Before I delve into the review, one thing to note is that all my reviews for the media I consume will be positive. My main purpose of writing these reviews is just to let people know about some of the awesome stuff there is out there, and thus I have little to no cause to write reviews for things I dislike. Also, if I disliked a game/show, there’s a very high chance I won’t bother finishing it, and thus won’t have a complete, holistic view on the subject anyways. With that said, the Tales games are a series of JRPG titles published by Bandai Namco Entertainment, and are sort of similar to the Final Fantasy titles in how the franchise games are related to each other. They share similar game-play elements and general atmosphere, but narrative-wise each game (for the most part) is a completely different installment in different universes with different characters. Tales of Vesperia is but one of the games in the series, and the first I got to experience due to the release of the definitive edition for PC. The original game was released around 2008–2009, so the definitive edition PC port is something of a celebration of its 10–year anniversary. The last thing I expected was how well this game has aged, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment for a game that’s been out for 10 years (and was originally released on a previous generation console).
Tales of Vesperia follows the protagonist Yuri Lowell who sets out on a quest to recover a stolen item from his home town, which turns into something much larger in scope as he encounters different characters and gets tangled up in various scenarios across the world. The game-play system revolves around exploring the open world with smaller, more-developed regions, with combat being on a per-encounter basis. The combat features a real-time, party system where the player controls one of the characters in the party to defeat the enemies. In order to defeat enemies, your character has access to various “artes” which are basically techniques, and the combat focuses heavily on how you utilize and combine those artes to form different combos.
The combat system is definitely one of the more unique things about the game (I’ve heard that most of the Tales games share a similar system, but I haven’t played the other Tales games and I also haven’t played any other games outside of the series that has such a system). With Tales of Vesperia being my first Tales game, it did take me a little bit of time to get accustomed to the combat. The tutorials generally do a good job of explaining the combat mechanics, but it does take a bit of practice to actually apply some of the more advanced techniques in actual combat (never fear though, the game provides a “Battle Book” that explains all of the combat mechanics there are to learn). That said, the combat feels really rewarding once you actually get a grasp of them, as later on you’ll being unleashing multi-hit chains and stun-locking your enemies into oblivion provided you have the execution skills. The game also gives you more options as well by letting you play as anybody in your party, and not just as the titular character Yuri. Each party member has different abilities and characteristics, so if you ever get bored of Yuri’s play-style you can switch off to another party member. The party mechanics themselves are also interesting; you can have up to four members in your active combat party (there are a total of eight party members). Anybody who’s in your active party but isn’t being controlled by you is controlled by the AI, and you have the option to customize the AI to fight in a way that’s best for your current party composition.
The character progression in this game is also pretty great in its own right. You have your standard progression for weapons/armors, and can buy/synthesize better gear as you explore more of the map and defeat tougher enemies, but the skill upgrade system is where things get interesting. Each party member gains skill points when they level up that they can invest in, but rather than each skill being a permanent upgrade, each skill is a toggle that you need a certain amount of points to “enable.” It basically requires you to think about what skills to prioritize rather than just turning on all the skills as permanent, passive upgrades. What’s great about this feature is that you can customize your party for different battles; equip some skills to deal with a certain boss and then un-equip them when they’re no longer needed and use those points for other abilities. Another thing is that the skills themselves have to be acquired as well, and those do not come from leveling up but from using different weapons. Most weapons in the game come with certain skills, and by equipping that weapon, your character acquires that skill. By participating in multiple battles with that particular weapon, eventually your character “learns” the skill, allowing you to spend skill points to use that skill without being tied to that specific weapon. This makes it so that you don’t just blindly equip the weapon that has the highest attack rating, you also need to think about what skills you want.
The writing of Tales of Vesperia is not quite as polished in my opinion, but it’s still serviceable and does its job well enough to carry the game. The narrative follows a rather standard hero’s journey archetype so it doesn’t particularly innovate from a storytelling perspective. The writing is carried mostly by the main characters who form your party, and I found them to be entertaining and quite endearing. Aside from their interactions in the actual game, the game occasionally lets you view “skits” which are conversations between the characters about various topics, which adds more flavor to their personalities, and those were often quite enjoyable to listen to. I do have particular gripes with how the game handles Raven (one of the characters who joins your party) though. He’s essentially plays the elderly mentor role to the rest of the party due to his relative age while also coincidentally being a womanizer. There is nothing wrong with that, but a large amount of the interactions he’s in mainly depict him being a perverted creep to some of the party’s female members, which gets old fast. I don’t have any issues with a joke here and there, but he’s more or less reduced to a running gag for a large part of the story, which is a damn shame because he had the potential to be one of the most interesting characters in the party. There are a few characters in the story aside from Raven who don’t really serve much of a purpose aside from comic relief, which detract from the overall, rather serious story. I think the game suffers from some sort of an identity crisis where it can’t really decide whether it wants the player to take it seriously or not; there are a few moments in the game that are definitely more mature that make you question its young age rating, but then a few moments later some comic relief moment shows up which completely spoils what the moment could have achieved. I do think the writing could go a lot further if they made the overall tone more mature (maybe give it a higher age rating), and removed some of the excessive comic relief moments. However, because I found all the important protagonists to be likable, I didn’t really mind so much as I feel a large part of the story is defined by their character interactions.
My biggest gripe with the game aside from some inconsistencies in its writing would probably be due to how its quests are laid out. While this could be attributed to archaic game design philosophy (after all the original game came out 10 years ago), the quests in this game are rather difficult to follow. There’s only a synopsis covering what your party has done so far, but aside from that, there’s no quest journal to keep track of your main/side quests, so if you ever stop playing in the middle of something and return later, hopefully you remembered what you were doing because otherwise you’re going to have to manually figure it out yourself. The side quests are also not clear-cut at all, and it’s very easy to miss a large amount of the quests in the game without following some sort of guide, and there are a lot of quests with progression that makes you wonder how anybody could’ve accomplished the quest blind. I strongly recommend following a side quest guide while playing if you want to get the most out of the game.
This isn’t an inherent advantage or disadvantage, but Tales of Vesperia is also not a short game. It’s extremely long, and it’s packed to the brim with content, so if you enjoy the game’s basic plot and game-play systems, have no fear about running out of things to do, but if the game didn’t click with you then it’s not like you can just blitz through it to enjoy the story at least. I consider myself a completionist player, and I usually try to do everything in the game if it’s a game I enjoy and will complete. As a result, it took me roughly 70–80 hours to beat the final story boss, and this isn’t including the post-game content (including post-game content and some grinding I’m currently at around 100 hours). If you somehow finish all of that, the game even offers an NG+ mode that features a “Grade Shop”. Grade is an amount earned after every battle like experience and money, but Grade doesn’t do anything in the base play-through. However, when starting NG+, you can take all the grade you have accumulated through your first play-through and buy “features” to take with you to NG+, like buying the ability to increase your consumable item cap from 15 to 99 for example. NG+ also offers a new difficulty mode called “Unknown” for the more hardcore players. The length of the game and its replay-ability features are awesome if you’re a gamer with a lot of time to dedicate.
Overall, Tales of Vesperia is an excellent game with an intriguing and fun combat system, with a decent story and likable characters, and I would recommend this game to anybody who’s a fan of JRPG’s or is interested in the Tales franchise. While not everything in the game is as smooth as modern day titles, it still holds up impressively well for something released a decade ago.
Rating: I personally think it’s worth retail, but definitely at least worth getting on sale if you’re averse to paying retail price for a game that’s technically released a decade ago.