Just finished watching Alexa play Tales of Symphonia Dawn of the New World.
Ohkay. I’m aware of other people’s problems with the game, and I’ll briefly touch on them now before I go into why this game was actually fantastic.
1. The voice acting. The company wasn’t able to get the original voice actors back to reprise their roles in the returning cast from the first game for some reason that wasn’t stated. This isn’t as big a deal as people make it out to seem. They found people whose voices were similar enough that I didn’t even realize at first. Anime and game dubs are getting big, and some of the actors they used for the original game are pretty popular and might have had other obligations at the time that prevented them from working on Dawn of the New World. Getting mad about this and hating the game because of it is petty.
2. The returning characters. I’ll admit that this is a point that I was slightly “meh” about. I got the impression that the people who originally wrote the script for the first game were not involved in writing the script this time. One of the things I loved about the first game was the chemistry between the characters. Lloyd was about as sharp as a river rock in game-one and this was one of his defining features. However in Dawn of the New World, he was dramatically different. In-game it is stated that two years have passed, so I can admit that not just the journey of game one but the passage of two years can change a person. But I doubt Lloyd found some magical spring that gifted him with intelligence. Though, on third thought, if I squint, it could perhaps have been maturity, since he did say some dumb things on occasion. Overall, I’ll have to agree with the naysayers that the writing of the returning cast could have been better and they seemed more like fanfiction-versions of themselves than anything. I’d like to add that I happen to LIKE fanfiction from time to time, so I was willing to overlook that since everything else going on was interesting. Perhaps the game could have benefited from just having an entirely new cast, rather than bringing in everyone from the first game.
3. Emil was whiny. I whole-heartedly disagree with this point. Luke Fon Fabre was whiny (and don’t get me wrong, I love him too). Emil was shy and inexperienced and a darling little puppy that I adored throughout the game.
Further on the point of Emil, his character was another perfect example of Namco’s constant breaking of stereotypes when it comes to their main characters. From the initial view of his meek personality to his “Ratatosk Mode” (which Alexa and I named “Ember” and I will continue to refer to as Ember since he is neither Ratatosk nor Emil) the character was dynamic and his personality progressed logically as more information became available about his past. For people to decide the game is terrible based on the switching between Emil and Ember tells me that those people weren’t paying attention and didn’t understand that the two were technically two different people, even separate from Ratatosk himself. My basis for this is that Ratatosk was originally a summon who became disillusioned with mortals and wanted them all dead. When Marta revived the core, Ratatosk caused his own mutation from Ratatosk into something – someone different by first taking a human form, and then sealing away his personality and memories to hide behind the identity of Emil. Emil, over the course of six months in Luin became his own person, forming relationships (albeit bad) with the other people of town and his “family” which is, in my opinion, what caused him to be so spineless at the beginning of the game. If all you know is abuse, would you really be capable of standing up for yourself? Or would you blame yourself like everyone else does?
Perhaps players were uncomfortable with Emil as a protagonist because he reminded them too much of themselves. Not personally knowing everyone else who has played the game, that is my only hypothesis for the rampant hatred of him.
In any case, Emil’s behavior at the start of the game, to me, is completely understandable; from his lack of ambition to his hiding behind Ember whenever he’s in trouble. I found him to be endearing because of this, since he quickly began to grow out of that automatic apology-defense almost as soon as Richter snapped at him for it, whereas Colette never did, and that was one of my few gripes about her character.
I haven’t seen as much of it, but I got the impression that people don’t like Marta either, whether it’s because of her personality or because she’s in the way of the Yaoi Emil/Richter or some underlying sexist thought processes, I don’t really know. However, I thought Marta was pretty brilliantly written. She was a strong female character but, again, Namco didn’t take the shortcut of making her Amazon Warrior Princess as a way to prove that she was strong. She got scared, she fell in love, she did dumb things, but behind it all was a sense of justice and principles and determination that made her certain that she knew right from wrong. I’m not sure of her actual age in-game, but I’m guessing somewhere around 13 or 14, which explains her dependence on her father. I could never imagine looking at my father and thinking “I can’t stand what you’ve become and I have to do something about it.” I personally don’t know if I’d have the strength to.
Brute was not the crazy power hungry jerk we saw for 90% of the game, as was evidenced by his complete reversal after Solum’s core was recovered. This is proof that he helped raise Marta to be the woman she currently is, with her determination and drive to see that things be put right. Thus, Marta’s insistence that she try to save him rather than outright kill him is understandable. He wasn’t an evil person, he was just being influenced and she knew that. At the same time, she wasn’t overlooking the things he had done, even if he hadn’t done them while in his right mind. She wasn’t blinded by love and who she thought her father was. Even if she fell into that trap when it came to Emil, which I believe was a good thing for him, since it forced him to stand up for himself against her and look at his own weaknesses in order to decide what he did or didn’t like about himself and what he had the power to change.
This game wasn’t simply amazing because of the main characters, however. It was amazing because, once again, Namco delivered a story that walked in the grey areas between good and evil. Richter and Aster invaded Ratatosk’s realm and provoked him. Richter wasn’t inherently evil and had a plan of how to get what he wanted as well as save the world once he was done, which involved sacrificing himself to burn for eternity. Brute was corrupted by Richter. Ratatosk was simply out of touch with the goings on of the world and needed to get out and see the sky and get some fresh air – and make a few friends – in order to fix his bad mood. None of these antagonists (except for maybe Alice) are absolutely evil and unforgivable, they’re presented as people with goals and reasons for what they’re doing and saving them didn’t require some pretzel logic that got them out of everything. Alice got herself dead, Brute went to prison, Richter burned for 1000 years. Most of all, the story presented good, compelling reasons for why the antagonists chose to do what they were doing. Looked at from the other direction, the tactics the main characters used weren’t that spotless either.
I thought it was a good continuation of the world. The focus on Emil and Marta’s journey while the main characters of the first game are left to their own devices for the most part was a good choice. I say this because this lets players decide what happened in the intervening two years between this and last game, as well as not forcing the game-maker’s choice of pairings on the player when it comes to Lloyd/???.
While some choices of what they had people doing were a little odd and frustrating, over all, I believe it made for a good game.