Annoyances and an uninspired monster breeding system make the sequel nowhere close to as good as the original.
Dawn of the New World is a direct sequel to the original Tales of Symphonia for GameCube, and with it come new features and a new cast of characters. The game takes place two years after the merging of Tethe'alla and Sylvarant, and not all is well in the world. A social divide between the two worlds is causing a lot of tension and a nasty uprising, and it's up to a boy named Emil to figure out how to bring the world together and restore peace.
This immediately brings forward one of the biggest problems with Dawn of the New World. Emil, our hero, starts as a whiny, apologetic, pathetic loser who suddenly gains the power of bad-assery, yet somehow remains a whiny, apologetic, pathetic loser in the process. Though he slowly gains confidence through his lady-friend, Marta, Emil will be a thorn in your side for almost the entire game. It feels out of place for the main character to be that annoyingly whiny, especially considering for how long it goes on. I don't care how it works into the story. Heroes are supposed to be manly, because we want to play as manly men. Not whiny kids.
Thank goodness you can choose to control other party members in battle! The battle system has been improved upon tremendously with the addition of a free-run button and the ability to equip more than four Artes (special moves) thanks to the motion controls of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Because the battles are more open this time, setting up a good formation and then maneuvering your characters into a favorable position is more important than ever. It's very easy to get surrounded if you don't watch what you're running into. Still, often times the battlefield feels clogged up because of how your partners and enemies seem to roam around freely themselves without really staying in some pre-determined battle formation. While you do have some control over how characters act and what moves they can perform, battles usually turn into free-for-alls.
This is especially true when you are using captured monsters to fight alongside you. New World introduces the ability to ally with enemy monsters and have them join your party. Unfortunately, you go about capturing them through some very confusing elemental system that somehow determines whether or not you can capture a monster from that battle. After joining your party, captured monsters can learn new skills, including very useful healing Artes. Because different monsters have different elemental alliances, adding them to your party when entering certain areas can be helpful.
However, there is never a point in the game where having monsters fight with you is any significant advantage over main characters. Since you can never directly control them, and they cannot use items, friendly monsters don't feel like they're really a part of your team, but rather just out there doing their own thing. In fact, it never really feels like you have a solid party at all, particularly because the characters from the original game will constantly join and leave the group as the story dictates. You never have a chance to build up a stable platform that you're comfortable with, which ultimately ruins the flow of the game.
Still, the one thing that the Tales games have always excelled at is telling a good story. Optional skits further explain the story behind all of the characters, and if you decide to read through them all you'll learn quite a bit about the heroes. However, even that comes at the expense of speedy gameplay, as everything stops when you activate one of the skits. There really should be some way for the skits to take place simultaneously with the action. Despite that, the story is really the thing that gets you through the beginning of the game, if only because you want to know why Lloyd (the main character from the first game) killed Emil's parents. About the time when you find out is also, conveniently, about the time when the game actually starts to become much more tolerable. Even so, that's asking quite a lot to have to sit through a lot of slow conversation and curious story branches early on.
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is going to disappoint a lot of people, particularly fans of the original GameCube epic. Naturally, it would be hard to live up to the original, but the sequel feels uninspired. It's still a good game on its own merits, mostly because the battle system is still solid and it's addicting to try to string together the biggest combo possible. However, the constant whining from Emil, a party that never feels like it has a foundation, and poor pacing and flow make waiting for the good stuff an exercise in patience, where it should be an exercise in fun.