Review by Computerbug8

"If this is what the next-gen consoles have in store for the Tales series, then keep the games coming."

No matter what anyone else says, I'll likely consider the Tales of... series an underrated one. Ever since playing Tales of Symphonia back in early 2005, I've been a fan of the franchise. Unfortunately, the games in this series are often overshadowed by the bigger names in RPGs, so these games often don't get some of the attention they deserve. However, Tales of Vesperia, the newest entry to the series and the first on this new generation of consoles, sometimes proves why the series doesn't receive the same attention as other franchises. While Tales of Vesperia (ToV) makes for a highly enjoyable experience that has several things going for it, there are several gripes with it that may prevent it from sticking in your memory for a few years.

STORY

This tale starts off by introducing a young man named Yuri Lowell, a resident of the lower quarter in a city called Zaphias. He starts off on another routine day until he hears his lower quarter's aque blastia- a device for making life more convenient for residents who need water- is made off with by a thief. Instantly, Yuri sets off to track down the thief and retrieve the stolen blastia. But you'll never guess what happens...he is eventually dragged into a life-altering journey that will hold the fate of the world in his hands!

In case that last part didn't make things clear, ToV's overall story doesn't break much new ground or do anything that will cause your jaw to plummet to the floor. The worst part of it all is that the plot actually starts off fairly interesting when hearing about how certain people are joining guilds to escape the government's laws and seeing the tension it creates. It's really a shame the game's plot by the end gives nothing more than a sense of "been there, done that." But to cut the series some slack, avoiding cliches altogether is impossible these days. So while ToV doesn't have an entirely original plot, it's presented in a fresh or interesting way at parts and is overall enjoyable.

But if you're a stickler who can't stand cliches, you should at least be happy to hear the story comes with a cast of likable characters. At first they may seem a little annoying, and some are flat out cliched. (Estelle, hang your head in shame.) But all party members and several NPCs have little quirks about them that will eventually help you grow attached to them by the time the final boss has been defeated. (Who also is the embodiment of the word "cliche".) Characters like Raven will have you smirking with each funny remark, and Yuri is quite possibly the best protagonist in the Tales of... series to date.

But what's the best response to a colorful batch of good guys? Why, an equally strong cast of villains, of course. Thankfully, ToV is able to deliver here...to an extent. Many of the game's lesser villains are interesting and enjoyable to interact with, like Ragou or Cumore. (The latter may be enough to give Stingle and Widdershin a run for their money when it comes to which Tales of... villain has the worst name.) Regrettably, the major villains of this game are nowhere near as memorable or quirky.

Despite some of the cliches accompanying the plot, heroes and villains, ToV delivers when it comes to storytelling. While it's probably not something you'll look back on in a few years and consider to be a masterpiece, it's enough to engross you and make you curious enough to see what happens next. The plot also extends to some thought-provoking questions like, "Do people who break the law for the greater good deserve punishment?" or "Do the laws do too good a job protecting higher-ups who are clearly corrupt?"

GAMEPLAY

Now we're getting to the good stuff. Like past entries in the series, Tales of Vesperia is a fun game to play, and learning the mechanics is relatively simple. Like other RPGs, you control an onscreen character as you lead him or her through the towns, dungeons, and everywhere in between. Of course, there are a few puzzles thrown in. Maybe it's just me, but it actually seemed like the more aggravating puzzles were closer to the beginning of the game rather than the end...either way, none of the puzzles will have you consulting a guide for help.

But the real fun comes in the battles, and this is what separates games in the Tales of... series from many other games on the genre. For starters, you can see enemies on screen before you get into a fight with them, so you don't have to worry about random encounters here. But when you get into a fight, the real fun begins.

Battles take place in real time, with up to four of your party members (including the character you control) getting in on the action. Each player has a basic set of attacks, along with special moves called artes. Artes come in several varieties, depending on the character casting the arte. For instance, a melee fighter like Yuri will be casting artes that does damage by bashing an enemy's ugly face in, while Estelle's artes will revolve mostly around magic that heals while Rita's magic will be directed towards harming the enemies. Other characters have slight mixes, meaning some of their artes will do damage while others heal. Unfortunately, the customization options for party members are relatively slim. Instead of being able to determine which party members are fighters and which ones are healers, the game already has someone's abilities, strengths and weaknesses determined.

Still, the battles are generally fast paced and fun. Veterans and newcomers alike will enjoy the real-time battles on the 3D, free-running battlefield. The artes and other moves are well animated; the fights go from being simple and basic at the beginning of the game, but by the final battle there will be a flurry of heavy spells and devastating strikes on the screen, and with minimal lagging.

The only part of the battles that leaves something to be desired is the limit system. Like before, the limit bar fills up when dealing and suffering blows. When it's completely filled, a character can go into over limit mode. Here, said character can cast some more powerful moves, as well as being able to strike continuously without having to take the time to pause between attacks. While it can definitely lead to some impressive combos, it doesn't really make for anything amazing.

There are a few other things relating to the battles which can make them a little less fun than they have the potential to be. For instance, the game itself isn't too difficult at all. Some of the earlier fights might be a little challenging due to the high (for the time) amounts of HP the bosses have and the lack of strong moves you will likely have at the time. However, by the end of the game, boss battles will generally be pretty easy to win. Thankfully you can change the difficulty at any time throughout the game (except when you're in the middle of a fight), so if the game ever becomes too easy or too hard, you can adjust it accordingly whenever you want.

Another complaint: the AI your allies depend on when you're not playing the game with someone else is about as sharp as a marble. Yes, you can tell your comrades how to attack and what specific moves you want them to use, but when you're not barking orders at them, it's not uncommon at all for your fellow party members to be standing around and being useless while you beat the snot out of whoever or whatever you're fighting.

This isn't a problem with the battles themselves, but I thought I'd throw it in because it was a little disappointing. ToV has plenty of boss battles, make no mistake about that, but the selection behind which enemies you fight and which ones you don't make no sense to me. For instance, I can think of three characters off the top of my head who I thought for sure I would fight in a boss battle. I was looking forward to whooping their butts, but the fights never came. Meanwhile, someone completely worthless keeps pestering you and you're forced to deal with him not one, not two, not three, not four, but five times. Seriously, we're meant to fight a pest five times, but room couldn't be made for just one of those three characters?

So when you're not in fights, you're likely scouring through towns and dungeons. Just to develop some characters and places a bit more, the developers allow you to view skits during this time. To active a skit, you hit the select button to hear a casual conversation between select characters with their respective portraits appearing on screen while they talk. (And do my ears deceive me? Are the skits actually *gasped* voiced this time?)

All in all, ToV is a great package for those just looking for a fun game. There are some puzzles to keep you entertained that force you to use your head, but aren't anywhere near enough to drive you to pulling your hair out of your head. Navigating is easy enough, and, of course, the battles are a blast. What more could you ask for?

GRAPHICS

We're well into the next generation of consoles now, and these graphics do a great job of showing it. The graphics in the Tales of... series have always been good, but Tales of Vesperia takes them one step further. Characters are much more detailed and their models look much better. Unlike in past entries in the series, the characters have more than just a handful of poses; now, cutscenes actually look more like cutscenes because the characters actually look like they're interacting with each other and have facial expressions unique to the situation instead of looking like statues are trying to talk to each other like in cutscenes from older Tales of... games.

And why stop at the characters? The cities themselves also have received more attention and details than in older entries. The cities and towns in older entries looked nice, but the ones in ToV blow them out of the water. There is so much more detail and color in them. I can't think of one sight in the whole game that was a pain to look at.

The graphics extend into battles as well. Every enemy in the game is well detailed and is brought to life. (It's just a shame the same enemies are repeatedly used but are different colors.) Not only that, but the spells and attack animations are also done very well. From simple sparks to massive explosions, everything on the battlefield is well rendered.

SOUND

For starters, the voice acting in Tales of Vesperia is done very well. Few of the conversations actually sound forced or rehearsed, with the majority of dialogue deliveries actually sounding surprisingly natural. Not only that, but the voices fit the characters moderately well. From Estelle's noble and polite tone all the way up to Rita's bossy snarls, almost all the lines are delivered superbly. Yes, some of the voices are a little odd (Yes, Yeager, I'm looking at you.) but overall the voice acting is some of the best I've heard in a while.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing about the music. First of all, ToV has a good soundtrack...no doubt about it. However, it lacks just about anything overly memorable. For instance, a lot of the town and city themes are catchy and easy on the ears, but I can't remember more than one or two for the life of me. The overworld and dungeon themes follow the same pattern: good when you're hearing them while playing the game, but try remembering one of them a few hours after you turn the game off. But the worst offenders to this are definitely the battle themes. ToV has approximately a dozen different themes that play when you're fighting an enemy; there are three regular battle themes played as you progress through the story, and there are plenty of boss battle tunes as well.

But as stated at the beginning of that paragraph, the music in ToV is not bad by any stretch of the imagination. Even though very few of the tunes will likely stick with you in the weeks after completing the game, the soundtrack is overall solid. Couple this with good voice acting, and you got yourselves a game that's fairly pleasing to the ears.

LENGTH

This is what's great about the Tales of... games: you always know you're getting your money's worth when it comes to how long the game is. If you just do the main story alone without any of the sidequests, you're going to be spending a minimum of forty hours in the world of Tales of Vesperia. But if you're a perfectionist, you'll need multiple playthroughs for the greatest challenges and all the items, titles, and other bonuses. If you try to get everything this game has to offer, you're going to be spending at least 100 hours with Yuri and his pals. Whether you like the game or not, you have to admit it gives you plenty to do if you want to extend the experience.

REPLAYABILITY

Like other games in the franchise, Tales of Vesperia gives you plenty of reasons to go back and experience everything a second time. As stated earlier, there's plenty of stuff you won't achieve on your first playthrough, so it doesn't seem like a stretch to want to go back and get some of the things you missed the first time through. You can also play through on a harder difficulty or set challenges for yourself if you liked the game but you wanted to earn your way to the final battle victory screen a bit more. Sidequests, titles, secret missions, just because it was fun and you want to experience the whole game again...there are several motives for a second playthrough of the Tales of Vesperia.

PROS

+ Great cast of well developed characters
+ Story is pretty good
+ Graphics are amazing
+ Long length
+ Tremendous replay value
+ Voice acting is done very well
+ Music is decent
+ Puzzles are well balanced in difficulty and frequency
+ Battles are as fun as ever

CONS

- Music isn't too memorable
- Story becomes weaker towards the end
- The best villains are under-utilized
- Battles can be easily won by button mashing
- A little too easy for the most part

CLOSING NOTES

Any Xbox 360 owner who enjoys RPGs or games with a story to go along with it will definitely want to get their hands on this game. The game's shining features are clearly its cast of characters, the battles and satisfying length, with the graphics and most of the music creating good follow-up reasons to invest your time and money into Tales of Vesperia. Sadly, the plot can't really be classified as "epic" or "memorable" by the time you've reached the final boss, and the game's best villains are done away with by the two-thirds point. Still, if you want a game you can pick up and just plain have fun with, Tales of Vesperia is a great choice.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/26/08

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


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