Following Eternal Sonata, Namco Bandai presents another imaginative world of RPG goodness called Tales of Vesperia. Tales has been helping the Xbox 360 pick up their numbers in Japan by pleasing the hearts of all those who have stumbled onto its colourful journey into a world of magic, friendship and exploration. It's time us Canucks have a look at this Japanese sensation to see if Tales of Vesperia can warm bring the same warm and fuzzy feeling to our hearts as well.
Tales of Vesperia is very much a Japanese style role-playing game, hence the acronym JRPG. All the ingredients have been mixed together creating a cutesy pile of anime love that should warm your heart and please your eyes. Tales doesn’t offer up much in the area of change, so if you have never gotten into Japanese styled role-playing game I wouldn’t start here. Tales uses a carbon copied formula that has been duplicated a hundred times in this genre, but this doesn’t mean Tales doesn’t have any value. Even standardized traditional games can still be fun and Tales of Vesperia is proof that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel to keep it rolling.
Leader of the Pack
Namco Bandai is starting to lead the pack bringing another traditional JRPG to the rest of the world. Following the charming Eternal Sonata, Tales of Vesperia has a similar vibe to its artistic storytelling. Tales of Vesperia starts off in the traditional format with something mysterious stranger, a town in need, and a young rebellious purpled haired fellow who inadvertently turns into the role of the hero. In Tales this purple haired fellow is Yuri Lowell, a young defiant character who steps up to help his town in need when the proper authorities have fail to care. In a search for a Blastia thief, Yuri find himself in a wild adventure that goes beyond the scale of his small town upbringing. Yuri is only cruising alone for a short period of time before he meets the next stereotypical character, the spoiled pampered rich girl who is gifted with amazing magical powers. Estellise Heurassein (Estelle) is her name and together Yuri and Estelle venture out into the unknown to search down this magical component and obviously find themselves in an adventure bigger than they have ever dreamed. In its purest form Tales tale of the road to maturity and self understanding through impossible circumstances.
It is easy to poke fun at Tales of Vesperia’s standardized storyline, but for all its standard plot developments and quirky characters is a well defined storyline that makes you can hold your interest for the duration of the game. Tales also offers up an interesting battle system that takes Vesperia a little further away from the traditional turned basic battles by stepping into a more action oriented playing field. In Tales you engage in real-time combat similar to 2006’s Tales of the Abyss. The way this works is by being able to freely move around the characters in a limited area until you battle is completed. Enemies free roam around the map and when you come into close proximity of them a battle will cue up. In battle you can choose how you want to fight and take a hands-on approach by performing you own defensive blocks and combed up attacks. For those who like a more hands off approach you can even set Tales up to does the work for you as you sit back and watch the A.I. take control of your party. Tales even lets you plug in another controller giving a near by friend a chance to pull a few punches during combat. If you want to be lazy, here is your chance.
Action first, strategy later
The evolved real-time action-RPG battle system is a definite bonus for gamers looking for a little more action in their role-playing game. Even though the real-time combat helped keep me awake and into the battles through some of the heavier parts of the game I felt the combat was lacking. The dynamic real-time combat system is a little limiting with slow button reaction speeds. The combat really wants to feel like a full fledged action game; however the translation doesn’t come close to emulating the same feel. If you can ignore the lack of freedom and delayed button presses response, Tales becomes a little more interesting then running through menus in traditional turned-based battles. I can see the combat system in Tales of Vesperia to be the main point that will either sell, or turn gamers away from the game.
Keeping things tilted away from an pure action is the added element of Artes and Skills. Artest are special actions that can be mapped out to the control to perform special moves in combat. These act like automatic combos that can adjust at your leisure. Like any true RPG the more you level up the more powerful and diverse your skills and artes will become. The skills in Vesperia are inherited from weapons which acting like character bonuses. Weapons come with pre-attached skills, however you can mess around and rearrange the skills you learnt off the weapons and attach them to new weapons, also at your leisure. This brings in the most strategic element to the game besides deciding who to attack first. This system has the right amount of depth to be interesting without being overly confusing, although it might throw you for a loop in the begging. Giving Vesperia a few hours to sink in is the best thing to do and before you know it any confusing glances you had in the beginning of the game will be erased with the delight of customization.
Addicted to Gamerpoints? Beware!
Having an action combat system doesn’t mean the experience flies by; Tales is still an epic 50+ hour game that can stretch out longer if you explore all the side quests. If you’re an achievement junkie, Tales is wrapping you in for multiple playthroughs if you want to grab all those Gamerpoints. Evil, yes. If you choose to replay Tales they have added a few unlockable options to make it more fun like inheriting skills, or boosting the amount of experience points you collect in the game. Replaying Tales might not be fit into everyone’s schedule, however if you’re inclined there is enough reward to motivate another run.
Tales of Groundhog Day
For problems Tales is pretty clean cut for a standard JRPG. If you want to complain it could be in the lack of freedom in your actions. Tales is 100% linear besides side-questing. Tales can also become repetitive when it comes to the warping enemy encounters you'll face. I know Tales doesn't use the random "out of the blue" surprise attacks, but their system of fading in enemies will keep you in battleground for the same amount of time. One more complaint is that you can not skip the cut scenes. This isn't a big deal, however if you fall in battle and have to work your way back to a boss for a battle, be prepared to watch the same cut-scene over and over until you get the job done. It would have been nice to have an option to skip past them after you have viewed them once. Added up these points don't feel like much of a deterrent when you cash in all the positive aspects in Tales.
She sure is Perdy.
One of the most postive aspect in Tales of Vesperia are the graphics. Tales takes cell-shaded visuals seen in Eternal Sonata and moves up a gear. Tales of Vesperia is a wonderful viewing experience that showcases a quality in cell-shading and anime inspired graphics. The backdrops are beautiful and help draw you into the clearly cut characters who inhabit the screen. Famous Japanese manga artist, Kosuke Fujishima (Ah! My Goddess) is the man responsible for bringing a unique style and look into Tales of Vesperia. In 720p, Tales looks more like an animated movie than a game. This is attributed to the excellent animation and quality of the overall design and in-game graphics. Namco Bandai's Tales team overachieved on this one making Tales of Vesperia one of the most screen shot friendly games to be released.
Ring a Bell
The audio component to Tales features swooping a typically arranged score by Motoi Sakuraba who has done work for a number of games over the years including Eternal Sonata, Shining Force III, Mario Tennis and Star Ocean: The Last Hope and the Hibiki Aoyama. The soundtrack isn’t anything you haven’t heard before, but its strong point comes in its diversity that is linked to the different areas in the game. Tales also kicks off with a rocking opening song in ENGLISH! Bonnie Park’s “Ring a Bell” crashes into the speakers and starts off Tales of Vesperia the right way with a rocking Japanese Pop song playing overtop of fast moving anime images. Adding on to the background soundscape is quality voice-over work from the localization team. Again the voice-over talent doesn’t perform above the call of duty, just a good hearted nod that they didn’t make any of the character overly annoying. All it takes is one high pitched whine to ruin the flow and thankfully Tales keeps a natural feel to all the lines of dialog.
Tales of Vesperia tale of trust, friendship, adventure and justice should be enough to bait in most JRPG fans. The linear gameplay and repetitive combat aren't the most memorable elements to come out of the JRPG genre of gaming; however the clichés and standard gameplay are almost instantly forgivable with the warm hearted cast of characters, beautiful graphics and quality audio delivery. For all those who are on the fence, Tales of Vesperia is a beautifully rendered experience that is worth a rental at the least. If you are a fan of Japanese styled role-playing games then you'll need to head down to your local game store and hope they have a copy of Tales behind the cash, it will be worth the drive. Tales is one of a kind.
Gameplay:8.5, Graphics:9, Sound:9, Innovation:7, Mojo:9 Final: 8.5 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 09.23.08