Tales of Vesperia (Xbox 360) review
"Overall, I found the battle system in Tales of Vesperia to do about as good of a job in taking a lot of different components and making them simple and user-friendly as any game I've played. When you get more powerful, you'll be able to obtain a number of more powerful attacks which culminate in the godly Mystic Artes, which spell bad news for anything in their path. Or you, as bosses also start gaining them after you've gotten a ways into the game."
Since I've never owned a GameCube, I haven't gotten to play Tales of Symphonia, which means that while I've gone through a number of Tales games, I've missed out on the one that tends to garner the most critical acclaim. I'd feel bad and all, but now, after playing Tales of Vesperia, it's fallen in status to just another game I haven't played. Would I like to? Sure, but I'm not losing sleep over it.
Vesperia, while not perfect, does avoid falling into the same traps that so many other Tales titles have. Since you can see monsters on both the world map and dungeons, I didn't have to deal with constant encounters like in Phantasia. The stories of Destiny and Legendia felt like two vaguely connected quests with the former getting pretty boring in its second half and the latter attempting to ruin a superior plot by recycling virtually every first-half dungeon for the second half. Abyss came closest to excellence, boasting many of the improvements to the series' formula first seen in Symphonia, but there were some big late-game hiccups, as you seemed to spend as much time running back-and-forth between a few towns to advance the plot as you did adventuring. None of those are issues in Vesperia. There might still be some issues, but at least they didn't really mar my enjoyment.
There are a good number of typos in the game, particularly during the conversations not handled by voice actors, which makes the editing look a bit sloppy at times. More importantly, it seemed like completing the vast majority of sidequests required either the use of a guide or for me to exhibit a crazy amount of obsessiveness. After virtually every plot point, I'd be expected to revisit many towns (and in some cases, dungeons) to talk to random people in various locations. The thing is, doing these things (many of which are only available for a limited time) really can enhance the game, as you'll get skills and spells for characters and various characters will get a lot more depth than the bare-bones story provides. They play a big role in a good game becoming great, so it was a bit annoying for so many of them to essentially be well-hidden secrets.
Take away those hiccups and you're left with one of the top JRPGs of the current generation. It seems like almost everything clicks with this one. Fighting is fast-paced and fun. You run into a monster and get taken to a battle screen where you move from left to right (or vice-versa) to combat foes, or press a button to add depth to the arena so you can run around and avoid spells or flank an enemy. Other buttons are used to trigger spells or skills (depending on who you're controlling), so everything is quite intuitive. The computer controls the other members of your party and uses reasonably good A.I. On normal settings, they might go through their magic points a bit more quickly that I personally would like, but since you regain a certain percentage after each fight, that usually doesn't lead to you going through restorative items at the speed of light.
You'll also learn passive skills from weapons that do such things as enhance attributes, shorten recharge time after casting spells or, occasionally, turn one spell into another. Overall, I found the battle system in Tales of Vesperia to do about as good of a job in taking a lot of different components and making them simple and user-friendly as any game I've played. When you get more powerful, you'll be able to obtain a number of more powerful attacks which culminate in the godly Mystic Artes, which spell bad news for anything in their path. Or you, as bosses also start gaining them after you've gotten a ways into the game. Speaking of bosses, I was pleased to find out that there was some bite to those battles. In Tales of the Abyss, the only plot-significant fight that killed me was the final form of the final boss. Here, an early-game wolf-like creature slaughtered me repeatedly before I finally got the upper hand and it was far from the only adversary that I struggled to overcome.
Overall, this game's battle system seemed to be an improved version of what I had seen from Tales of the Abyss. While the storytelling may not have necessarily been improved on from that game, it deserves recognition for being on that level, which is a pretty big complement, as I've long felt that this has been where the Tales games truly shine.
You control Yuri, a guy who burnt out on being an imperial knight for the local castle town due to what he (correctly) perceived as corruption. He works to do the right thing, regardless of how legal that may or may not be. Complicating matters is how his best friend, Flynn, is the exact opposite as far as the law goes, having the same goals in mind, but determined to uphold the law at all times -- which, of course, leads to him remaining with the knights and rapidly moving up in rank. This creates an interesting dynamic, as Flynn occasionally winds up being the pawn of less scrupulous officers…while Yuri finds himself cutting down those sorts of people in cold blood because the law is impotent to stop them. On the surface, this winds up being just another "save the world from unspeakable evil" games. Below that surface, there's a surprising amount of depth to the characters that prevents things from becoming overly cliched -- and the moments that are can be pretty easy to forgive, as the characters are written so well, especially if you delve into those well-hidden sidequests (who'd have thought the guy who seemingly betrays EVERYONE at some point had been singlehandedly keeping an orphanage's doors open?).
Tales of Vesperia might not be a cinematic masterpiece, loading with one amazing movie-like scene after another; as well as highly realistic character models (nothing but cartoonish cel-shaded graphics here, folks). It'll probably never get the public acclaim and huge sales that some titles receive solely because of their name, but it is an RPG worth playing. It possesses fast-paced action-oriented battles with characters that can be LOADED with a variety of attacks and skills to go with a well-written story that keeps you coming back to see what plot twist comes next. As long as you don't mind taking the occasional look at a guide to make sure you're not missing out an optional quest and, therefore, being locked out of the post-game optional dungeon, it's hard to go wrong here.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 07, 2011)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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