The stage is set and it's all too familiar. We have our valiant young adult hero with his motley crew of teenage princesses, scholars, and even pre-teens. We have misguided enemies. A catastrophe on the horizon. This is a tale of adventure, of learning what it means to be a hero and of discovering the power of working together. This is Tales of Vesperia
, an Xbox 360 staple from a decade ago that is nowadays heralded as one of the best RPGs of this century and by many as the best Tales
game. I’d say there might be a hint of nostalgia coloring those loud proclamations from its fans. Ten years on, we’ve been gifted a second chance to reevaluate the game with all its cut content and the result is as inspired as my story synopsis in many ways, but there are still some glints of something special underneath the tropes that form the foundation of Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition
. At the very least, it’s a journey I’m glad to have had.
I'll be clear right from the outset: the story of Tales of Vesperia
leaves much to be desired. It’s full of surface-level JRPG and anime tropes to a degree that would sicken all but the most die-hard of fans in other games. If you’re looking for a rousing and original story, this absolutely isn’t it. In fact, the story is probably the game’s greatest misstep. But there is a saving grace that serves as a breath of fresh air: the characters.
Considering the quality of the story, you’d expect these characters to be vacuous and annoying. They aren’t. Instead, the lead character Yuri combines typical heroic bravado with a dark side molded by a sense of vigilante justice that tackles topics you wouldn’t normally expect. The other lead, Estelle, combines a stereotypical loving care with a journey of self-determination and empowerment that actually has some value. The rest of the characters do feature some traditional design, but even then it feels refreshing thanks to the ways some of the subject matter is handled. The full cast easily carries the game’s story and elevates it far above the average JRPG.
The world itself feels massive as you explore throughout the story. You’ll follow the traditional route of walking to your destinations, then sailing and finally flying around the mid-game, but throughout all of this there’s a sense of discovery to be had that works quite well. The dungeons aren’t sprawling, but they aren’t completely linear and each wrong path will typically reward you with quality items so the dungeon crawling feels worthwhile. Meanwhile, from a world-building perspective the dungeons make sense, as do the varied cities with different tones which make them fun to visit for the first time. The game is also chock-full of side quests and bonus dungeons that further expand the world and make it worth spending time in, though some of them are extremely obscure and you’d certainly need a guide to see everything.
Everyone recognizes Final Fantasy
as the most famous turn-based JRPG series, but throughout the years the Tales
series has shown itself to be the preeminent action JRPG series. Tales of Vesperia
carries that legacy well, and at the time of its release it added plenty of depth to the combat that made it much better. A skilled player will chain together large combos using various artes (special moves) and skills to deal damage and look flashy while doing it. When you know what you’re doing, this is really pretty fun. The boss fights can be especially challenging and occasionally frustrating thanks to AI that makes questionable choices, but ultimately with a good strategy you can tackle each of them and that victory will feel wonderfully earned.
However, the game unfortunately doesn’t do a wonderful job teaching you how all of these things go together, instead offering you a journal entry tutorial that covers only the surface level basics and then essentially tells you to figure out the rest yourself. This is bad design and since it’s not strictly necessary to learn all the intricacies, I’d wager the average player will miss out on a lot of the depth on offer. I only really learned how to properly chain attacks in the latter half of the game after watching the AI and trying to figure out how it did what it does. Some or many players will likely play the entire game using only basic combos and while that’s fine, it’s certainly a worse experience.
This Definitive Edition does bring with it some new content straight from the Japan-only PS3 release of the game. There are two new playable characters, Flynn, Yuri's childhood friend, and Patty, a little pirate girl who lost her memories and has a disturbing obsession with being in a romantic relationship with Yuri. Flynn doesn’t show up much and his presence in combat is a novelty, but Patty offers a new side story that’s been integrated within the main story and a unique fighting style that I found overwhelmingly confusing, but veteran players might appreciate as a challenge. In addition, minor changes to the story have been made to flesh it out and have a bit of added content, including two new story bosses, though the adventure overall will still be much the same. Finally, a large new post-game dungeon is available along with quite a few new mini-dungeons. As a bonus, the resolution is improved and the game's lovely cel-shaded anime art style still holds up.
The achievement list was hidden during review, but I can confirm the list appears to be much the same as the 360 version and likely identical to the PS3 trophy list
. You’ll still receive only a handful of story achievements. There are special achievements for completing certain tasks in most of the boss fights. You’ll get achievements for killing enemies. If the rest of the list holds up, you’ll also need to complete all of the side content, get every item and plenty more that make this achievement list a monolith to complete. Expect to spend around 100 hours with the game to get it all.Check out our Best Xbox RPGs Available in 2017 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
SummaryTales of Vesperia
earned its place in history as a classic JRPG when it released a decade ago. It's since been surpassed by newer, better games, but the framework still holds up as a quality experience after all this time. Sure, it's got an exceedingly forgettable story and its gameplay design isn't as easy to understand as one might hope. But it's also got a roster of characters that feel unique and that take on topics your average popcorn JRPG doesn't dare touch. Its combat has a ton of depth for those that dig deep enough and it's really quite fun. Its world design is excellent with secrets to discover everywhere and a clear path for those on a mission. This isn't the best JRPG you'll find on the market by any stretch, but it's certainly still good and those looking for a history lesson on how the genre used to be couldn't do better on Xbox One. Tales of Vesperia
is a title fans will be happy to revisit.
- Great characters who have depth and defy typical stereotypes
- Combat has a lot of depth and can be very flashy and fun
- The world design is excellent, evoking a sense of discovery while still being accessible
- Lots of bonus content with plenty of value
- The story itself is a lame duck with too many predictable turns
- Depth of combat is strangely hidden behind bad tutorials
This reviewer spent approximately 33 hours exploring the world, fighting enemies and bosses in dungeons and ultimately changing everything at the very end. He earned an unknown number of achievements. The game was played on an Xbox One X. A review code was provided by the publisher.
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