Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Tales of Vesperia review

In its native Japan. the Tales series is something of an RPG powerhouse, with Namco Bandai typically announcing 2-3 new games in the series at the same time. For many years, western fans of the series would look on in despair as the games remained unlocalised. Things started to pick up a bit with the release of Tales of Symphonia for the Gamecube, but still many entries in the franchise were only released in Japan. It came as something of a surprise then when are few years ago they announced that Tales of Vesperia would be coming to the Xbox 360 - a machine that has struggled to find a foothold in Japan - but the upside of this would be that a US/European launch would a sure thing to make sure the game sold enough copies to be worthwhile. The game was actually responsible for a sales spike of Xbox 360 consoles in Japan, the series is that popular.

This particular entry in the series focuses on the character of Yuri Lowell, who resides in the lower quarter of the capitcal city Zaphias. After the only source of clean water within the quarter is vandalised, he gos in search of the culprit and ends up teaming up with a runaway princess, a snarky genius mage and a dog that acts like a human. Eventually the fate of the entire world rests on the shoulders of this eclectic group (funny how that alway happens in JRPGs).

Format: Xbox 360 (Enhanced PS3 version available in Japan)
Publisher: Namco BandaiDeveloper: Tales StudioExpect to pay: Around £25

Graphics: 10 out of 10
I personally believe that this is the best looking game available on the Xbox 360 so far. It looks absolutely stunning in HD, with vibrant colours and the level of detail that you would expect from the very best Japanese anime, except it's completely 3D. I'm well aware that not everyone likes animated films so the perfect rating given here applies to my personal tastes. Nevertheless it is a great technical achievement to make this visual style work within the context of a 3D game.

Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
I am not particulary fond of Motoi Sakuraba's musical compositions - they have a tendency to sound very similar to one another (and he has worked on a LOT of games). There are one or two nice tunes throughout the game (for example the music that plays in the town of Aspio), and I do like the fact that the overworld and battle themes change three times throughout the game as you progress in the story, but his work doesn't come close to the likes of Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger/Cross), Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy XII), Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts), Noriyuki Iwadare (Grandia), Michiko Naruke (Wild Arms) or Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy I-X).

The voice work is of quite a high standard, which is not unusual for a game in the Tales series. I am particulary fond of the voice of Rita Mordio, the genius mage and researcher of Blastia (the technology that keeps most of the machinery in the world running including protective barriers that cover entire cities). She really does a good job of making the character likeable despite her acidic tongue, and having heard her in several other games recently, she sounds quite different here. The only thing that lets the voice work down slightly are some of the minor characters - for example old men and women always sound like young people doing a feeble old person impression for some reason.

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
Tales of Vesperia (and all the other games in the Tales series) is an action RPG through and through. Battles are triggered by bumping into roaming monsters on the overworld or within dungeons, and you can also gain an advantage by sneaking up on them from behind, or a minor disadvantage if they get the drop on you. You take control of one of the four members of your party (Yuri by default, though you can choose to control any of the others if you wish) and hack and slash your way through groups of foes.

As well as basic attacks there are more powerful special moves which are unlocked as you level up and can be mapped to different buttons on the controller. On top of this there are also attacks that are triggered if you manage to stun your opponent or make them stumble, and these deal out very large amounts of pain (usually enough to kill minor monsters instantly). Finally you can also go into overdrive once your meter is filled to the top, which increases your attack power until the bar is drained. Battles are typically fast paced and you have to keep an eye on the health of your party and be ready to step in with a healing item or Life Bottle should the worst happen.

At the end of each battle you are awarded grade points based on how long the battle took, how much you were hit etc., and these points can be saved up and spent either on the secret Nam Cobanda Isle on various mini games, or on various extra features before starting a second playthrough. Another great thing about this game is that you can hand over control of your three other party members to real people if you have enough controllers and friends to be able to do so - this is one of the few RPG series that does this and is a great idea.

Aside from the battle mechanics, the game features many dungeons for you to explore, and they nearly always feature their own gimmick. There is often a light puzzling element (just enough to keep the old brain cells engaged between the battles), and the dungeons are just right in terms of length at around an hour earlier in the game to close to two hours when you start to get near to the end. All in all Tales of Vesperia doesn't differ all that much mechanically from other recent entries in the series, but it is just as good as ever.

Innovation and Cleverness: 4 out of 10
I'm afraid to say that Tales of Vesperia isn't particularly innovative, it being yet another entry in an RPG series that already has many titles to its name, but try not to hold that against it.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
Tales of Vesperia is a pretty lengthy game, weighing in with at least 50 hours of gameplay, and quite possibly more. There are many optional scenes that you can stumble upon (which can be seemingly random, but look at a FAQ and you will see they are all triggered in some way), and hundreds of skits that can either be read or ignored depending on how you want to play the game. Upon completion you could go through the game again and make use of your accumulated Grade Points, but personally once was enough for me.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Tales of Vesperia is yet another fun, fast paced entry to an excellent RPG series. It is technically flawless, with beautiful visuals and not a single bug or glitch encountered during the many hours of play time I put into it. It is not my personal favourite game in the series - that honour goes to Tales of the Abyss (which is due to for a rerelease on the 3DS), but should you fancy something a little different from Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Fable, et al, then this is a very worthy alternative.

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