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Tales of Vesperia
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Bandai Namco Games, Tales Studio
Genre: Action RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 08/26/08
Japan 08/07/08
Official Site: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 89%
Sound: 82%
Gameplay: 95%
Control: 93%
Story: 74%
Overall: 89%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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What would a Japanese RPG be without a ghost ship?
 
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There's beauty in chaos.
 
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Finally, a world map that isn't ugly!
 
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If RPGs have taught me anything, it's that dogs are cool, but kids are annoying.
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Ashton Liu
Tales of Vesperia
09/25/08
Ashton Liu

Tales of the Abyss was a last hurrah for the Tales series in the previous console generation, and while it boasted an epic story and an all-star voice cast, it fell short in numerous key areas, with a glitchy overworld, long loading times, and some confusing battle mechanics. Now, unhindered by the limits of the previous generation's technology, Namco Bandai has seen fit to give the Tales series another go around for the current generation (and the franchise's 10th Anniversary in North America) with Tales of Vesperia.

Reaching Out For No Man's Land

The current entry in the Tales series arrives on a console deemed odd by JRPG enthusiasts - the Xbox 360. While the choice seems unorthodox, the Tales series has seen releases on so many consoles, by now I'm no longer surprised where it'll show up next. The current dearth in console RPGs makes Vesperia a welcome addition to the 360's library and currently makes it the console to own for RPG aficionados.

Vesperia's story focuses on Yuri, a sarcastic, brash young man with a heart of gold, who finds himself locked up in jail soon after breaking into a noble's house to investigate the theft of an item from his home in the lower quarter. Deciding that sitting around on his ass all day will get him nowhere, he breaks out of jail, only to run across a girl named Estellise escaping from the castle guards. She begs him to take her to meet Yuri's best friend, Flynn, and this begins a string of events culminating in Yuri leaving the town in search of the thief, accompanied by Estellise, who is looking for Flynn.

The Tales series is not known for groundbreaking stories or narratives, and Vesperia does little to change it. While it tries to create more unorthodox characters, the narrative itself is strictly by-the-book. Yuri is an interesting lead, and his lack of compunction in killing unarmed foes makes him markedly different than the idiotic do-gooder personalities that colored previous Tales heroes. The other members of the party, however, run the traditional gamut of anime archetypes, from the sheltered princess to the stupid kids you'd sooner choke than cuddle. The characterization focuses more on the dynamics of the characters themselves instead of any sort of traumatic pasts or backstories, and is well done, though not as engaging as even some of the previous entries in the series. Having a dog character who is, as the manual states, "The calmest and most rational party member," does not inspire confidence. Despite some hiccups, though, the cast of Vesperia is quite likable and their interactions bring a welcome levity to the overly melodramatic main story.

Light and Dark, Ups and Downs

The visuals in Vesperia are incredibly attractive, with vibrant colors accompanying the beautiful cel shading that, while not impressive on a technical level, gives new meaning to the term interactive anime. The game also has quite a few full motion videos that alternate between CG and anime, and both are quite well done. Load times are nearly non-existent, with the worst of the bunch being just over 2 seconds - those fearing the return of Abyss' dreaded loading screens need not worry.

I'm a well known critic of Motoi Sakuraba's work, but his soundtrack in Vesperia is leaps and bounds better than any soundtrack he's done in recent memory. Eschewing his normal style for a more simplistic approach, the soundtrack this time around is much fresher and sounds different from previous Tales music, despite a select few tracks that sound very similar to previous works.

The voicework, however, suffers from some inconsistency. While some characters such as Yuri and Raven are well done and fit their personalities, others, including one of the main villains and Flynn, are done nearly amateurishly. This drop in quality of voicework is unfortunate and ironic, considering that Vesperia is the first game in the series released stateside to feature full voicework during skits. The game would definitely have benefited greatly if the cast of Tales of the Abyss had returned for an encore performance.

I Walk A Thousand Nights To Change The World

Ultimately, what will draw players into Tales of Vesperia is its battle system. Enemies are visible on the field and overworld, which means that the player can pick their battles. Battles are conducted in the same action formula that separated it from the norm when the series began its run, taking place on a wide 3D plane, with characters moving in 2D, though the player can move in 3D by holding down the left trigger button. Unfortunately, while battles flow much more smoothly and are much more accessible this time around, disappointingly little has changed from the last few entries of the series. Players are still doing the same combos and linking them into the same artes, using the same overlimit system introduced in Symphonia and Mystic Artes made popular in Abyss. There are some novel skills that allow certain characters to combo effectively while in the air (in fact, one character has skills that are based around this combat style), as well as some new bells and whistles - like fatal strikes, which are powerful attacks that can kill normal enemies in one hit and do huge damage to bosses - but the changes made are, at the end of the day, both superfluous and superficial.

That's not to say the game isn't fun; this is one JRPG where players will actually WANT to battle, not for the purpose of grinding, but because of the sheer enjoyability. Racking up multi-hit combos and linking artes never felt or looked so good, and with the added fatal strikes and burst artes, combat never feels or looks boring. Despite everything that can be going on at the same time, the game rarely ever dips below its steady framerate, making for a fluid, entertaining combat system that offers a visceral thrill that's difficult to match.

A new ability system differentiates Vesperia from previous entries, with weapons teaching skills of varying levels of usefulness to characters. These skills, which can range from increasing specific stats to adding extra hits to a character's basic combo, can be equipped once learned from the weapon. There are over a hundred skills for each character to learn, allowing players to customize their characters in various ways. Despite this, however, each character still has a set role in the party, which means that certain characters - like the healer - will almost never leave the player's main party. It would have been nice to allow a larger array of customization among characters ... and what's with the dog being the best item user?

Accompanying the new skill system is the ability to synthesize equipment. Every enemy drops materials used for synthesizing and players can use these materials to make new weapons, armor, and accessories. Some items are dropped in droves while others are so rare, hunting for them caused me to tear my hair out.

What has been in the mix too long?

Vesperia's main story can be finished in 25 to 30 hours, though with the wide range of skills to learn, sidequests to embark on, minigames to play, and extras to find, there can be a good 100 hours of gameplay to be had. As a JRPG, however, Vesperia falls victim to many stereotypical shortcomings - a hackneyed plot, archetypical characters, overly linear story progression, and poor storytelling all fit the bill here.

Reading my review, some may believe I had a distinctly terrible time playing Vesperia, which couldn't be further from the truth; Tales of Vesperia is quite possibly the most entertaining JRPG on the 360 right now (though that's not saying much, considering its competition). However, despite possible objections from ardent fans of the series, the Tales franchise has not had any tangible evolution in the last few years. While Vesperia is, without a doubt, the best of the series, Namco seems content in rehashing and releasing rather than innovating with each new entry. Those who enjoy the Tales series or action RPGs won't be doing themselves a disservice by buying Vesperia, but those desiring a more groundbreaking title should look elsewhere.



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© 2008 Namco Bandai Games. All rights reserved.


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