Review by Metamania

Reviewed: 07/15/09

An engaging experience that no Tales fans should miss!

Make no mistake about it - role-playing games are now a demanding product these days. The market, in just about every territory, craves for the genre day by day. Of course, just like with any other genre, some role-playing games become excellent while others turn into an atrocity of its own making. Tales Of Vesperia, luckily, does not fall into the latter category. What Namco has done is nothing short of amazing. Brought to you by the same team that worked on the incredible Tales Of The Abyss (on Playstation 2), Tales Of Vesperia pulls out all the stops and leaves the player begging for more. From beginning to end, this unique role-playing game puts players in a roller-coaster ride that's filled with its own twists and turns and brings out the typical elements that make up an excellent Tales game. Of course, while some fans may feel this role-playing game does not break into groundbreaking territory, the experience, from start to finish, is nothing short of exciting, thanks in part to the fast-and-furious battle system and keeping up with a pace that doesn't go too fast, but doesn't go too slow either.

Players assume the role of Yuri Lowell, a good-natured swordsman that dwells in the lower quarter of the capital known as Zaphias. The world of Terca Lumires and its people rely heavily on a device called blastia. Blastia are devices that handles the needs of magic, such as barriers that are created to protect the townspeople from monsters that lurk in the world. One such blastia, the water core, which allows fresh water to regulate for the neighborhood in the lower quarter, has been stolen by a certain thief. Yuri, upon hearing of this, decides to investigate and bring the criminal to justice, along with getting back the water core blastia. What turns out to be a simple quest of regaining the water core blastia turns out to be an adventure that spans the entire globe. Like just about any other role-playing game, the game's protagonist is caught up in events that deal with subjects such as politics and war. Along the way, Yuri and his faithful sidekick, Repede, encounter new friends that join the cause - a sheltered princess, a weird, insecure mage, a cowardly monster hunter, a brave female dragoon, and a perverted old man, each with their own interesting history. Each character brings a unique, entertaining personality into the fold and shines brightly. Like in any other Tales game, they go through events that change them forever, for better and worse, and soon come to embrace each other as one family. For a role-playing game, a story must be enjoyable enough for the players to keep their eyes glued to the screen and Vesperia does not falter in that task, creating a bright, serious, but fun atmosphere that one cannot help but be attracted to. Although there are some loose ends that should have been explained better, the story covers up everything you need to understand by the time you are through with the adventure and even when you are, you may be begging for more Vesperia goodness.

What makes the story perhaps more compelling is the fact that the party converses with each other on a daily basis through skits. These skits contain either serious or funny dialogues that offer the player more insight about each character and the roles they play. Granted, since the skits are viewable on-screen through talking-head portraits, some may feel that this would bring less interaction. Rest assured, however, they do show plenty of emotion, depending on the subject, as they change facial expressions as the talking-head portraits move around on the screen, just to give you a good idea of what's going on. Add to the fact that voice acting plays a pivotal role in these skits and you won't be stuck having to rely on your brain to come up with voices of your own to match these characters and their engaging, vibrant personalities. More on the voice acting later, but one thing is for sure - the dialogue is very well-written and makes the story even stronger, enough to the point of where you actually care about both hero and villain, whatever their intentions may be. If you don't feel like watching the skits at all, that's ok - you can always stop the skit at anytime and move on, but they should be viewed in your first play-through so that you can glean a better understanding of the story and how it all plays out in the end, which is nothing more but a satisfactory, amazing tale from start to finish. Players should not be expecting a bad plot at all, despite the loose ends that the developer forgot to explain better.

Perhaps the biggest drawback for Tales Of Vesperia is its lack of originality. In fact, the scenario may be familiar to veterans and even newcomers to the role-playing genre. You'll spend most of the game traveling to towns in order to gather both information and supplies before heading off to the next dungeon or venturing around the outside world. Yet neither the dungeons nor the outside world is a safe place, as it is filled with monsters. The good news is that monsters are visible on the screen, which gives you the option to either fight or pass by them. Some monsters, however, eventually run into you and a clash between the two parties will occur. Just like in Tales Of The Abyss, you can have up to four party members at once. The goal is to make sure that your party emerges victorious before the enemy group reaches its goal first. One similar that can be found in both Abyss and Vesperia is the use of combat strategies that you can set for your allies, allowing them to function the way you'd like them to. For instance, you have two characters assault the enemy with physical attacks while the other two can stand back and conjure up both offensive and defensive magics to aid you. Like in Abyss, the possibilities are endless and your allies do serve you well, no matter which route you decided to take as far as party customization is concerned. Unfortunately, some players may get the impression that button-mashing your way to victory would be the quickest path to gaining countless victories. However, that is simply not the case, as the difficulty will increase as players face off against new foes, small and big alike, and you will have to switch tactics accordingly in order to win.

Instead of following the route that Abyss took with the battle engine, Vesperia's battle mechanics has been simplified and toned down, making it a system that may become limited to some, but completely fun and enjoyable on the other hand. Like every other role-playing game before it, Vesperia also allows the player to engage their foes in combat and gain both experience and skill points, which is used to gain new skills and abilities. More on this later, but the good news is that Artes, a form of magic that essentially carries magical properties, also makes its return for another round in Vesperia. Thus, the options for attack has been greatly increased. Players can either hack and slash their way to victory, solely use magic, or combine the power of both physical and magical means to dish out an assault that may not be enough for the enemy to withstand for the entire match. Both tactics must be used wisely in order to achieve victory, as the monsters go from being extremely easy to very difficult. Of course, that all depends on which difficulty you decide to play it through, the hardest one being on unknown difficulty, where every monster proves to be a threat, no matter how insignificant they become early on.

Much like in Abyss, you can also overcome the difficulty in various ways. Gone are the field of fonons that was witnessed in Abyss, in which a small circle appeared and if either you or the enemy step into it at the right time, their chosen Arte will be altered for powerful damage. In its place is Fatal Strikes, which is essentially a fatal strike that can either inflict a large amount of damage or kill the enemy instantly. In order to utilize this new method, players must hammer away at a foe with certain strikes and artes that associate with a different color. During the chaos and destruction amidst the battle, a certain colored glyph appears for a brief time. By quickly hitting the right trigger at the right time, your chosen character will unleash a fatal blow, depending on which way the arrow is pointing in the middle of the glyph. If the glyph was pointing up, for example, an aerial strike will commence. Not a single monster or even a boss has the power to execute a fatal strike, which allows you the advantage in some fights. Fatal strikes are not only dangerous against the enemy, but can also save your butt if the party is near death and only one character remains alive. Luckily, they don't appear all the time and don't need to relied on constantly in order to win, as you can also make do without them, but in several situations, they do become a lifesaver.

Not only fatal strikes become helpful, but so do overlimits and burst artes. For starters, to the left of the battle screen is a meter, which represents your overlimit. As you give and take damage, that meter increases to a certain point. Once it reaches that point, you can tap the directional pad in any direction, which allows your character to become stronger for a limited time only. Without interruption, you can chain both physical and Artes attacks as high as you can go, which not only intensifies the assault, but can put your opposition into a whirlwind of trouble as well! There are a few key items that will increase the usage of the overlimit for a longer period of time. Not only are you able to activate it manually, but you can also order your characters to use the overlimit at a certain point if necessary. Meanwhile, burst artes can be used right after a regular arte by holding down the A button and a stronger spell appears seconds afterward to inflict more pain. Just like the fatal strikes, neither of these two are absolutely necessary or even heavily-reliable. You can make do without either force and just wail away with your own personal set of combos and arte strikes of your choice, but they are completely optional and do help out the party in tight situations, so it may be a good idea to rely on them every now and then in order to get the job done.

One of the earliest lessons that any newcomer or veteran of the role-playing genre will learn is that preparation is the key to winning. One of those ways is through the skill system. Weapons play an important role in Tales Of Vesperia and the developer decided to make them an important factor to your party, not to mention blatantly taking a page from Final Fantasy IX, a fantastic role-playing game on the PSOne. As with Final Fantasy IX, each and every weapon is imbued with a particular skill or ability. In order to gain that skill or ability, you must first have the weapon equipped, then you must head out into battle. With every battle under your belt, you will gain skill points. When you reach a certain amount of skill points, up to three skills, depending on the weapon, would then be mastered. Once mastered, you can immediately unequip that weapon and equip a new weapon that has a new set of skills or abilities that has yet to be learned. You can then enter the skills menu and decide to either arm yourself with that skill or not. Some skills in the game may be useful, others not so much, but they do indeed play a critical role to your party's success, as it is a part of the customization that is to be discovered in Tales Of Vesperia, although it should be mentioned that this unique skill system is simple and not complex, so it definitely doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it all out.

Another part of essential preparation is what any player must do in order to see victory attained in the end - constant grinding, as in leveling up your party. For each level increased, so too will stats also increase. At first, the process of grinding may take a longer time, but once you reach the limit, which is at the two-hundred mark, your party will be at its very best. You can also use various weapons, armor, and accessories to beef up your stats in order to make your party stronger in all areas. You can discover these important objects in either a shop in any town or through treasure chests. Of course, players can challenge themselves by not donning the best equipment possible and making it hard for themselves, but you probably will not get that far, especially on the later difficulty. It should also be mentioned that you are given the option to synthesize, meaning that you can combine a few items for a better product in the long run. You can perform this unique feat at any shop that deals in weapons, armor, and accessories, although it does cost gold and specific items that are dropped from all sorts of enemies. The more you synthesize, the more items you'll unravel and may become very crucial in some fights.

One of the biggest frustrations a few gamers may encounter are the battles themselves, as some of them may be long, perhaps becoming a repetitive chore to go through. In Vesperia, however, battles are painless and can be done within a short amount of time. However, boss battles are different and will take longer to complete, as they come into the fight with higher stats and at an increased level. They can either fight your party solo or are backed up by minions of their own, which forces the player to rely on a different strategy instead of the one that works out most of the time. Players will need to choose their decisions both quickly and wisely, not to mention staying frosty throughout the duration of the battle. Of course, there may be a time when one of your characters gets assaulted on a constant basis and ends up dead in a quick fashion or even your entire party dying all at once, thus resulting in a "Game Over" or two. Luckily, one of the best options that has remained a staple in the Tales series is the multiplayer option. Although done locally and not through online means, you can have up to three other friends to join in the melee and share in the fun and craziness, thus taking a major weight off your shoulders. While the action in itself is not at all difficult to watch at all times. But there may be a few times when you are completely focused on killing the bad guys and don't realize that one of your characters is dead until it is too late. So it is highly recommendable that you find a few friends who are willing to share the adventure with you. Not only does it make the experience easier on you, but also makes the ride more enjoyable as well instead of going through the game solo.

Replay value is especially important in an role-playing game and there's plenty of it to be found in Tales Of Vesperia. When you are not exploring the world, tackling different beasts, or unraveling new twists and turns to the main story, there are numerous tasks to be done. You can undertake many sidequests that may or may not reward you well. Cooking also returns here, but you don't necessarily have to make every character cook and master all the recipes found unless you feel otherwise, but the food, when cooked, does give you a boost when you feel it is needed. You can even enter the typical coliseum and engage yourself against as many as up to two-hundred foes, provided that you meet certain requirements, although this time, you will only be able to choose one character and go solo, although all characters, if equipped and leveled-up properly, will be able to undertake the fight with minimal concern. So while some of these options are both optional and worthy distractions if you get tired of the main quest, you'd still have to beat the game. Doing so will unlock another staple trademark of the Tales series - a grade shop. The grade shop, if you earn the right amount of grade before game completion, will enable the player different options to carry over to their new game, such as keeping all of your skills and artes or unlocking all the skits that you missed out the first time around. Even if you have beaten the game, there is still a lot more to accomplish, such as the achievements, which is very important. Some are easy to accomplish, such as synthesizing your very first time, while others are difficult, such as defeating a specific boss under a certain level. These achievements are exceptional challenges and worthy of your time, especially if you consider yourself a die hard Tales fanatic and wish to obtain everything in the game before it is all said and done, as it will take multiple playthroughs, since it is impossible to get everything the first time through.

Aesthetically, gamers will be pleased to discover a radiant, vibrant world that does not hurt the eyes at all. The game's visuals use cel-shading and it works here wonderfully. All the characters animate well, using gestures and facial expressions to express their personas to the fullest. As far as movement is concerned, everything runs smoothly and without any hint of faltering, even when there is much action happening on the screen all at once. Once again, Kosuke Fujishima, the same artist that worked on Tales Of The Abyss, also returns to draw the characters and the unique landscape that they live in and the artwork does not disappoint. Each new town and dungeon supply a new look and never feels the same, but it may get old to look at when you have visited the area dozens of times or even stay in the same battlefield for a long period of time. Even so, there is always something new to see and you won't be staying long in one area, especially when you first earn your airship. You'll encounter enemies that are different from each other and look awesome, especially with cel-shading technology to back it up. Tales Of Vesperia is the first to gain new ground in the visuals and none of the other Tales games even come close to matching the beauty and grace that is seen here. Of course, one may argue that the worlds that inhabit other Tales games may appear to be better then what is seen here, but that is all a matter of opinion and a discussion that must be saved for another time. Suffice to say, the visuals are some of the best seen on the XBox 360 and do not let down players whatsoever.

However, one more similarity can be spotted between Abyss and Vesperia and that lies within the sound department. On one hand, the voice acting is nothing short of brilliant. Each character comes alive and their voices fit both the general mood and tone of the game, not to mention making it easier for the player to embrace them. It does not matter whether you are listening to an ally or a villain, as the voice actors that were chosen for the job do indeed do their jobs just fine. Not once will you have to cringe in your seat at all. This is how voice acting should be done - the right way. Some games, unfortunately, do go down the route of bad voice acting, but luckily, players will not that discover that area. So if the voice acting, coupled with the typical sounds that you regularly hear from an role-playing game, such as battle cries, work out just fine in the end, then how does the music hold up? The good news is that you won't find a bad track here and it is indeed a boon from the gods as well, just like in Abyss. Players will be delighted to hear a mix of everything, whether it is classical or hard rock, depending on the mood that is currently displayed at that moment. Sad melodies will fade in to convey the sense of sadness when appropriate and when things get a bit frantic, the music cues up at a high pace. Not once does the soundtrack feel out of place. Of course, some tracks will eventually become forgettable and perhaps not even essential, yet those few tracks even feel right and do have their moments when it is needed. Kudos to Namco-Bandai for delivering a pleasing soundtrack that is indeed worthy to music listeners and role-playing aficionados alike.

So while there is it high praise to be had for Tales Of Vesperia, along comes a couple of complaints that do need to be addressed. For starters, even if the story is well-written and executed beautifully, some of the plot holes were rushed and should have been given a little more time to be polished better. Perhaps that was an oversight that the developer missed, hence perhaps one of the reasons why a remake is currently in development for the Playstation 3 as of this writing. Second, the difficulty was actually a bit too easy, even on the hardest difficulty level that's given in the game. If you manage to make your characters the strongest they can become, no foe can overcome your party, not even the most difficult bosses in the game. Of course, they could kill your party easily a few times, but that doesn't mean that they are impossible to kill. On that note, some of your characters are completely broken when powered-up to the max, especially the mage that you are given. If you equip her with the right set of skills and have a certain arte assigned to her, chances are that the enemy will not be given a single turn to hurt you at all. By rapidly performing this one spell with ease, she becomes an overpowering character. Again, the developer must have missed this oversight and one can hope that this is also corrected in the Playstation 3 version as well.

Even with all of these minor complaints, this shouldn't stop you from not playing the game. In fact, this is a worthy role-playing game to go through, if only once. While other role-playing games on the XBox 360, such as Star Ocean 4 and Blue Dragon, offer their unique entities to the gaming world, they aren't strong enough to deal with what's offered here in Tales Of Vesperia. By purchasing or renting this game, players will get their money's worth. A vibrant world to explore, a cast of characters that are both wonderful and exciting to know, a fun battle system, along with great visuals and an excellent soundtrack to back it all up, and you will definitely discover a fantastic RPG to behold here. Thus, it is highly recommended not to miss out on this unique, fun experience, as it is not only a worthy addition to the already expanded Tales series, but it is definitely one of the best role-playing games to ever land on the XBox 360.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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