- Title: Tales of Vesperia
- Platform: Xbox 360
- Publisher: Namco Bandai
- Developer: Namco Bandai
- ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
- Genre: RPG
- Pros: Very good music; solid voice acting; great dialogue and characters; fun combat
- Cons: Graphics could be better; story isn’t terribly original (but still good)
Story and Characters
Rather than going into story specifics (since, honestly, most RPG reviews just rehash the initial story blurb found in the instruction book since we don’t want to spoil the specifics of the story which make up the “good” parts … plus the story itself is pretty familiar if you have played a JRPG in the last 15 years), I want to focus on the characters of Tales of Vesperia. The cast includes all of the archetypes that JRPGs rely on – the well-rounded hero, a healer, a fighter, a mage, etc. – but each character has their own unique personality that really adds a lot to the game and keeps you coming back. Yuri is the reluctant hero. Estelle is the naive princess. Rita is the brash mage. Etc. You pick up new companions at a fairly steady rate, and they are all interesting independent of the main story. I also want to give special mention to the dog, Repede. He looks awesome (scarred face, uses a dagger to fight, and has a pipe in his mouth but doesn't ever smoke) and has more personality in a "Woof" than a lot of human characters in other games. You keep playing not so much because you care about saving the greater world around you, but because you care about the characters themselves.
The gameplay is generally pretty standard JRPG stuff. You travel from town to town, visiting shops and inns while solving everyone’s problems, and managing your weapons, armor, and skills. Something that surprised me is that experience and leveling up and skill advancement is all firmly in the background in Tales of Vesperia. If you choose to skip the post fight breakdowns you won’t even realize your characters have leveled up most of the time. It makes the game feel a bit more organic and realistic to realize you have leveled up by actually performing differently and better out on the battlefield rather than having a “Level Up!” graphic flashing at you constantly.
Speaking of the battlefield, combat in Tales of Vesperia is pretty darn fun. When you enter into a battle (by choice, no random battles here), battle mode pops up where you and three members of your party all fight against the enemies in real time on a large battlefield. It is a bit chaotic in battle when there are special attacks flying all over the place and a dozen enemies in the area, but it is also very cool. Your A.I. teammates actually do a good job of fighting so you don’t have to worry about them much and can instead focus on yourself. Combat plays out more like a basic fighting game than an RPG as you have regular attacks or magic attacks at the press of a button. Since it is all real time, you can move around the battlefield and hack down enemies any way you want. You have different magic attacks by holding a direction on the left stick and then pressing the A button. You also have high, mid, and low attacks with your standard strikes by holing up or down on the stick and pressing the B button. It is easy to learn and surprisingly satisfying. The combat isn’t all that difficult, and you can button mash your way through a lot of the game, but it is still a heck of a lot of fun, which is all that really matters. You can also change the difficulty in the game if a section is too tough for you, but generally the game is pretty easy.
Graphically, Tales of Vesperia is a good-looking game but it is hard not to feel a little let down by the visuals. The characters have a kind of simple anime look to them and the environments you explore aren’t all that detailed. The textures are rather simple and not all that impressive. Also, the skits I mentioned above may have some incredible dialogue, but they are presented with simple talking heads in boxes and the artwork looks like it was drawn in MS Paint. Don’t get me wrong, overall Tales of ToV is still a very nice looking JRPG, but compared to another Namco Bandai Xbox 360 RPG, Eternal Sonata, it isn’t even in the same league.
The sound, on the other hand, is very good in all aspects. The voice acting is great all around thanks, surely, to the solid script. The absolute best part of the presentation of ToV is the incredible music. Every theme fits the area and the mood perfectly and hooks you just as much as the gameplay and story does.
Overall, Tales of Vesperia is a game that gets pretty much everything right. It doesn’t exactly reinvent the JRPG wheel, but everything is executed to a level of near perfection that few other games can match. The music, characters, and combat in particular really stand out and make ToV truly special. Your first trip through the game will take around 40 hours, but getting all of the achievements will take more like 80. Tales of Vesperia is a great game all around that is absolutely worthy of a purchase.