Review by The_Heap
"I think this might be the Tales series's last dying breath."
Tales of Symphonia and Tales of the Abyss were two very highly critically acclaimed RPGs that gained the Tales series a big fanbase around the world. The games preceding them, such as Tales of Phantasia and Tales of Destiny, were also fairly successful critically, but failed to sell very well outside of Japan. After Abyss, Namco released Tales of Legendia and Tales of Symphonia 2, which were both let downs for the series. Everything was basically set up to hype the first major Tales game in a while, Vesperia. Although I found the series seriously flawed after Symphonia, I purchased it, because let's face it, there's not much I can buy on the 360 that isn't a war-based game or a bland 1st person shooter.
Like always, Namco is very shifty with adverising--meaning, they rarely do it because half their games are completely dreadful cashgrabbers. The most they did for this game was release a demo that showcased a tiny piece of the game that had really nothing to do with it at all. At first, the battle system feels rather solid whilst playing it, but then you actually look at it and realize how slow paced and clunky it is. And that's the least of your problems, considering even in the demo the enemies's AI was always one step ahead of the mindless AI of your party members, and if you haven't played a Tales game before, you would probably die.
There is very little to do ingame beyond following the dreadful and boring story. The sidequests are half-assed, little things that give you more questions within the plot than answers, and there are no windows except in important cases from which to even suggest that the sidequests are availible in the first place. Fighting monsters in the boring looking overworld gets old halfway through the first dungeon, and the only time I found myself enjoying a battle was during a boss battle, which if you're a completionist, are sucked of any fun because of the idiotic secret missions which do absolutely nothing other than give you gamer points. And that should mean nothing to you unless you're a socially awkward 15 year old. Huh, this game was directed at socially awkward 15 year olds.
If you play this game for the plot, which most JRPG fans do, you'll either find yourself either bored beyond measure or in denial that there ever was a writing staff to attend to this drivel. In the beginning of the game, it seems the writers are too lazy to even establish a goal of some sort. I took control of a few cliche beyond measure characters who appeared to have no goal other than to get the hell out of their hometown, and later on "find a stolen aqua blastia" which is basically a magic orb that creates water out of nowhere. You'll find more engrossing stories in a saturday morning cartoon. Beyond that I can't say much without spoiling it, except that the mid-way plot twist that all Tales games seem to have is not even a plot twist, just a deep step into another level of cliche dialogue than you could see coming from a mile away.
The battle system could be compared to Final Fantasy VIII, in that your characters start out unbelievably weak and midgame grow into gods that can destroy any seemingly tough boss within a few minutes. It's built exactly like the other Tales games. You can move around, have some sort of control over your AI-controlled (or player controlled if you have a friend that can stand this crap) party and beat the hell out of generic looking monsters. This time there's a free run option that will allow you to move throughout the entire area freely, but unless you're trying to run away or controlling Repede you'll hardly ever use it. Unless you've never played a Tales game before, you'll get bored after a few battles. And if you haven't played a Tales game, you'll be utterly destroyed early game by monsters that not only outnumber you by more than twice your party (thanks to the new system that allows more than one group of monsters to attack you) but seem to always be able to break your defenses until you reach midgame and get a hang of the idiotic weapon and arte (techniques that you use in battle) system.
The highlight of the story is the miracle that the staff could actually come up with 2 original personalities that we haven't seen a million times again and again with different bodies and voices. The main charcter, Yuri is basically the exact opposite of every JRPG protagonist ever, not only being a geneal badass early on but later on transforming into an all around likeable character. And there's also Raven, a party member that seems to be the only one with any semblence of a backstory and a comic relief-type personality. But that's as good as it gets. The other characters are as dull and uninteresting as rocks--no, I would actually rather spend a day climbing a bare, rocky mountain than listen to Rita with her annoying wannabe-agressive attitude complain about how stupid everyone is. There's OBVIOUSLY a generic mary sue, Estelle, since everyone seems to not mind seeing the same character over and over. The rest are just wasted potential with a backstory that is hinted at but never explored. The antagonists are almost awkward to see--there's only two of them in the entire game that aren't comic relief villains or mindless henchmen, and one of them is a cartoony-styled "haw haw I will take over the world because I am JUSTICE" stick of a character. The voice acting is pretty good, I guess, although it's hard to tell because the dialogue is so awful and it feels like the actors are struggling to read each line with a straight face (except Michelle Ruff, but I suppose she dosen't mind reading mindless drivel, being casted in Bleach) Some of the characters sound completely different for no reason during battle, namely Yuri who sounds like he's being a sarcastic tool everytime he says his stupid lines after winning a battle. It's about as good as a dubbed JRPG can get, I suppose.
The graphics are the highlight of the game. Not only are the anime-styled cutscenes done much more often than any other Tales of game, but the characters all look very nice as long as they don't open their mouths. The overworld is pretty much generic greenlands but the weather effecting different areas is well designed. The music is bareable, nothing special. Rather sad considering Symphonia, Abyss and Legendia had some of the best soundtracks I've heard in gaming. There are a few enjoyable tracks, but by the time you finish the game (if you can bare it) they'll have worn out from how often they're used.
The Tales series is running out of ideas, and it shows. Hopefully Tales of Graces will be decent enough so that the series can go out in a bang, and then I can pretend that the games they've been releasing for the past year and a half never existed.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 04/20/09
Game Release: Tales of Vesperia (US, 08/26/08)
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