For many gamers, the entry-level Tales experience would have been the classic Tales of Symphonia for Nintendo Gamecube, which marked a shift for the series into 3D and remains one of the most highly-regarded titles for the console. Tales of Symphonia Chronicles is a high definition re-master that bundles the PlayStation 2 version of the original Symphonia with its noticeably inferior 2008 Wii sequel, Dawn of the New World.
It may come across as simplistic when judged alongside the excellent and highly complex battle system of the recent hit-and-miss Xillia, but firing up the original Symphonia quickly reminds you how fun it is to play. The real time dust-ups, satisfying Unison attacks, kooky cooking system and easy-to-follow employment of EX-Skills make it a breeze to revisit. Namco have even taken it upon themselves to iron out a lot of the little flaws and bugs that niggled back in the day, so it’s slowdown be gone and “Hello, half decent camera,”. Although things aren’t perfect in this regard, as the port is of the PlayStation 2 version, thus the fluid 60fps of the Gamecube outing remains halved as it was on the Sony console.
That said, there are some lovely additions such as new costumes shipped in from other Tales adventures, full Japanese voice options, and even some new Artes and skills for your crew to employ in the heat of the action that were present only in the PS2 version of the game, and something Nintendo gamers may not have experienced before. Having a save file on your PS3 from Tales of Xillia also entitles you to more bonus content, a nice reward for fans of the series.
As someone who played the ‘Cube version to within an inch of its life, the way the elder game of the pair has been reimagined aesthetically is immediately obvious – with the cel-shaded characters of old smoothed over and given new textures in a manner reminiscent of Nintendo’s own recent Wind Waker HD. Some punters will moan about the stark, dark edges being removed from the cel-shaded models; however it looks fine. The scenery has been sharpened, and while there is no escaping the fact that this game is more than a decade old, it looks excellent and is everything you could want from your return to Sylvarant, with its charming characters and classical, if formulaic, old-school plotlines.
Dawn of the New World split the fans upon its release, and with good reason. It employs half-baked AI-controlled Pokemon-style familiars that you are asked to recruit and train to assist you in combat using an unnecessarily complicated Elemental Grid system. The characters are nowhere near as entertaining to get to know as those of the preceding title, with main protagonist Emil being a particularly loathsome, whiny presence. When beloved names from Symphonia do make an appearance, it is only for a limited period and they are only able to level at certain, predetermined points in the confusing story. The world map system is replaced with a far more linear menu, which gives proceedings a nippier pace but at the expense of the wonderment of exploration that made Symphonia such a treat. Where one could easily bury themselves in the 2004 game for 100+ hours should they wish, the follow up is a much more brisk experience.
On the plus side, Dawn of the New World looks great. The character models, which are no longer super-deformed chibi-style affairs, are well-suited to the HD gloss. The battle system is improved in the sequel. A Free Run button is a welcome inclusion to multiplayer battles, and it is always great fun racking up huge combos and employing the Artes at your disposal to batter enemies. Sadly, when playing alone, the crazy AI means that these scraps can often turn into free-for-alls, with the monsters – which, let’s not forget, are supposed to be helping you – never feeling like true allies, as you don’t really control them and they seem to do their own thing.
VERDICT: Tales of Symphonia Chronicles is very much a game of two halves – a cast-in-stone classic alongside a wonky sequel; a much-lauded series mainstay against the black sheep. In many ways there are definite parallels to be drawn to the forthcoming Final Fantasy X/X-2 re-master – another pairing of the essential with the inessential if ever there was one. Symphonia is a great reminder of how Tales has hit such impressive highs in the past, and although the decision to port the technically inferior PS2 version leads to framerate gripes, this is perhaps the best version of Lloyd Irving and co that you are going to get without dragging your Gamecube out of the loft.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review copy provided by publisher.