Genre: Role Playing Developer: Namco Bandai Publisher: Namco Bandai Classification: PG Release Date: 26th Jun 2009 Platforms:XBOX360
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Tales of Vesperia, the latest instalment in the long running Tales series almost immediately won my heart. You start the game as Yuri, a young vagrant who is apparently known about his hometown for causing trouble. Yuri learns that the Blastia (think magic crystal) that pumps water through the slums he lives in has been stolen and the story begins as you hunt down the blastia thief. My heart was won by the second playable character you meet - Repede - Yuri's chum and constant companion, primarily because Repede is a pipe smoking dog. He doesn't talk - in fact he doesn't really add much to the game at
all, but he does add a dog smoking a pipe to the game, and that is more than enough for me.
On the whole the first thing to impress me were the graphics - The game looks like an anime. Previous games in the series used Cel Shading with various results, and all of the games from the very beginning have had a distinctly anime feel, but ToV seems to have mastered the art. There are some hiccups at times - the lighting is off occasionally and the optional conversations known as skits look incredibly feeble compared to everything else (In their defence, they are only supposed to be small diversions to develop the characters and their relationships), but overall the game looks amazing, and if you appreciate the art style you will definitely be happy with ToV.
The graphics also shine through during battles, which are hard and fast. Battles take place in real-time like all of the Tales games, you press B to make simple attacks, A to use your Artes (magic and special powers) Y to pause and bring up the in game menu and X to block. Battles are fantastic - they are simple enough to be accessible by a newcomer, but with enough depth to keep the most hardcore enthused.
The Grade system is back, awarding (or deducting) points based on how quickly you fought, how much damage you received, the kinds of attacks you used and the combos you executed. Grade points can then be traded later in the game's casino type place, or used at the end of the game to buy different options for your second playthrough, options like keeping your weapons, or tripling experience, or halving the damage you do (if you want a greater challenge.) The easiest way to get Grade points is through combos, and with the addition of a second control pad, combos become easier and an extra dimension is added to the combat.
Tales games have had multi-player battles since Tales of Phantasia - the first in the series, released on the Super Nintendo in 1995. Multi-player wasn't really talked about a lot though, until Tales of Symphonia for the Gamecube. Even then though, there were too many different and confusing fighting styles for anyone but an experienced player to join in with you, and while you were playing the game and controlling the actions, your partner was reduced to basically watching a really boring and stupid and annoying anime with terrible voice acting and horrible characters.
Tales of Vesperia still features different fighting styles, but there are enough similarities for a beginner to pick up on each character's play style pretty quickly. More importantly, while the story in ToV does have its flaws and its cliches, they are overwhelmed by the more interesting aspects. The characters fall into some typical stereotypes, but the voice-acting and character design are decent enough to help you get past that. All of the characters have deep motivations, and the voice acting does an excellent job of portraying those motivations throughout the game.
Yes it is true that Estelle is your standard naive princess type character, and Rita is your average angry teen girl, but surprisingly for such an anime-style game, all of the characters are fairly realistic. There is sincerity in the voice acting, and the combination of sincerity with the drives of each character makes the basic stereotypes easy to forget. Unlike most previous Tales games, where I avoided the skits like the plague, I actively seek them out in ToV, the characters are genuinely interesting and I look forward to finding out more about them.
There is plenty to do in ToV outside of battling and advancing the story though, as there are dozens of side quests. The side quests are a fun diversion for the most part, and some can net you excellent prizes. Cooking makes a return, bringing with it a cheaper and easier way to heal the party after battle or give your characters an added attack boost. Synthesis provides a cheaper alternative to buying weapons and items, and gives you access to weapons and items that can't be purchased anywhere. You may need to do some farming to get all of the monster parts you need, but the extra fighting will help boost your learning points which are put towards the new skill system - with skills being learnt by equipping certain items, and then being available for use by the character.
Tales of Vesperia is an excellent game, and definitely a worthy addition to the library of any fan of the jrpg genre. Its remarkable graphics and well thought out and voiced characters mark it as a definite achievement, and the sheer length and breadth of it means dozens of hours of entertainment. Plus there is a dog smoking a pipe.