Review by JC52236

"Does nothing particularly mind-blowing, but succeeds in all the right places."

Tales of Vesperia is a Japanese RPG that, while not being particularly mind-blowing, succeeds in all the right places and with an unmistakable charm that makes for a truly enjoyable experience. Fans of the genre will be more than satisfied, and even JRPG newcomers will find something appealing in this welcome addition to the Tales franchise.

You play as Yuri Lowell, a restless youth living in the lower quarter of Imperial Capital of Zaphias whose brief stint with the Imperial Knights leaves him embittered by his own government's corruption. When a thief makes off with the lower quarter's aque blastia core, a device that provides clean running water for the people, Yuri takes this opportunity to sate his own appetite for adventure by setting off in pursuit of the precious item. Along the way, he tags up with Estellise, a stereotypically naive noble, and the two set off together in search of the lost blastia beyond the safety of the city walls. As expected, eventually the duo become entangled in a mess of political intrigue and underhanded plotting that extends far beyond the matter of a simple stolen blastia.

Ultimately, Tales of Vesperia presents a narrative that is well-designed but wholly unremarkable. The plot adheres to the archetypal themes we have come to expect to be present in all JRPGs, but it fails to achieve anything novel with them. Yes, there are surprise twists interspersed throughout to liven things up, but these twists are for the most part not very shocking. Still, the story is engaging enough with sufficient depth to keep the player interested, even if it falls a few feet short of profoundly epic.

However, any shortcomings of the story are made up for by a colorful cast of characters who quickly endear themselves to the player. Your party will eventually grow to seven, and while all the characters fit into typical JRPG molds, their personalities are likeable and vividly portrayed. The dialogue is well written and surprisingly well translated considering the short interval between the game's release in Japan and the United States. The story is also paced well; things move along quickly and fluidly enough that even if the story may lean towards predictability, the player never loses interest in what's happening, and there is enough action between the necessary plot advancement to keep the player on his/her toes.

But of course, it is the action where this game truly shines. Save for the mandatory story-advancing fights, battles are initiated by running into visible enemies that appear on the game screen. All battles are fought real time, with the player controlling one of four characters (initially, the player will only be able to use Yuri, but later into the game, the player can switch arbitrarily between all four during battle). Each character comes with a distinct way of fighting and every player will be able to find a character that appeals to his/her own style. Yuri is fast and his efficiency at close ranges make him a good choice for one on one combat, while those who prefer causing chaos from afar will gravitate towards Rita with her arsenal of deadly spells.

Fighting is divided into normal attacks with your main weapon and special attacks known as artes. As the game progresses, new types of artes will become available for use, and the player will be able to string together normal attacks and different artes in satisfying combos that dish out large amounts of damage. Later fights are fast paced and delightfully hectic; your allies will not hold back (unless you order them to) and at any given moment the arena will be filled with flashes and explosions as your teammates cast spells and perform artes in the midst of heated battle. It seems that Bandai Namco took the “action” in action RPG quite seriously, and with fantastic results.

The gameplay mechanics are the very essence of fluid; attacks join together seamlessly and culminate in a fireworks display that should appease even the most graphics conscious players. And, even though only one character can be directly controlled at a time, the game employs a command system and fully customizable AI that allows the player to easily direct the other characters across the field. Of course, if the AI isn't cutting it, then it's a simple task of inviting a friend over and playing co-op, which adds a welcome dimension to the game not found in most JRPGs. Enemies come in many diverse shapes and sizes, and the constantly changing types of enemies maintains a level of freshness to the random encounters throughout the game, which can be a bit on the easy side.

Speaking of such, one of the more common critiques of the game is that it is too easy. For the first portion of the game (before more advanced skills and artes become available), it is true that fights can degrade to button mashing the attack button, but given how fun the excellent battle system makes such button mashing, there really is not much lost from the game because of it. And, by the time the novelty of the battles wear off, more advanced techniques will have become available and battles will begin require more skill. If the player still feels a bit unimpressed, he/she could always crank up the difficulty in the game options. Apart from random battles, boss battles (especially the optional ones) can be quite challenging.

All of this is nicely enhanced by the artwork and soundtrack in Tales of Vesperia. The cel-shaded design of the game is beautiful and simply a joy to look at. Even if the character models and towns may not be as excruciatingly detailed as a game of, say, the Final Fantasy series, the quaint charm of the graphics design succeeds at showing how tasteful simplicity can be just as effective as unbarred realism. Each city almost seems to have its own personality; Zaphias with its bright hues seems regal and stands at stark contrast to the more earthen colored Dahngrest, a messy metropolis run by people unaffiliated with the Empire. The small and compact layout of many of the towns and cities was admittedly a bit disappointing; the opening city of Zaphias is supposedly the largest city in the Empire, yet its scope did not feel impressive at all. However, this was most likely a conscious decision by the game designers to shift focus on the outstanding gameplay, as this compactness in no way carries over to the dungeons, which are large but not to the point of being tedious. The world map somewhat breaks the otherwise enchanting aesthetic of the game with its less colorful design, but this is overall a minor blemish on what is otherwise a truly phenomenal treat for the eyes.

The soundtrack as a whole fits the game well. The opening theme, Ring a Bell by Bonnie Pink, is amazingly catchy and comes with a pretty piece of anime eye candy. The rest of the game comes with a varied assortment of orchestral tracks that complement the game's atmosphere nicely. Although you won't be humming any of the in-game music in the shower, they're still enjoyable enough to add something to the game. Most importantly, the quality of the voice acting in the game is surprisingly good; save for some sparse sketchy parts, most of the voicing is excellent and fits the characters perfectly. Yuri's lines are recited with an appropriate touch of cynicism, while Estellise speaks in an ingenuous tone that hints at her innocent idealism and sheltered life. Even Karol, the youngest member of your party, has a voice that brims with youthful energy yet manages to escape being obnoxious, a difficult feat as young characters are often the most egregiously misvoiced in these types of games.

With a backdrop of a good soundtrack and a vibrant fantasy environment, Tales of Vesperia seals the deal with its addictive gameplay and effusive charisma. Although it by no means elevates the JRPG genre to a new level, ToV executes every important detail well enough to make it one of the best JRPGs to come out for the next generation. And, with easily over fifty hours of game waiting as well as a certain amount of replayability, this is one game that gives quite a lot of bang for the buck. If you are an avid fan of JRPGs, or even if you are just a player who wants an immersive experience that will keep you distracted for days, Tales of Vesperia is one game that should go on your wish list, and it will become one experience you will not soon forget.

Overall:

Graphics: 9.5/10
- A beautiful game overall that gives plenty to ogle at. The only stain on its charm is the world map, which could be a bit more detailed.

Story: 8/10
- The story is interesting enough, but it leans towards the cliche;. It is greatly enhanced, however, by a great cast of interesting and likeable characters.

Gameplay: 10/10
- Immensely addictive and fun. Satisfying combos and a diverse selection of attacks and enemies means the excitement never stops.

Sound: 8.5/10
- Apart from the opening track, the soundtrack is not memorable, but the music is still enjoyable and makes the game a better experience. The voice acting is well executed.

Value: 9/10
- Over fifty hours of gameplay with a new game plus system that adds some replayability to the game. This game is definitely worth the price.

Final Score: 45/50 = 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/09/08, Updated 09/11/08

Game Release: Tales of Vesperia (US, 08/26/08)


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