I've just begun playing the sequel to Tales of Symphonia (greatest game of all time). I'm only an hour in, but I've got some first impressions to share.
First of all, the graphics engine is terrible. That's not to say the graphics are bad, because I really like the character designs and overall art style. It's a technical thing. There are a lot of aliasing problems. In one scene where the camera was panning slowly to the left, it looked like the buildings in the background were shimmering. They're fine when the camera is stationary, but when it starts to move the problems show themselves.
The VA is pretty good so far. Emil's voice suits his character perfectly, as does Marta's. Interestingly, Lloyd is now voiced by a new voice actor, and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. I'll be the first to admit that Lloyd's voice acting in Tales of Symphonia was certainly not top-notch, but I've also played that game over half a dozen times, so I'm used to it. The change is hard to get used to, but it does seem to match the darker persona he's taking in this new game.
The first battle impressed me a lot, not so much for the actual gameplay, as that hasn't developed yet, but for the fact that they actually helped develop Emil's character in it. Emil doesn't know how to fight yet, and the way the first battle plays out supports that. His sword strikes are awkward and slow, and when he guards he holds his hands up as if he's cowering. When he runs his holds his sword out directly in front of him. This is, quite honestly, something I have never seen in a game ever. It's a pretty standard RPG cliche that all heroes know instinctively how to fight and fight well, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. I'm interested to see where this goes.
11/14/08 - 08:20
I've been playing all night, and so far I'm really enjoying it. There are a few things I'm having issues with, but for the most part it's good Tales fun. The battle system is solid, although pretty much the same as the last several Tales games. The free run and guarding seem to be a bit more responsive than in Vesperia, though, which is certainly a plus. Catching monsters is a pain in the ass though. The concept is simple enough but the game hasn't given me the tools yet to actually be able to make any serious attempts at it. The ones I've gotten so far have been mostly random, when the map has loaded stacked to one element. Emil doesn't have any elemental attribute artes yet, which means I can't manipulate the field manually, unless I give some orders to my monsters. I did just get a skill that transforms a base arte (that I haven't learned yet) into a wind element attack, so when I get that, I'll be able to catch monsters no sweat.
One thing I'm definitely enjoying is the character interactions. Surprisingly, the smaller cast actually leads to more character development. Marta and Emil have really great chemistry because their personalities are so contrasting. And I absolutely love the voicework for both of them. Emil is Johnny Yong Bosch who of course played Guy in ToA, and he's doing an excellent job with Emil. He's a very different character from Guy was. As for Marta, I'm not sure who her voice actress is, but she's fantastic. You can tell she really got into the character. The scenes and particularly the skits (all voiced, by the way) are always amusing. I can see how some people might find her a bit annoying though. She's... perky.
I just ran into Zelos, who's as sleazy as ever. His voice actor has changed too, and not for the better, unfortunately. Still love the womanizing slimeball though.
11/15/08 - 01:20
Let me talk a bit about side quests. Dawn of the New World has a lot of them, but they're not your typical side quests, more of side missions. Remember the Katz characters from ToS? Well, their role in the sequel is to provide three functions: monster stabling, cooking, and give out missions for various rewards. The missions are interesting because they all have mini-storylines that go with them. One in particular brings in some ancillary characters from Tales of Symphonia, which is neat. They also take place in special dungeons that often require a bit of puzzle solving. Unfortunately, many quests reuse the same dungeon, and even more bizarre, some of the quests can be done multiple times (I think after every chapter, but I'm only on Chapter 3, so I can't really say), but the mini-stories don't change any. They are, of course completely optional, so there's no real reason to do the same quests over and over again, although I wouldn't be entirely surprised if there's some sort of reward for finishing all of them by the end of the game. Maybe a skit.
The cooking system is neat. In every Tales game I've played, cooking has always seemed like nothing more than a tacked on system that really wasn't all that necessary. It could be used for quick healing every now and then, but apple and orange gels worked just fine. However, its purpose in this game is rather unique and extremely important to the gameplay. Instead of Emil and Marta eating the food you cook, it's your monster friends that do. What's more, the food doesn't heal the monsters, it permanently boosts their stats! Each monster can eat once per level, although the effect of the food grows based on how many levels it's been since they last ate (which means it's not all that important to go out of your way to get to a Katz every time a monster levels up, thank god). Even more amusing, every monster has likes and dislikes. They can hate, dislike, like, or love any food you give them, each signified by an emoticon above their heads in the food menu. The more they like the food, the more of a boost they get from it. And if you give them food they don't like, their affection towards you will go down which has a negative effect on unison attacks in battle.
One last thing: I normally don't look through the travel log unless I'm trying to remember where to go, but I took a quick look a minute ago just to double check what chapter I was in, and to my surprise the travel log is probably the most detailed and amusing I've ever encountered in a game. Emil and Marta take turns writing it and even leave each other messages, and then respond later on. It actually adds a fair bit to both characters, which is pretty damn cool if you ask me.
11/15/08 - 06:40
I KNEW it wasn't a coincidence! I've just seen my first evidence that <span class="spoiler">Emil was deliberately designed to look like Mithos. A character (who the game has heavily suggested is a half-elf, none the less) just said that Emil looks like a friend of his. Who else could it be but Mithos?</span> I'm pretty sure there's more to this, but I'll have to keep playing to find out.
11/15/08 - 14:15
My god this game moves at a blistering pace. The plot is, like Symphonia, heavily reliant on certain RPG cliches, like the whole elemental collection thing, but it's done quite well, and the game keeps moving forward steadily, barely giving me a chance to breathe. For the most part, it's rarely been as simple as "go to the temple and find the item". At least four of the eight of them are in the possession of villains, which means at some point I'm probably going to end up tracking them down. I don't want to put it down, but I have to work tonight and need to get some sleep.
Not that I'd particularly care if it did just send me to a dungeon, because the dungeons are freaking awesome. ToS was very heavy on the puzzle solving and its sequel is no different. In fact, I think there are more puzzles in ToS2 than there were in the original, though don't quote me on that. I'm pretty happy with that, as one thing that bothered me about ToL, ToA, and ToV was the lack of puzzles. Even when you end up in places you visited during the first game, the dungeons have undergone some changes that make the puzzles a bit different. I just finished the Temple of Shadows, actually, and it's changed quite dramatically. The layout is the same, but the puzzle involved is completely different.
I've met up with every original cast member so far except Presea and Kratos (and I know for a fact Kratos isn't in the game, since <span class="spoiler">he's on Derris Kharlan</span>. I'll probably run into her fairly soon.
11/17/2008 - 08:30
Now that I'm a bit farther into the game, I have a better feel for the monster collecting system. While I'm still not happy with how you go about getting them to join your team, I have to say, the evolution system is probably the coolest I've ever seen in a game. It beats Pokémon hands down. What happens is that when a monster reaches a certain level, they can be evolved by feeding them. When they evolve, they get reduced back to level 1, but they keep 20% of their stats. To compensate for the level reset, monsters need significantly less xp to level up than Emil and Marta, and by significantly less, I mean SIGNIFICANTLY less. As an example, the wolf I got near the very beginning of the game quickly grew to level 10, evolved, grew to 20, and evolved again. In it's third form (Fenrir), it was at level 50 by the time Emil was 32. Emil is 35ish now and Fenrir is now 60-something and has more than double Emil's attack power. He's a beast. Enemies also sometimes drop Manuscripts which can be used to award monsters extra experience.
Now, I haven't told you the coolest part about evolution yet. When a final-evolution monster reaches a certain level, it can evolve again... into it's original form! What does this mean? It means you can continue evolving your monster continuously, raising its stats up and up and up and making it stronger and stronger. With enough effort, it's probably possible to create a monster with completely maxed out stats.
Due to the sheer, overwhelming awesomeness of Fenrir, I've opted not to evolve him back to his original form, but I did bring my Sphinx back to its original form. I'll level it back up and see if I can make it as ridiculous as Fenrir.
11/18/2008 - 10:00
Wow... I just reached an absolutely mind-blowing plot twist. I knew something was wrong, but I definitely didn't see this one coming. Just... wow. It rivals anything in Symphonia. Easily.
11/19/2008 - 07:30
I've hit a wall. The boss I have to fight next is rather brutal. A pair, actually. I hate bosses that can heal. I need a few more levels anyways, plus there's a monster I'd like to train up a bit, so I'm going to do some quests and get my levels up. I at least want Marta to learn a damn AoE healing spell. She still doesn't know one, and it's driving me crazy.
11/20/2008 - 05:50
Well, I finished the game. That last boss is a pain in the butt, but the two that come after were actually really cool story battles. One of them is particularly unique, but I won't say anything more about that. The game ends well. They go a bit overboard with some of the plot-related expository, but the human elements were great. Expect a review soon.
Maybe I'll log out and check my e-mail or something...