Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
Namco Bandai’s Tales Of franchise is the Mega Man of the RPG world. A beloved series with so many iterations as to make it difficult for each entry to stand out from the rest, the brand was getting a bit stale up until the summer of 2008, when Tales of Vesperia was released.
Tales of Vesperia added some freshness and made a name for itself by coming out on the Xbox 360, a JRPG-starved platform, during a JRPG-starved console generation. However, what was, alongside Star Ocean 4, cause for bragging rights for 360 owners has become one more last laugh for PS3 fans. Just like Eternal Sonata (and soon, Star Ocean 4), Vesperia made its grand entrance onto the PS3 on September 17th, though only in Japan for now. However, I’d be amazed if Vesperia PS3 is ultimately never localized. More so than any RPG port in recent memory, this new Vesperia is all kinds of awesome.
I’ll try to be brief here, since this is a port. Check out my homie Ashton Liu’s original Xbox 360 review for a full write-up. The game plays identically to the original, and uses the same “Evolved Flex-Range Linear Motion Battle System,” (try saying that three times fast) evolved from earlier Tales Of games. Skills, burst arts, and overlimits work the same, only now there are more of them, and you can assign more arts at a time. That’s really the theme of this port by the way: MOAR.
There are new bosses, weapons, songs, subquests, special attacks, skits, costumes, towns, cutscenes, minigames… you name it, there’s more of it. The biggest additions for me are the new characters and bonus dungeons. Flynn is now fully customizable and playable at the end, and an entirely new pirate girl named Patty also joins the fun. There’s also a ton of additional voice work, making virtually every dialogue scene spoken and, fortunately, skippable thanks to a scene skip feature.
Cataloging all of the new features would take pages. Suffice to say, it’s enough newness that it warrants a second purchase, at least for fans. For PS3 owners that missed out, obviously this one is the way to go. I’d go so far as to recommend it to non-Japanese speakers who beat the original and/or are willing to put up with a translation guide. On the 360, Vesperia played great thanks to fantastic item creation and character customization systems, super sweet combat, and numerous gorgeous locales to explore. On PS3, it’s more of the same, which is a good thing in this case.
Vesperia’s graphics are consistently impressive from start to finish. Easily the most stylish and polished-looking game in the series, Vesperia’s colorful sprites, rich environments, and kaleidoscopic animations will delight PS3 owners. While perhaps not as technically impressive as some seventh generation RPG’s, Vesperia beats out most other JRPG’s with its design choices. With a few minor exceptions, Vesperia is one of those rare JRPG’s where the characters don’t look absurd. Cities and dungeon maps were equally well-conceived and show a good balance of size and complexity.
The PS3 version looks identical to the 360 original. Again, still a good thing.
Tales of Vesperia has above average music and strong voice work. Beginning with the former, I’ll say that I spent the first half of the game underwhelmed. Every song, from town themes to dungeons, seemed so blasé – too simple and too forgettable. The first battle theme seemed to be the only bright spot until the game’s second act. I loved some of the later compositions at certain dramatic moments, as well as the ending and opening themes. Musically, the game is good but not consistent.
On the other hand, the voice work is consistent. Yuri, Rita, Estelle, and Karol’s skits stand out as some of the best dialogue in the game, and Raven’s shady old guy shtick only adds to the charm. The writing exhibits strong Japanese humor and mature characters. No one feels dumbed-down or too fan service-y. The new girl, Patty, is also a hoot. While I can’t speak for any of the English voice work, I was impressed with the overall quality in Japanese. Hardly a shock, given the all-star cast of voice actors.
Again, already covered by two other reviewers here. Short version: pretty cool guy named Yuri goes off to find a bandit who stole an important artifact from his downtown hood. He meets a princess, has drama with his knight friend Flynn, studies magical devices called blastia with Rita, and yada yada yada, he has to save the planet from unattractive mean people. Actually that’s unfairly facile. There are some good subplots, and the political dynamic between independent guilds and the empire’s attempts at domination is well-drawn.
For me, Vesperia’s greatest narrative strength is in its characters and the genuine sense of camaraderie that develops between them. Yuri and Flynn are thoroughly fleshed out, believable, and intriguing. Raven and Judith add both humor and maturity with their hidden motives and subplots. Karol’s student-mentor relationship with Yuri is warm and smartly paced. Even Patty, the new playable character, is a treat. She is a fine example of how to do the cute fan service character right. Her creepy old man style of speech and humorous dialogue make her considerably more endearing than the typical child party member. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s a wiz in battle.
Vesperia doesn’t stray far from the typical Tales Of formula when it comes to story. Honestly, it doesn’t stray far from the typical JRPG formula. Nevertheless, it follows familiar tropes smartly, reminding us why we enjoy JRPG’s in the first place rather than just feeling like more of the same… in a bad way.
On the Xbox 360, Tales of Vesperia was one of the best JRPGs of the latest console generation. On the PS3, it is the best, with more content, better characters, and more fun to be had than even Star Ocean 4 and Disgaea 3. Final Fantasy XIII and the international version of The Last Hope may have a shot at the title, but that remains to be seen. I really hope that Vesperia gets localized and released in the West soon, as it’s the most complete package game in the series and a must-have for fans of action RPGs.