Review: Tales of Vesperia

If there’s one thing I dread, it’s my backlog.  My backlog is like the unbeatable secret boss of my hobby.  I’m never forced to fight it, but if I do, it’s not something that I will easily fell.  Most prominent on the massive conglomerate is Tales of Vesperia, a game that I regrettably abandoned when I migrated to PS3 land.  Though I was only about halfway through, it was probably the one game I still wanted to play and finish on the 360. With firm resolve, however, I finally managed to take my 360 out from storage, with the intent of finishing up Vesperia.  Well, I did actually manage to finish it.  After a great deal of thinking, I’m not so sure I should have taken it out of storage…

Tales of Vesperia is the first seventh generation title in the age-old Tales series.  Highly memorable for its action-RPG gameplay that takes many cues from the fighting game genre, and often very well-rounded cast of characters, Tales of Vesperia attempts to do all those things, but just much better.  At first glance, it seems Vesperia is more mature than your standard Japanese roleplaying fare.  Vesperia explores the meaning of personal justice (and essentially differing morals), which from the very outset isn’t as idealistic a topic as topics other Tales games tend to explore.

And yet, some of the male characters are designed prettily.

In certain ways, Vesperia’s plot is very strong.  With the introduction of even very light politics comes the realization that some enemies cannot be bested by martial prowess alone, that some enemies are protected by their positions.  Sometimes, one is forced to get their hands dirty.  Surprisingly, Vesperia explores this course of action pretty thoroughly.  I thought this topic was handled quite well, probably the best part of the plot.

Let’s move on to characters for a bit, however.  The main character is Yuri Lowell, a 21-year-old man who doesn’t see eye to eye with the law.  Yuri lives in the largest city in the world, home of an empire with a pretty impressive lineage.  The current princess, Estellise Sidos Heurassein (Estelle for short), a naive 18-year-old girl who grew up mainly reading books, joins Yuri as they’re forced to meet up with Yuri’s childhood friend, Flynn Schifo, a commander of the knights of the empire.  The empire stretches far and wide, though one region of the world is inhabited with people who grew tired of the Empire’s overbearing nature, and formed a city of guilds.  Some of your other party members are from these Guilds, while the others are from elsewhere.

The cast is, as I’ve already mentioned, pretty well-rounded.  They’ve got some strong personalities, and mesh pretty well with each other.  The gang is rather humorous, but at the same time, since they all come from different places around the world, their differing values often clash.  However, what’s regrettable about this core cast is that many of them don’t develop all that much, the main character included.  Some of them do grow as characters, but the others are very static.  It’s quite disappointing when the best you can say about some of them is that they learn to work with each other.  Not terrible, sure, especially considering how strong their personalities start off, but not the best effort that could’ve been done, especially considering how Tales characters usually develop.

On the flip side, Yuri is the closest thing Vesperia has to Batman.

Whatever positives I can say about the core cast don’t really exist for the secondary characters.  Some of them are very dubiously written, while some of them add almost nothing of value to the game.  Even worse, some secondary characters literally add nothing of value to the game.  In fact, there was one secondary character who only existed to make the game worse.  I’m not sure what went through the team’s head when they decided to leave said character in the script.

If it sounded like I was being too harsh on the characters, then you may not like what I’m about to say about the rest of the plot.  It sucks.  It’s over-complicated, uses and abuses vague terminology to make the plot seem even more complicated than it already is, and in the end, is not even remotely memorable.  Let’s call it the aer plot.

For a good two-thirds of the game, the overall plot was pretty good, so the bad side of the plot was never too prevalent.  After the two-thirds mark (marked by a very very stupid plot twist), most of the justice plot disappears, and the aer plot takes center stage.  As a result, it seems the plot at this point takes a huge nosedive in quality.  The last third of the game seems very aimless.  I found myself overjoyed when the credits finally started rolling, if only because I was finally rid of that travesty of a plot.

Combat tends to be just a little hectic, but you don’t need on-the-fly micromanagement skills to kick ass.

Fortunately, the gameplay’s pretty much solid.  You run around town screens, dungeon screens, and world maps like you would in a normal JRPG (though monsters show up on the map).  Battles, however, are completely real time, where you and three other party members fight monsters and enemies and stuff on a 3D plane.  Combat is very much like a fighting game, as you have your standard attack button, and a special attack button that can be mapped, along with analog stick directions, to different special moves.  Along the way, you have seven different characters to use, combo chains, finishing strikes, overlimits, and burst/mystic artes, and you have a pretty damned fun game.

Tales of Vesperia builds upon the 3D Tales games, but makes them bigger in pretty exciting ways.  Vesperia adds a skill system similar to Final Fantasy IX’s skill system (learn skills from weapons, can equip them to character later) that helps shape how you want to play a character.  You can add new combos, add different ways to chain, even alter artes, too.  What you can do with these skills makes character customization decently robust, and provides a pretty cool method of developing your character by yourself, without the game dictating how you develop a character too much.

The gameplay’s pretty damned great.  Frustratingly though, my one problem with the gameplay is a very cheap one.  Bosses often have a tendency to break out of any combos you set up on them.  Granted, bosses do need this to an extent, as they’d otherwise be stuck in infinite combos, and that wouldn’t be very fun.  However, the frequency with which they break your combos is quite insane; you’d be hard-pressed to even land half of whatever standard late-game combo you use.  Even with that, however, bosses aren’t too cheap, and are still pretty exhilarating.

Vesperia has beautiful shots like these pretty often. Pretty nifty engine, huh.

Graphics are… pretty beautiful.  Every shot seems pretty picturesque, like they all come out of some very high quality anime.  I guess sometimes, the cel-shaded character models can look rather jarring on the more 3D environments.  However, it seldom feels jarring.  In fact, more often than not, I’d say the game looks at the very least good.

I can’t say I liked the music though.  Makoto Sakurai’s music often feels very same-y, but is only occasionally memorable.  Unfortunately, Vesperia’s soundtrack feels very repetitive (the term “same-y” is often tossed around) and isn’t very memorable.  Meanwhile, the voice acting is quite competent, and is rather enjoyable.  The actors have solid performances, and deliver their lines solidly and appropriately.  Vesperia basically has an all around great dub.

Rating Breakdown
Presentationwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The plot has some good points, but later devolves into nonsensical hogwash, and characters start off strong, but some wind up receiving little development.
Gameplaywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
With highly engaging fighting game-esque gameplay and a pretty extensive skill system, Tales of Vesperia's gameplay is always pretty fun and exhilarating, though bosses can be somewhat cheap.
Graphicswww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Absolutely gorgeous, though cel-shaded models on 3D backgrounds can be jarring.
Soundwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Music often feels very unremarkable, though voice acting is a wonderful treat.
Replayabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Vesperia is a long game with tons of content, but it's possible to see everything on your first playthrough.
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Though Tales of Vesperia's storytelling starts out promising and falls flat, most other elements of the game are pretty good, with the gameplay really standing out as something great and fun.

 

Miscellaneous details:
Developer: Namco Tales Studio
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Available on: Xbox 360
Genre: Action RPG
Rating: T
Release date: August 26th, 2008

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