Review by ace52387
Tales is growing up? Almost
Tales of Vesperia is a noticeable departure from many of the other popular console installments of the Tales franchise at first. The cast, for once, isn't stuffed with cheesy, melodramatic idealism. There is only one unwavering dreamer, and she's the Noblewoman that the main character, a poor trouble maker aids from the get go. Most notably, this trait is absent from said main character, Yuri, who is heroic by nature, but also a realist. Estelle, the noble, has lead a sheltered life, and as expected, she is naive, and very proper. On the way, the cast rounds itself out with a few obligatory and cliche'd jrpg character archetypes. A violently disagreeable teenage girl plays the mage, and a little boy deeply concerned with his self image plays the heavy hitter. More removed from this main cast is a pervy old man and the obligatory voluptuous female.
The story in general is fairly weak from start to finish. The first part of the story has you running what you may expect to be a simple errand, finding a stolen artifact and warning a man of his impending assasination, but it ends up taking around 1/3 of the game. The primary villain of this chapter shows his face once or twice, and has very little characterization. This segment ends up being my favorite part of the story because of the developments in the characters and their relationships.
Tales really looked like it was growing up. It drops the very basic and predictable character development structure where the character just grows a new personality trait along the line, ie from timid to determined, cold and stoic to compassionate, etc. Instead, most of the character development comes from the fluid relationships that the main cast has with each other. The removed old man and voluptuous woman aside, the other members of the cast each have specific and nuanced relationships with each other. The young boy, Karol, puts up a tough guy act (a comically bad act) and constantly boasts in an almost condescending way, but it's pretty obvious that he sees Yuri as his mentor. Yuri and Estelle have a mutual admiration for each other, Yuri to Estelle for her genuine, uncalculating goodness, and Estelle to Yuri for his decisive and heroic nature, just to name a few. Certain plot events test these relationships and the characters express complex emotions like guilt and despair towards each other in a believable and non-melodramatic way.
Sadly, just when the plot of this first chapter was getting good, when villains and heroes were just coming into their own, the fate of the natural world gets involved, as it has for all tales games in recent memory, and instead of continuing this story suit of characters and relationship development, it decides to throw that to wind and go with the very basic, bare bones Tales convention. Not only are the character relations that were so interesting stagnated, most of the characters basically lose all their nuances, most regrettable of which is Yuri's anti-heroism, becoming nothing more than the shell of their cliche's. The heroes and their antagonists frequently find themselves in cheesy clashes of ideology, where both sides basically call the other idiotic, insane or naive repeatedly.
The Villain in the 2nd chapter of the game is a 180 villain, a plot twist character who completely changes, personality and ambitions, which in and of itself is already a sign of poor plot design, but to top it off, he's exceedingly generic as far as villains go. To add more insult to injury, the ending is one of the worst in any game of recent memory not because of a bad plot twist or anything subjective like that, it's simple and undeniably inconclusive. The instant the world is saved is the instant the game ends. There's no closure to any of the relationships between the characters, which was ironically, one of the best parts of the game at first.
The final complaint I have is that a lot of the latter half of the plot developments are just different attempts that the characters make to try and save the world. Experiments almost, that involve a lot of jargon about the fantasy laws of nature that govern the world that Tales of Vesperia takes place in. In the end, it is pseudo science, not very well thought out or logical pseudo science at that, so a lot of the "discoveries" about why this method of saving the world would work, while that way wouldn't doesn't always fly with basic human logic, making many of these plot developments feel contrived and convenient.
If it hadn't thrown that bone of, and this is a rarity in any rpg, complex characterization, the story would still have been generic and bland, but perhaps less disappointing. At the very least, the rampant melodrama of abyss is absent. Like most Tales games, I wouldn't get any hopes up for the story.
The voicework and translation in this Tales game is probably the best yet. With JRPGs, there are always differences in drama conventions that are sadly unavoidable during translation. For those who've seen some anime, japanese tv dramas or played a few jrpgs, a frequent occurrence following a touching monologue is that the listener softly says the speaker's name, showing that he/she is concerned or touched, but also speechless. It's very rare in western drama and has always been awkward, but is used very liberally in most jrpgs. These and other such untranslatable awkward bits are probably still there, but whether by translation or original design, isn't very noticeable in the final product, resulting in a very smooth and believable voice track that doesn't scream "translation" at all.
The music still has a somewhat artificial, midi sound to it. You can certainly pass it off right away as generic video game music. It's hard to put it above or below the music of Symphonia or Abyss because they're so similar, but I'd give the edge to Vesperia because it actually translates the central theme in the opening instead of rolling with an orchestrated piece like previous Tales games. I still think Legendia had better music. Some of the string heavy tracks sounded pretty oppressive and atmospheric. It's best to judge the music on your own though, so I can name a few which can be found around on youtube. The battle theme is ever so originally named "Burning Fighting Spirit", a special battle theme, and my personal favorite is called "Fury Sparks" while the opening is called "Ring a Bell." "Ring a Bell" is credited as written by the singer, Bonnie Pink, a Japanese pop star, but I'm not sure if she wrote the English version. One or two lines are reasonably directly translated, but the rest isn't even a vague translation of the japanese version. While the Japanese lyrics are pretty straight forward, the English lyrics are like incoherent lines strung together.
My one serious complaint is that too much of the important plot dialogue is not voiced. Because of the graphics and the lack of animations in this game and a lack of a portrait, these bits end up really being nothing more than text, not much better than reading a script. Voicework is perhaps most critical in games that lack in the animation department because there ends up being no expression at all. Supposing the script is beautiful, (it's not bad, but pretty impressive writing considering it's a translation) it could never be realized without the actors and directors. Thankfully though, the skits are voiced. Those things are the devil when silent because you can't skip dialogue, so you have to sit through it all or skip it entirely.
For about half the game, you'll play Vesperia battles much the way you played the Abyss battles. The overlimit is completely different, and the Fatal Strike element was added, but you probably won't use those much early on. The battle field is 3D, and plays much like a fighting game. Early on, you'll be juggling blocking and simple combos with a couple of evasive maneuvers. Later in the game, the fatal strikes play a bigger role and the new overlimit system becomes very important.
Fatal strikes are finishing blows that instantly kill regular enemies and do some good, but not spectacular damage to bosses. Fatal strikes work like an element system. Most special moves and normal attacks have a directional tendency, up, down or forward, or a combination of those. Hit an enemy repeatedly with 1 direction and its corresponding fatal strike icon will show up. the fatal strike you perform will then be the same direction as the attacks you wore down the enemy with. The fatal strikes themselves of each direction have different hit/miss properties and the different characters also have different fatal strike properties. It's not a big deal in boss fights, but later in the game when you have more special moves and comboing capacity at your disposal, you'll probably rely heavily on fatal strikes for many common enemies.
The limit system really changes the complexion of boss battles. You now have up to 4 limit gauges to charge. When you go into overlimit, you can choose how many gauges you want t use, from 1 to all 4. Using more will grant more benefits to the overlimit. From 1 to 3 though, unlike Abyss and Symphonia, you can still be staggered and stopped during overlimit, but as a physical fighter, you can chain unlimited combinations of special attacks and regular attacks without pause, and as a caster, all cast time is removed. The latter effect is the most important. The game seriously discourages using a physical attacker against many bosses as they all have innate shields that must be broken before decent damage and staggering effects apply. Sometimes the shield will even bounce your attack off, stopping your combo after the first hit. Even when you do get a combo off, toward the 2nd half of their life bar, they can randomly break out of the combo and smack you even without using their own overlimit. It would only be natural then to experiment with overlimits on a caster. You'll find that certain spells can indefinitely lock bosses unlike combos until they use overlimit. when they do, chances are they'll be so mad at the caster they'll just chase her around all day until their overlimit wears out. It's powerful, and a bit sad that this one strategy dominates all others in most boss fights, but it's not terribly abusable for most of the game as you'll spend a lot of it with only 2 or 3 limits to blow, and the magic points are still a limiting factor to indefinite spamming.
In past tales games, it was usually a chore playing characters outside of the one or two main fighters, but Vesperia's non-generic, demon fang/sword rainers are very playable, each with their own nuances and specialties. Yuri's dog, Repede, for instance, doesn't have Yuri's combo potential, but he's a lightning bolt on the field, and his size lets a lot of attacks whiff him naturally. Add to that an ability that grants him a brief period of invincibility, and you have a great hit an runner. The voluptuous woman has slower and more basic ground attacks, and is overall a little cumbersome, but when she takes to the skies she can chain together very long combos, but unlike yuri, she's safe from other enemies in the sky.
The AI, if left to its own devices can be furiously dumb, but thankfully, this Tales game has one of the best AI strategy customization of any action RPG. Like in all previous tales games, you can turn skills on and off for your AI controlled mates, and you can cycle some present strategies to give them a general ballpark of what to do, but the beauty comes in that you can customize the set strategies with an immense number of options, such as when your allies should retreat, when they should use items, and what actions they should take. Your custom strategies are mapped to your controller and you can switch easily after a quick menu pause in battle. Never has handling AI's in action RPGs been this smooth.
The biggest holes in vesperia's gameplay are the dungeons. In both Tales of Symphonia games, there were a fair amount of puzzles in the game. There are 0 in Vesperia. The dungeons are all mazes in one form or another in that you're trying to get from point A to point B, which is the case with many puzzles. Instead of trying to plan each step up to that point, the way you would in a puzzle, Vesperia's mazes always present only 1 possible action, the only challenge is finding it. That means besides advancing the story, the only fun to be had is combat. While combat is fun, fighting hordes of trash enemies can grow tiresome.
It's hard to end a Tales review closing about its gameplay. From the puzzles (in this case, the only real puzzles are optional) to the mode of travel, to the combat system, Tales games, or more specifically, the console Tales games are just too similar to each other to warrant many words for those who have played other installments. The actual plot lines share many similarities, so much so that you can almost guess at which points in the game plot twists will occur. They do tend to have different sources of drama though. In Symphonia, lofty idealism about not settling until everyone was happy dominated most of the story. In Abyss, melodrama from identity crises and romance chugged the game along. Vesperia though presents a simpler story, with less volume in its plot than most other full Tales games. Yuri's no vagrant, but he's poor enough to be one, giving the story the vagrant/princess set up so common in lore across the world. Despite the fact that the story veers away from its characters, which had they been consistently developed, would probably have been the most nuanced characters in any Tales game, it's still hard to HATE anything about such simple, albeit tired Tale which in the end, still retains a bit of the bed time story charm its initial premise had going. Tales of Vesperia failed when it tried to widen the scope of an essentially character oriented story, but its saving grace is its simplicity.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Tales of Vesperia (US, 08/26/08)
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