The Tales series makes a triumphant debut on Microsoft’s console.
For the fans of the series, there is much to love here, however is there enough here to draw 360 owning RPG lovers to the series? Costume titles? Cooking? Voiced Skits? Read on!
I’ve been a fan of the long running “Tales” series since playing the first installment available in the US, Tales of Destiny on the Playstation. With intriguing story, interesting characters, massive worlds to explore, and one of the first RPGs to allow up to four player battles, Tales shares has captured a not so large fanbase as that “OTHER” JRPG we all know, however enjoys a fanbase just as loyal.
Later Tales games were developed and released on next gen systems, Symphonia on the GameCube and Abyss on the Playstation 2. Players noticed with Tales of the Abyss on PS2, with all of the action onscreen, 4 players, either controlled by humans or AI, and at times many enemies, effects, magic, etc. things could get a bit s-l-o-w. Battles weren’t random, however to level up they are necessary, and at times the game felt like the proverbial Hulk about to burst out of his shirt. The game was aching for more horsepower.
This RPG lover is happy to report that with the technical capabilities of the 360, Namco Bandai delivers an entry which retains all that the fans love about the series, however provides a the next gen bells and whistles only a system with more horsepower can deliver.
The game begins by introducing our protagonist, Yuri Lowell, an ex-knight who has taken it upon himself to champion the poor folks of the capitol city, Zaphias, and Yuri’s trusty sidekick, Repede the Dog (Wolf?). Yuri and Repede are likeable from the beginning, who doesn’t like a guy that takes it upon himself to champion the downtrodden? And in Vesperia, the downtrodden are that, times 10, trod upon to the point where children kidnapped to “encourage” the parents to do work for various snarky nobles. Is this sanctioned by the Empire? These are the kinds of issues Yuri and his pseudo RPG stereotype group faces (Ditzy Healer, The Kid, The Pervert, Busty Melee Chick, etc.). I say Pseudo because, a few of the party members are not what they seem, and from through the course of the story, the stereotype is turned on its ear. I won’t belabor the story, playing the game will certainly do the story more justice than me giving you the Reader’s Digest version, I will say however that it is well told, and will keep you interested to the very end.
Graphically, Vesperia is wonderful in its HD glory. While not as beautiful as Eternal Sonata, Vesperia chooses not to compete in the “Wow, that is lovely water!” arena. Vesperia’s characters are well drawn and expressive. The environments and overworld Yuri and his group explore are equally well done. Again, Vesperia has retained what fans of the series love and improved upon it.
A huge draw for fans of the Tales series is the usual well presented relationship between the characters, and the witty sometimes adult banter which takes place between them. Vesperia doesn’t disappoint here, the Skits, brief interchanges which take place between characters while they are travelling, are fully voiced now. Gone is the silly miming of skits in past games. The voice acting is well done; the actors provide the right amount of emotion without being too melodramatic. The only complaint with the banter is that some of the dialogue seems to be the result of a rushed translation. Rather than rush translation, if the developer/publisher knows full well the game will release in English, translate WHILE the dialogue is being written, and not do a rush job after the fact? Just a suggestion, Namco Bandai. A game as great of this really shouldn’t suffer from moments of stilted conversation.
The next big seller of to Tales fans is the opportunity to gain “Titles” for each character. Sometimes the titles are gained by simply progressing through the story, others require participation in at times serious, and at times extremely silly side missions. Be warned though, in Vesperia two titles for the main character MUST be started very early in the game. I bought the Brady Guide to get through the game as quickly, yet as thoroughly as I could for my review, the afore mentioned guide was a waste of money, as it caused me to miss two of Yuri’s costumes titles. In past Tales guides, the writers of the guide will give the player a “heads up” when a mission needs to be engaged in the story, as beginning the mission can be as random as sleeping twice in a town, etc. And many of the missions are time based, they must be started before certain events in the game. Miss the mission? Out of luck, Chuck! Realizing that you have missed a costume title mission 50+ hours into the game is indeed annoying. So, if you want all the costume titles first play through, don’t buy the guide sold in stores. Save your money and use the various well written online sources.
Battles, rounding out the my Trifecta of Vesperia fun, take the “lather, rinse, repeat” chore out of level grinding. Characters have many different attacks, regular, Base Artes, and Arcane Artes. For the melee fighters, the Artes are special attacks that can be comboed together. For magic users, Artes can be used for healing, support, and offense, however the magic users require casting time. A point here, if your party members are AI, you can delegate tasks, such as “Keep Distance, Heal Allies, etc.” so that hopefully they don’t do moronic things during battles. Estellise, the “healer”, however fancied herself as a melee fighter. I was unable to make Estellise stick to her healing duties and stop attempting to pummel enemies, regardless of how I set her strategy which brings me to the option to have friends (local, not online) play as other members of your party. Vesperia allows for up to four players to control characters in battle. Which means hopefully your healer will stay away from the battle and heal! Another thing which makes battles in Vesperia fun is that the characters talk with each other during the battle, and discuss the battle in a brief scene afterwards. A character can cook one of the many recipes found in the game here as well to regain HP,etc. And due to what is under the hood of the 360, all this takes place sputter, lag and chug free.
The ability to synthesize better weapons, armor, etc. than you can buy in the game is another fun aspect of Vesperia. Items, which can be used for synthesis are dropped by the enemies, or found in various chests. You can buy a Bastard Sword with decent stats, however you can synthesize a Bastard Sword +1 with better stats and skills. Many of the weapons and armor have skill imbued, which can be learned while having the item equipped. Some of the skills remain after you remove the weapon, however some skills are tied to the item and can’t be used after the item is removed.
A new addition, and addition I thought kind of handy and some thought kind of insulting is the ability to buy stats, items, Gald (Vesperia monies!) on Xbox Live using MS Points. Does buying 300,000 Gald on Xbox Live make me a lazy, cheesey, casual gamer too lazy to grind for money? On the contrary, it makes me an extremely busy, gainfully employed full-time parent who lacks the time she used to have to level grind. And since one of my favorite costumes in Vesperia, to my digress, required A LOT of money, I said to Hell with it and bought the Gald. Yes, I purchased fake video game money…with my real money…which frightens me a bit, but I digress. I’m not so crazy about buying levels though, that teeters perilously on cheesiness.
In closing, Tales of Vesperia is a must buy for fans of the series, and a Must Try for those new to the series, or new to the genre. Vesperia is, what I hope, the tip of the iceberg for next gen capabilities as the series continues.
Now if they could just provide downloadable costumes on Xbox Live in time for me to justify spending real money on costume changes for video game characters…