For a series that had a majority of its games on the PlayStation for over ten years, many fans were suprised when the game was announced to be coming to the Xbox 360. After causing Japan to run out of the console for the first time in that territory, Tales of Vesperia was released in North America only a few weeks later. Almost a full year after the game's original release, how does it fare in Europe, coming after other Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs), such as Star Ocean: The Last Hope?
From the moment the game starts up, it becomes clear that the developers at Namco's Tales Studio wanted to show off the anime-like graphics in Tales of Vesperia. Thanks to the ability of the Xbox 360 to output HDMI quality visuals, both the cutscenes and the in-game visuals pop out. This also can been seen in the towns and dungeons, which in previous games were seperated into small sections due to the console's limitations. For those who have played games like Tales of Symphonia, Tales of Vesperia will feel much more "open". Much detail was put into the little things in Tales of Vesperia, such as reflections in the water in Dahngrest, the guild city in the game, or in the main menu, which has light particles float up the screen to provide a welcome alternative to the generic static menus that JRPGs are known for. These little things, alongside the bigger changes to the game's world, give the series a new breath of fresh air while not alienating its roots completely.
Those who have played previous Tales of games appreciate the series is known for two things above all else: battles and character interaction. Battles in Tales of Vesperia have been greatly improved over the previous games. The game uses a improved version of the FR-LMBS (Flex Range Linerar Motion Battle System) seen in Tales of the Abyss, which allows characters to more around anywhere on the field. The battle system in Tales of Vesperia, an iteration of the franchise's legendary LMBS system, is in real-time, and plays much like a basic fighting game, with normal attacks, special attacks (called Artes), as well as jumping over monsters and defending against attacks.
This iteration of the LMBS introduces new abilities alongside the series favorites, such as Fatal Stikes and Burst Artes. Fatal Strikes allow the player to kill an enemy in one strike if timed correctly, and Burst Artes enable special attacks when a character is in Over Limit (a state in where the character is more powerful and can use special abilities for a limited time). Over Limits are improved in this game, allowing four different levels that can be split amongst the characters as the player sees fit. These new abilities come in handy for the improved enemy AI, which is much more intellegent than in previous games. Monsters will mercilously try to kill characters close to death, and some even have the ability to cast magic spells that affect the entire battlefield at once. For those who felt games like Tales of Symphonia were too easy, Tales of Vesperia will give even veteran Tales of fans a challenge throughout the game.
If not for the battles, the Tales of series is most widely known for the depth of the characters in its games. All of the playable characters feel realistic, having their own personal issues that they work out throughout the game. The characters are also more grown-up than the characters in the previous games, so for those who disliked the "childish" aspect in Tales of Symphonia should enjoy this change in Tales of Vesperia. Another way the personalities of the characters are shown is through the skits, a mainstay of the series. This time, however, they are fully voiced. The voice actors picked for the English language track bring each character to life whether it is a comical or serious scene. The presentation is a bit dated, however, using only hand-drawn pieces of character artwork with some emotions mixed in. For a game that made so much of an effort to push the graphics to the next level, seeing the developers rest on their laurels here was a bit of a letdown.
Tales of Vesperia's story is quite a shift from the previous games and is much more like what one would expect from a Final Fantasy game in terms of scope, revolving around a seemingly corrupt empire and a prophecy that fortells of the destruction of the world. While the story starts out promising, it gets to a point where elements are linked together in an attempt to grasp some sense of consistency and it just seems forced. Whether this was intentinal or due to a lack of time to finish developing the game, it is quite a shame that the story detoriated to the point that it did.
All things considered, while Tales of Vesperia isn't the best JRPG out there, it is leagues above the generic fodder that exists in the genre. Those expecting a grandious Final Fantasy experience with more focus towards the graphics and a massively complex storyline might not enjoy this game. For those who enjoy character development, or want a alternative to turn-based or menu-based battle systems, you should find much to enjoy. Tales of Vesperia doesn't so much revolutionize the genre, but instead expands on what already works and goes off in its own direction. Whether that is a good or a bad sign is in the choice of the player.