Namco Bandai's Tales series of RPG titles have been delivering their unique take on the action RPG since Tales of Phantasia hit the Super Famicon in Japan back in 1995. Since then the game has undergone various tweaks and changes, adding new gameplay elements and translating the innovative combat systems into the realm of 3D to keep up with the changing times. Now the series reaches a new milestone with the release of Tales of Vesperia for the Xbox 360, the first Tales game to grace current generation consoles. Is this new title a fresh start for the franchises, or is it just an old book with a shiny new cover slipped on? See how the story unfolds after the jump.
The Combat System: This is probably the best 3D Tales combat yet. The addition of Burst Artes and Fatal Strikes, along with tweaks to the Overlimit system make for a much more satisfying battle experience over previous titles. The new encounter linking feature that allows you to link multiple on-map enemies together into one massive encounter adds some excitement to grinding up levels.
The Storyline: While the game does fall back on a fair number of RPG clichés, I found the overall storyline and much of the character development extremely satisfying.
The Sound: You'll hear nothing but top-notch anime talent from the main characters and villains in the game. There's only one truly annoying voice in the lot, and I'm pretty sure that's by design. Coupled with a thoroughly enjoyable soundtrack from composer Motoi Sakuraba (Valkyrie Profile , Tales of Destiny), Vesperia is a real treat for the ears.
The Graphics: The Namco Tales Studio know their cel-shading. Even at its darkest, the game world is vibrant and alive, and Kōsuke Fujishima's character designs truly shine. I'm also a sucker for anime cut scenes, and I love the way Vesperia peppers them throughout the story to punctuate key moments.
The Extras: Like any Tales game, Vesperia is loaded with side quests, hidden bits, and other diversions to take you off the beaten path to more fully explore the game world. Find new costumes, learn new cooking recipes, synthesize powerful new equipment, unlock hidden costumes for your characters - there's really so much to do that I plan on playing through again to catch everything I missed.
The Clichés: Namco just can't seem to avoid tired old RPG concepts, and at several points during the game I found myself groaning as familiar elements surfaced. Procuring a boat, then graduating to an airship, for instance. Stumbling across a ghost ship. The character that's doomed to die. It goes on. They don't take away much from the game, but they're still annoying.
The Backtracking: Call me lazy, but after winding through a confusing dungeon for a good hour to get to a major story point, the last thing I want to do is schlep my way all the way back out, fighting the same respawned monsters I fought on the way in. It doesn't happen that way all the time, but that just serves to make the times it does all the more frustrating.
The fact that I only started playing Tales of Vesperia this past Friday and completed it by Monday evening speaks volumes about the quality of the title. I wasn't on a deadline, and due to our requirement that we complete a game before reviewing it, you generally wouldn't have seen a review for this game for another couple of weeks, considering how much time I generally have to play. This was a personal purchase on my part - I just found it so engaging that five days after picking it up I'm clocking 40 hours and watching the ending credits roll, pondering a replay to finish collecting costumes and filling out my synthesis list. It may fall back on RPG conventions a bit too much, but it does a damn fine job of it.
Between tweaks made to the combat system and the graphical improvements that came with the step up to the Xbox 360, Tales of Vesperia could very well be the best game the franchise has seen.
Tales of Vesperia was developed by Namco Tales Studio, and published by Namco Bandai. Released on August 26 for the Xbox 360. Priced at $US59.99. Played to completion of main storyline on regular difficulty.
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