In an era of HD collections and remakes, Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition fits right into the current gaming landscape.
And like its gorgeous art style and genre-rare combat system, it still manages to stand out and do its own thing.
One of the most beloved RPG series this side of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, the original Tales of Vesperia released a decade ago as an Xbox 360 exclusive, then it got a Japan-only re-release with expanded additions.
Now, developer Namco Tales Studio brings a souped-up version of the re-release global on all platforms, including PC and Nintendo Switch.
At the time of its original release, Vesperia was groundbreaking simply because it took all the good from the Tales series and expanded on it, ripped out the bad and easily became the best entry in the series to date—which is saying something given the global popularity of Tales of Symphonia to this day.
So, understandably, an improvement upon a past game and a fully complete version of a classic 10 years in the making has plenty of hype surrounding it. How it ages even with the enhancements is something fans couldn't know until it went out in the wild.
Graphics and Gameplay
Not that it should come as any surprise, but Vesperia looks stunning on modern machines and runs like a charm.
A re-release for modern times even a decade later didn't have to make a ton of changes to still look great. The cel-shaded and anime-inspired affair has a watercolor-painted look, and the vibrant palette looks great, setting itself into a charming, crisp territory.
Now, the character design is oh-so-anime for 2008, but again, a distinctive style here is just fine. Things can get a bit blurry at times thanks to the bloom, but what you see is what you get for a decade-old game with a strong sense of style.
As is always the case with a JRPG, the gameplay loop has to be fun, rewarding and fresh to succeed, no matter how great the tale told around it is.
And we wouldn't be here a decade later if Vesperia didn't check all the boxes in this regard.
The Tales series has always differentiated itself, opting away from turn-based gameplay for a real-time affair, minus menu interactions.
A jarring decision at the time, the real-time gameplay has aged just as well as its turn-based cousin. This opens the door for Vesperia's fun combo system, where one button handles combos and another deals with special attacks and abilities called Artes, which drain TP (MP in other RPGs). Later on, Over Limits and Fatal Strikes come into play.
But it isn't as simple as it sounds once the action gets started. Artes can't be abused by any means, and learning proper combo patterns for characters is both challenging and rewarding.
Expanding on this idea is a variety of different enemy types, including long-range foes, close-range brawlers and mages. Some of the former two groups attack with spears or other weaponry, which adds more variety. And don't forget those same types apply to teammates as well.
Now it sounds a bit more complex, right? Setting different teammate A.I. strategies on the fly via a button press depending on the scenario is difficult, as is juggling mages who heal the party and otherwise—but never so much so.
Part of the brilliance that hasn't aged after a decade here is the ability for anyone to have pick-up-and-play fun while those dedicated to improvement can receive droves of rewards for their time investment via appreciable skill gains in combos and team strategies. In more ways than one, it is quite like a well-tuned fighting game.
Other lesser gameplay elements, such as item crafting and cooking, are here as well, though a player throwing those on the backburner won't miss them too much—they are a fun diversion, but the game moves quickly and is varied enough as it is without diving into extra systems that don't offer a ton of rewards.
This applies more to the latter than the former, as crafting might be a fun end game and completionist activity for some.
Exploration is a little disappointing, but again, we're talking about a game crafted well before the breathtaking, diverse realms of a game like Witcher 3.
Cities, the overworld between them and dungeons make up the three sorts of locations players will explore, though invisible walls and dialogue boxes prevent exploration within these and keep things linear. These can be diverse visually and are gorgeous, but they are linear nonetheless.
Despite the lack of wonder at times thanks to the feeling of an invisible hand guiding a player down the path, various puzzles throughout the game keep things fresh. So too do interesting side quests, which are not only memorable but offer different avenues of character and story development.
Story, Features and the Rest
Tales of Vesperia was and still is a breath of fresh air in the story department for a JRPG, which says quite a bit about both the game and genre, for better or worse.
With this one, players aren't some unknown "chosen one" who ultimately rises to the occasion thanks to a helpful supporting cast and so on.
This game is about Yuri Lowell's adventures in Terca Lumireis—where he is already well known within the world—and how his past actions impact the story. There is the backdrop of towns protected by magical barriers and the vigilant knights aren't going to protect the poor because they're too busy clashing with the guilds and being uppity, but Yuri's bad-boy ways are a welcome change of pace.
One of the base conflicts outside of the disinteresting "outside our walls is bad" story is the internal story conflict between Yuri and Flynn Scifo, who, unlike Yuri, is still a knight of the empire and doesn't merely freelance justice as he sees fit.
Flynn is far from the only one who reacts in differing ways when more is revealed about Yuri's past, though it only strengthens the bonds when the predictable three-arc story hits major points.
In a nice touch, character interactions players can summon up with a button press during gameplay offer depth and context to the story. Even short exchanges during the battle victory screen ooze immersion as far as character development goes.
The game's dialogue, while sounding up to par and voice-acted relatively well, is a bit childish. It makes sense for a game released in 2008 and surely written far before then, but it is still a notable drawback.
The graphics may age well thanks to an uptick here, but the game wasn't rewritten, after all. It seems some voiceovers were reshot as well, which can sometimes create a jarring effect for those paying close enough attention.
While on the topic of audio, the soundtrack doesn't get annoying, which is always a plus for a game in this genre that could ask the player to grind for hours. Players can also choose the original Japanese or English dub, even if the latter struggles at times.
With this being the re-release, global players who didn't play the version released in Japan also get a few new characters to experience, loads of costumes and other goodies, not to mention expanded interactions and, in general, story. Vesperia was a massive undertaking even on the 360, so the extras added to the mix only make the overall package more appealing.
Speedrunning Tips and Appeal
Though it might not garner massive Twitch viewer counts or otherwise, Tales of Vesperia is a JRPG that takes roughly 50-60 hours to complete.
And those who enjoy speedrunning just raised an eyebrow.
As touched on before, the combat system in Vesperia has a high skill ceiling, especially for those who take the time to master character, class and weapon combinations in certain fights. Memorizing puzzles and executing them adds to the intrigue of a potential speedrun.
In short, there is plenty of appeal here. And everything has a dedicated speedrunning community. Everything.
The current world record for the PS3 speedrun checks in at just under four-and-a-half hours. The how of a particular speedrun in terms of details to give runners an advantage won't blow anyone away, though.
It starts with cutting down a game of this size by blowing through the absolutely massive script. In the settings, users can toggle an option to have all the text from dialog appear at once as opposed to scrolling at certain speeds. That's going to be a necessity, as is mashing through said dialogue.
Along these same lines, the optional additional 2-D dialogue interactions are going to be something speedrunners always skip. It's the same deal with cutscenes and events, as well as interacting with random NPCs.
Certain side quests might be mandatory for the right end-game prep, but it will come down to user preference. Otherwise, story-heavy diversions are just that.
Outside of mastering combat itself, the more difficult feat might be mastering the menu system. Some things can be hotkeyed into place, but one glance at a speedrun of the prior releases shows blindingly fast menu navigation without mistakes.
Puzzle conquering aside, actual traversal is a breeze and shouldn't be too much of a problem since the game was ahead of its time by throwing random encounters out the window and displaying potential battles on the overworld itself (something Pokemon finally just did).
A lot of the time, ignoring forced encounters because a loot chest is behind an enemy isn't worth it, either. The Holy Bottle will assist in this overall by helping to keep monsters away.
As far as team composition goes, one mage on auto-healing at all times seems the best bet. Otherwise, everyone going into a full-blown assault mode might speed up things, especially if users set another mage to auto-target the weakest enemy of a group.
Careful blocking comes into play as well, but filling up the meters for Fatal Strikes is going to be critical in tough fights.
Viewed altogether, Vesperia isn't the most complicated speedrun around, even for a JRPG. The repeated attempts to find the right party and item usage is where there will be hangups, but the journey itself and the results should draw rather notable audiences and view counts over the years as the best one-up each other.
Those in charge of the Definitive Edition didn't have to do a ton of work here. On its own, Vesperia was already viewed as a classic, if not an incomplete one depending on a player's location.
This is a definitive release for a reason. And while 10 years seems like a long time to wait, it was well worth it.
Featuring engrossing combat for any skill range, a story worth seeing develop and intricate character relationships that might be some of the best written in the genre to this day, this final version trumps the test of time with ease.
That it is available on all consoles, PC and something as versatile as a Switch, features some speedrunning appeal and provides extra goodies atop a classic make it a great way to start off the gaming new year. Even better, at this rate, Vesperia will stand the test of time for another decade, too.