Review by nintendosega

"I'm sad to report that Tales of Vesperia's a very bland RPG with extremely irritating characters and a terrible storyline"

It's hard to be one of the few people to dislike a game, especially when much the JRPG fanbase seems so thrilled with it. Yet, with Tales of Vesperia, just like with Tales of Symphonia in 2004, I'm left wondering if I played the same game as everyone else and, if so, what exactly they saw in it. …That said, I don't consider myself to be a "Tales hater," and I really liked the previous two installments, Tales of Legendia and Tales of the Abyss, which makes it all the more depressing that Vesperia didn't click with me. It's certainly not a disaster and the graphics are decent enough, but between the terrible plot, the uninspired gameplay, the unbelievably irritating characters, and the amateurish voice acting, there's very little to recommend this game by. It takes almost all the advancements the previous two installments made and tosses them out the window, leaving us with a game that simply feels like outdated filler; a Tales game crapped out to meet a yearly quota.

Graphics; With the move to next gen we've seen developers take full advantage of the hardware to create vast, compelling, and beautiful worlds brimming with life and visual tricks not possible on a non-HD console. Tales Studios settles for throwing on a new coat of paint. The result is that Tales of Vesperia at least looks “different” from other installments in the series, but these colorful-but-bland graphics really don't seem to be doing much to push the hardware. Towns and cities are all extremely tiny, with very little in the way of any buildings to enter, people to talk to, or quests to pick up. Even the big towns feel like small paths simply with more screens and bigger backdrops behind you. You still wander the world with a fixed camera system, and cutscenes still seem to be done in nearly stop-motion, with the gamer being required to push A constantly to advance to the next text box. (Yes, text boxes.) The load times are thankfully very short and the framerate keeps a mostly steady pace in the field and in battle, (except when the truly powerful spells are broken out) so it's a technically-sound game, but the presentation's very last-gen. With the exception of a couple cities, every location looks exactly like something you've seen before in what feels like hundreds of other Japanese RPG's. The game's blandly cheerful atmosphere never lets up, to the point when even the supposedly poor and neglected “Lower Quarter” that the main character resides in looks like royalty. Check out videos of Eternal Sonata and it looks tons better than this, its environments actually detailed and very unique-looking, with shadows throughout and other visual touches. Tales of Vesperia's got colorful visuals and very nice-looking characters but it all just looks so bland and “cheerful” and again, with a few notable exceptions, it all looks like leftovers from past games in the series. Character animation's very lacking, both in cutscenes and gameplay (especially the "swimming" animation, or lack thereof) which this series desperately needs to fix, already...

Anime FMVs are very occasionally seen throughout the game and they look nice, though at times they seem to be running at what looks like 5 frames per second. Blink, and you miss them; most are unbelievably brief. The move to next gen has certainly passed this series by and though it features an interesting art style, it's pretty clear that Tales Studio wasn't attempting to really create a game that looks like anything we haven't already seen done to death in this series. There are vastly better-looking RPG's on this system; hell, there were ones with bigger scope and more ambition on the PS2…

Graphics overall-
*Nice, cartoony visual style
*Great character models that are a true step up
*Short load times

*Despite the nice style, environments are very bland-looking and predictable
*Fixed camera system
*Tiny, un-interactive towns, cities, and fields
*Almost nothing in the way of next gen graphical effects
*Barren world map, while a decent visual upgrade, still needs an actual OVERHAUL

Gameplay; As far as I was concerned, Tales of the Abyss perfected this battle system so there was really nowhere for Vesperia to go but down. The battle system remains action-based and continues to be in 3-D but on a 2-D plane. New are “limit break” systems and a “finishing strike” move that's very satisfying. Otherwise it's essentially the same as past installments, save for an option for 3-D combat by holding the left trigger, (I used it...once) and a new ability system, in which abilities are learned from your equipment, similar to how it was done in Final Fantasy 9. It turns out not to work so well for a Tales game, as not only are the menus in this installment once again very unintuitive, (the equipment menu in particular is totally disorganized) but you change weapons in this series more often than promises change during a Presidential election; therefore making it easy to miss crucial abilities.

Throughout the entire game I was unable to use items (except Life Bottle) on anyone else. For example, if I wanted to have Yuri use an Apple Gel on another character, it wouldn't work; I'd have to have the other character use it himself, which is irritating to say the least. Apparently I missed an ability to learn a skill to change that. For some strange reason Yuri's TP doesn't seem to increase while he attacks the enemy. It may be yet another case of me simply not understanding something, who knows? But I couldn't figure it out. The AI, as in any game like this, often makes very questionable moves, especially the healer, Estelle, (though this actually turns out to be in character, since Estelle's an extremely dim person) and if you die in battle and have no recovery items, it's game over very quickly, since the CPU seems entirely incapable of fighting the boss/regular battle without you. And despite the fact that enemies can interrupt spell users by hitting them while they're charging, healers and magic users will stupidly stand right in front of the enemy and charge their spells, often getting interrupted as a result. You're given surprisingly little control over your strategy. Want to tell your magic users to hang back and use spells instead of stupidly trying to stand up front and physically attack the boss? Tough luck.

Also a bit irritating is the fact that the item limit's way too low, because this game *can* get challenging, and there were times when I had to backtrack through entire dungeons to head back to town because I used a few too many of my (maximum of 15) Life Bottles in the dungeon and therefore couldn't survive for the entire boss. Compounding this with the lack of ability to skip (sometimes long) cutscenes before bosses even if you've seen them already makes being stuck on a boss a pretty tedious experience. Still, at its heart it's a fun combat system, as is common for Tales games, though by this point in the series it's getting awfully stale.

Vesperia's bigger problems actually take place outside of battle. First and foremost, no matter what seems to be happening, traveling around ends up being a huge pain, mostly due to an abundance of battles. Though the world map looks and plays vastly better than it did in Tales of the Abyss, you won't have much fun exploring it, since enemies for battle are dropped onto it at a nearly constant rate, and these guys run fast. You'll end up getting into battles every couple feet. In a way it turns out to be worse than if the game had featured random battles.

This same problem applies to all field and dungeon exploration, as well. Dungeons have you walking across tiny paths, and enemies sit right in the center, nearly impossible to avoid. If by some miracle you slip past them, they'll see you and haul ass after you, likely easily catching up and surprising you from the back. Making matters worse in dungeons is that they're split up into smaller rooms separated by load screens. Every time you re-enter a room, the enemies you've defeated regenerate, forcing you to fight them again. You can of course escape from battles, luckily, nearly flawlessly, but I don't need to tell you that this doesn't make being stuck in a dungeon any more pleasant. Battles towards the end of the game take a surprisingly long time, (for a Tales game) so that's no fun. Not helping is that this is finally the Tales installment where they've once again decided to bring back Symphonia's “sorcerers ring” puzzles……ugh. So once again we're back to being stopped in our tracks on the way to an important and highly-anticipated boss fight to wander a huge castle searching for statues we must blast, in the correct order, with the Sorcerer's Ring to open a door. And yes, this is the type of game where you're forced to walk back out of the dungeon (instead of being brought back automatically) with the impossible-to-avoid encounters, of course, back on the field. Fun stuff.

When not in a dungeon, you're often in town with your party members, which essentially means that you must find them, talk to each, then head back to an inn to sleep. You do this in almost every town. This dialogue, unfortunately, isn't meaningful, and this very forced party interaction's a far cry from the party interaction featured in Tales of Legendia and Tales of the Abyss. Towns are extremely small, very un-interactive, and many just seem unnecessary. Unlike Tales of the Abyss and Tales of Legendia, which featured varied gameplay and eventful storylines involving things like invading military ships, riding submarines, etc…..Tales of Vesperia instead opts to stick rigigly to a “town-dungeon-town-dungeon-town-dungeon” format for its entirety and never seems to break from this pattern. The game becomes a drag, as neither the towns nor dungeons are fun to explore for their own reasons, which I discussed above. There's so much battling in this game, especially towards the end, that my thumb started to feel weak from hammering the B-button (main attack button) so much.

I do have to give credit where credit's due, however. For the first time since Tales of Symphonia, the developers have decided to add challenge to the combat, and there are some tough boss fights here. When exploring the environments and two or three groups of enemies are nearby, you can get in battle with all of them at the same time, which can also provide a refreshing challenge. There's certainly nothing brutally difficult here, but this time around I didn't feel like I could have completed this game with my eyes closed, unlike the last couple Tales releases. Though the game's sometimes challenging for all the wrong reasons, (stupid AI, item limit,) there are some intense boss battles in here and I was very happy to see them. And though the game still features several “false endings” and still seems to go on for a bit too long, it's mercifully much shorter than the other recent Tales Studio Tales games, thankfully ending at around the 41 hour mark. And as repetitive as Tales of Vesperia is, the atmosphere's certainly inviting enough and some locations are just interesting enough to make exploring them fun for a few seconds. Otherwise, though, Tales of Vesperia's gameplay just isn't too strong, and without a good story to support it, the game never rises to the heights you'd expect it to.

Gameplay Overall-
*Combat system remains fun and has been given some updates
*The game's not afraid to present some challenge, thankfully
*Much shorter length means much less filler than Abyss and Symphonia

Cons ;
*Far too much combat for its own good
*Enemies hard to avoid
*Way too little content between dungeons/enemy infested paths
*New ability system a bad fit for a Tales game
*Tedious puzzles return to the series, though they're at least not too frequent
*Game follows a very repetitive and predictable structure
*Puzzling combat system issues and restrictions (why can't I heal other characters?)

Sound; Yet another step back in several categories. First and foremost, this is the first Western Tales release (aside from Legendia) to feature voice acting during the skits, which are little conversations between the game's characters that pop up as you play. Previously voice acting during these has been exclusive to the Japanese market, though the occasional Tales release will voice them in English, as Vesperia does. It's certainly welcome, and makes them feel much less intrusive and also makes them go by faster than having to read a slow text crawl.

That said, though, the amount of voice acting in the story itself leaves a lot to be desired. Taking a large step back from previous installments Abyss and Legendia, which attempted to voice all major events and character interactions, Vesperia takes the Symphonia approach, and leaves many main events and bits of dialogue un-voiced. It never ceases to amaze me that in 2001, Final Fantasy 10 featured full voice acting, plenty of FMV cutscenes, and still managed to be on 1 disc. I have no idea why almost every Japanese RPG since then seems to struggle with the idea of having voices for the full game, but it's an unfortunate trait that's beginning to get more and more ridiculous with each generation. The funny thing is, it seems to be a blessing in disguise here, as Tales of Vesperia features such horrible voice acting that even with the more limited amounts of it, I still found myself shutting it off entirely on more than one occasion. Aside from the main character, Yuri, whose voice actor turns out to be a perfect fit, the characters all feature such scratchy, irritating, and cartoony “Saturday Morning TV Anime” voice-overs, complete with the over-acting, the “women voicing little kids with fake voices,” the high-pitched shrieking, and odd character inflections that, in Raven's case, made the character sound even more annoying than he was written. And that pretty much goes for everyone, unfortunately.

No, these were not well-written characters (as I'll get into later) but it doesn't help that the already whiny Estelle was given such a shrill voice, and the same goes for Rita and Karol. The problem is that these actors seem to have been afraid to talk in their normal voices and instead all decide to put on “fake” or high-pitched voices, which …when one character per RPG does this, it's tolerable, but when a good portion of the cast does this it gets old very quickly. (A villain with an incredibly campy and cartoony …I think it's supposed to be a German…. accent will have you diving for the mute button) Some side characters' voices are alright, and as I said, Yuri comes off pretty well, though he too sounds unconvincing when he tries to sound angry. The only one who really seems to go through this game unscathed is the dog, and that's because he doesn't talk.

The music offers no surprises, as Motoi Sakuraba once again composes, though this is easily one of his least-inspired soundtracks. I can't blame the guy, though, as what's asked of him here is exactly what he's asked to compose for every single Tales game. There's the standard “royal town” theme, the “cozy village” theme, the “nice harbor” theme….it's all the same and the fact that he manages to come up with a new one (or 2, or 3) every game is getting to be almost otherworldly; how the hell does he do it? Still, while he may have been very much limited by the uninspired locations, I can't give him props for this soundtrack, as it's mostly all forgettable filler, regardless of circumstance. Not to say it's horrible. Sakuraba still does “quiet, mysterious, peaceful mountain town” music to perfection, and that goes for “mystical town in the sky,” too. Good stuff. And Dahngrest, (one of the few cool locations in the game) has a very electric and unique sound to its music. But overall, it's a disappointing soundtrack, especially compared to Tales of the Abyss. And he once again refuses to compose songs for each event, so we're left with the same “ominous tune” playing in almost every single cutscene. Great.

Another step down are the sound effects, which are yet again not as strong as Tales of the Abyss's. Certain areas still have birds chirping, etc. but overall it's a significantly weaker effort.

Sound Overall-
*Voice acting can be turned off
*Tolerable soundtrack with a couple interesting tracks
*Skits are voiced

*Plenty else isn't…
*…which is a blessing, really, as the voice acting's some of the worst in the series
*Though not terrible, the music is forgettable and fails to leave a mark

Story, Characters, Presentation; Once again I have to lump presentation in this category because it plays a big factor in why this game's storyline's not nearly as involving as it could be. Once again we have text box conversations that you're forced to press A constantly through. Once again this gives the developers the excuse to almost entirely avoid incorporating any sort of character animation or cinematic flair to the cutscenes, and once again, you can't set it so that the game auto-cycles through the text boxes for you. (To date Legendia remains the only Tales game where the developers were smart enough to give this option…why? Who knows…) A decent presentation may have made this otherwise terrible storyline at least mildly diverting but no luck there.

The biggest problem with this storyline, (aside from the dated presentation,) are the characters, who, if you haven't yet gotten the idea, are annoying as hell. At times it's literally the equivalent of hanging out with your toddler brother's annoying little friends. And I've put up with RPG character casts before many times, and it's not that I'm intolerant of “imperfect” characters but man…it's like they were written to be as annoying as humanly possible!

But I have to make clear, Yuri's probably one of the best main characters of this series, and he's got some depth to him and actually does some things that were pretty shocking, but in a good way. Overall a great main character, but unfortunately he's surrounded by such total failures that it completely erases what glimpses of fun you'll get from him. Despite the previous 2 Tales releases' efforts to create a mature, down-to-earth cast of likable characters, especially the female leads, (Tear and Chloe)….Vesperia takes a gigantic step back with Estelle; the ditziest, most clueless, most shamelessly obnoxious lead female character since I think Garnet from Final Fantasy 9….and it gets better. Karol's a little kid who joins up with your party. Throughout the game he makes a complete fool of himself and spends his time whining, crying, being scared, and most of all, talking….yes, talking, because I couldn't stand his voice and he's given a huge amount of dialogue. Everything about this character, from his show-offey attitude, his inability to take charge, and (for much of the game,) his near-uselessness in combat ends up being just the tip of the iceberg. His character design; with his big, watery eyes, the way he looks as he runs in battle (with his axe dragging behind him,)... he looks like a complete jackass. If I had to use a metaphor here, I'd say he's like a dog who likes you and tries to be cute and tries to win your affection, but keeps screwing up and won't leave you the hell alone.

Every character, while most are not nearly as annoying as Karol or Estelle, does at least one stupid thing over the course of the game that, if the party had any brains, wouldn't be forgiven. But no, nobody seems to really care about the death and destruction caused because one character (stupidly and for no reason) chose not to inform them all of a crucial bit of information that would have taken her about sixty seconds to explain….. Everyone forgets about it in about five minutes. A character turning and literally running away, abandoning the party and leaving them for dead when a huge monster shows up….a small slap on the wrist and he continues to act like he calls the shots. Meanwhile, Rita spends most of the game shrieking angrily at the rest of the cast and almost anyone who crosses their path…can it get any worse? I could go on and on but I think you get the point.

And last but not least, the kiss of death for this terribly average adventure….. the storyline, which takes off walking and never really picks up speed. Yuri, who lives in the (supposedly poor) Lower Quarter of the Capital City, spends his time committing various crimes to help his neighbors. He used to be a knight, but wasn't happy with the empire and left to do things his own way. His friend, Flynn, chose to remain in the knights and they have a cool little rivalry going. This is all solid stuff. But then, a Blastia (the “scientific term” of the day here, replacing Fonons from Abyss as the word that's said at least 10 times in any given cutscene,) is stolen and Yuri and the dimwitted Estelle set out to recover it.

There are some very intriguing ideas in here, including some of Yuri's decisions and points made about following your own path, etc. Yuri's an interesting character from the start and the fact that he travels with his dog, Repede, is also a great touch, (though the dog ends up being a huge missed opportunity; Play Shadow Hearts: Covenant if you want to see a dog main character well-integrated into the group) and overall it at first seems like a fun adventure. But then the plot doesn't evolve, it doesn't change, and continues with this fairly flat scenario until a certain point, where it switches to another flat scenario (involving trying to “talk to someone,”) and then it finally begins to get a bit interesting in the last third of the game, but by then it's just too late. Until then we're pretty much just solving problems for one town after another, or one character after another; boring, and repetitive. The big problem is that rather than focusing on the likable characters, Tales of Vesperia's storyline places its main focus directly on the most annoying ones, (Karol and Estelle,) and it just…it sucks. I don't know how else to put it; it's a terrible storyline that spends most of the game going nowhere. The characters spend a huge chunk of their time “looking” for a character who, it's revealed later in the game, a main character apparently could have contacted at any time. Huh? And the guild, Brave Vesperia, that Karol turns the group into, with all their little rules? Ugh…don't even get me started. The ending, too, was a disappointment. There was more emotional pull in the frigging Sonic Unleashed ending, to put it in perspective. Just…meh. A pretty show but no depth to it, much like the rest of Tales of Vesperia's story.

*……….Yuri's kinda cool, I guess.
*Some interesting ideas that aren't fleshed out nearly enough

*Terrible cast
*Poorly thought out storyline that spends a lot of time going nowhere
*Characters…almost all unlikable; people you'd avoid like the plague if you knew them in real life…well, here's 40+ hours of ‘em.
*Villain's very under-developed
*Presentation's totally outdated; I've seen more cinematic RPG's on the Dreamcast

Verdict; I really don't know what else to say. I realize I've had sort of a love-hate relationship with this series ever since I've come in contact with it. Tales of Symphonia, once you got through the cliche's, actually had a somewhat creative plot about two worlds fighting for survival, and yet the game's minute-for-minute experience was spoiled by a constant string of tedious dungeons and puzzles. Tales of Legendia, the black sheep of the series from a different team and with a much lower budget, nevertheless featured a great plot and interesting characters, and Tales of the Abyss followed suit with the best cast and world and yet 30 hours of filler. And now, Tales of Vesperia, which, despite next gen hardware, feels even more last gen and outdated than Abyss did, and also features by far the worst characters and storyline of at least any Tales game I've played.

It's perfectly playable and at times it settles into a groove of “decent,” which usually lasts until the next ridiculous plot turn or lame cutscene hits you. While it never reaches the tedious “lows” of my previous least favorite, Symphonia, it never reaches its heights either, and overall Vesperia just ends up feeling very average and generic from the start. If you're new to RPGs or Tales games, go for it….it's probably a good start and you won't know what the genre's capable of since you'll have nothing to compare it to. But looking on the 360, Lost Odyssey's got more going on in its first 30 minutes than Vesperia's got going on in its entire game. And critics may have bashed Lost Odyssey for its load times but *that* was a very solid attempt at a next gen "traditional" RPG, and one that was innovative to boot. Tales of Vesperia's the exact opposite; yet another play-it-safe entry in this series that would feel right at home on the PS2. Tales die-hards are probably going to hate this review, and I apologize for that, but come on, guys…we've all seen this game before. Maybe the next one will better, though who knows if I'll even play it….maybe (as Raven whines in almost every single cutscene despite the fact that he looks no older than, like…30) I'm just getting too old for this.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 01/14/09, Updated 05/19/14

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

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