I've mentioned a number of times that I'm not a huge fan of the Tales series. I don't dislike it--I've only played a select few titles (before this review, it was just Destiny, Symphonia, and Xillia) from the fifteen-game-strong (give or take a few) series. Getting to play Tales of Xillia felt like a breath of fresh air for how straightforward it was with its story, for its flexible and engaging battle system, and its beautiful Kosuke Fujishima art. It was with that renewed interest in the series that I jumped into Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, a PS3-exclusive two-pack that includes 2003's Tales of Symphonia with its direct 2008 sequel Dawn of the New World.
Both Tales of Symphonia and Dawn of the New World were released Stateside, so fans clamoring for unreleased games will still have to wait, but there's still good news here: this is the complete version of Tales of Symphonia, the PS2 version that was never brought overseas with new animated sequences, new enemies and character skills, and a variety of new outfits for the entire cast. Hell, if you've played just one other Tales game on your PS3, Chronicles will recognize it and reward you with even more clothes, so loyal fans get a nice extra.
Tales of Symphonia was a regular co-op project with some friends of mine when it was originally released on the GameCube, so it was nice getting to revisit it (and my unhealthy obsession with Sheena). Plucky, kinda generic hero Lloyd Irving sets out on a quest to accompany his friend Colette--a "Chosen"--to revive the dying planet and (of course) fight an evil empire and (of course) take on an even more evil organization. I'm not gonna lie--story and style-wise, Tales games are pretty been-there done-that, but the series wears it like a badge of honor. Instead of trying to constantly reinvent the wheel, the series takes the mentality of Dragon Quest by trying to fine-tune that wheel and make it as solid as possible.
One of Tales' claims to fame is a mostly-real-time battle system that you can fully customize and even automate--it's always nice to actually play a game instead of just making choices from menus like so many other RPGs. You're encouraged to time your attacks to strike in unison with your teammates, build up power and unleash powerful finishing moves, and set up a formation so your party can fight as effectively as possible. Compared to newer titles in the series (specifically Xillia), it's not quite as fast or fluid, but once you get into the rhythm, it becomes second nature.
Dawn of the New World picks up after the original game, with Lloyd Irving now known as a great hero who "united the worlds," saved all of humanity, and... murdered new main character Emil Castagnier's parents? Yes, you see Lloyd brutally cut down Emil's folks right at the beginning of the game, so Emil has developed a hatred for the revered hero... which causes him to be a pariah among his surviving relatives and the citizens of his new hometown, who couldn't possibly imagine that the Lloyd Irving could do such a heinous act. Really, having been a victim of bullying as a kid, I can see why Emil is kind of a coward--he doesn't want to draw much attention to himself, and he constantly apologizes for every action--a far cry from Lloyd's can-do attitude.
That said, Emil's not a bad character, but players who are looking for a more traditional hero may get tired of his crap after a while. While just as plain as Symphonia's, Dawn feels a little fresher because it makes Emil work from the bottom up--although if I hear the phrase "courage is the magic that turns dreams into reality" one more time, I'm gonna f**king scream--I heard it like five times in a 30-minute period, and then it intermittently peppers conversations and internal monologues throughout the game afterward. Emil's sudden shift from sniveling victim to total badass (in, uh... a halter top) happens kind of suddenly, but it's still treated decently in-universe.
I wouldn't mind Dwight's wisdom peppering conversations and internal monologues in a Tales game
Dawn of the New World's battle system also shakes things up a bit, giving you more space to fight in and introducing a sidestep/free-run mechanic to battles, instead of putting them on a rotating 2D plane. This factors into strategy a little more, causing you to watch enemies to strike from behind or when they're vulnerable, and the speed has been increased somewhat from Symphonia's.
One of the cooler features for this collection gives Western fans a chance to listen to the Japanese voice acting in both games, although sharp listeners (or people who can understand Japanese) will catch some strange incongruities. Lloyd's little elven friend is named Genis, but he's very clearly being called "Genius" in the Japanese dub. Colette is originally called a "miko," or "priestess," but in the English version she's known as a "Chosen." This isn't a bad thing, but it's worth pointing out--the dialogue is also noticeably overacted in both languages, keeping a real sense of fun in both games.
It all boils down to this--if you're a longtime Tales fan, yes, definitely pick up Tales of Symphonia Chronicles and enjoy your back-to-back 80-hour JRPG marathon, and enjoy all the new additions that weren't in the GameCube Symphonia. Newer fans of the series, or those just looking for a new RPG to dig into, will definitely have a good time, but should be aware of the slightly-less-fluid battle system, basic story, and sometimes idiotic dialogue. The Tales games--especially these two--may have characters that can be kind of boring to me, but never cross the line into annoying territory, and that's the saving grace of Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. Most times, anyways--Jesus, "courage is the magic that turns dreams into reality?" I'm never gonna let that go.
+ A lot of bang for your buck--both Tales of Symphonia and Dawn of the New World on one disc for $40
+ Bright, fun, traditional JRPG with multiplayer so friends can join in on the adventure
+ Atypical real-time battle system makes fights engaging and exciting instead of just a menu-driven hunt-and-peck
+/- Simple, straightforward story and characters are welcome, but can be a little too generic for some
- With that comes some dialogue that ranges from the typical to the downright dumb