Review by Vermanubi_s
"Welcome to Terca Lumieres; the Zenith of the Tales Universe"
First of all, let me begin by saying that my fellow Tales fan's skepticism over some of the recent installments is nothing less than understandable. With the recent slew of frankly horrible Tales titles (Dawn of the New World, Radiant Mythology, Tempest, etc.) it would be a gross understatement to say anything less than that Namco was getting complacent. However, I bring good tidings for you, as my doubts and fears for the future of the Tales series were soon cast asunder from the reality of just how much of a punch Vesperia packs.
Tales of Vesperia was developed by Team Symphonia (Symphonia, Abyss and Vesperia) and while they started off a little shaky and timid as evident in retrospect of Tales of Symphonia, it would seem they've come full-circle and have rapidly produced better and better games. The several year waits between each Team Symphonia game is arguably due in part to the quality. Symphonia came into the picture as the first true "American" Tales game, with a lot of Western appeal and influence. Many would disagree, but while I think Symphonia is a great game, I think it's the proverbial Final Fantasy VII of the Tales series. After Symphonia came Tales of the Abyss, which for the longest time reigned supreme as my favorite RPG out of the hundreds I've played in my lifetime. I was convinced that games could simply not get better than Abyss; that's where I was wrong. Vesperia came along, and I can say I don't regret doubting it, because let's face it: there is NOTHING better in the gaming world than having mediocre expectations shattered into antimatter. I was in denial for a few days, thinking that Abyss could not be beat; but it was. I won't say by much, but let's keep in mind here that Tales of the Abyss ranked #1 for my RPG list among hundreds of others.
Now, with that aside, let's get down to brass tacks. :^U
I think it's safe to say that the zenith of Tales of Vesperia is the gameplay. This isn't to say that the other aspects aren't great, 'cause they are, which should give you a general idea of how fun it is. Tales of Vesperia is very unique in it's ways, but also very traditional and typical Tales; a very delicate, yet perfectly executed mix.
This mix is comprised of a myriad of different things, but let's start small and work our way up. Now, I'm going to be completely honest, Tales of Vesperia, despite it's greatness, is an acquired taste. The game has many complexities to it, and it can take a fair while to get a good grip on how everything works. Again, being honest, I thought the game was pure crap up until about 10 hours in. Things played out rather boring and slow-paced. After Tales of the Abyss, I was used to RPGs starting off running and not stopping. Tales of Vesperia though, starts off like a lawnmower, and then picks up speed to break the sound barrier, if you will.
It's much like typical RPGs, in which you start off in your hometown, and hop from dungeon to town. But the good news is that 95% of the towns and dungeons have many, many things to do in each, each time you visit/revisit. In other words, they towns and dungeons seldom get stale or unenjoyable. There's always something tossed into the fray to keep it fresh.
But one issue that I'd like to address regarding said multitude of things to do, is that there is literally SO much to do, that it can become nearly impossible to keep track of things and complete them. Oftentimes you'll find that you've missed many things, and sadly, many of said things have very limited time frames in which they can be completed. It can be chalked up to sheer frustration, but if you can catch them in time, doing said tasks can be nothing but fun. I won't defend the impossible time frames as Namco attempting to urge several playthroughs like most people, rather, I'm willing to admit that they were just a bit sloppy in coordinating a lot of the sidequests.
That aside, let's move onto non-battle sequences and parts of the game. I'll obviously save details for other sections of the review, but to give you a general idea of what you'll be experiencing as far as gameplay goes outside of battle sequences. Tales of Vesperia, as previously mentioned, offers no shortage of things to do. Whether it be synthesizing new items, triggering future sidequests or playing mini-games; there's always something to be done.
But I should probably touch base on what "synthesizing" is. In Tales of Vesperia, they decided to add a really cool, although somewhat difficult-to-get-the-hang-of feature called "item synthesis". Basically what synthesis is, is a feature in shops and markets that allows the player to choose from an absolutely massive range of items to create, provided the player has the correct materials. This feature offers endless amounts of customization, which is wonderful, because the slightest perks and detriments can make a big difference in battle. Don't be fooled into thinking it's easy though; some of the materials required to synthesize are outrageously difficult to obtain.
Now that you have an idea of what weapons and synthesizing can do, let's shift gear to "skills". Most Tales game have had a "skill" system of sorts, but I just find Vesperia's to be the most lucrative and successful. A good comparison would be to that of Final Fantasy VI's Esper system. You equip a weapon, and after enough skill points have been obtained, you can use the skill without having the weapon/anything else equipped. I think what makes it so great in Vesperia, is that there are literally NO useless skills. As I said before, the slightest changes can affect a battle, and skills exemplify this.
It's time for the real goodies now: the battle system. The crowning achievement of Tales of Vesperia. At first glance, the battle system seems like any other ordinary Tales game: you swing, slash and block. This is only how it is for a few hours in. Over time, you learn new abilities and skills that change the flow of battle from a creek to a violent riptide. A few examples being "Fatal Strikes" and the new and VERY improved overlimit system. Fatal strikes are an ability acquired a little ways into the game that allows the players to kill non-boss enemies with a single blow given certain conditions are met and if their reflexes are sharpened, as they're a bit tricky to time. As for the overlimit system, it's no longer just a short period of invulnerability, rather an entirely different state of battle. There are 4 levels of overlimit, and each is more devastating than the last.
Can't forget the artes now, either. They've been called many things through the days of Tales, but like many previous installments, the player's special moves are referred to as "artes". The artes in the game are no longer just random burst of insanely powerful attacks with a price, rather each one has it's own specific strategic implementation.
Lastly, the challenge. I won't lie; most RPGs; Tales specifically, were/are ridiculously easy. It boiled down to how hard you could mash attacks and artes on your controller. Basically, if you could spell your own name correctly, wipe your own ass and knew not to stick your tongue in the garbage disposal, you could beat a Tales game with minimal issue. Tales of Vesperia being largely contrary to this is what I loved. A common complaint sometimes is that there are larger windows in which the player can't attack after a standard combo; this makes you much easier to hit and makes strong enemies MUCH harder to attack without having it reciprocate. This is part 1 of the difficulty: generally that mashing buttons will no longer suffice; quite contrary, actually. It'll just get you killed faster. Tales of Vesperia emphasizes strategy and thought; which in an RPG like Tales that is so very prone to button-mashing by it's free-roaming nature is an accomplishment from hell. Part 2 is that the enemies aren't little girlies any more. Whether it's a boss or a group of regular enemies, you're going to need to focus to come out as more than a ribcage with nibbled meat on it. The third and final aspect of it's difficulty lies in it's nerfed items and bosses. Don't get me wrong, it's not like a damn Dragon Quest game, where a potion takes half the game to save up for and it cures 2 HP, but that they're not so powerful and inexpensive that you can go employ a reckless abandon mentality. Much like artes and attacks, items have very strategic implementations, and are only as effective as the player using them.
Now, for the fun part: bosses. It was a good many years before Vesperia in which I fought a boss that was difficult for more than his several-hundred digit HP and horrendously broken attacks. Nope, I can say with confidence that someone on Team Symphonia got their asses kicked in gear and remembered how to make bosses that were genuinely difficult. Each and every boss has their own unique "difficulty". Whether it be their speed, aerial prowess, power or barriers. On your first playthrough, good freaking luck beating more than 2 or 3 bosses without using up almost all of your life bottles/gels. You could be a little sissy and play on Easy, but even then you won't find it to be an easy task. One last bit of information that you may find interesting is that each boss has it's own respectice "Secret Mission", in which the player exploits a specific weakness of theirs to both earn extra grade and to earn an achievement for each boss a secret mission is completed on.
All in all, gameplay is a solid 10. I'm a pretty critical and condescending gamer in regards to the games I play, and getting a 10 out of me is at lesser odds than pooping a sculpted diamond in the exact likeness of Joan Rivers. I have a very difficult time finding flaws in the gameplay. I'd go as far as to say it's a genius design.
K, not gonna lie, the story was pretty mediocre. Easily one of the weaker aspects of the game. Not to say that it's bad, 'cause it's far from it; it's just not an enthralling epic free of cliches.
It's your basic "empire" story, but with some nice twists and compelling aspects. You start off as a young guy named Yuri Lowell, who lives in the slums of the Imperial Capital, Zaphias. He's a trouble-maker, but not for his own gain, rather because he is abiding his sense of justice. He's a hot number with the Imperial Knights and is often arrested for minor crimes.
The beginning revolves around the theft of something vital to the Lower Quarter (the "slums" of Zaphias) and he takes matters into his own hands. From thereon on out, the story unfolds, and many exciting events take place, but nothing groundshaking. It's a well-told story, that keeps you coming back for more, but as previously mentioned, it isn't an epic tale like Tales of the Abyss.
One thing I can say in strong defense of it, is that it is almost entirely free of cliches and predictable scenarios. You're always guessing. That being said though, it isn't a very emotional story, which I was somewhat refreshed by, honestly. It wasn't horrible convoluted, nor was it simplistic. The reason I give it a 7/10 as opposed to higher is because some things are poorly explained in it, and there are several plotholes, leading to a good number of things making a little less sense than I'd like.
Another defense is that it touches base on some taboo subjects, such as justified murder, suicide and the like. The kind of moments that make you clench your fists and bite your lip.
Despite it's seeming mediocrity though, the highest point of the story is the characters. Tales of Vesperia has, without the slightest doubt, the most original, likable and well-executed cast of characters in Tales, nay, RPG history. Each character has a distinct, and thankfully non-cookie-cut personality, and each of them interacts with each other in a unique way. They are so human feeling, that you really relate to them and start to get almost attached to them. They make an otherwise lackluster story jump out at you and scream. Definitely an A++++++ on the cast.
Lastly, the one thing that I was disappointed with truly, was that the antagonist was rather likable. It was a cool change of pace, but you never felt that emotion or urge to get revenge of serve justice. Again though, I won't say this is bad, because it's actually very good; just not very emotion-invoking.
Story is a solid 7. Could've been better, but the 3 missing points keeping in from a 10 come from it's plotholes and evasions rather than it's lack of raw emotion. Well-told and compelling is all that she wrote.
I'm glad to report that Motoi Sakuraba made a soundtrack that didn't suck this time around. Honestly, Tales of the Abyss is the only other soundtrack of his that I didn't think was sub-par. I think Sakuraba is getting better at the whole "suiting the mood" thing for more than just action sequences.
Now, don't go thinking it's perfect though, either. Motoi did his usual and made about 50% of the OST filler tracks, but the other 50% is pure gold. In Tales of Vesperia, a terrific thing about it is the diversity in scenery and scenario. Every place is distinctly different, and Sakuraba couldn't have nailed most of those place's feels better. The music ranges from very relaxing to absolutely to-tears epic; either way, always something to tap your foot or bang your head to.
One thing you may notice is that it's not quite as virtuosic sounding as other Tales OSTs; this isn't necessarily a bad thing. I find that while other Tales OSTs have had faster and heavier music, that they weren't always appropriate for the mood and because of his style and unique sound (you can always tell a Sakuraba song just by the particular pitch of the guitar) it always sounded like a 13-year-old kid trying to solo to impress his girlfriend. Guitar spanking would be the term, I believe. That being said, Tales of Vesperia still has it's share of guitar spankery, but this time around... IT SOUNDS GOOD. You can actually distinguish the notes and go along with it.
Definitely a milestone for Sakuraba. He really proved that he is a diverse musician with this OST. If I may make a recommendation, look up "The Wise One", "A Vow of Unity" and "A Bet on This Bout" on Youtube. ;)
Much akin to the "gameplay aspect" the controls are also similar in their score, because of said likeness. While the controls take some getting used to, I can't say I could think of a better way to map out the controls. Everything that is required in battle flows like clockwork; almost as if they intentionally tested which fingers flow in congruency with others and which ones coordinate best with others.
It's a very comfortable control style that accommodates many actions without making it extremely convoluted and complicated. Let's face it: it feels so good when you crunch that spring down on a shoulder button as you finish off an enemy.
I have no complaints here at all. Easy to work with and effective.
Arguable the best part of a Tales game is getting to go to the Grade shop and splurge everything so you can kick merciless ass on your next playthrough. Tales of Vesperia does not stray from this formula. But, while there certainly is no shortage of sidequests, I have a few gripes I'd like to address.
Here you'll find my most critical remarks about the game: in the replay section. Although not directly connected to just how generally replayable a game is, it is something to be addressed. I think I mentioned earlier in the gameplay section that there were many, many things to do, right? Well, I wasn't kidding. While each sidequest is extremely fun, I won't say that missing them or stressing over their triggers is.
Whether it be due to laziness, or the developers just being asshats, I don't care; the sidequests can be absolutely ridiculous. If you're not an achievement monger, it's not so bad, but if you want all 50 achievements, bring some coffee and a campfire, 'cause it's going to be a rough journey getting all the sidequests.
A lot of the sidequests revolve around talking to specific people at specific places at specific times. This can get frustrating because, unless you have a guide right next to you, chances are you'll miss literally 90% of the sidequest triggers and have to play through the game again to get them. They're incredibly easy to miss, and the conditions are ludicrously specific. Conditions have to be met that no non-mutant human being could ever guess to do unless they had a guide in front of them. What's worst of all is that they branch off into others, so if you miss one sidequest, you'll miss many, many others.
Now, despite how grim and awful that may have sounded (which it can be), the sidequests also have their perks. Most of them are extremely fun and rewarding. In fact, some fella from Japan named Kouli had to make a flow chart of ALL the sidequest triggers in the game in exact order just so people wouldn't miss vital points. I'd refer you to his site, but I don't know the URL and I'm too lazy and tired right now to fetch it. Check the boards and ask for "Kouli's guide".
That mess aside, another aspect that is very "challenging" is the grade. In most Tales games thus far, grade has been very easy to farm and only around 2,500 was required to get all of the goodies like 10x experience, double grade and gald, etc. Guess how much you need for all of that in Tales of Vesperia? About 18,500. Yeah, crap your pants? I did too. Thankfully, there is a nifty little trick for Rita with one of her spells that can help you rack up enough grade within 4 hours of farming (I know, it's horrible.) It's an annoying, slow and tedious process, but it's worth it when you see that grade shop window.
The good in all of it is the actual replaying of the game and the extra dungeon. Fighting the bosses on Unknown is ridiculously fun with 10x experience and getting rare drops from enemies with increased item drop rate is a blast for synthesizing uber-weapons. One thing they could've fixed though were the cutscenes. Once you've played through the game, you're not too big on the trivial cutscenes that you've seen already, and you basically have to mash A for 5 minutes each to get by them. A scene skip option would've been really, really nice.
I've probably made playing through for a second or third time sound horrible, but if you play your cards right and get accurate information (unlike I did, unfortunately) then it can and will be very fun and EXTREMELY rewarding. That and the cameos are something to look forward to with great anticipation.
Tales of Vesperia really was a gem. I can't think of how else to put it. It was one of the fullest and richest gaming experiences I've ever had. While it had it's flaws like every other game in existence, it compensated for each flaw 10-fold with something else. I spent around 270 hours on Tales of Vesperia, and I can say that I don't regret more than 10 hours of it (had to restart once 'cause I messed up, lol). If you have the patience to take it on and get accustomed to it's radically different style of play than other Tales games, and RPGs at that, I think you'll find you made an excellent choice in choosing to do so. It's not an easy game; neither to beat, nor to get the hang of, but aren't the best things in life acquired tastes?
I strongly recommend this game to anyone who's looking for something to keep them happily occupied for 150+ hours. It is truly an experience to behold, both as a gamer, and an RPGer.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/10/09
Game Release: Tales of Vesperia (US, 08/26/08)
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