Review by SensibleParadox
"Ultimately, Tales of a Cliché"
It's been a couple of years now, the 360 being RPG-starved. Poor thing. But, what's this? Why, it's Tales of Vesperia dressed in beautiful color clothing feeding the 360. Aww, how sweet. And as we all know, sweet is good.
For once, in a RPG, you don't start off with an emo, anorexic dude. But instead, your protagonist this time around is a snarky, semi-anorexic dude. With stories like these, you either start off poor in a big town or naive kid on a farm/small town. This one's the former.
His (let's have a female lead sometime this century, eh?) name is Yuri. Okay, fair enough. At least it's not something pretentious, like, say, "Fayt". Although his name means "farmer" and originated from Russia, he is neither. I just thought I'll throw that in there cuz I thought it was interesting.
As luck would have it, Yuri is actually the "protector" of the Lower Quarter, the poor section of a bigger town. And amazingly, unlike most RPGs, this town can actually house citizens that live there. I've always found it odd that in 95% of other RPGs, the population seems so much more than the town can actually shelter.
Anyway, despite Yuri's mischievous and snarky ways, he is actually compassionate and cares for people of the LQ blah blah. Hmm...Soon enough, you get in trouble of the Royal Knights and the Nobles and is thrown in jail. Hmm...But after waking up being jailed for what seems like half a day, the mysterious guy in the next cell somehow manages to get a key and throw it to you! Horrah, you're free! And not long after, you meet a teen aged naive Princess...wait, what? Did the writers of this game get their story ideas from The Book of Cliched RPG Storytelling?
I kid, I kid. Actually, I half-kid. Yes, ultimately, the whole story surrounds this naive, annoying, selfish, childish, unlikable Princess, but I have to say, for the first 2/3 of the story, I was sucked in. It moved at a brisk pace, it was interesting, most of the characters were likable enough. I was going along with it happily, even jumping for joy like a kid in Disneyland. But then "it" happened.
"It". You all know what I'm talking about. The characters and the dialogue become increasingly cheesier and melodramatic. The story swerves from very personal stakes to the generic RPG go-to "save the world" plot, literally almost out of nowhere. I don't understand why RPGs insist on doing this. Actually, nevermind, I do. They do it because it's easy and have the misconception that the stake of the world is somehow interesting.
The stake of the world is NOT interesting. It makes it a LOT *less* personal to the characters. Having an antagonist DIRECTLY threatening one your main character's life is lot more compelling than "saving the world". It makes their drive make more sense. That motivation will come from emotion as opposed to making it seem like a JOB, which saving the world is, it's a job. A job which apparently no one else wants cuz it just seems like it's your group of characters that are trying.
Also, about at the 2/3 mark, all the lexicon the game has thrown at you up to that point gets very wonky and confusing to follow. For me anyway, instead of understanding fully what they were saying, I only got the gist of it. Hell, the exposition just made it worst. I found myself losing interest in the story and the characters.
So, most of the main characters you control are at least passable in likability and have their own distinctive personalities. But what about the villains? I heard a quote one time, it really stuck with me. "The story is just as strong as your antagonist." Yes, antagonist(s) don't necessarily mean VILLAINS or EVIL. But in the case of this game and many RPGs before it, EVERYTHING has to be black and white. And with that said, most of the "villains" in this game are just plot contrivances to make it so there's a story. The huge majority of the baddies in this game are fighting you because they were told to. And that was about as much motivation they have.
And that's another problem saving-the-world storylines sometimes have, the lack of a main/major villian. It just seems like deja vu when, for the billionth time in RPG history, the sky changes color and a giant ancient building protrudes from under water, fall out of the sky, or magically appear...with no actual entity behind it. Sorry folks, a building/location is not an antagonist or a villain.
Speaking of villains, there was also this villain named Cumore that was just absolutely offensive. He wore pink, was effeminate, evil for the sake of being evil, and a total coward. Gee, very subtle. Since there are, undoubtedly, unfortunate cases of homophobia in the video game demographic, I kinda hoped that video game makers would be at least a little bit more self-conscious and not reinforce these negative portrayals. But what do I know?
I do have to say that before "it" happened, I was engaged and had a few twists I didn't see coming. Yeah, Cumore was frustratingly offensive, but at least the rest of it made up for it, kind of, before "it".
With a party of 4, you fight in real time on a 3D plane, with you, the player, controlling one character at any given time, although you can give commands to the other chars via the menu or short cuts.
There are regular hits and you can chain them with special moves called Artes. These artes are performed easily by the hit of the A button in conjunction with direction held on the stick. Not only do battles become exciting and frantic, it's actually a lot of fun to play, especially when you successfully chain things together. That's right, I said things. To elaborate, by "things", I mean regular hits and the different types (base, arcane, burst) artes. Just to be clear.
More and more of these fancy looking artes will become available to you as you level up or equip specific equipment to learn "skills" which can alter an existing arte. And this, ladies and gents, is what I simply love about this game. The Skills you learn (by gaining LP from battles) from items throughout the game not just can alter artes, it contains passive and active skills. Some add stats, some prevent abnormalities, etc. But the catch is, you only have a specific amount of SP (skill points) to place into certain skills, so you can't have all your skills activated. That'll just be broken if you could.
Different skills take up different amounts of SP, so you really have to strategize as you fight through a dungeon and then change up some skills again when you reach a boss. Really makes one think especially since most of the bosses are *really* hard on Hard mode. But if you beat them, it's very satisfying.
But that's one thing you might really have consider, the difficulty. I, for one, do not like playing on easy. I find it boring. But playing on hard on this game can also be punishing, and not in the way you think.
Most times, the bosses aren't Cheap with a capital C. What I mean by that is that most of the bosses don't have a skill that hits the whole screen and all your characters for more than your maximum HP despite the fact that you and the boss are the same level. Most times, you really need to just rely on your wit to take on a boss. Big Mistakes are punishable by the Game Over screen...which I've seen many times...and that's not the punishing thing I'm talking about.
What I'm referring to is the fact that chat scenes before boss fights aren't skippable. Yes, you read that correctly, pre-boss scenes, and any scenes for that matter, ARE NOT skippable. So, if you see yourself on the game over screen, it means, depending on the point of the story, you WILL have to sit through, literally, a 10-15 min scene of exposition. Yes, you can hold down the A and X button together for all them to "fast forward" the dialogue, but it's still a time waster. It really depends on your will and your need for satisfaction.
Oh yes, I also meant to mention that there are hits called Fatal Strikes which allow you to kill regular enemies in one hit and do massive damage to bosses. Sound cheap? It's not. Most times you will kill enemies before you can even activate it. And even for the long boss fights, you can probably only pull off 3-4 if you're lucky.
The way these work is that each arte has a certain type. Up, down, or forward, represented by blue, red, and green respectively. Each type of monster/enemy are resistant/weak against one type. You will basically have to bash the monsters with your artes if you even want to run the chance of using a Fatal Strike. FS also gives bonuses after the battle if you can pull them off. And let me tell you, they aren't easy.
Just one other thing, this game has the weirdest chat bubbles. It's misplaced or covering characters most of the time. While the name bubble and voice actor are doing one thing, the arrow at the bottom of that chat bubble points to another source altogether. It's weird, distracting, and oddly frustrating. Yes, I like pointing out small stupid things, so sue me.
The themes for each town and the battles and boss fights are all fitting and listenable. Actually, most of the music in TOV made an impression on me. A *good* impression. Is it memorable? No. But it certainly did more than it's job. Then again, after many many hours listening to it and traveling from town to town, they all start to not trigger anything in you anymore. It's there, it's actually good. It's not awful, and more than you can ask for.
As far as the voice acting goes, the actors do their job well. Lines are said with the right amount of emotion (with the exception of the overzealousness of that freakin Princess), 1-liners are delivered well with good timing. The voice actor for Estelle really does the character no favors considering she's already selfish and annoying. Good all around though.
Ooooh, pretty. The colors are sharp and pristine. The environments are varied and never choppy or shotty. And they know when to use color and how. The game gives off the impression of a "colorful" game, which it is, but they don't abuse it. The dungeons and towns are appropriately themed, down to the very last detail. It's quite a looker, this one.
This game will probably last you about 60 hours or so without the sidequests and will be significantly longer if you do them all. After you beat the game, you can actually use the Grades you got throughout the game, during battles, to purchase modifiers for your second play through.
Alas, with its compelling (for the first 1/2 to 2/3 of it anyway) story, mostly likable cast, and being very easy on the eyes, it's easily worth a buy. To me, a good story is good, but gameplay is more important. You can always skip the story, but you can't skip the gameplay, that is unless you skip the game altogether, which means the game isn't FUN to begin with. And well, this game just personifies fun!
Just one last thing that irked me was that most sidequests are arbitrary missable. Certain sidequests that can be missable are understandable to me due to the fact of main story having influence or the like. But there are some if you missed, and there's ABSOLUTELY no reason why they are missable, you can never go do them after a certain point. It's like the game is playing *you* sometimes, giving you the big middle finger proving to you that they made it missable just because they could. Pfft.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/09/08, Updated 10/10/08
Game Release: Tales of Vesperia (US, 08/26/08)
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