Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World Hands-On
We return to the new world for another adventure, set two years after the events of Tales of Symphonia.
To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Tales series in North America, Namco Bandai brings us Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World on the Nintendo Wii. The game takes place just two years after the events of Tales of Symphonia, and you'll come across familiar faces and revisit this new world that Lloyd and Collette had saved. It seems that even with all of their hard work from the previous game, peace hasn't spread across the land, and there are some bizarre climate changes. In Dawn of the New World, you follow the story of two young heroes who set out to discover the reason behind these events while allying with monsters they meet along the way.
We've played through the first few hours of Dawn of the New World, and it's very linear for the first hour and a half, given that there's a lot of dialogue to try to get you up to speed with what's going on. If you haven't played the previous game, it shouldn't make much of a difference because they do explain the important events that happened. The hero of our story is a timid boy named Emil who lost his parents when his city was ransacked. He now lives with his aunt and uncle in Luin. Right off the bat, we notice that the townspeople are rather hostile to Emil, but he doesn't have much of a backbone to fend off the bullies and verbal abuse from everyone around him, including his relatives. There has been an increase in aggressive monsters, and the lake has dried up, so everyone in town blames Emil. That's quite an accusation for a boy who can't do much else but say "sorry" all the time. Emil eventually meets Marta, a pretty young girl with a jewel stuck to her forehead. She tells him about Lord Ratatosk, ruler of all monsters, and it becomes clear that Marta's connection with Ratatosk is the reason why everyone seems to want to kill her. As indecisive as Emil is, a cute girl always takes precedence, so together they try to get a better grasp of what's happening around them.
A noticeable change from the last game is that you can't wander the overworld map anymore. Instead, you use the Wii Remote to point at a location, or you use the direction button to select which city to visit. In the beginning, the only options available to you are the places you have to go, so it's hard to get lost. In dungeons and cities, you can point the Wii Remote to your desired location and hold down the B button for Emil to go there. It's still more efficient to use the analog stick, but the choice is there. When you receive the Sorcerer's Ring, you'll also be able to point with the Wii Remote to use it on specific areas.
Enemies are seen onscreen, and you're taken into a 3D arena when you start a battle. Fighting involved mostly button-mashing, but this time you can hold down the Z button and walk freely around the battlefield. Although if you get hit while you're doing this, you'll take a lot more damage than you normally would. You will learn special abilities called artes, of which you can assign up to four for your character, and they can be executed by pushing the B button and the corresponding direction on the analog stick. Unison attacks can be performed when your gauge at the bottom of the screen is more than half full. There are also other skills that you need to equip for your character to use them, and they're limited by the number of skill points that you have.
What you're probably wondering about is the new monster-gathering feature in Dawn of the New World. Monster collecting involves forming a pact with the monster after the battle is over, but it's not that easy, not at first. We weren't able to simply form a pact with everything we came across, considering that there are requirements that need to be met for the pact to occur. When you begin a fight, there is an elemental grid in the bottom left corner of the screen that indicates the major element of that particular field, and around the grid are minor elements that can change when you use an arte with elemental properties. If you have three minor elements, the major element will change and the pact will form when the major and four minor elements match. This seemed complicated at first, especially because we didn't have too many artes to work with, but we imagine that it should become easier once you're able to perform more element-specific artes. Seeing as how you're also controlling one character at a time, you need to make sure your other party members aren't messing up the elements if you have a specific one in mind. This is when having a friend or three will help so that you can coordinate which elemental arte to use. Multiplayer works just like in the previous game; your friends help you out in battles, but most of the time they're just waiting for the next fight.
You still have the ability to cook, and in order to track down gourmet recipes, you'll have to locate that sneaky Wonder Chef who hides out in the most obscure places. You'll usually find a Katz worker in town, dressed up in a yellow costume with cat ears, who can help you manage your monsters, cook, and give you quests. By making tasty dishes, you can feed them to your monsters so that they level faster and are therefore more useful in a party. No one wants an underfed, wimpy monster.
Other than the anime-style intro before you even begin the game, that style is seen again only in the pop-up skits, in which the dialogue exchange is presented by character portraits. The game is presented with 3D characters, and the characters and environments don't seem to have the same feeling of crispness that you would find with cel-shaded graphics, though admittedly this is still a preview build. The character models still look great, but right now the dungeon and towns that we've visited look a bit plain. We didn't find any Japanese voice-acting option, but the cutscenes and skits do have English voice acting, which is done fairly well.
The Tales series has come a long way in the past 10 years, and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World appears to be a solid role-playing game for the Nintendo Wii. There are more than 200 monsters to try to collect, so it will certainly keep you busy if you want something else to do. Dawn of the New World is expected to ship sometime this fall.
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