Bandai Namco Games revisits a classic RPG and brings its spotty sequel along for the ride. Remastered by tri-Crescent, the former audio studio that made Eternal Sonata, slaps a fresh coat of HD paint, and a nicely remastered soundtrack, on a title that has never received the appreciation it deserves. Eleven years after Tales of Symphonia’s original GameCube release it still stands as the pinnacle of the Tales series and a highlight of the genre.
Tales of Symphonia:
When Collette is given the title of Chosen and tasked to save the world by restocking the life giving force known as Mana, her long time friend Lloyd Irving is quick to take up his sword and volunteer to help. Along the way they are joined by a large vibrant cast of characters on their, admittedly fairly standard issue, epic quest. To say much more would lead to inescapable spoilers and Symphonia is a title to best go into as cold as possible and let it unfold at its own pace..
Tales of Symphonia really shines in it’s characters. Employing the series trademark Skit mechanic to great effect. Unlike most entries in the genre there’s no overt reliance on GRAND MOMENTS or painfully long cut scenes to drive the story along, not that they are completely absent. Instead the Tales series unfolds its story in quiet moments of dialog between the characters as they explore the world, giving their back stories, personalities and motivations in a way that feels natural. It goes a long way in bringing the characters to life and drawing the player into the experience.
To make it really shine the voice cast is excellent. The performances should all be praised. the only thing wrong with it is that not all skits are voiced and which one don’t receive this treatment are odd choices. Many of the truly emotional ones are silent while the more frivolous the more voices there are. I understand that much of this has to do with limits at the time of original release but even back then they must have known that some of these should have been switched.
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World:
Taking place two years later, we join Emil and Marta on their journey to awaken Lord Ratatosk and give us a look at the aftermath of Lloyd’s quest. Again, I’m hampered by not wanting to spoil the first entry. The story this time around is not as strong. The whole Symphonia gang returns but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Dawn of the New World never lives up to the original and never steps out of it’s shadow for even a moment. All of what was done so well the first time around feels too forced this time. The cast doesn’t have the same life or personality they did previously and the new characters are not very good additions. At the heart of it there’s a great concept for a follow up but in execution it just fails to deliver.
The Skit mechanic returns and there are some nice bits. The whole just never comes together. The characters that were so vibrant are stripped to sketches of themselves, each having a moment or two that highlights what the developers saw as their defining characteristic. It feels like fan service, which is exactly what it is, and not for anything beyond that. You can almost hear the writers planning out exactly how we should react to each of these moments but they never elicit the demanded response. It all feels too lazy.
To make it all the worse the voice cast here just is not up to par. None of them stand out. The new characters lack any unique sound, they cast them to generic character design. The returning cast’s new voices have the same problem… especially disappointing is Lloyd’s new voice actor. There’s just no excuse for this problem in any title. Just cast better, people. Should not be that hard… I’m guessing anyway.
Both titles receive wonderful HD upgrade. Both titles are vibrant, detailed and obviously done with great care. The texture work is impressive and at no time were there any glaring problems which often plague HD releases of older titles. There are some new icons and extra costumes for returning players to enjoy.
The audio has been remastered and sounds fantastic. Both titles give you the option to hear the English or Japanese cast. Tales of Symphonia had a fantastic score on release and here it’s made even better. Every track fits where it’s played. The quiet emotional tracks are wonderful and can easily hold up against the more showcase tracks. Like the rest of the title the Tales team really outdid themselves on the score. Again Dawn just doesn’t stack up. Though in this case there’s nothing egregious but there’s nothing really fantastic either. The whole score is taken from the JRPG stock music trunk. It’s serviceable and that’s about it.
The combat system is the same for both titles. The real time turn-based action hybrid still works wonderfully. It stays engaging and fun to play through both titles. Since there’s a fair amount of grind in both it’s really impossible to overpraise how well the combat is done. Controlling one of the four in your fighting group, the other controlled by AI, the action is fast and easy to get into the swing of. While early on just hacking your way through is a valid option as the titles progress you will have to learn how to use the AI orders and parameter options to the best effect. Learn how to time special moves precisely and just when to activate unison attacks where you get back up from the rest of your team. At no point does it feel overwhelming and the difficulty ramps in Symphonia that you never find yourself panicked or in above your head in tactical terms (you could be crazy under-leveled though but that’s not the game’s fault). Of course once again I have to point out how this just is not quite true for Dawn of the New World. In that case the difficulty has a tendency to swing crazily to an extremely higher setting which sets off incredibly long grind sessions, which would be annoying but acceptable if the difficulty did not crash immediately after a single fight. This makes the grind to advancement ratio more than a little out of whack.
Really this release is all about the first game, showing that it’s still a fantastic game worth going back to, and giving the audience the best possible version of it. Tales of Symphonia is easy to recommend and easy to call one of the all time best RPGs. It’s well worth the price of admission and, despite it’s flaws, the sequel is a nice bonus for fans of the original. Though if you don’t want to bother with the second game, the original is available as a standalone title in the PSN store. If you have any interest in the genre there’s simply no reason to not get this one.
Tales of Symphonia- 9.5/10 Still stands strong with it’s engaging world, great combat and wonderful characters
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World- 5/10 Deeply flawed and only of interest to those who simply HAVE to have more from Symphonia’s world.
Tales of Symphonia Collection- Overall: 8.5/10