Tales of Vesperia
The Tales series really never has gotten the proper respect it deserves. People who have played the tales series games have most loved it, and this was shown by the love that Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Destiny(which is actually a low point in the series in my opinion) had received for the Gamecube. Abyss, Legendia, and just about all of the other Tales series have never nearly gotten noticed by the mainstream in America and Europe. by releasing this RPG on the 360, it seems Namco Bandai has been hoping for the best with results in getting the series well known in the US. (They must not be too enthusiastic about it, since I have yet to see a commercial or advertisement for it anywhere.) But nevertheless, here it is, the next chapter in the Tales of series, Tales of Vesperia. Despite being on the Xbox 360, Tales of Vesperia warranted a vast turnout in Japan, launching the often abysmal 360 sales 5 times what they normally are. Currently, there is even a shortage of 360s in Japan right now, which has never before happened. This should tell you a little something about the amount of influence that this series has in the East.
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Genre: RPG; JRPG, SRPG
Players: 1-4 (Offline)
Platform: Xbox 360
But anyway I'll stop beating around the bush and get this review started. The Tales of Series has always been known for its signature Anime style graphics, character skits, and what is quite possibly the best character development in the genre. So the first thing you'll notice is the intro. Its made fully of cartoon-Anime CG, and stands out very well from many different game's styles of cutscenes(Fact: This is one of the very few games that I've even bothered to watch the intro of.) This highlights one of the defining traits of Tales series games; they make use of full cartoon graphics in some cutscenes. They have done this for a while in fact: Tales of Symphonia has 1 or 2, Abyss had around 3-5, and Vesperia has around 21. It gives a very nice break from the normalcy of full CG graphics all the time. Back from what they never really specified(correct me) but they give a great and distinct flavor to the way the story is unraveled, and they also serve to highlight some of the most important points in the game. The character skits were also bashed a good bit. The thing is, they are all optional, but if you want to get the most out of the storyline, you'll want to watch them. And I'll tell you now, if your even slightly interested in the story you will want to watch them. They feature animated, drawn versions of the characters and they have conversations, which ends up really helping to endear the characters to you. But don't take it from me. Take it from what the people who have played the series have said.
The overall story also reaches a standard of greatness, and easily is the best story that a Tales game has seen yet. It tells the tale of badass ex knight Yuri as he forges his own idea of justice in a corrupt empire. Along the way(naturally) meeting a cast of characters who, as well, get a huge level of development before the game is over. Unlike most JRPGs, the characters (with few exceptions) break most boundaries of generic "save the world" JRPG characters(you know, classic cliche characters.) Still, they do have the essence of the Japanese RPG hero, which in itself has a bit of overall generic-ness to it. Compared to most games out there, however, they stand out well. The story has a few linear parts to it, but Vesperia takes the storytelling abilities of the Tales series to greater heights. Perfectly paced with some of the most well developed characters of any JRPG out there. Much better then Symphonia, and somehow even better then tales of the Abyss. After you finish the game, you may be begging for a direct sequel(Even more then I did with Abyss. And thats saying something.) The story never gets boring or too cliche(though it has its moments) but to get into the story you may have to invest a good 30 minutes or 1 hour. But oh how its worth it.
Speaking of which, the 30 minutes you'll first be spending will probably in figuring out the combat system. A large number of small tweaks to the ever-expanding Tales battle system greatly enhances the it far past the likeness of Symphonia and most passed iterations of the game. The combat is real time, and starts off a bit slow. Once you've got a full party of characters at your disposal a a good list of moves and skills, the core combat gets deep. Awesome attacks, spells, and combos(Mystic Artes are stunning) make up the combat in Vesperia. The main combat is fairly 2 dimensional though, as you only have the attack option of moving forward or backward. Hold the left trigger and you'll be able to freely run around the arena however, but you'll need to attack the enemies in a regular, linear fashion. Combos in Vesperia are also a great deal longer then in past Tales games, if you do them right. With one character, you can get a 75 hit combo all while continuing to do combos in the air, reaching a huge height before bringing them back down in a broken mess with a 20 hit combo upon returning to the ground. And if you have read my Ninja Gaiden review, you know just how much I love a kick*** combo.
I cut this flower--for HONOR!
Multiplayer has returned to this installment of Tales as well. Four people can play cooperatively at the same time, and it is by far one of the most fun JRPGs(and one of the only ones) in terms of multiplayer. Each player controls a different character, and uses their specific abilities to help the team and take out monsters. Combat is fast and fun, and cooperating with the people you playe with is key to winning the battles. Magic users don't suffer from the same boredom they do in singleplayer when it comes to fighting bosses, since support is a huge need in battles, and with a human player directing the magic, it becomes far more effective then it would with A.I. Its not without some problems though. In battles you will be using a good bit of items, and to use them you need to pause the game to use them. Its only a minor annoyance though, since most players will know how to use items fast by the time you'll really be needing to use them often. The biggest complaint, and the reason Namco Bandai says they excluded online play, was because there is only one character in the overworld at any one time. I could think of a vast number of ways to make it interesting for other players as well, but whats done is done. The lack of online stings. Badly. However, if you have a few mates to play the game with locally, you've got nothing to worry about. The multiplayer is fast and fun, though not without its annoyances.
And there isn't a Tales game without its puzzles. Vesperia beats Abyss in terms of puzzles that you have to actually think your way through, rather then guessing or easy puzzles. The puzzles usually makes use of logical decisions to solve them, which is done by iteraction to the vast environments. Once you find what is interactive and what isn't the puzzles usually consist of you trying to figure out how to get these two things to do what they are supposed to. Vesperia won't guide you through them either. They are fairly difficult, which for you people out there who like challenging puzzles will please fairly well. But the main problem I had with these puzzles is how the story is usually at a hugely climactic part when the game throws a tough, time-consuming puzzle at you. As a design choice, its absolutely perfect. It makes the player not want to finish playing till they have beat that puzzle and see what comes next in the story. As a person who really isn't very big on puzzles in games, I got fairly aggravated at this. However, this part does come down to personal preference, so I won't be adding or taking away score for its timing. The puzzles aren't really complicated though, which makes the design of them quite ingenious. Still, there are some puzzles that are there really to JUST build hype for the next major plot twist, and they usually aren't so much challenging as they are time consuming. Still, as an RPG first and a puzzler, well, not first, Vesperia has some very well designed puzzles. They aren't exceptional or amazing, but they do give a well rounded amount of challenge to they're players, at(in my opinion) some of the worst times.
Back to combat, the combat system has no trouble staying fresh and fun through the entire game, but despite smaller tweaks and more attacks and magic, its not so much different from Abyss and Symphonia's battle systems. So I guess you could say that while its obviously better and smoother then past Tales games, the combat really isn't very innovative.
You'll probably hear the phrase "not extremely innovative" for a good bit of things about this game. The storyline, while well done and interesting through the game, is basically exactly what You'd expect from a Japanese RPG. Not writing it off, but the overall feel of it feels very traditional, and the plot shares many of the feelings you'll get from playing Tales of the Abyss. In fact, this game could best be described as "fun and fresh, but not too fresh." Yes it is confusing, but I think you can understand. The game makes a fantastic sequel, but not an amazing new take on the series. But you know what they say, why fix it if it isn't broken.
The Tales classic Anime-inspired look is back and better then ever.
More things from the past games have returned here without much change too; the ones most profoundly effecting gameplay being the Overworld, cooking, and synthesizing. Likewise, all have had an upgrade, despite being very similar to they're Symphonic roots. The ridiculous loading times in Abyss have been fully done away with in Vesperia, and the Overworld runs at a perfect framerate. Monsters appear on screen, and are never random battles(one of my all time favorite parts of the Tales series) and the detail displayed in the overworld is as colorful and fine for the monsters as it is in the battle arena. Cooking and synthesizing are basically the same, with more things to learn and eat(and that your teamates will sometimes complain if you don't cook often enough. I probably did it once every 5 hours, so its not a big deal.) Overall, you could say the core gameplay isn't taking the series to a whole new height, but its doing everything a sequel should in terms of freshness.
The graphical design of the Tales series is basically they're series trademark. Tales has always tried to look as close to an anime in terms of graphics as they can, and with the graphics Vesperia has, they are getting extremely close. The entire world is a beautiful cell-shaded look(Trust me on this. I would never say the word beautiful. Thats how good it looks.)that is extremely colorful and endearing. Its got a sort of charm that Symphonia certainly had, and its been translated very well into the HD era.
The character models aren't lacking much depth and detail to them, though the characters appear less detailed then Eternal Sonata who uses a similar style(also published by Namco Bandai.) While they are a bit less detailed then the aforementioned, Eternal Sonata makes use of rigid outlines, whereas Vesperia's characters more or less are distinctly visible against the watercolor look of the background by shading. Overall it looks fantastic, and the art direction isn't to be messed with either. Backgrounds in towns, cities, dungeons, and other enter able areas for the most part are just as detailed as the characters, and sport a very artistic look to them. The animations are clean and crisp, and some of the battle animations look awesome. Most of the animations by normal attacks and some Artes are pretty normal, not bad, but nothing that'll have you screaming about how awesome it looks. They do exactly what they are supposed to, look fine, and thats really all they need to do.
What will make you think "thats awesome!" about the graphics are some of the magic and special attacks. As usual, Mystic Artes look absolutely awesome, and the new Burst Artes are pretty sweet too. The effects in this game are up and away the most well done part of the graphical aspect. Colorful, brilliant and appealing magic attacks are found in every battle. While some of the melee fighters don't have a "bang" to they're visual attack styles, the magic users spare no expense lighting up the battlefield. Nothing quite like seeing some of the best Artes in Tales history rendered in full HD with these effects. It'll make any Tales fan shed a tear.
Probably gonna hurt
The backgrounds that DON'T share the same detail as the characters, effects and towns are the Overworld backgrounds. While by no means bare, the lack a huge amount of variety. When you encounter an enemy, you go to a mini arena to duke it out, and the backgrounds there are even worse. They certainly don't look bad, but they have little to absolutely no interaction at all with the character, which makes them have no part in determining a battle. Its more of a problem of what they lack rather then what they do wrong. Really, it doesn't make any matter where you fight when it comes to determining the battle. The landscapes in the background look good, but the foregrounds are severely lacking in detail. This has always been the case for Tales games, and it couldn't hurt to much to make the backgrounds a little more stand-out-ish while in combat.
Jumping topics to sound here. The musical score has a very emotional feel to it, and will well envelope you in some of the battles. it may sound strange, but the music sometimes even effects your willingness to fight some of the battles. Other battles the music will send you into a fiery feeling that you just want to beat the crap out of your enemy. Even other times will make you just want to mess with some of the enemies. The point being that the music helps to inspire much of the emotions in the game, and it works absolutely well for its purpose. And I'm willing to make a bet that no one out there can finish this game and NOT have Bonnie Pink's song Ring a Bell(the games theme song) stuck in their head for the next few days. The music is obviously inspired, and it does its job of inspiring you as well. A fantastic soundtrack for what its supposed to be, though listening to the tracks along without the substance of the cutscene or battle may not be as good as listening to it in game.
Voiceovers are(considering the infamy of JRPGs with western VOs) rather well done. While there annoying characters in the game, the characters you will be hearing the most won't sound bad. The lead character especially does his job well, and is probably the best voice in a Tales game since Symphonia's Regal. The emotions that they're voices convey will reach you, which just goes along with the fact that the characters are extremely well done and fleshed out.
The story in Vesperia isn't as long as Symphonia or Abyss. In fact, as far as the main story goes its can be completed in 30-40 hours, which is a bit average for a JRPG, while short for a Tales game. The side quests give this game a huge amount of extra life though. In fact, it nearly doubles the life of the game well past 80 hours. Should you also take the time to get a significant amount of grade for a second play through will probably take you upwords 150 hours. To say the least its a massive game, and if you have people to play it with it will become much longer. So its not over quickly, but you'll defineatly be wanting more when it is over.
Great backgrounds, though they could use more interactivity
Wrapping it up.
Major Selling Points:
--Anime styled Graphics
--Fast and fluid combat system
--Explore a massive, expansive world
--Characters are extremely well fleshed out
--Decently challenging and fun puzzles
Major breaking Points:
--Doesn't break much new boundaries
--Intricate puzzles are placed at some of the worst times.
--Check closing comments
An interesting and thrilling tale with some of the most well developed characters ever made. The story doesn't really break any huge boundaries though.
The classic tales anime style characters have never looked better. They don't have the same amount of detail as Eternal Sonata, but they still shine. The art direction and the watercolor look of the towns are also charming, but arena backgrounds and some dungeons look bare. Environmental interaction is at a low.
An epic soundtrack really brings out the emotion of the scenes. The Voice overs are well done and show each characters personalities and feelings very well.
The combat system hasn't had a huge overhaul, but small fixes and tweaks and some awesome new features show that the Tales series still has life in it yet. Challenging puzzles are pretty fun(if poorly placed), but there is a good bit of running around to do. Nothing to hold it down though.
The main quest will take you from 30-40 hours, but side quests can get you well over 150. Achievements won't have you running back to the game.
At a full price tag, this game is well worth it. The best JRPG on the 360 yet, and the best Tales game ever.
Tales of Vesperia does everything its supposed to and nothing it isn't. There isn't really any big flaw or major problem with the game, and the experience is a perfectly authentic JRPG one. However, the game doesn't break new ground by any means, and may seem a bit too similar to past Tales games. Still, Vesperia has everything a JRPG fan could want -- a great combat system, and epic (If very common) storyline, great characters, and a pipe smoking dog that fights with a sword.