This is a Deja Review: A quick, unscored look at the new features and relative agelessness of a remade, revived or re-released game.Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, allowing many players to experience two of the previous decade's most satisfying adventures, Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, for the first time.
Originally released on the GameCube, Tales of Symphonia tells the story of a young daydreamer named Lloyd Irving. He becomes a hero over the course of a globe-trotting quest with his friends. Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, released on Wii in 2008, explores events that took place in the years after its predecessor's conclusion. The lead protagonist is a young lad named Emil who despises village hero Lloyd for seemingly justifiable reasons, though he's too timid to act on his hatred. Before long, a run-in with some unusual strangers forces him to embark on an adventure of his own.
The two games are similar, sharing key mechanics like active battles and a lack of random encounters (enemies are visible and can be avoided). Dawn of the New World, however, allows players to ask monsters to join the team once they have been thoroughly trounced, a unique twist for the series. Neither game was particularly innovative upon release, but that works out for the best. Fantasy tropes are supported by enjoyable Japanese role-playing game elements, borrowed by previous Tales games and from genre staples like Star Ocean, Dragon Quest and Shin Megami Tensei. There's plenty of content without needlessly complicated systems that might prevent newcomers from joining in on the fun.What's new this time around?
Tales of Symphonia Chronicles changes very little about its source material, to the point that even the anticipated visual enhancements are difficult to spot without a side-by-side comparison. Cinematic scenes are cleaned up, while only primary textures appear to have received the same consideration elsewhere. These are sharper now, with fewer jagged edges and less haze, which makes blurry backdrops stand out more. The soundtrack and the spoken dialogue are also crisper, but there's nothing that feels like it might tax the PlayStation 3 hardware. Battles and adjoining environments still load only after pausing for the slight delay some players might remember from Wii and GameCube editions.
One enhancement players may appreciate, though, is the addition of the original Japanese language tracks. They can be selected from the title screen and can be toggled back and forth at any time by accessing the in-game menu. It's a nice touch if the English language actors annoy you, or if you'd just like to hear something different.
New outfits have also been added. You'll quickly receive a bundle of costumes from 2006's Tales of the Abyss as a gift of sorts, and attire from other Tales games is available if you're willing to work for it. Other adjustments and additions include new special attacks, events, monsters, and the expected trophies. These all feel more supplementary than transformative, though, as they blend seamlessly with the original content.
Finally, controls have been remapped to accommodate the PlayStation 3 controller. The updates are intuitive and don't require much thought even if you're used to the original versions. Wii Remote cursor movement played a small role in the puzzles of Dawn of the New World, and that function is replicated here if you hold the right shoulder button to produce an on-screen cursor, which you can then awkwardly direct with the analog stick. Precision isn't necessary, so the modifications work.
How does it hold up?
Tales of Symphonia and Dawn of the New World were visually impressive upon release, and those original iterations still fare surprisingly well if you return to them now, enough so that an update doesn't even seem particularly justified (though it's still welcome).
Tales of Symphonia originally required two discs on the GameCube and used the afforded space to paint a picture of an expansive and diverse world full of the expected rivers, cerulean seas, grassy hillsides and foreboding forests that served as an excellent stage for the sweeping narrative. It also featured sparsely populated town environments that dot a bland world map, and character models sported simple, cartoony hands that looked like they belong in a Garfield comic. Such limitations were easy to overlook at the time, thanks to the endearing characters and accessible design, but they do feel dated now and perhaps should have been revisited.
Dawn of the New World offered a generally more cinematic experience than its predecessor, even if that was counteracted by placing a wishy-washy hero in the starring role. On a more positive note, its environments capably support the dark but not overbearing tone the plot sometimes demands in the midst of its beautiful settings. This is particularly true of the towns, which feel more like real urban centers than their counterparts in Symphonia.
As for combat, it works as well as it always did. Players control one party member at a time, while the others provide support, usually in the form of healing magic and fireball spells. The player can activate special moves, dodge out of the way of enemy attacks, switch targets or use items by pulling up a tiny menu that doubles as a makeshift pause function. The combination of pure action and strategy manages to both give you time to think and allow you to feel more invested in the blows the heroes and villains exchange. It feels a bit stiff compared to a standard action game (Devil May Cry this is not), but never to the point of distraction.
In Dawn of the New World, recruited monsters can level up just like normal characters, and it's fun to see a friendly bat wreaking havoc on enemy forces. The most important result of the monster recruitment system, however, is the way it enables a more intimate story to build around a smaller group of heroes.
Those who never experienced Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World on GameCube and Wii should definitely take a look at Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. The PlayStation 3 has seen its fair share of JRPG releases, but few of them provide quite as competent a mix of old school design, refinement, and narrative as you'll find here. The only real downside is that there's nothing new enough or pretty enough to justify another trip through the two classics that didn't already exist years ago. Still, a faithful copy of something great is better than a botched revision, and this bundle is happily the former.
This review is based on an retail copy of Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, provided by Namco Bandai. Images: Namco Bandai.
Jason Venter is a freelance game critic and the founder of the community reviews site, HonestGamers. You can follow him on Twitter at @jasonventer.