Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition
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As the seventh generation of videogame consoles was getting underway, the Xbox 360, surprisingly, developed a bit of a niche for Japanese RPGs, prominent titles including the Mistwalker-developed Blue Dragon and the then-latest mothership Tales game, Tales of Vesperia. Although it would receive a port to the rival PlayStation 3, said version would remain in Japan, but in celebration of the title’s tenth anniversary, Bandai Namco published an enhanced iteration called Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch, the last version this review covers.

Vesperia occurs in the world of Terca Lumireis, in a universe completely different from the other mainline Tales games akin to Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy franchise, this particular installment’s world utilizing the energy source blastia for its needs such as erecting barriers around cities to defend against monsters. The protagonist is Yuri Lowell, an ex-Imperial knight who along with his companions, including the noblewoman Estelle, forms the guild Brave Vesperia, which deals with the planet’s various rival factions that have divergent intentions regarding the abuse of Terca Lumireis’ resources.

Throughout their journey, Brave Vesperia encounters various enemies on the overworld and in dungeons indicated by wandering monster models, and while the ability is unavailable on the world map, the active character can fire a blast from the Sorcerer’s Ring, also occasionally used in puzzle-solving, to stun a monster, make it dizzy to give the player’s party an advantage in battle, or anger it, in which case it will charge the player, as the foe sprites tend to do anyway when the player’s character comes close in their eyesight, fights triggered upon contact.

Consequentially, the player’s party of four active characters faces off against a number of foes in real-time combat similar to that in prior series installments, particularly Tales of the Abyss, where the player controls one character in a linear range of motion dictated by their current target, although free-range movement is possible, the AI or up to three additional players controlling present allies. The controlled character can string a chain of attack combos against the targeted foe, along with base and arcane artes, occasionally unlocked in the heat of battle.

Victory nets all characters, including those inactive, experience for occasional level-ups, in addition to money and skill points used to unlock abilities from weapons and occasionally armor, akin to Final Fantasy IX, with a capacity for equipping these, and which provide effects such as additional battle abilities and additional strikes for combination attacks. Characters can use consumable items on themselves initially, although a skill allows their use on their allies, with occasional pop-up messages indicating imminent item use, the player able to choose whether pressing down the right analog stick will cancel it or give them the okay to consume the item, the team needing to wait before using another.

The battle system definitely works for the most part, with difficulty mercifully being adjustable, higher challenge settings increasing enemy health and allowing the opportunity to acquire more Grade Points upon victory, combat performance in most cases affecting its distribution (and which allow carryovers into EX New Game playthroughs, this reviewer in particular, playing on the easiest difficulty, ending the game with a grand total of zero points). There are also issues with the encounter system, the Sorcerer’s Ring for instance having poor hit direction alongside the randomization of the effect a blast will have on a visible foe, although Holy and Dark Bottles can respectively decrease or increase enemies’ noticing the player. Regardless, combat remains fun throughout the game.

Gameplay outside battle, though, could have used more attention from the developers, given issues, for instance, with the sometimes-vague direction on how to advance the main storyline, with a direction in the in-game synopsis, for instance, being outright false (saying a mansion lies east of a city instead of west like it actually is), alongside the typical Japanese RPG tradition of save points (though a few fully restore the player’s party). Dialogue during skits, unlike in standard cutscenes, is further unskippable, though the latter are for the most part entirely skippable. Fans of the unrealistic game-padding gimmick, furthermore, will appreciate the toroidal overworld connecting towns and dungeons. Even so, the creators could have definitely given interaction a once-over.

The narrative, moreover, is fairly derivative of those in the Legaia games, with the concept of elemental forces repelling enemies from towns filched from that franchise’s first installment, and the early goal of retrieving a water-producing blastia stolen from its only sequel. The trio of guards who perpetually hound Yuri in company also bring to mind Solt, Peppor, and Ketchop from Chrono Cross, and a late-game quest of acquiring elemental spirits echoes prior Tales titles’ narratives. For the plot to make sense was miraculous, given the lackluster quality of the localization, with a dash of redundant dialogue, occasional grammar errors, and terrible names such as Prince Ioder, aer (pronounced just like “air”), Adephagos, Phaeroh (with no Egyptian culture or mythos playing part in the game), etcetera.

As with most JRPGs, furthermore, combat gets the blunt of the game’s lousy writing, with the typical unrealistic tradition of characters calling the names of their attacks (or parts of them), and there seems absolutely no reason, aside from drugs, why anyone would think it natural for characters to proclaim things such as “The sign of victory!” when winning battles. The English voicework, however, is otherwise half-decent, aside from characters with dialects such as Patty with her “pirate” speech and Raven with his “hillbilly” dialect that sound perfectly normal (and the original Japanese voices are available). However, full marks go to regular series composers Motoi Sakuraba and Shinji Tamura for another enjoyable soundtrack, with the opening anime’s theme song “Ring a Bell” dubbed in English, serving at times as a central theme. Despite the issues, the sound is more than tolerable.

The same goes for the visuals, which utilize a cel-shaded style and generally look pleasant, aside from a wildly-inconsistent framerate, occasional blurriness, and the skit style of conversing square character portraits sometimes being averse to what actually occurs during those supplemental cutscenes. There are a handful of anime cutscenes, as well, and the graphics generally don’t hurt the game.

Finally, the game’s length is modest, somewhere from one to two days’ worth of total playtime, with the mentioned EX New Game making for plentiful lasting appeal.

Overall, Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition definitely has plenty of things going for it, such as the signature solid gameplay native to the series, the great soundtrack, the decent visuals, and plenty reason to come back for more. However, it does have issues in areas such as control, particularly regarding the sometimes-poor direction of the narrative and unskippable skit dialogue, not to mention the inconsistent visual framerate and especially the awful writing. Regardless, those merely seeking a good gameplay experience will likely find much to celebrate, especially if they didn’t play previous incarnations of the game, with the worldwide release of the port affirming Bandai Namco’s commitment to keeping the franchise relevant outside Japan.

The Good:
+Solid Tales gameplay.
+Great soundtrack.
+Nice graphics.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Game often doesn’t explicitly say how to advance.
-Unskippable skit dialogue.
-Awful writing.
-Inconsistent graphical framerate.

The Bottom Line:
Has issues, for sure, but is still a good game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 5/10
Localization: 4/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 7/10

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