In the opening scene of Tales Of Symphonia: Dawn Of The New World, the hero from the original Tales Of Symphonia goes rogue, torching an innocent village and casting his lot with religious terrorists. This really does seem like a new world, where a Tales game literally burns its bridges to weave a dark, complex epic—on the Wii, no less.
After an enticing start, though, New World falls into the old habits of the Japanese RPG genre. The game hints at a serious story, but never sheds its discount-anime hijinks long enough to tell it in compelling fashion. The protagonist, Emil, recounts the harrowing night his parents were murdered before his eyes. Then, a few steps down the trail, his female sidekick maneuvers for a kiss, which is totally ewww! Girls are so weird! And we're jarred back into cutesy-land.
The narrative oddities would be more forgivable if New World gave players room to explore, but the main storyline is pretty much it. Anemic side quests transport you to generic locales (e.g., "Volcano Cave"), where you fight a few monsters, get an item, rinse, repeat.
At least the fighting is fun. The game's free-range, real-time battle system has fantastic rhythm. New World doesn't force Wii-mote waggle-gimmicks where they don't belong, instead building a kinetic feel the old-fashioned way with tight button controls. On the other hand, given the Wii-mote's pointing capabilities, the lack of a targeting system is a baffling omission.
Beyond the game: It sounds like Namco Bandai splurged on top-notch voice actors and skimped on the director. The delivery is fine, but the characterization is off. When Emil speaks, you can practically hear the guy in the V.O. booth yelling, "Whinier! More pathetic!"
Worth playing for: Defeated monsters can be recruited to fight by your side, and with hundreds of bad guys to collect, there's a wide range of strategies to try.
Frustration sets in when: There's no way to skip the ponderous cutscenes that dominate the first few hours of the game. The buttons, they do nothing!
Final judgment: New World is the most earnest attempt yet to bring an RPG with lasting appeal to the Wii, but it never takes itself seriously enough to make an impact.