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GAMEX 2013 Hands-on Preview: Tales of Symphonia Chronicles

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Journeying to the world of Aselia means travelling down several different paths. Some of us go down memory lane and others face the road ahead with fresh eyes. No matter what our past experiences may be, the cult-classic RPG series returns for the Sony PlayStation 3 by combining the title Tales of Symphonia (2003) with its sequel, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World (2008).

Tales of Symphonia Chronicles (PS3)
Developed by Tales Studios – Published by Namco Bandai

Tales of Symphonia would be the first game in the Tales series for many when it was released outside of Japan on the Nintendo GameCube. It had a responsive yet tactical real-time combat system that allowed for up to four local players to control the player characters directly.

Characters who were not being manually controlled would be managed by a highly customisable AI whom you could freely give orders while in battle. Whether the game was played alone or with friends, there were lots of decisions to be made in customising how the characters would function in and outside of combat.

The writing offered a relatable, if often quirky, gallery of characters. Putting them through a long story that often drew parallels to issues we face in our current day, Tales of Symphonia kept many coming back for more. Accompanied with a soundtrack by Motoi Sakuraba and an English dub funded by Nintendo, the quality of the game’s audio was just as satisfying as it was touching.

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Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World came out five years later, offering better graphics and a new soundtrack consisting of both new and updated classic songs. Its battle system copied most of its new additions, such as the ability to run throughout the field in any direction you’d like, from the PS2 title Tales of the Abyss.

We also got to catch the monsters we faced and put them in our party thanks to the protagonist’s role in the story. While such mechanics often feel tacked on or like they would take too much time to fiddle around with, Dawn of the New World found a sweet spot where you could spend time learning how to evolve your monsters in the most efficient way without needing to study the inner workings of Pandora’s Box.

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The remake does what it should and does so well overall. The graphics are rendered in beautiful HD, the like we have never seen either of the two games in before. Several effects have also been upgraded, such as the wings of angels in the original game which are now bigger, translucent and sparkle with particle effects.

There is a lot of added content here for most people. The added quests, anime cutscenes and skills from the PlayStation 2 port of the original Tales of Symphonia never made it out of Japan and the new masks in Dawn of the New World were added only to the European release of the game after all.

On top of combining all the region- and platform-specific content, this compilation also adds new costumes to the original game that allow you to dress up the characters in the clothes of heroes from other Tales games.

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Sound-wise we can also look forward to finally being able to choose between the English and Japanese voices in the Options menu at any time. Since the original game’s dub leaves most of the dialogue outside of main plot events unvoiced, the ability to switch to the Japanese voice track to hear voice over in many more dialogues finds itself welcome.

Worried you won’t understand what your characters say as they celebrate victory while playing in Japanese? Namco Bandai have added all-new subtitles to the combat results screen for just this reason.

The developers have also informed us that the original Japanese openings from both games are returning in this compilation. This includes the platform-exclusive songs found in the Japanese versions of the first Tales of Symphonia.

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The collection is not without its problems, however. The original Symphonia is ported from the PlayStation 2 version of the game, which retains its frame rate lock at 30 frames per second compared to the original GameCube version which ran at a full 60 frames per second. While many gamers are used to playing in this frame rate nowadays, it is still a massive let down to see the PlayStation 3 run with less fluent animation than we got in the same game in the previous console generation.

Considering how much of a straight port that makes the game’s engine out to be, we can probably look forward to the improved camera system that was added to the PlayStation 2 version of the game. It ensures that player-controlled characters remain in the shot at all times. This is very welcome during multiplayer as it was one of the bigger problems in the original GameCube version where the camera wouldn’t respect when characters needed to walk outside the current zoom.

The port of Dawn of the New World also lends itself to annoyance, albeit much slighter than that of the original game. An item called the Sorcerer’s Ring used the Wii Remote’s IR sensor to aim at the screen in the original version to manipulate objects and to stun approaching enemies in dungeons. The function is enabled by holding a shoulder button and moving the on-screen reticule using the left stick in the Chronicles compilation. This is remarkably slower, making it much harder to avoid battles using the Sorcerer’s Ring on the PlayStation 3.

All in all, the compilation seems worth it for most fans of Japanese RPGs. Those who have not played either game will receive an updated version of both games for a cheap price point while returning players can finally play their old favourites in HD, with all the content from every previous version of the game and more.

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Posted in Expos and Conventions, Videogame Previews and tagged as , , , , ,

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