Review by Malorkus
"A legendary tale."
I feel sorry for rich kids. Yeah, they have unlimited money for all the toys they want, and yeah, they never have to pay a cent for college, and yeah, they could bribe their way out of every crime. But the rich are portrayed as the villains in almost every movie, show, and game, because everyone likes to root for the homeless nobody who defeats the big, evil rich people at the end. That little rich kid is going to ask his parents, Mother, father, am I going to grow up to be a corrupt, swindling tyrant who mocks the lower class? Their parents' response, of course, is that they blew all of their kid's inheritance on hookers and resorts in the Caribbean, but that's beside the point. Namco finally catered to the rich kids in Tales of the Abyss, which apparently was good enough for another few decades, as Tales of Vesperia is yet another Japanese RPG that casts you in the shoes of poverty. Yet the game itself is lavished with riches, being perhaps the finest Tales outing of all.
Your protagonist is Yuri Lowell, a young man who lives in the lower quarter of the land's capital. He lives with his dog, wields a sword, and generally does not give a damn about anything. He resents the government but does not act resilient until his quarter's power source, the blastia core, is stolen from the fountain. Fed up with the capital not sending help, he decides to break into the castle and things get hairy from there. He meets a sheltered princess, encounters a madman, gets the Imperial Knights ticked off at him, and scours the land for answers. It's a typical Tales story setup, but Vesperia thankfully breaks away from a lot of cliches, not the least of which being that Yuri is actually not a helpless whiny brat who's been chosen to accomplish great things or whatever. The Tales games are known for their convoluted twists and turns, and Vesperia definitely has those, but does so at a much better pace than other in the series (as opposed to say nothing happening in the first 20 hours of Symphonia).
Vesperia follows the same basic formula as other Tales titles, but is also very friendly to newcomers. You will gather a party of delightful characters who will come and go, you can buy and upgrade items and weapons, and the world is split into three types of areas towns, fields, and dungeons. To go over each of these, Vesperia's playable cast is wonderfully memorable, with equally notable non-playable ones who really enhance the story. Though it includes what I call the RPG Breakfast Club - the swordsman, the princess, the mage, the warrior, the kid, and the criminal - each has plenty of side story to flesh out their character. Although you will play as Yuri for much of the game, you will eventually be able to switch out and find the character that really works right for you. One of Vesperia's biggest strengths is the amount of options and customization it gives you, as playing with the default settings is still enjoyable, while more experienced players in the series can easily adjust the items and even the difficulty to their liking on a whim.
There are tons of weapons and armor to collect, and avid itemseekers can synthesize these weapons to be even stronger with the use of rare items. Going out of your way to obtain hidden chests or speak to every NPC will reward you. In fact, it's pretty much impossible to obtain everything in one play through of the game, as certain events or items can only be triggered at certain points. As stated, there are three general types of areas, with towns containing shops and inns and also often marking significant turning points in the story. You will revisit most towns a lot throughout the game as events change and your party becomes invested in the goodwill of their people. The field areas are the open world, in which you can travel between towns or dungeons and also encounter enemies. The dungeons, as you may expect, contain lots of puzzles and traps and usually involve a boss battle. The dungeons tend to be pretty varied, and a dungeon with a really frustrating puzzle is usually followed by a more straightforward one.
The Tales franchise has gained a reputation for a unique battle system, and it's expanded more than ever here. For starters, the enemy models on he overworld are actually of the enemies for a change instead of just random blobs. But in battle, things are as simple or as complicated as you want to make them. The game teaches you the ropes with Yuri, as you can fight both on a default 2-dimensional plane or hold a trigger button to move around the battlefield in all directions to attack different enemies or avoid attacks. The character you control will have a set of standard attacks (a sword for Yuri, a hammer for Karol, the dog can uh, bite) that can also be used to block attacks and reduce damage. Whatever characters you are not controlling in battle (you can customize a battle party of up to 4 with different formations) will attack other enemies or use items. For the most part, the partner AI is actually pretty intelligent, but they also suck up items like there's no tomorrow, so fortunately you can change AI battle commands at will.
Where the battle system gets really complicated but also very worth learning different strategies is with Artes, your special attacks. As you gain levels, your party members will learn new Artes, which can be customized to button setting of your choice. These special attacks need to be used wisely, as they use up a gradually replenishing meter, but when used in special combinations with another, you can deal extra damage or even learn additional Artes that can't be obtained simply through gaining levels. Mastering the highest Artes takes a lot of dedication and practice, and even as someone who's replayed this game, those master battle strategies still went right over my head. As stated, Tales of Vesperia can be tweaked for both the rookies and the truly dedicated, really offering itself to a wide audience without having to dumb itself down for anyone, which is something a lot of games fail at.
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give Tales of Vesperia is that it's the king of content. The main adventure alone lasts at least 40 hours, and that's with skipping out on all the stuff on the side. Unlike a lot of other Tales games, almost none of those 40 hours are bogged down by filler or tedious backtracking to pad out the length, even though the story takes a lame turn southward in the final hours. Outside of the main adventure, the game is filled to the brim with collectibles, side-quests, items to upgrade, optional areas, and extra mini-games. Once the entire world is open to you, it's basically your giant sandbox. Exploring parts of the map off the beaten pat almost always has its rewards, filling your encyclopedia of monster sightings feels like Namco hid a Pokemon game inside this, and for the truly hardcore, secret extra-tough bosses await if you feel up to the challenge.
Tales of Vesperia is the culmination of years of Tales games resulting in the best game in the whole series. The game is packed to the brim with tons of content, memorable characters, an intriguing story, a vast world to explore, and a deep combat system. It presents long-cliched RPG traditions in a new fashion, and the amount of customizable options are about as numerous as you are going to get in an offline RPG. It's also a well-paced game, never dragging on for the sake of being a lengthy game but rather using its time wisely. Not to mention the game is suitable for anyone regardless of their experience with the series, with a beginner being able to easily learn the mechanics, and experts able to adjust the difficulty to their liking and master the most advanced Artes. It's all the more a shame that this game is very difficult to find in English, but it's well worth the hassle. Whether you've been playing Japanese RPG's for years or if you have never laid hands on one, you are going to find plenty to love about Vesperia.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/30/14
Game Release: Tales of Vesperia (US, 08/26/08)
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