With Tales of Vesperia, the beloved franchise enters the next generation. Created by the Symphonia/Abyss development team, Vesperia adheres to the formula established in those installments, but offers updated graphics, additional combat nuances, and… that’s about it. No matter how enjoyable the game may be to play, the player cannot deny that lurking sensation of déjà vu at nearly every turn of the adventure. And even beyond the lack of innovation, there’s still plenty to complain about. The overall experience, however, still stands as one of the best of the next generation RPG library.
At the outset of the game, the protagonist, Yuri Lowell, awakens to find the capital city’s citizens in danger of losing its water supply due to a thief. That thief stole the peasants’ source of water, one of the universal sources of power and magic, called blastia. Seeking out the stolen blastia, Yuri stumbles into prison, escapes, and enters the castle, where he meets the female lead, Estellise. Their adventure begins when they flee the capital in search of the blastia and their missing friend Flynn. They make acquaintances, shake hands with some and cross swords with others, and attempt to unravel the mysteries behind blastia and the world itself.
Told in three chapters, Vesperia’s plot is certainly epic and contains a wealth of dialogue, characters, and party interaction. For much of the first half, the adventure is based around the search for the stolen blastia and Flynn. As the story slowly builds, blastia becomes all the more central to the story, and this is unfortunate. Blastia, Vesperia’s version of materia, elemental crystals, or whatever else typically creates and explains any mystical happenings, has no root in reality, and therefore, the player most likely won’t care about it. There are a few interesting concepts once the game really begins, such as the party’s guild involvement, but these tend to fade toward the second half. None of the game’s plot twists are particularly mind-blowing either, and much of the blastia talk makes little sense, especially toward the second half, when things begin to spiral out of control. Furthermore, the second half features some bad pacing, as the player goes from dungeon to dungeon instead of dungeon to town, as all the world’s cities are already discovered. The story is not only uninteresting, but told poorly in most instances.
Apart from the blastia-ridden story, Vesperia’s cast of characters are a mixed lot. Yuri is an extremely likeable and intriguing lead character, and his personality ranges from downright cool to shocking, and he avoids most of the sappy, save the world garbage for other characters. As for the rest of the cast, not as much praise can be given, but there are two or three valuable characters. The enigmatic Judith is a welcome addition to a predictable party, and old man Raven offers a more mature take on matters. Even Raven, however, feels familiar (Jansen, I’m looking at you), and the level of character development seems low for a Tales game. Skits return and assist in this, however, and party interaction is as endearing as ever.
As for unplayable characters, Vesperia doesn’t offer many unforgettable faces. One comes to mind, and his role is significant, but many others are annoying or unlikable. Over the course of the game’s three chapters, numerous villains come and go, an interesting and original idea, yet the individual villains are the power-tripping, raving lunatics Japanese developers have come to love.
One of the most interesting aspects of Vesperia is its inclusion of an overall theme. Apparent throughout much of the first half, the theme of justice is not a new one, but it serves as another layer to the story and characters. Past the halfway point, however, the theme is pushed aside for sappy, “help others, help yourself” sentiments. By the end, it’s officially buried under a heap of overused blastia.
Tales of Vesperia plays almost exactly like Tales of the Abyss, with a few minor changes. Thankfully, the combat has only become more enjoyable, with the potential for even larger combos and the addition of the dynamic fatal strikes that automatically finish off an enemy. There are hundreds of battles to be had in Vesperia, but it’s rarely a chore thanks to the fluid, chaotic system patented by the Tales franchise.
To deepen the gameplay experience, Vesperia includes character skills, each tied to a specific weapon. Once learned, they can be equipped to produce various effects. Cooking makes a return, as does item synthesis, and it is the strongest version yet. Also present are character titles, accessories visible during cutscenes, and mini-games. The adventure lasts a whopping sixty hours on average, so expect to become very familiar with each and every one of these mechanics, and even more so if you take on the multitude of side quests.
Although it’s all been done before, my complaints arise elsewhere; even an old battle system is still worthy if done correctly, and it is. Unfortunately, combat suffers from a couple control issues, mainly concerning the movement of the character and the inability to hit an enemy once knocked down. These minor annoyances are never cured and after sixty hours, may wear on some players.
Beyond control problems, Vesperia is home to a number of design dilemmas. Exploration is somewhat stunted, especially in towns, where there is often just too little to see. Some dungeons contain fairly weak puzzles that break the monotony, but the dungeons themselves are too often uninspired. Others are simply too expansive and confusing, especially when the monsters respawn after a short period of time. World map design and exploration is fantastic, however, and almost balances out faults elsewhere. These issues may hamper enjoyment of Vesperia at times, but thankfully, once a battle begins, the player will likely forget these troubles in the chaos of swinging blades and dancing spears.
At first glance, the world of Vesperia, Terca Lumireis, is visually captivating. The character models and backdrops are straight out of a anime, and even the world map is blessed with color and vibrancy. Once the player enters battle, he is treated to beautifully flashy effects and solidly designed monsters. Each town and dungeon brings about its unique atmosphere perfectly captured by the cell-shaded graphics.
And then you notice the shortcuts: copious pallet swapping, identical NPCs standing next to each other, a lack of action in most cutscenes, and the refusal to display key events, instead merely showing the characters talk about it. This last issue is the worst, and unforgivable in this age. You don’t want to see Yuri and Estellise standing about with grim looks; you want to see the giant cataclysm they’re looking grim about. Despite its beauty, Vesperia’s graphical shortcomings place it behind the times.
The scope of Vesperia’s soundtrack is both limited and vast, but the quality is consistently good. Each chapter features unique battle and world map music, yet the same tracks are repeated from almost beginning to end during emotional sequences. Most of the tunes, however, are above average, and the player is sure to notice them. Catchy town melodies, blood-pumping battle tracks, and inspirational symphonies are all present to accompany the adventure appropriately. Even the JPop theme song is worth a listen, and that’s a rarity for something so stereotypical these days.
Voice acting is handled well; although, like everything in Vesperia, it isn’t perfect. The main cast’s voices are excellent, with hardly a mistake, yet many minor characters are only average, with two or three standing out as irritatingly poor. Considering that even the skits are voiced this time, it comes as a surprise when a few key scenes aren’t given voice treatment. The length of the game could explain that, however, and overall, the voicework is strong.
Five years ago, Tales of Vesperia would have been so much fresher, and its mistakes much more forgivable. Now, the Tales formula has grown tired and redundant, and this incarnation is the furthest the series can go without a significant overhaul. That said, Vesperia may be the best Japanese RPG of this generation, or at least the most fun.
The name “Vesperia” comes from the brightest star in the sky of Terca Lumireis, Brave Vesperia. Calling this game by that name might not be too inappropriate when compared to other recent RPGs, but nevertheless, I hope the future holds much brighter stars.