).

The Katz quests also get old fast, however, if you don’t care about catching monsters or getting the chest contents, they’re entirely skippable. The fastest way to get the Treasure Hunter’s Trophy would be to fail the dungeon quests (go ahead and fight the single-fight quests since that would take about as much time as losing them) until the Treasure Hunter quests show up. So the Twilight Palace (which contains the best equipment) is possible without sinking a ton of time into the ordinary quests.
Overall: I really enjoyed my time through this. The game is short enough that it never hit long stretches full of non-plotted quests (like the boring trek of getting the last summon spirits in Symphonia, which was puzzle dungeon after puzzle dungeon with hardly any plot). It hits up several tropes I adore, like Emil’s split personality and the various complications (Ratatosk-Emil can’t understand why everyone prefers the wimpy him). And not having been a huge fan of Lloyd, seeing him cast as a villain was decidedly funny (even though it’s pretty obvious Something Is Wrong With This Picture). I beat the game in roughly 60 hours, and that was with quite a lot of time spent tracking down some of the rarer monsters (alas, I still do not have them all, but I have most of the ones I like). A better estimate would be 35-40 hours max if you aren’t too much into the monster collecting aspect.

One thing that really makes this game stand out to me is the use of motion capture. Although the graphics themselves are fairly bad, and there aren’t a lot of animated cutscenes to help with that, the way the in-game models move is a real treat. I couldn’t get over how natural the motions look in many of the key scenes, because even with much newer games I’m usually noticing little pauses or a stiffness to the motion that betrays the scripting.

Obviously, your mileage is going to vary tremendously based on what you thought of the original Symphonia (if you played it, which isn’t required but would make more sense of some of the backstory) and what you think of the monster system. But I still think this is a good time if you can get through the first hour or two of rough plot.

I played the PS3 version, but there isn’t too much difference between the PS3 and Wii versions. A few chests switched items, and the PS3 version took out the beginning bonus if you had a  Symphonia save game, but by and large there’s no significant version difference. At this point, given that the PS3 version includes both games (as well as upgrading Symphonia with additional moves and costumes), that’s probably the better option. I rate this game Recommended.

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