Tales of Symphonia 2: Dawn of the New World
Let’s start this stroll down memory lane by establishing that Tales of Symphonia was a blockbuster in its entirety; nearly every aspect of Namco’s first major release of their renowned series that wasn’t exclusive to Asia was a successful portrayal of the ideal role-playing game. It boasted a rich and justified story, likeable characters, a revolutionary combat system and hours upon hours of content and replay value. A time when world-map travel was a means of establishing inter-character relationships, dungeon puzzles were challenging, and the pursuits of protagonists were just. In these ways, Tales of Symphonia 2: Dawn of the New World stumbles and ultimately fails in its attempt to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor.
What Namco’s newest title aims to achieve is fundamentally what leads to its downfall. In an attempt to act on the success of the original Tales of Symphonia, every angle concerning the in-game mechanics of Tales of Symphonia 2 feel poorly recycled and lazily established. Few core elements of the combat, the character models, or dungeon mechanics work, look, or feel any different than they did in 2004 with the release of the previous half of the story. What comes across as a frustratingly underdeveloped title that sports an outrageously irritating protagonist and a lackluster cast of voices and visuals at its disposal is barely salvaged by a familiar battle system and a surprisingly refreshing level of relevant social issues being confronted.
In terms of plot development, Tales of Symphonia 2 walks along the lines of your standard “hero must save the world while confronting his own inner demons”-flavored dish. We are introduced to the world of Symphonia two years after the happenings of the original game: the two worlds of Sylvarant and Tethe’alla have merged into one following the success of Lloyd Irving and his companions on their quest of world regeneration. However, all is not well. Weather distortions begin to occur – deserts experience snow, oceans become fierce, and temperatures flux (global warming, anyone?) – and as a result, the now unnerved peoples of Sylvarant and Tethe’alla begin to discriminate against each other as small conflicts arise. It’s during one of these conflicts that we are introduced to the protagonist Emil, (who is in no way relatable to any stable-minded human being and works only as a means of frustrating the player with his irritating character) who is gifted with the pleasant experience of watching Lloyd Irving murder his parents in front of his eyes, and vows to take his revenge. It is also here that we are introduced to the leading lady Marta, whose story and relevance only bears meaning as an aide to Emil. So from here on out we are tasked with stopping Lloyd’s strange violence spree and solving the issues concerning the strange weather patterns and the ensuing discrimination between the peoples of the now merged worlds; and oh what an arduous task it is…
And so we set off into a vast and uncharted new world! Except, every part of the world is charted, and the new travel system makes it feel entirely foreign to the term “vast”. Unlike all the other Tales games, the free-roaming map system has been removed in lieu of a point and click system that lets you instantly travel from location to location. What may seem like a fun Wii innovation actually takes away from the quality of the adventure. What used to be campfires and exploration is now preset locations on a drastically reduced map, and it saps a lot of the substance from the story while at the same time removes the sense of longevity that any good quest should possess. What’s worse is that along with the sprites and animated sequences, the visuals of the map were not spared the horrifyingly low-cut quality refurbishing. Forests that are covered in snow will appear green on the map, and deserts that have been frozen over will appear sunny and scorching until you actually enter the zone itself. It’s small drawbacks like these that eventually pile up into a heaping mountain of distasteful flaws in the quality of the game. As you traverse the map’s zones you will quickly learn that battles are not random, but instead occur in real time confrontations. In this way you can avoid making contact with enemy units on the field to put a halt to battles all together, but you will find the boss encounters a great deal harder if you choose to play this way.
The battle system at play is all too similar to that of the first game, and is essentially the resurrected version of a beaten down free-roaming combat style that we have already seen many times prior. With such a rush of current-gen changes taking place in the gaming business right now, players crave innovation and change, and Tales of Symphonia 2 just doesn’t deliver on the fighting front. You’ll recognize the free-roaming battle system from Tales of the Abyss, with the A button assigned to attacking and the B+directional buttons assigned to special abilities as is standard with all Tales titles, yet there are absolutely no notable changes or improvements in the way the fights flow or look. Another opportunity for enhancement overlooked in the fast-paced stride of riding on the success of a previous title. The only significant change to the way things run in this new world is the addition of animal companions. Every monster that you face can potentially be tamed to fight alongside you as a party member, and will grow and level up as your characters do, eventually evolving. Although this feature may appeal to the Pokémon fan that resides within us all, it goes without saying that battling monsters is fun when and only when you have nothing but monsters at your disposal. The sad truth of the matter is that it’s impossible to connect with these creatures in any way that you’d connect with a human character, which really just ends up cheapening the experience; especially when you have members from the original cast of characters at your disposal as you progress through the story.
When you’re not in combat you’ll be exercising your mental prowess traversing the game’s many dungeons. But what’s this? Someone has seemingly “traversed” said dungeons and completed them ahead of time! Sadly, Namco has decided that in light of Lloyd and his group’s journey of world regeneration in Tales of Symphonia (which called upon them to navigate the same dungeons in question) that it would be best to leave the puzzles completed as a sign of homage to the previous adventure. What this leaves us with is a myriad of recycled dungeon puzzles that are essentially already completed upon entering a cave or a secret base or anything of the like. It’s safe to say that you won’t spend more than 10 minutes exploring and solving the already half-completed obstacles, which greatly takes not only from the satisfaction aspect of the experience, but also from the game duration, whose completion time runs at about a third of a normal Tales title – you’ll be lucky to milk a 20 hour save file from the entire venture.
Give and takeIt’s an unfortunately increasing situation of exchange that many of today’s released titles suffer from a lack of “emotional depth” or relevant themes in favor of visuals and content, or vice versa. When we are finally once again gifted with a title that successfully captures both, it will receive the praise from us that it so deserves.In truth the only asset of the adventure that’ll keep you from tearing your hair out is the surprisingly rich number of underlying themes that are present throughout the plot development. From confronting one’s demons to standing up for what you believe, Tales of Symphonia 2 offers a seemingly endless number of relevant social and personal messages to appreciate. If you’re looking for a story to relay to your children as they go to sleep, this may very well be the game for you, but the sad truth is that this single – although successful – side to the game does not even begin to compensate for the wealth of frustrating visual and mechanic-based trip falls that are lurking within this title.
In the end, there are no words of wisdom I could present that will keep the niche of rabid Tales fans from sinking their frothing fangs into another overseas release from Namco’s Tales Studio, but for those looking to experience even the smallest degree of majesty that the original Tales of Symphonia presented, it may be best to move right along. What the original represented at the time is now just over-used content aimed to play off of the success of a former champion. Again, what the game aims to achieve is what leads to its downfall, resting securely in the shade of its predecessor’s success and achieving some value in that way, without ever coming out to mark its own territory. Consequently, in no way does Tales of Symphonia 2 innovate, excite, or achieve – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s just unfortunate that the wealth of valuable themes at work in the plot are gift-wrapped with a poor storyline, aged visuals, and recycled content that only core Tales will appreciate.