I've been playing Tales of Vesperia on my PS3 lately and have been really enjoying it. I haven't quite finished it yet but I've sunk over 90 hours into it and I think I'm almost there. This has been my first time playing that much of an RPG in Japanese and it's been a pretty positive experience so I've been thinking about tackling a different title when I'm done with this one. But picking the right title is crucial, and I thought it would make an interesting topic of discussion. Most of this will focus on somebody with limited but nonzero knowledge of Japanese (namely me) trying to play and actually understand
the games in question. I realize that there are some games out there with guides available that will let you bumble your way through but given that story is one of the major things I play RPGs for that doesn't really appeal to me.
My Japanese skill is at the level where I can understand most basic conversations just fine well but when more technical terms start getting used I can get lost pretty quick. There have been times when I found myself looking up every other word, though thankfully that's not the norm. Unfortunately my understanding of spoken Japanese exceeds my kanji knowledge by quite a bit (though I'm working on it...) so I depend heavily on voice acting. Games that don't have voice acting are right out as it's pretty slow going for me. Part of this experience is
to improve my Japanese skills but I want to have fun while I'm doing it. ToV is quite good in this regard. While conversations with random townspeople aren't voiced all of the plot stuff and skits are.
I should note that while my ToV experience has been quite positive, I also picked up Ar Tonelico 3 around the same time and gave up on it after only playing for about 10 hours. It's not that the game is bad or anything, but the sheer quantity of dialogue (should have seen that coming having played the first two games...) combined with the fact that much of it isn't voiced made trying to understand it slow and tedious for me. Pacing is important. If conversations go on for too long I can start to get frustrated, but if there is still lots of story but it's broken up between segments of gameplay I find it easier to tolerate. When you have lot's of unvoiced conversations that force me to look up tons of words and just keep going and going...well, that's not fun anymore. Also, the 'level' of the dialogue (and things like kanji usage) felt higher in AT3 than ToV.
Though I do want voice acting, I still prefer it to go along with old-fashioned text boxes for a couple of reasons. First of all, since they automatically break up the conversation and prompt you to continue they make it easier to try and read along and not lose my place. Also, having the text there is essential when I do need to look something up so I can be sure I got the right word. With all the homophones in Japanese I need that check. Having voiced cutscenes can work if subtitles are still available and
they are pausable, but it's still just easier with good old text boxes.
Finally, I am really only interested in games that are available for platforms that aren't locked to a particular region. The PS3 and PSP are fine for this, the PS2 is not. I don't really want to deal with modding or anything like that.
So to summarize, the things I'm looking for are:
- Good pacing between gameplay and story
- Consistent voice acting for at least all major story sections
- Textboxes or subtitles for all conversations
- If there are cutscenes they need to be pausable
- Available on a platform that doesn't require modding
- It should also be a good game ;)
I keep mentioning ToV because it felt like about the right level for me and does all of the above right. So another game of that ilk would be right. Also, if a game is available (or will be available soon) in English, I would probably just go for the English version. Playing a game in Japanese is still a lot of work for me so if I'm going to put that effort in I'd rather do it for something I couldn't play otherwise.