Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Reviewed by: Sam Fourie
While not quite as well known as other JRPGs, the Tales series is a franchise that has seen quality releases year after year. But whereas Square Enix makes it a high priority to port every new iteration of Final Fantasy as soon as possible to western markets, Namco takes its sweet time with the Tales series, with the west only seeing release of the latest game, Tales of Xillia 2 years after it’s initial release.
Thankfully Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, a HD re-release of one of the best games in the series has finally made it’s way over here and serves to deliver one of the best games in the series with updated visuals and the sequel: Dawn of the New World in tow.
Tales of Symphonia Chronicles is not just an up-scaling of the original GameCube version as most of the assets have seen a complete overhaul including numerous illustrations of characters and environments. Chronicles also adds dual audio and a few minor extra pieces of content like various costumes, attacks and skits. While it definitely shows its age in the interface, menus and presentation its still quite a good looking game with a very charming art style about it.
Tales of Symphonia casts you as Lloyd Irving, a young swordsman tasked with protecting one Colette Brunel who has been charged with saving the world by unsealing the five temples which will lead to an event called “Regeneration”. It takes its fair share of twists and turns and forces the player to make some very interesting choices. Its a great ride and the game really does do a good job of making you feel part of this epic quest. It does need bearing mind though that this is a nearly decade old game now so the presentation isn’t quite what up to today’s standard, so don’t expect any flashy cutscenes or much voice acting.
The cast of characters is memorable, diverse and well written with each party member having a unique connection to the rest. This leads to some very memorable dialogue sessions and a crew of makeshift heroes that feel genuinely connected and loyal to one another, rather than a collection of isolated personality types.
Lloyd Irving has quite a following under the fans of this genre for a good reason. He’s a very well written protagonist. He’s likeable, fun to watch and interact via, but most importantly he’s human and succumbs to his flaws and weaknesses as often as the rest of us.
The battle system is based in real time and operates very much like an hybrid of classic JRPG battle systems and more action orientated takes on the genre. From a party of four the player controls one character with the rest being handled by the game’s AI. You can set battle parameters for each character individually before and during combat. The AI does a good job of this with characters sticking to their assigned roles and allotted abilities most of the time. After a certain amount of damage has been dealt you can trigger “Unison Attacks” which sees the entire party unload a barrage of pre-assigned attacks on a single target resulting in massive damage being dealt.
Skills are assigned by way of equipping “EX Gems” each of which bestows unique traits on a character in way very reminiscent to Final Fantasy VII. While it’s all good fun and functions perfectly well, the game’s tutorial is very poorly handled. A lot of these concepts are introduced at the same time and require you to read through various pages of poor explanation after which you often don’t get the chance to put into practice what you’ve just been taught.
Another nasty problem crops up in the game’s save functionality. There’s no auto-save or checkpoint system whatsoever, only pre-destined save points scattered across the world and its dungeons. If you die, you will be sent back to the last point at which saved at one of these and it can lead to hours of progress evaporating before your eyes. Most dungeons have one of these save points right before their boss encounters, but they’re locked away and I often found myself fresh out of the item required to break the seal.
This frustrating save system, coupled with some very harsh difficulty spikes led to me losing so a lot of progress quite often, and makes Tales of Symphonia not a game I’d recommend to anyone with limited time or patience.Speaking of which, Symphonia is a pretty lengthy game that offers a bare minimum 30 hours of content, though can easily squeeze double that out of the game if you’re willing to hunt down all the side content.
The second part to the Tales of Symphonia Chronicles package, Dawn of the New World (originally released for the Wii in 2008) is much briefer and falls very short of being as good a game as Symphonia. It’s quite a forgettable experience to be honest. Instead of returning to Lloyd and company the story focuses on a new cast, lead by newcomers Emil Castagnier and Marta Lualdi who aren’t nearly as likeable and well written as Symphonia’s protagonists. It does set up quite an interesting premise to base the plot around, but fails hard to execute on the potential on offer.
Dawn of the New World also feels much more limited due to the lack of a real overworld, and a stripped down combat system. A few new mechanics are thrown into the mix, but in the end it essentially boils down to a tedious monster taming system which yields very little reward for all the effort it asks.
The new cast pales in comparison to the original crew and the few that do return aren’t as interesting to watch and interact with as before. Dawn of the New World isn’t strictly speaking a bad game but it’s very tedious and disappointing coming off of Symphonia.
Tales of Symphonia is a great game and one that I would heartily recommend to fans of the genre, provided they can get through some of the more dated aspects like the save system and the lack of fast travel. It offers a fantastic story, a memorable crew of great characters and battle system that is quite fun, though poorly explained and susceptible to sharp difficulty spikes.
Dawn of the New World, while not a horrible experience, doesn’t ever come close to being a game I wanted to spend more time with. It’s more tedious than fun and never really explores the new mechanics and interesting story concepts it presents to any meaningful depth.
Lasting appeal: 7.5/10