Game Review: Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World (PS3)

Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is a terrific sequel to Tales of Symphonia (my review here). It boasts a better story, superior graphics, excellent music, a non-lame (but still hideously attired) Big Bad, and a fun combat system. Dawn also lets players collect monsters to serve as battle buddies, but alas, this new mechanic can only be truly enjoyed by the Mindlessly Obsessed.

Now, when I say "better story," I really mean "slightly less needlessly complicated." As a sequel, Dawn benefits from being set in a world already familiar to players of the original, ergo, a place where mana exists in all living things, and where a tree is the source of mana. Dawn deals with the fallout from the previous mana tree being destroyed in Symphonia -- the tree's Summon Spirit, Ratatosk, finds out about it, and boyfriend is pissed. Also, a group called the Vanguard is assaulting towns, claiming to protect Sylvarant (Sylvarant being the less advanced of the two worlds united in Symphonia). Are the two plot lines connected? Maybe! (Yes. Yes, they are.)

The game's main protagonist, Emil, pledges himself as a Knight of Ratatosk to protect the female lead, Marta, who bears the mark of Ratatosk on her forehead. As a result, Emil goes from being timid and reasonably dressed to aggressive and dressed in something that stumped a civil engineer ("How does he put on his outfit?" I asked Hubby, who concluded that it was not physically possible to put it on.) ((He is actually correct, because Emil got his new clothes via magic.)) Anyway, Emil and Marta go on adventures to collect the McGuffins needed to restore the balance of mana, McGuffins that are also sought by the Vanguard and Lloyd, the hero from Symphonia. At various points along the way, Emil and Marta meet members of the Symphonia cast, who join the party as playable characters.

I enjoyed the two major conflicts in Dawn: first, the one between Emil and Lloyd; and second, Emil's internal conflict. While the former was more of a distraction (Lloyd is an obligate do-gooder so it was obvious that Emil was barking up the wrong tree), the latter makes players aware of two distinct personalities with competing desires, world views, and tactics--all in one androgynous body! Pretty sure a lot of players were rooting for the other Emil, known as "Ratatosk Mode," who is strong, confident, and brusque--the diametric opposite of the soft-spoken and despondent boy that we begin the game with.

Another awesome element in Dawn is the side quest option, which netted me lots of EXP and shiny new equipment that I used to gleefully plow through underleveled monsters in dungeons. The ability to synthesize items was also useful -- I mainly went for better weapons and armor. More exotic products would have yielded far cooler results, like turning my tiny Killer Fish battle buddy into a beastly Jaconius, but I just couldn't get the one rare drop I needed for it. sadface

Best of all, Dawn doesn't skimp on the after-battle reward money like Symphonia did! I could barely afford basic healing items in the original; meanwhile, I finished the sequel with like half a million bucks. Sure, it's also partly due to my synthesizing and side questing, but these options were soooo much better than the cooking feature in Symphonia. See, in Symphonia, you can cook food to restore health, etc., so you don't have to buy healing items, but you have to buy ingredients to cook food. And you had to collect recipes from an idiot called Wonder Chef who hides in every village. Granted, you still have to do that in Dawn, but the food is only for your monster menagerie, and you have enough money for person healing supplies.

***Note to people playing Symphonia: once you have Zelos, give him the Personal skill and make him the point character to talk to women and girl NPCs -- you can rake in the cash!***

I found out only after finishing the game that the choices I had made throughout determined the ending I saw, aka the True Ending. How nice! If only I could do it this effortlessly for every game, I am looking accusingly at you, Final Fantasy X-2, which I have yet to finish because the combat system is driving me nuts!

Speaking of combat system...Dawn is heaven, I tell you, heaven. Apart from the wicked combos and unison attacks, it's so easy to perform a Mystic Arte (/Ultimate Move). And, once Symphonia characters join and get the needed skill, players can use Mystic Artes to wipe out an entire battlefield. Spamming Mystic Artes is how I got through the penultimate and final boss fights, which were hard and took several tries. Whew! World-saving, such hard.

TL;DR: It was worth playing the flawed original for this sequel.

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