A Truly Enjoyable Tale
The folks at Microsoft have been pushing very hard to establish the 360 as the premier home console for Japanese RPG enthusiasts. By now, everyone knows that Final Fantasy XIII will be making an appearance on the system, but the inclusion of other genre-defining games like Lost Odyssey, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Infinite Undiscovery, and, of course, Tales of Vesperia greatly help the platform flex its JRPG muscle with loads of variety. Not to mention, Tales of Vesperia for Xbox 360 marks the Tales series’ tenth anniversary and first foray onto current-gen systems.
The tale that’s spun in Vesperia is that of a land (Terca Lumeris) in peril due to the infestation of monsters. The human settlements are constantly under threat by these creatures, save for the most important cities, which are protected by both man-made and natural Blastia (magical energy sources that create a protective boundary that monsters cannot cross). Nevertheless, humans are at the mercy of the Blastia, like caged animals at a zoo. As such, when the protective boundaries fail, the humans suffer greatly, unable to sufficiently protect themselves. Therefore, a large portion of the human population is completely sheltered with very insular ideas and concerns. In fact, even our main hero, Yuri, had never stepped outside the protection of the Blastia, despite being a former knight of the empire. Consequently, human society is divided between rigid, socio-economic class structures as well as a dichotomy between those humans under the protection of the establishment and those that strike out on their own (or as part of a guild) in the wild world to face the dangers as free people.
It may sound like a bit much without having experienced the game for yourself, but, unlike the dark and plodding Lost Odyssey, Tales of Vesperia is a very lighthearted and fast-paced title. The characters have a very soft look and virtuous countenance that sets the tone. Additionally, the combat action is not the slow, turn-based battles of classic JRPGs; rather, the use of new and more powerful combat Artes and skill combinations in real-time makes for far more engaging battles. Though monsters litter the world, but players have a reasonable ability to avoid lesser fights and progress through the story rapidly.
Initially, the pitched battles are characterized by extremely easy button-mashing. That’s because standard, quick moves are mapped to the B button and more powerful skills to the A button. Essentially, all there is to combat is pressing two buttons until the weak enemies fold. But, later on, players will be treated to far more complex showdowns. Players will switch between party members with diverse skills and weaponry, assign general battle tactics, be aware of party item usage, and have to quickly target the most dangerous foes so that members don’t get KO’d. The use of more varied tactics is especially important during the multitude of interesting boss battles in Tales of Vesperia. All in all, this game’s combat is fairly easy, but it also quickly moves players from battle to battle and quest to quest while telling a great anime story.
Power leveling in Tales of Vesperia is automatic. Every time one of your characters reaches an XP threshold, their abilities and battle prowess will increase. Also, certain skills and combinations will be learned, often in the midst of battle. These combat Artes and combinations are magical skills that are easily employed with the A button and left analog stick. Along the way, you will acquire many of these Artes, some of which will be granted by your weaponry. However, there is only a limited amount of them that can be mapped to the thumbstick. Skill mapping, along with equipment selection, are the only areas where players are allowed to make decisions as to how their characters play. However, it is nice to simply play through the game and not have to waste too much time worrying about monitoring growth and skill progression. Besides, being able to switch between skills and characters gives you the chance to experience the different roles and increase power of your party members. After all, the developers definitely had pacing in the forefront of their minds.
Another great example of quality pacing can be seen in city navigation. After about three hours, players will come to the village of Halure to heal a sickly tree…at least I thought it was a village. As it turns out, it’s actually a rather large city. The reason the city felt so small is that, unlike other JRPGs, roaming-through-the-city segments to obtain quests, shop, and rest are very contained. This concentrated experience is echoed throughout the title, and some may feel that it doesn’t do justice to establishing a sense of scope and awe. I, however, completely disagree. The highly detailed visuals and deep storyline take care of this, while this mechanic has the wonderful effect of making the story progress quickly by eliminating needless time-wasting.
Nonetheless, Tales of Vesperia is a long game. There is a lot of content to be discovered. If you were to dive in and plow through the main story arc, it would take you around 50+ hours. If you are a person who likes to dawdle by taking on tons of extra fights and fulfill the myriad side quests, there could be more like 75+ hours of gameplay. Either way, I think RPG fans will be amazed at not only how much there is to do, but just how quickly it all seems to fly by.
Best of all, Tales of Vesperia is an absolutely gorgeous title that makes use of cel-shading to masterfully impart an anime feel. The lush and bright environments, amusing and creative character and enemy designs, the fluid animations, and fully realized world are outstanding and reminiscent of the beautiful Eternal Sonata. In fact, I didn’t find a single major fault with the entire visual presentation. Some of the vistas are a bit muted and gamers may find the mini-cutscenes to be amateurish due to the use of frames and exaggerated expressions, but I felt both the background environments and the silly frames nicely communicated the manga element to the mix.
Graciously, the aural presentation is nearly as good as that of the visuals. The localization of the game into English was expertly done. The story’s themes and intended voice definitely come through the dialogue. Unfortunately, there is no Japanese voice track to be selected, but the English voice acting is sufficiently good that you’ll likely not even care. Plus, the soothing melodies of the musical themes excellently capture your attention and are varied enough to keep them at the default settings.
Truly, Tales of Vesperia is more akin to an interactive cartoon than it is to a traditional JRPG. This is one of the reasons players will enjoy this title so much. It is an engaging gaming experience that somehow capably balances storyline, combat, in and out of engine cutscenes, power leveling, and main and side mission quests. Every one of these elements comes together in near-perfect harmony, so you’ll rarely feel as if any one aspect is dragging. I was surprised at just how good this game actually is. Nevertheless, it is a JRPG and was made for those gamers interested in the genre. If you are a patient player though, then there is a lot of adventure and fun to be found in Tales of Vesperia; sit back, pop some corn, and enjoy the show.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
The use of cel-shading is impeccable. The anime feel really comes through. Only the fuzzy vistas bucked the trend of perfection. 3.7 Control
Controls are extremely easy to use. Nevertheless, the simplicity also makes combat feel like a bit of a button-mash before the nuances begin to reveal themselves. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The localization of this game into English is quite impressive. Still, I would have liked to hear the Japanese voice track. I loved the music though! 4.2 Play Value
Granted, this is definitely a game for fans of JRPGs, but the fast-pace of both combat and storytelling is a real treat. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.