I can’t believe the original Tales of Symphonia came out ten years ago. TEN YEARS. Maybe it doesn’t feel that long ago to me since around that game’s release was about the time that I discovered Tales of Eternia (or Tales of Destiny II as it was known back then) for the first time. Regardless, JRPG’s have gone through numerous changes since that era, not the least of which is the Tales franchise itself. Knowing that, is playing Tales of Symphonia now as good as it was in 2004? It’s time for an HD update to put that question to the test.
Tales of Symphonia Chronicles is an HD compilation of two separate games: Tales of Symphonia, which first debuted on the Gamecube, as well as its sequel Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, which graced the Wii in 2008. The original Symphonia game is based off of the PS2 version that was previously Japan exclusive, as all of the updates that were included in that release are now available here (things such as new skills, costumes, and cutscenes). The only difference between this variation of Dawn of the New World and the Wii edition is… not having to play with a Wii remote.
If you’re new to Tales of Symphonia, then it goes something like this: a young girl named Colette is designated as the Chosen of Regeneration, and like those who came before her, must go on a pilgrimage to various temples around the world in order to release mana and thwart the evil Desian menace. Her childhood friend and main protagonist, Lloyd Irving, invites himself along to offer his protection and the journey begins.
Of course, not everything is as it seems on the surface. If you’ve ever played through Final Fantasy X, you should have a good grasp of what to expect in terms of plot (the similarities are alarmingly striking), which makes it somewhat predictable. The game has a fairly robust cast of characters, and each one is likable in their own way, including the smooth talking Zelos or the clumsy ninja Sheena. It’s the charismatic cast and their various interactions that really ties the whole package together. You can even tweak the ending depending on how you respond to choices given to you by the other characters.
Dawn of the New World by contrast features a different, and far less likable main character. Emil Castagnier is a timid boy that witnessed the death of his own parents during an attack on Palmacosta. He believes Lloyd Irving to have been the one who did it and harbors a deep seeded grudge against him as a result. Emil also has a chance meeting with Marta Lualdi who is on a mission to revive Ratatosk and his followers, the Centurions. Believing Marta’s mission to be a noble one, Emil joins her on her quest as a Knight of Ratatosk and gains substantial power in the process. It’s unfortunate that he couldn’t possess more likable character traits.
The plot does have some redeeming moments as you get further in, but much it is spoiled by Emil’s demeanor and Marta’s unhealthy obsession with him. Emil is timid, whiny, and incredibly emo. The only time he truly shines is when Ratatosk takes over his personality and temporarily changes him into a tough talking badass. These moments are fleeting, and instead we are left with most conversations involving Emil acting with uncertainty over everything he does. Marta consistently throwing herself at him doesn’t help matters.
As with the other Tales games, both Symphonia titles involve battles that take place within three dimensional environments. A selection of regular attacks and special moves called artes are at your disposal, as well as a Unison Gauge that will unleash techniques involving multiple characters. Four characters of your party can be used at once, and while you only directly control one, your friends or the A.I. can take over the rest. It’s effectively an action RPG/fighting game hybrid, as it were.
Titles are earned by performing specific tasks, such as winning so many battles or watching skits. These can be applied to your characters to change their outfits, or apply specific character growth upon level up. In fact, having save data from other Tales games on your hard drive will unlock a handful of them that will mimic the appearances of characters from other games. You can also buy ingredients and learn recipes to heal and buff your party after battle, plus there is a simple synthesis mechanic in place that lets you craft new gear based on items that you have in your inventory.
Where Dawn of the New World sets itself apart, and not necessarily in a good way, is its monster raising mechanic. When you battle foes, there’s an elemental grid in place that populates as you use artes with elemental affinities. Once all of them are the same, you have a good chance of recruiting the monster you are fighting over to your side. This chance increases further if you have a monster with you of the same affinity. The keyword here is chance. The whole system is just cumbersome and really doesn’t add anything of value to the game. Especially since if you have friends that want to play with you, these monsters cannot be controlled. This means you will be well into the game before more than two players can regularly participate at any given time.
The controls and combat mechanics feel pretty solid for both games, even if they do feel like a step down compared to newer entries in the franchise. Camera control in Symphonia is a bit of a nuisance though, as it never feels like you have a very good angle for seeing what’s around you. At least that has an overworld where this is a problem, as DotNW just has a map where you select which locale you want to visit and it will take you there. It’s not exactly a world ripe for exploring.
The HD facelift certainly serves the package nicely, as the anime influence definitely shows through with the added detail. The characters still have a chibi-looking appearance in the first game, though the sequel addresses this quite a bit. The animated sequences also look very sharp. The environments could have used a little work, though if you’ve played Tales of Graces f, this is at least in line with the quality of that.
The audio is where the game truly shines. The soundtrack of these games contains some of the best tunes the franchise has to offer short of Legendia, and the original opening themes have been restored. Even DotNW‘s take on the remixed battle theme is a nice touch. Long time fans will be pleased to hear that dual audio is now an option for the first time ever, so if you were never a fan of the dub, you now have a choice. I still stand behind the English dub, even though I was disappointed with some of the cast changes in the second game. Could be the nostalgia talking.
Speaking of options, there’s a version of this package for everybody. If you were lucky enough to get in on one of the collector’s editions, it’s probably one of the better ones that Namco Bandai has ever produced. The standard edition has an MSRP of $39.99 which is a steal for these two games, though the retail version is unfortunately without a paper manual. If you absolutely refuse to pay money for the sequel (and most wouldn’t blame you), both games can be purchased separately on PSN at $19.99 a piece.
Any way you slice it, this package is worth it at either of those price points just for the original Symphonia alone. If you already own or have owned the Gamecube version, this is an inexpensive way to experience a slightly prettier version of one of the best entries in the entire franchise. If you missed out on the original release, I can’t think of a better way to get caught up on series history. This is the definitive release of Tales of Symphonia if there ever was one.
Short Attention Span Summary
One of the most successful entries of the Tales series is back in the form of Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. It bundles the original game with its sequel, and comes packed with updated visuals, trophy support, and dual audio. There’s also some additional content exclusive to this version in the form of new costumes if you have other Tales saves on your hard drive. The $39.99 price point is worth it for the first game alone, though if you absolutely refuse to pay for the sequel, both titles can be purchased separately on the PSN. Either way, fans are in for a real treat, as this is the ideal version to own of these games and the perfect excuse to slide into the boots of Lloyd Irving once again.