July 01, 2013

That's A Wrap: Tales Of Vesperia

warning: may contain spoilers

That's a wrap! I've devoted the entire month of June to my very first playthrough of Tales of Vesperia. I'm ashamed because I've always been a fan of the 'Tales' series and I've played a lot of the other main titles at least once, but - like always - I fell behind at some point after Abyss and only just got around to Vesperia now... five year later (than its release). I had a go at the demo on the 360 and immediately hated myself for waiting this long to play it. So I got my paws on a copy and "here's go nothin'..."
Excuse me while I tell my computer to learn to recognize 'Vesperia' as a word.

In a nutshell: I love this game. It is an excellent example of what 'Tales' is capable of; it's ridiculous good fun, well written and beautiful. It's also absurdly long. Most JRPGs are long but I think this one takes the cake for longest I've played since I-don't-know-when. I clocked 135 hours. Xbox was like, "Jesus, this lady has way too much time on her hands, let's give her an achievement".
A lot of those hours were spent randomly discovering the millions of side quests. Towards the end of the game, pretty much everywhere you go prompts a new side quest. Typically I don't engage in all the side quests the first time I play a game, 'cause I'd rather stick to the story and experience the game in one, fluid playthrough. But I just couldn't help myself. Things needed doing, dammit! Also, all of the dialogue in this game ceases until you prompt it to continue, which surely added a lot to the hours, as there is quite a bit of dialogue and I am a snail-pace reader. But it gets points for being well written. I don't know exactly how true a translation it is, but I don't even care, I laughed endlessly playing this game.

Vesperia begins in the lower quarter of the capital city Zaphias, where you meet Yuri, the story's leading man. While strolling about, Yuri learns that a mage has apparently stolen the blastia* that mediates the area's water supply, and takes it upon himself to retrieve it. He sets out after the thief, but ends up getting arrested and locked away in the city's castle prison. After a mystery man helps him escape, Yuri navigates the castle and happens upon Estellise, who confides in Yuri that she needs to escape the kingdom to caution Flynn - a mutual friend of the two - that his life is in danger. Yuri decides to escort Estellise on her mission and thus our journey begins. The story in Vesperia unfolds into quite the grand spectacle, and does so at a fantastic pace.

*Blastia are a sort of manufactured energy supply used to operate technology. All is explained in the game.

The characters are all pretty great. I think 'Tales' fans often consider Symphonia to have the best cast, but Vesperia gives it a run for its money. Yuri is a fantastic lead, possibly the best in the Tales universe. Typical attitude for a leading male, but he has a sense of humor and a voice actor who captured it all well. Yuri also has the most boss sidekick ever: Repede. A dog. A badass dog. Second to Yuri I think I Repede is the most useful character. He goes a little bananas with his artes but que sera sera. Estelle is the token annoying little princess character. Young, bubbly, naive... exactly what you'd expect, really. Karol also joins the annoying party for me. I guess I just don't like kids? He has his moments and his uses but for the most part, he sits in the back. Rita is a neat character; her attitude gets old pretty fast, too, but if you think about it, that's exactly what most precocious teenagers are like. Raven is the game's chief source of comic relief. He's also the most interesting, to me, and takes the coveted title of "favorite character" for this game. I feel like he has the best story and makes for one of the most, for lack of a better word, shocking developments. Judith is plenty useful, and the game's source of gratuitous near-nudity! My go-to party for most of the game consisted (when possible) of Yuri, Repede, Raven and Judith. I'd sub Judy for Estelle if I were in need of some serious healing power, and for Rita if I knew a boss had a particular hankering for magic. The spells she learns later in the game are awesome.

All in all, the character development in Vesperia was great.
I'd also like to note that I feel Vepseria may be the most perfectly cast RPG ever. Especially considering it's a Japanese game that's been dubbed for English audiences, I feel like all the main characters had fantastic actors, and this earns mad points in my books. I'm almost always disappointed in English dubs, but I feel like the cast in Vesperia gives the game a lot of life.

Regarding difficulty, the game does offer you the standard easy, medium or hard options, which to my knowledge doesn't affect general gameplay much, but rather the difficulty of the battles. I played through on normal mode mostly, and found that to be more than manageable with the exception of the very beginning, which is expected. I found some of the bosses to be a bit of a challenge, especially Zagi. I've added at least one murdered controller to my graveyard because of that asshole. After a little grinding though, I found the rest of the battles to be of anticipated difficulty, and even switched to hard mode later in the game. I suppose if you were going to plow through the game for its story only, easy mode would be a fine idea. The rest of the challenge lies in deciphering the many dungeons, which are often booby trapped with puzzles and require a great deal of exploring. Also time consuming.

I quite like the battle system for this game. It may be the best I've seen to date. It mixes the separate battle screen system of the old Final Fantasy games, for example, with the real time battle mechanisms of today's RPGs. There are many components the player can edit to change the battle experience, and it was fun to play around with different weapons, skills, artes and strategies. That said, I will say that I suffered a few manual mode woes... The game allows you to choose whether you will control your lead character fully, partially or allow the AI to do everything for you. I prefer to have full control of my character but I did find at times it would not go smoothly. I can't tell you how many times I yelled "turn around you bonehead!" at Yuri because he wouldn't align properly after killing a fiend. I also had a tendency to use my left stick for its directional abilities, and as such found it difficult to hit low enemies.

Another less than wonderful feature of this game is its explanations and tutorials. I found the instruction provided by the game regarding skills and fatal strikes maddeningly unhelpful, and had to just screw around with it for a while to finally get a hold of it. I also struggled to master using the arte paired with the LS+up, as pushing up typically makes the character jump, regardless of what other buttons you are pressing. I've always found that adjusting to a 'Tales' battle system takes a bit of time, so if you're playing for the first time (or returning after a long absence), have some patience. It does get easier with time.
Minor complaints, in the big picture. This game is wonderful. The plot will capture you and force you to play for hours on end, the characters are impressive, introduced at a good pace and there is plenty of character development; a few twists and turns; and good tunes! At least one song from this soundtrack sounds painfully familiar, but that's irrelevant. I enjoyed running around places for a long time just to hear the themes. I'll have to get a hold of the game's soundtrack.
There are also other silly things to keep you entertained, like post-victory skits, in-game skits, cooking and costumes. And poker!

If you've enjoyed a 'Tales' title in the past or enjoy JRPGs in general, I'd definitely recommend you pick up Tales of Vesperia. It really has almost everything you could ask for in a role playing game.

Fun fact: Vesperia was initially released for the 360, but later ported to the PS3, apparently with new content and a whole new playable character! Sadly, this version has yet to be translated for us English folk.

Tales of Vesperia: First Strike

At some point, I was made aware that Vesperia was popular enough to spawn a feature film! I know some of the earlier Tales games have inspired (usually short) tv series, but as far as I know this is the first full-length film. I was definitely interested to get my hands on this movie because the plot of the game is really neat, but there are a few loose ends and I'd hoped the movie might tie a few of them up. Tales of Vesperia: First Strike is a prequel anime film, focusing on Yuri and Flynn's time together in the Knights before the events in the game. It also features a young Repede.


I'm happy to report that this is not just a cheap "shut them up" anime. It's well made and a great addition to the story. I actually found it to be a tad more violent than the game, but I suppose that's to be expected; I don't think I've seen a movie with a HP bar yet. I'll try not to spoil too much for you in case you're interested in checking it out, but I will mention that there is plenty of Yuri and Flynn and a couple of characters you've not yet met. Estelle and Rita also make brief appearances, which kinda weirds me out 'cause they are meant to be much younger at the time, especially Rita who apparently doesn't change at all between the two points on the timeline. And more puppy Repede! Seriously couldn't stop cooing over him! I actually found the movie interfered with my understanding of Repede's story, and a lot of questions are sadly left unanswered.

My main man Raven also has a small role in the film, though he does appear exclusively as Raven (those of you that have played the game will understand) in spite of the common presence of the Knights. Sadly his back story is not further enlightened, much to my dismay. Karol and Judith make no appearance. Alexei is seen as well and his plans are slightly revealed, if you pay close attention. The villain for the film is someone you'll not be familiar with.

Having experienced the movie (in Japanese), I'm further pleased with the voice actor who plays Yuri in the English game. I feel like he really nailed the personality of Yuri and it's not often I've found English actors match or exceed the Japanese ones.

So if you enjoyed the game and haven't already, do check out First Strike.

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