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Tales of Vesperia


The Tales series has been quite the mainstay among the Japanese role-playing crowd for a number of years. With multiple installments in the series across a multitude of consoles there are definitely enough titles out there to draw name recognition. Granted like Final Fantasy they are mostly self-contained and typically have little to do with each other. The last outing for the Tales franchise proved to be a decent, if not bland, entry into the J-RPG genre. Does the latest pick up the slack?

Released exclusively for the Xbox 360, Namco Bandai's Tales of Vesperia came out some time ago and it has undoubtedly peaked the interest of fans of the franchise, admirers of anime, or anyone simply looking for a good RPG on the console. If you have been following Tales all along then rest assured that Vesperia is undoubtedly one of, if not the best installment in the series. Many of the series' trademark elements return and they combine with a fascinating world full of interesting characters, a fun story, and plenty of gameplay to sate your RPG cravings.

Tales of Vesperia follows the adventures of a young man named Yuri Lowell. An ex-knight, Yuri doesn't exactly see eye to eye with the vision of the Empire, the knight's order, or his friend Flynn. When the Lower Quarter's Blastia (an ancient magical device that possess special abilities when applied) is stole Yuri and his pipe smoking dog Repede attempt to find the thief and retrieve it. In the process he's captured, brought to prison, and eventually escapes with a girl named Estelle. They team up and go off to look for Flynn while at the same time attempting to track down the Blastia thief. Along the way they find new allies such as the young Guild member Karol, hot-tempered mage Rita, perverted old man Raven, and a mysterious woman named Judith.

A lot happens to Yuri and the gang during their journey across the globe, but not all of it is something that can really be explained here. There are many intricacies in the plot and unfortunately a lot of what's going on or said is lost in translation from the original Japanese to English. Long drawn-out conversations, cut scenes, and seemingly random elements are peppered throughout the game, but in the end most of them come together. What drives the game's story is the interaction between the characters which carries a lot of charm as events are more or less told through their perspective. It's not the greatest narrative in the world, but it's a lot of fun and coupled with the addictive gameplay you're going to have a blast.

Gameplay


If you have played any of the previous Tales games then you already know that the combat engine here is addictive beyond reason. Grinding for levels becomes less of a chore and the pacing of the game is fast and furious because of the battle system. Basically once you enter battle you are in control of one single character. From there you're free to move about the battlefield which means you can run in close to an enemy or run away if you're in need of healing. Attacks are done with a single button press and there are a variety of strikes you can pull off based on the direction you're pressing. It creates a very action-oriented RPG experience that feels partly like a brawler, which is a big part of Tales' success story.

In addition to regular attacks each character can perform special maneuvers called Artes. These can be button mapped and much like the regular attacks they are executed by pressing a direction and the appropriate button. Artes vary in range, damage, and elements so it's always important to find which ones work best for you. They also evolve over time, can be expanded on during Over Limit Breaks (I'll get into this in a second), and you can learn new ones as you progress through levels. Artes do have a cost associated with them though, as is the case with most magic in RPGs, so use them strategically.

Thankfully while you do go through battle controlling one character, you have three other members in your party. These other characters are controlled by the AI and are more or less smart. When running on their own they will balance attacks between regular and Artes, use healing magic if health is low, and toss items around whenever necessary. The nice thing about this party system is that you can issue commands on the fly. That means if you want everyone to conserve their technique points or focus on defense then you can do so simply by bringing up the combat menu. It's even possible to control what Artes they use so if you want Rita to launch a barrage of fireballs at a boss, then by all means.

Outside of battle, Tales of Vesperia works like most other J-RPGs do. Towns are scattered throughout the land to offer you a place to collect information, trigger events, rest at inns, and buy stuff at shops. You'll travel across an overworld to get from location to location, go through dungeons, and fight bosses. Battles are thankfully not randomized so you don't have to worry about being jumped while walking across an open plain. Instead you'll see an enemy appear whether its in a dungeon or on the map and you can more or less choose to make contact with them or not. There are also items which affect this leading to more battles or less, depending on the effect.

Another element to the game that is almost strictly a Tales thing is the ability to cook. It doesn't play a huge role in the game and it's not entirely necessary, but scattered throughout is a master chef who is hiding out. If you find him he'll teach you a new recipe which you can then make your own. With the proper ingredients you can cook food for your party that will heal them, replenish tech points, or raise stats for a short amount of time. It's more quirky than it is an important tool, but it comes in handy after some battles or in a pinch when you're low on items between towns.

Tales of Vesperia also includes the ability for up to three other players to participate in battle together with you via a single console. If you have a guest or a few over and you really want to level up your characters, you can toss them a controller so you don't have to worry about boring them. It's a nice inclusion for the RPG genre, which has almost always been a strictly single player experience.

Like most J-RPGs, Tales of Vesperia is a lengthy game that requires a lot of investment if you want to get the most out of it. Powering characters up can take you all the way to level 200, hidden bosses are scattered about, there are secret missions, and a multitude of things to explore. One play through will last a good chunk of time, and while a bit of that is spent in cut scenes and conversation, you can expect most of your play time to be strictly battles. Thankfully the combat is a hoot!

While there are many impressive elements to Tales of Vesperia, I would say one of its greatest achievements is its refinement. This installment is the culmination of everything that the Tales series has done to date and because of that it feels like a very well-balanced effort. Everything including the difficultly level, amount of backtracking, story development, character interactions, combat system, gameplay, and item management is fantastic. If you're looking for a new RPG for your Xbox 360 then this is definitely one to check out!

Achievements


The list of achievements for Tales of Vesperia presents a daunting amount of tasks to accomplish. From Secret Missions on just about every boss fight to leveling up to 200, traveling a ridiculous amount of kilometers to unlocking all sections of the map, and even unlocking all titles in the game to completing monster and item books. These achievements will eat up a massive amount of your time while you're trying to track them down. Casual gamers will at least pick up some Secret Mission achievements along the way as well as a few others such as completing a Fatal Strike to simply beating chapters and the game itself.

Video


With support for up to 1080p, Tales of Vesperia is a solid looking RPG. The trademark anime coat of paint is lathered on thickly here and just about every character, boss, and monster is painstakingly designed. Vesperia implements cel-shading masterfully as well and this is frankly about as close to interactive anime as you can get right now. The game simply looks gorgeous in this regard, though unfortunately it's not a completely flawless experience.

On the overworld map some of the textural details are lost to pixilation and blurring. Also if you're not utilizing an HD set you can expect some of the text to be very hard to read, which is kind of an important thing for a RPG. The game also finds itself unbalanced by the way it meshes cel-shaded in game graphics, with CGI elements, and animated sequences. It feels like a potpourri presentation sometimes that doesn't work out so well. Thankfully these iffy bits are few and far between and almost the entire game is an absolute stunner.

Sound


Another area where Tales of Vesperia leaves a very positive impression is the audio. With supported Dolby Digital, the soundstage comes to life amidst the action, ambient noise, and infectious music. The in game tunes are fantastic and do a great job of setting the mood and tone (though for my money Bonnie Pink's opening track really gets the upbeat attitude of this game right). The English voice cast does a fine job with the material here and though there are a few cheesy voiceovers here and there all around it's of good quality. Too bad the original Japanese track wasn't available though.

Conclusion


The Xbox 360 J-RPG market has certainly received a boost within the past year. With titles such as Blue Dragon, Eternal Sonata, Infinite Undiscovery, Lost Odyssey, and now Tales of Vesperia, you really have to wonder who Microsoft is attempting to cater to. It's well-known that the 360 just isn't doing well in Japan, but with a shift such as this in the titles that it signs it appears as though things are looking up. It's ironic that here in the States the games are doing well, but aren't exactly movers and shakers on the sales charts which is a shame.

Tales of Vesperia is a fantastic RPG that isn't to be missed by lovers of the genre. It is one of the better action-oriented RPGs to come along in a while and is arguably one of the best titles in the Tales library. This is a solid game from start to finish and it's a finely polished effort. Consider it highly recommended.