Tales of Symphonia Chronicles review: are past-gen JRPGs still relevant to today’s gamers?
The answer is: it depends. It depends entirely on the type of gamer you are. Are you someone who lives for the next Call of Duty bro-shooter expansion? Or are you someone who appreciates the experience of gaming, the sensitivity of each story, the liveliness of each character in an RPG?
Tales of Symphonia Chronicles is the recent Playstation 3 release of the Gamecube’s Tales of Symphonia from 2003 and the Wii’s Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World from 2008. Chronicles combines both games into one handy PS3 disc, and in high-definition to boot.
Since these are RPGs dating way, way back, there must be some reason Bandai Namco decided to reinvigorate them for today’s audience, right? Well, maybe. Maybe not.
Tales of Symphonia – to play or not to play?
Tales of Symphonia tells the story of Lloyd Irving and Colette Brunel, two youngsters who go on a journey to revitalize the world. To cut a long story short, Colette is the Chosen of Regeneration, tasked with saving the world, and Lloyd is her faithful knight.
The story in Tales of Symphonia is nothing to write home about. It’s poorly developed, and throws you abruptly into a huge save-the-world journey for the extremely bland and uninteresting Colette. Fortunately there are the usual, and usually funny, Tales skits you see in the form of talking heads, and a choice of journeying with an English dub or the original Japanese audio (which is miles better, do yourself a favor and select it).
Although the story is what people usually play JRPGs for, you might be forgiven for enjoying something else in Tales of Symphonia.
And that’s the battle system. For those of you new to the Tales series (Tales of the Abyss was my first), it features a form of active-time battle that changes with each game. In Symphonia, battle sequences use the Multi-line Linear Motion Battle System, which allows you to have up to four party members. The player controls protagonist Lloyd Irving, while the rest of the party are guided by pretty smart AI, and movement in battle, while limited to one horizontal route, is fast-paced and relies on attack combos.
However, Tales of Symphonia was developed more than ten years ago, and its age shows in spite of HD remastering. Character models are blocky and move awkwardly, faces are more often than not blank, and monsters in the field are little more than simple black blobs with eyes.
Tales of Symphonia is undoubtedly a game a little past its prime, but for the true JRPG aficionado, I recommend playing it for the experience.
Now, what about its sequel?
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World – five years later is the key
Dawn of the New World was released in 2008 for the Wii and has still managed not to show its age. The less-than-shiny graphics that accompany Dawn of the New World complement the anime Tales JRPG very well, and don’t look dated at all.
Superficialities aside, Dawn of the New World is a much better game. It’s like Bandai Namco learned from the initial Tales of Symphonia and did its best to make things better. The world has changed in Dawn of the New World, predictably enough, and Lloyd Irving, once brave and loyal savior of the world, is now a sinister goon acting as the game’s main antagonist.
Directly opposing him are Emil Castagnier, a boy whose parents were killed by Lloyd, and Marta Lualdi, a girl who somehow got the ‘egg’ of a demon lord embedded in her forehead. Lloyd, and many others, want that ‘egg’—or core—out of Marta’s forehead, but she isn’t having any of that. They also want the rest of the cores scattered around the world. Cue the ensuing conflict.
Now, Dawn of the New World has two things going right for it: one, it has a much better plot than its predecessor, and two, it has a more flexible battle system.
The Flex Range Element Enhanced Linear Motion Battle System allows players to run freely around the battlefield, though any damage sustained then will be a critical hit. Like in Tales of Symphonia, characters deal damage through attack combos and the equipping of special skills called Artes. Unlike the first Tales of Symphonia, parties in Dawn of the New World can be filled by monsters instead of people; it makes sense since the Lord Ratatosk, a character integral to the game’s plot, is also known as the lord of monsters.
Being five years younger than Tales of Symphonia, Dawn of the New World is still doing well for itself. The script is better, the visuals have withstood the test of time pretty well, and the game handles much better overall. It even got rid of awkwardly designed world map areas and lets you travel around via a huge map.
It’s definitely not the most visually impressive of JRPGs available nowadays, not even with its HD remaster, but it certainly is a breath of fresh air from the super-shiny triple-A stuff we’re bombarded with. If you’ve a taste for some old-school JRPG goodness, then Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is definitely a game for you.