I'm making a stand right here, right now. Japan, listen closely: Enough with the angsty, whiny little bitch main characters for your RPGs. I'm tired of it. Cloud was fine because he was attached to a decent (if overrated) RPG, but just because one game can do something and have it not ruin the game, it doesn't mean that every game thereafter has to feature the same "I'm so gloomy I hate the world why doesn't anybody understand me" character as their lead. Hell, I would be fine if games didn't feature them, because at this point, I'm ready to snap.
I've played almost all of the Tales of... series of games; I'm only missing two of them. One of those two happens to be the original Tales of Symphonia for the GameCube. I actually never had a GameCube until two weeks before the Wii came out, and I got rid of it shortly after. However, I did play Tales of Vesperia for the Xbox 360, and I'll say that it is, without a doubt, the best JRPG to be released for the now-gen consoles, so it was with great hope that I wandered into Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. "The last game was really good, so I imagine the new one will be at least decent." Boy was I wrong.
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World (hereto forth known as ToS:DotNW) is so disappointing and infuriating that I was actually angry while playing it. DotNW is a direct sequel to the four-year old Tales of Symphonia, taking place two years after its finale. The beginning of DotNW tries to explain the story of the previous entry, but five minutes of exposition doesn't make up for 70 hours of gameplay and story. The world was apparently dying and the crew of the first game defeated evil and made everything good again; sounds pretty average. During another cutscene, you're introduced to the main character of the game, Emil. Emil personifies everything about Japanese RPGs that I hate; the whiny protagonist who, if I ever had to deal with in the world world, would probably end up being punched in the face by me.
You spend the first hour or so of the game controlling Emil as he wanders around his town being hated by everybody. You may think this is an exaggeration, but I promise you, everybody hates Emil, and you soon will too! Eventually, Emil gets possessed by Ratatosk, king of monsters (or the demon lord, depending on who you're talking to) and then he ends up still complaining and whining about everything. You just can't please some people.
Being a Knight of Ratatosk, Emil has a special ability to recruit monsters to fight alongside him in battle. While the Pokemon "gotta catch 'em all" feeling initially takes over, the sad truth of it is that you'll only end up using a few good monsters because there's just no reason to use the majority of the monsters. It's a shame, too, because the promise if "build your own party" is only as good as the potential choices, and not enough people are going to recruit the monsters on any basis other than "this one is more powerful than the one I have." In the end, players will end up choosing between around 10 monsters to fill your roster. Aside from the monster recruiting, the game plays just like any other RPG; go here, talk to this guy, go to dungeon, fight, lather, rinse, repeat. The story is about as obvious as you could imagine, and any "twist" that happens can be seen a mile away.
Usually in the Tales of games, the battle system is the best part of it. Instead of the standard battle system, Tales games employ an action game style beat-em-up battle system; it definitely is less boring than your standard RPG battles, but for some reason, these ones just aren't very fun. The previous entry, Tales of Vesperia had almost the exact same battle system, but it was just more engaging and interesting.
From the get-go, it's obvious what this game is. Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is nothing but fanservice, just like Final Fantasy X-2, but even that isn't enough to save it. It's a shame, too, because it's always interesting to think about what actually happens after RPGs when the world is saved. How has everything been affected? Is there still conflict, or does everybody live in peace? What happens to the people who just killed the supreme evil? It's interesting to think about it, but more often than not, game stories and worlds are based on characters' actions, and as such fail when the characters aren't there anymore. Star Wars is probably the only universe that I can imagine in media that is well-rounded enough to be able to survive successfully without the Darth Vaders and Luke Skywalkers; the world of Tales of Symphonia unfortunately isn't interesting enough to tack-on a short epilogue and make it worthwhile.
Of course, if you loved the original ToS, you've probably already picked up DotNW and loved every minute of it, because it was exactly what you were wanting. More of the same, but not the exact same game.