Version Tested: 1.00
I’ve always enjoyed a JRPG. Final Fantasy, Star Ocean, Persona, and many more have seen action in my various gaming systems through the years. I’d never played a Tales game, so when Tales of Symphonia Chronicles came up for review I jumped at the chance.
Of course, what I hadn’t realised in my eagerness is that this is such a generous package it actually comes with two games, Tales of Symphonia, and its sequel, Dawn of the New World…
Tales of Symphonia follows the story of main protagonist, Lloyd, as he follows his close friend Collette, the Chosen of Regeneration, on a quest to save the world by, perhaps unsurprisingly given her moniker, regenerating it by awakening the Goddess Martel. So far, so JRPG.
It’s fair to say Tales isn’t interested in breaking the mould of a team of adventurers travelling the world to try and save it. What it does do well, though, is craft a team of characters you can really care about. There is little of the crazed over-acting and melodrama you sometimes get in this genre, and even better, it’s all shot through with a gentle sense of humour that often raises a smile and rarely raises an eyebrow. The voice acting is handled well, although the quality of the audio isn’t perfect; I found it to be somewhat tinny at times.
The art style is very much in a cartoony vein and the character models look good for a game that’s over ten years old. Sadly, the rest is definitely showing its age and no amount of HD smoothing can make up for the basic design in most areas, particularly the world map. Unfortunately, there’s a real sense of emptiness and a lack of interactivity in most areas that games of a similar age, such as Final Fantasy 10, seem to address far more effectively.
This brings up another oddity I can only assume has been brought over from the original game. The creatures you encounter on the world map are represented by strange black-blobs rather than the actual creatures you’ve supposedly encountered. If that in itself is slightly odd, what makes it worse is that they pop in and out of the map very quickly as you move around it. While I can understand the main intention of releasing this collection on PS3 was to re-release these games in HD, I would have liked to have seen some older issues addressed with proper enemy characters and the pop-in being removed.
When you are thrown into battle, matters improve a lot. Tales eschews the staid lists and time-based combat for real-time action. Here, you have can string attacks and special attacks together to form combos. You’ll also have to time blocks to reduce damage taken, all while keeping an eye on your team. Fortunately, you can pause the action when necessary to make use of any number of items for healing, curing status effects and so on. Even so many years down the line, combat feels like a breath of fresh air compared to many other JRPGs, and, in some ways, it is still ahead of many more recent games. As well as being fun, Tales throws up plenty of challenging fights, and perhaps the only criticism here is that if you stick with using Lloyd as your character of choice for most of the game, it can get a little repetitive.
All-in-all, while it does nothing dramatically different in terms of story, Tales of Symphonia does an excellent job of making you like and care about the characters. Fighting is never anything but fun, and I’ve enjoyed my time with it thoroughly, so far. Yes, it’s showing its age quite badly, but if you enjoy JRPGs and haven’t given this a try, then Chronicles would be worth buying just for the original game.
However, as I’ve already mentioned, Chronicles is a more generous package than that, as you’ll also get Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World as well. In the interests of keeping this spoiler-free, especially if you have yet to play the first game, Dawn of the New World follows on a couple of years after Tales of Symphonia and remains in the same world. You do have a new set of protagonists, but some characters from part one also make a re-appearance.
Unfortunately, the new set of characters just don’t draw you in as well as those in part one, and new main character Emil, in particular, is frustrating, especially to begin with. I found his voice to be very grating, and in more general terms, the tendency towards melodrama that Tales of Symphonia so deftly avoided is immediately more evident here. This pervades the roster of characters, and with this added melodrama, any subtlety to the story is also lost. Since we are largely following a similar story again – another team of characters travel the world to try and save it – this only serves to make it feel a weaker entry.
Being a newer entry in the series has allowed for some graphical improvements. Character models are slightly improved and there’s noticeably more detail in your surrroundings. There were noticeable jaggies, though, which leads me to wonder how effective the transition to HD has been. I wouldn’t expect to see this, particularly in a game that can’t be taxing the PS3 too heavily.
And unfortunately, we return to the most contentious subject of part one, the world map. I was looking forward to seeing how this might have been improved in Dawn of the New World, so imagine my surprise when I discovered the developers had avoided any issues with this by just removing any sort of world exploration at all. What you now get is a top-down view of the world, and a list of locations you’re able to visit. Select your destination from the list and away you go, complete with a little avatar moving along the path to that location.
While the world map could certainly use some work in part one, not having any exploration possibilities at all in Dawn of the New World is a huge disappointment. Losing the exploration is just one part of this, though; you also lose the ability to wander the world map, enabling you to grind your way to higher levels. Ok, you can select an area with monsters in it to fight, but that feels slightly incongruous to the overall experience.
Fighting plays out in much the same way as part one, with added Pokémon-style monster catching. After killing some monsters, you’re given the option to bond with them so that in future you can select them to fight alongside you. Effectively, from that point on, they’re just team members, although they can evolve (Pokémon-style) but you can’t equip them with weapons and armour.
While there’s still enjoyment to be had with Dawn of the New World, it feels like a shadow of Tales of Symphonia in all, but graphics. However, even if you don’t much fancy playing part two, the first game is still well worth your time and money, even if the HD re-release could perhaps have been handled a little better.
Areas for Development
- World map – remove pop-in of monsters in part one
- Character models require further smoothing, graphics are surprisingly jagged in places
- Sound can be somewhat tinny, especially during talking sections in part one
Technical Competency – 8/10
Graphic/Sound Quality – 6/10
Network Stability – N/A
Overall – 7/10
(These grades assess our playthrough, taking into consideration how many (if any) bugs were encountered, whether there were any interruptions in gameplay and the product’s final technical state. These scores, coupled with the Final Analysis and Areas for Development, are suggestions for future patches and updates which the developers could (and in our opinion, should) explore. These scores are separate to our DLC/Expansion Reviews but link into our Patch/Firmware Reviews.)
(These scores are not designed as a grading system to determine the entertainment value of a product and should not be treated as such.)
As we play offers the thought strands of the reviewer as they’re going through the game. This offers unique content for the reader so they can come to understand the conflicting feelings of the reviewer as they’re playing a game for the very first time. All feedback on this concept is welcome.