Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition (Switch) Review
JRPGs, especially those as endearing as the “Tales of” series of games, have had a rocky time when it comes to local releases. Even though the games are extraordinarily popular in Japan, releasing across a variety of Nintendo and Sony consoles, it’s only been recently that Namco Bandai has pushed localised and “remastered” versions to all territories and major platforms on simultaneous releases. Tales of Vesperia, originally released in 2009, was only available on the Xbox 360, a console that flopped terribly in Japan. It was also a neutered release – most of the game wasn’t voice acted, and it was missing playable characters that had been available in the Japanese version.
Vesperia probably isn’t the best game in the Tales series in my opinion – it’s linear, needlessly cliché and melodramatic (even by JRPG standards) at times, but the series has always had a lot of fun with its characters. The two primary characters, Yuri and Estelle, have a playful and memorable relationship throughout the adventure, which is boosted by the optional “skits” players can watch by hitting the minus button. While not integral to the plot, these fully voiced moments are a clever way to fill in backstory as well as to get a real-time reaction to plot elements that may not be important enough to build cutscenes for.
All these conversations, along with every cutscene and in-game scripted moment, are voiced, which is a nice improvement from the awkwardly silent portions of the original, and the default install includes both the original Japanese and new English dubs. This is a nice change from other games, like Xenogears, which require a hefty secondary download for (the exceedingly better) Japanese dub – although the English dub is more than acceptable on this occasion. Everyone likes to talk in ToV, so it’s nice to listen, rather than read, your way through. There’s also a nice, albeit modest, additions to the music score.
As expected, the graphics have had a nice little bump, cleaning up most of the textures on the environments, although there’s still some jaggy edges on the world maps and during combat. What isn’t better, however, is the framerate – at times, especially in handheld mode, the game can slow to a crawl during periods of intense activity on screen. Combat can lag button presses, which is a problem which the battle system is heavily reliant on timed actions for blocking and combos. It gets a little better when docked, but like Dead Cells before it, there is some optimisation that still needs to be done in order to let it fly. It’s not a deal breaker, but a disappointment when you consider this is a 10-year-old title.
ToV’s combat, which like most JRPGs is the vast bulk of the game, is an extension of the Linear Motion Battle System (LMBS) used in other Tales games, which puts a focus on real-time tracking of your spacial awareness – where your enemies are in a circular, arena-style 3D space, and using the ability to move around them in order to dodge and block attacks while chaining yours mixed with skills (called Artes). It’s a bit of a clumsy system in practise – attacks must be blocked manually, and enemies can gang up on players, attacking at different intervals from different places.
Unlike other similar combat systems (such as Ni No Kuni’s), ToV does not allow for effective enemy attack cues or non-linear attacks – meaning in many cases enemies can grief players with multiple quick hits, most of which still take damage when blocked, or take advantage of the short cooldown between attacking and blocking to sweep off ¼ of your health in one combo set. This, combined with Vesperia’s framerate issues, can mean even basic fights can be frustrating at times. Things even out later when you have a full party that can effectively tank for you, but a lot of the time you will just be running around the circle waiting for a party member to start a combo you can get in on.
The twitchiness and lack of consistency in how different enemies attack can be both fun and frustrating. It’s great to figure out a pattern and use it in a manner that means no enemies landed a single hit on you or you didn’t need healing or skills. Different weapons provide different Artes, which you add to add to button combinations, and can also be unlocked via progress. If you are a fan of fighting games, you will get a kick out of how things work – in many elements I found tactics took a back seat to simple button mashing. You will be grinding out a lot of battles, so getting good at blocking and countering is essential.
Tales of Vesperia feels dated in many ways, but at the same time, there is a strong element of classic enjoyment to it. It’s battles, while unusual, are much less dependent on character inventory management and skill trees than most other modern RPG – they are fast and brutal. There aren’t dozens of pointless quests, filler characters and boring cutscenes. The story feels focused, and while it can be a little tropey at times, it’s engaging and interesting throughout, and I really did love the silly jokes littered throughout that poked fun at some of those same tropes. It’s a big, long game, and I don’t think it would work on any other console – especially when you consider its modern competition.
At the end of the day, traditional JRPG fans will get a kick out of this quirky mobile adventure, especially if you’ve been itching for something since Xenoblade 2. Similarly, if you are a Tales fanatic, all of the DLC bits and bobs are included in the package. But if you are expecting something out of the norm, this probably isn’t the game for you.