Tales of Vesperia follows the story of a group of people led by a former knight called Yuri to chase down a friend called Flynn and probably save the world or something along the way. I don’t know I wasn’t paying attention, and I pretty much stopped caring after the first boss fight.
People who regularly read my reviews (all three of them), may notice that this is something of a break from tradition. While my work always has a touch of the Gonzo about it, I try to remain objective, truthful, and above all, professional. This review is going to be very different as I have suffered a crushing and absolute disappointment with Tales of Vesperia, and the JRPG as a whole. Objectivity will be lacking- you have been warned.
As always, I start with the meat and potatoes of any videogame, the game play and the mechanics. Tales of Vesperia remains on track with the usual JRPG model of levelling and making items and finding new equipment, getting more powerful and repeating this process in different places until the credits roll.
Of course, the ‘Tales Of’ games are renowned for one deviation from this formula- the real time combat. The rest of the game is, to be honest run of the mill for JRPGs the world over. You have your item screen, your status screen, your magic screen (Called Artes in this for the sake of at least trying to look new), your equipment screen and so on. There was something to do with skills and things too- honestly I wasn’t paying attention and couldn’t have cared less.
The rest of the usual suspects are in there, you run around the world map, run into cities, kill something, solve the locals problems for them for no other reason than you’re such a nice guy, follow the trail of some guy called Flynn who doesn’t seem to want to wait for you even he knows you’re following him… you get the picture. If you don’t, then go and play Final Fantasy Seven, come back and you will. I’m not going to go into specific here because I can’t be bothered describing something that virtually every gamer on the face of God’s green earth has already played, bar three little differences.
When you see a monster on the map you can run into it and begin combat.
Which is a shame- right up to this point I was actually finding the game passable if a little bland.
The combat is poor. Namco had some really good ideas, but alas they were executed with all the grace of a pregnant hippopotamus trying to dance a waltz. The B button is your basic strike- but unless in overdrive mode (See Limit Break), you cannot hit more than three times before your character performs a flourish that leaves him totally defenceless- and then gets hit in the chops. You can extend this combo by one move using an arte, which involved either pressing A, or pressing A with the Left stick pointing in a certain direction. Likewise the basic strike also changes depending on the direction of the left stick (Not that it makes ANY difference). You can also defend with the X button. Pushing the left stick up makes you jump- which serves no purpose beyond fucking up every fifth attempt to execute a move assigned to the up direction.
Then you have Y which opens your menu where can change strategies (Die facing the enemy or Die running away), use items (Revive someone just to a monster can KO them again 3 seconds later), choose to reassign your artes and equipment, and so forth.
Cap all this off with AI controlled partners who work fine right up until the enemy knocks someone out (they then proceed to all die horribly for some reason), and you have a recipe for shit sandwich.
To be honest, the battle system isn’t awful when you’re facing off against regular mooks, and even if it is VERY counter intuitive, you still get used to it after a while- in the same way you’d get used to having a rabid ferret stuffed down your trousers. No, for all its poor execution, the reason combat is so hopelessly frustrating comes down to one reason- levels.
Boss fights are over one way or the other very quickly. You either get your ass handed to you on a plate, or you walk all over your enemy. You can also take option three which is to run around in free movement mode and try to be tactical, but if you need to resort to this- you’ve already lost. The difference between the power of each level is staggering, and each boss is always at least four levels higher than you. This means one thing.
And this is the reason I cannot forgive Tales of Vesperia. I could overlook the clunky combat once I was used to it (Though it could learn a LOT from Star Ocean TLH on how to do it properly), the characters where actually nice for a change, and while it took me hours to get anywhere, at least I was getting somewhere. But after cursing my way through the third boss fight I realised- the only way to actually get past these C**** is to grind until your level is on par with theirs.
I do not grind. It is a pointless, boring waste of time. It is a weak tool used by inept game developers to extend the length of their games. Many JRPGs manage to balance out the XP curve and the difficulty curve very well, ensuring that grinding is kept to a minimum provided you don’t try to rush every section. Tales of Vesperia takes the balance, bends it over a table and (Insert graphic sexual phrase here)’s it until it cries for mercy.
There’s one other way- you can buy levels from Xbox Live. I’m not kidding, you can actually BUY levels up in groups of five for 200 Microsoft points each. What the fuck is this!? One of those online flash RPGs where you need to pay for the good stuff? It’s pathetic! I shouldn’t have to pay even MORE money just so I don’t have to spend an hour dicking about fighting monsters to reach some arbitrary level. What is wrong with you people!?
To cut a long story short, the game play isn’t awful, but the combat system is hugely clunky and the XP curve means you NEED to grind unless you want to spend even more money on the game than you already have. It also takes hours and hours to actually get anywhere in the story, after three hours I was just bored stupid.
Tales of Vesperia is very pretty. The Cell shading works really well for the style, and the anime cut scenes are well drawn. Special effects and attacks look great and the monster and character design are equally cool. The vistas and views are also breath taking and I have not experienced ANY slow down over the course of the game. Top notch.
For once, the voice acting was brilliant, the characters sounded real and there were no voices that made me want to scream (Squeaky high pitched female voices ref- FINA, or Children with helium enhanced vocal cords). Note to square Enix, outsource your dubbing to Namco in future. Seriously. You guys just fuck it up by comparison.
Everyone’s been giving this game rave reviews, but to be honest I was distinctly underwhelmed. The JRPG genre has become stagnant, stale, old. Western RPGs are just so much better- they have greater variety, better characters and most importantly they are not afraid to abandon the pre defined lines and structures to create something unique.
I suppose all I can say is that if you’re looking for something new from the JRPG, you won’t find it here. On the other hand if you love JRPGs for what they are, and think grinding is a good game mechanic (All you WoW fans out there), then you’ll probably enjoy it.
Me? I’m gonna get drunk so the grinding isn’t quite so boring and give it a few more hours to convince me that I shouldn’t take it back to the shop and trade it in while the value is still high.
I doubt it will work.
Graphics: 10/10 Visually stunning.
Sounds: 9/10, Excellent voice acting, score could have used some work.
Gameplay: 5/10. A big disappointment. XP curve wrecks what could be a great game.
Fun: 3/10Grinding is not fun. Taking hours to get to the point is not fun. Boss fights that you either need to be overleveld for or die is not fun. This game is not fun.
Overall: 6/10. (Not an average) if you like JRPGs, tales of Vesperia will probably already be on your shelf. If not, avoid it unless it’s going cheap.
On a final note, most of the stuff I’ve railed on is explored in greater detail here.