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If there's one game genre where the Wii has really lacked quality titles, it's the RPG genre. Sure, there have been plenty of hybrids, such as the strategy-heavy Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn and the more action oriented Super Paper Mario. However, good traditional, story-heavy, exploration-rich, honest to goodness roleplaying games have been few and far between. Fortunately, Namco Bandai has stepped in to help fill the void with the November 2008 release of Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, a true sequel to one of the best Nintendo Gamecube RPGs and a worth successor to its predecessor's fine legacy.
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The game picks up two years following the conclusion of Tales of Symphonia, and thankfully for those that missed the journey of Lloyd, Colette and company, there is a brief recap before the start of Dawn of the New World. After that, the story picks up in a hurry. Despite the reunion of the two worlds, there remains a conflict between the people of Sylvarant and Tethe'alla, and more specifically between the former's Vanguard rebellion group and the latter's Church of Martel. The tensions boil over, and as the game opens, we are introduced to main character Emil as his hometown of Palmacosta is burned to the ground and his parents are murdered by Lloyd Irving, the hero of the original Tales of Symphonia. Also during this scene, a girl named Marta is seen holding a red crystal, which fuses to her forehead when she cries out "Help me, Ratatosk!" She also sees a vision of Emil, and is convinced that he rescued her.
Afterward that chaos, we find that Emil has moved in with his aunt and uncle in the town of Luin, though he is most unwelcome by his family and the town's citizens, who tend to almost deify Lloyd and are intensely loyal to the church of Martel. Emil is a rather timid, brow-beaten boy, almost to the point of annoyance, but that all changes when he meets up with a mysterious man named Richter and is reunited with Marta. He makes a pact with a guardian called a Centurian and winds up fighting to save her, as well as the town of Luin, from her pursuers, both from the Vanguard and from the Church of Martel. However, in doing so, he enters an almost possessed state, which further ostracizes him from the townspeople. Ultimately, at the request of Luin's mayor, Emil, Marta and his Centurian ally set off to track down Lloyd, find out exactly what's going on and, if all goes right, save the world. Sadly, I can't do the game's story justice in a brief summary like this. It's incredibly intense, wonderfully romantic, charmingly funny, well-paced, and likely keep even the most grizzled RPG veteran hooked.
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Some folks may be disappointed to learn that the game makes only the slightest use of the Wii remote's motion-sending capabilities, but on the whole I think most gamers will wind up being pleased with the more traditional control scheme. In towns and on the field, players can move their characters around using either the control stick on the Nunchuck attachment or by using the Wiimote pointer and hitting the B button in a sort of point-and-click style of movement. The plus (+) button brings up the menu screen, where you can use items, equip weapons or skills, save the game, and so forth. Combat takes place in real time, with the control stick used for movement, the A-button for an attack, the B-button to launch an Artes move (a special attack) and the Z-button to guard. The Z-button can also be used in conjunction with the control stick to move freely around the battlefield, while the C-button launches a special team-attack once a gauge on the bottom of the screen in filled enough, and the minus (-) button is used to switch targets in combat. On the whole, the controls are fairly simple and easy to pick up, though they're not always the most responsive in the world.
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As in most roleplaying games, action will alternate between towns, dungeon levels, the combat screen and the world map. In towns, players wander around, talking with people, visiting shops to buy items and better equipment, and recovering and saving at inns. Once its time to move on, players exit to the field, where in place of a free-roaming world map, players will have to choose a location from a drop-down menu. In the field, players will explore, trying to find hidden items in treasure chests and either choosing to dodge or engage the on-screen enemies. Choosing to fight will take players to the combat screen, where as mentioned above, battles take place in real time. Fighting is a little on the dull side early on, but stick with it. Once you get more characters in your party and start to learn more Artes abilities, it really picks up in terms of excitement, intensity and enjoyment.
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Graphics and Sound
While the graphics don't seem like they're a gigantic leap forward from the original Tales of Symphonia, they aren't bad by any stretch of the imagination. Environments are expansive, though not always the most detailed in the world. The game looks good, on the whole, but it isn't as spectacular as some other recent roleplaying games. Voice acting is prevalent throughout the game, and with a few rare exceptions the actors do a good job, though it is somewhat disappointing that a few of the original voices from the original Tales of Symphonia did not reprise their roles in the sequel. Also, I have experienced some issues with the audio kicking on late, thus causing the first part of a verbalized line to be cut off for some reason. The soundtrack quality is hit-or-miss, with the title screen composition standing out as particularly high quality work. Seriously, it was so good I actually paused a few minutes to listen to it before firing up the game for the first time.
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Reviews of the game have been pretty mixed on the whole, but for the RPG starved Wii community, I would say that Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is most definitely worth the money. I wish there was a proper world map to explore, but the engrossing plotline and the enjoyable combat system were enough to keep me enthralled throughout the game. If you're looking for a solid roleplaying experience for the Nintendo Wii, look no further than Dawn of the New World.