Originally released as an Xbox 360 exclusive title way back in 2008 and ported to the PlayStation 3 a year later, Tales of Vesperia is a traditional JRPG by Bandai Namco. If you’re familiar with other games in the genre by the publisher, like .hack and Ni No Kuni, then you probably already know what to expect. Which is often nothing less than awesome.
I’m not a die-hard fan of re-releases, especially when they’re done for a game which is barely a few years old. Releasing a “Definitive Edition” for a game that came out just two years prior, seems like a lazy attempt to capitalize on an existing product; your possibly full-priced original version is considered inferior and you’re incentivized to purchase a “better” one.
However, I do believe they have a time and place when done correctly and with a purpose: if there’s a large gap since the original release, for instance. Or, if a game was developed exclusively for a particular platform. To some degree, Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition fits both of these criteria.
As the name already implies, this Definitive Edition for Tales of Vesperia is an updated re-release of the original game, now available on the Xbox One. Improvements feature upscaled visuals, new costumes and in-game events, as well as two brand new playable characters.
When it comes to visuals, characters and environments in Tales of Vesperia are saturated with bright colours. Anime cutscenes, albeit very scarce, are gorgeous and can compete with those of any top-notch anime series. Certain animations, particularly that of the movement, may look slightly dated, but often, I would have a tough time telling that this game is over 10 years old.
The kingdom of Terca Lumireis is powered by the so-called Blastia: devices created from the remains of an ancient race. One such Blastia — powering a fountain in the lower quarters of the imperial city of Zaphias — is suddenly stolen, setting a premise for the events that follow. Yuri Lowell, an ex-knight and protector of the poor, sets out to catch the thief and retrieve the device.
Unfortunately, Yuri’s investigation soon sees him wind up in a prison cell, now considered a criminal. Yuri doesn’t possess an immediately attractive persona, but selfless actions and demeanour towards others quickly paint him in a more positive light. He’s also not a fan of rotting away in jail and plots an escape as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
During his inconspicuous escape mission, Yuri encounters Estellise: a kind and noble woman, as well as an inhabitant of the castle. They soon realize to have a common friend in imperial knight Flynn who, according to Estellise, is in grave danger and requires their assistance.
The previously stealthy escape turns into a prison-break and after dealing with assassins pursuing Flynn, both unlikely allies determine to find their friend beyond the comforts of the imperial city. Accompanied by Yuri’s trusty, pipe-smoking dog Repede, they embark into the outside world.
A seemingly simple fountain repair mission turns into a global event involving conspiracies, restoration of cities, corrupt government officials and a mysterious dragon rider. Also, because the story in Tales of Vesperia is unique, it’s not required to be familiar with other entries in the series.
Leaving Zaphias presents you with an open, yet somewhat small world, a compass and a destination to follow. A clear direction is always provided during dialogue and I never had any trouble locating my next objective.
From there, you can explore the somewhat limited lush green expanse or go straight to the next city on the list. Characters often have the opportunity to converse amongst themselves while exploring and it’s during these moments that the chemistry between them builds up.
Though conversations can often drag on for too long, as is typical for the genre, they are generally lively and fun. They are filled with humour and some adult innuendos, too. Some of the dialogue did leave me scratching my head in confusion, but perhaps it’s just a simple matter of “getting lost in translation”. Depending on preference, it’s also possible to switch between the original Japanese narrative, as well as English voice-overs.
Cheerful travels are not without their fair share of obstacles since various monsters populate the environments. Thankfully, it’s up to you whether or not to engage in combat, as every monster is actually visible on the map.
Let’s face it though, you’re going to want to increase experience and gain items from defeating those petty fiends – that’s the whole point of an RPG. Upon contact with a monster, your party is transported into an arena where the struggle commences. Battles progress in real time and you have an active party of up to four characters at your disposal. Only the leader of the party can be directly controlled and initially, this position is limited to Yuri.
During combat, you can freely move around the arena, perform regular attacks, block to take less damage, and also execute Artes. In the meantime, other party members act based on preset strategies chosen by you. Tactics range between assuming a more defensive approach, an increased focus on healing and defense or, quite the contrary, a full-on assault. They can be switched on the whim, based on how the fight progresses.
Each character’s placement on the battlefield can be adjusted in the settings, though I didn’t find this particular feature very useful. Physically gifted characters, for example, can be assigned to the front line, keeping a healer way in the back, relatively safe.
Yuri, for instance, is a typical warrior, who uses swords and axes to deal large amounts of damage. Estellise, on the other hand, while capable to fight, is primarily a healer. Her presence makes combat significantly more manageable as she casts healing Artes whenever someone is in need of rejuvenation. Additional characters and abilities are gradually unlocked as you advance through the story, and there’s a decent selection of heroes so finding a quartet of favourites shouldn’t be an issue.
So, you might ask, what’s an Arte and why is it misspelt? Well, it’s a special attack which consumes TP. Some are available from the beginning, like healing for Estellise, while others are learned when fighting. Artes can be assigned to directions on the left and right stick for immediate access, ranging in terms of cost, power, range and radius. It must be said, they are especially useful during numerous boss battles.
In addition to Artes, characters can also learn different Skills. These are either passive, or active abilities which can be performed when certain conditions are met. Passive skills can permanently increase physical attack power or defence, while an active skill can be executed during combat to mitigate magical damage, for example. Most weapons and protective gear bestow Skills as well, so long as the particular item remains equipped.
As a result, equipment is considered not only based on stats, but also on the skills it provides.
Most combat encounters are simple and straightforward, and rarely require anything beyond mashing of buttons. Boss battles, however, often lead to a significant spike in difficulty. Even possessing the best currently available equipment and stats can still see Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition provide a somewhat daunting challenge.
There’s little grinding for levels to be done and I didn’t find it necessary to progress further into the story. That is, if you don’t skip too many battles.
Exploration always leads to either a town or a dungeon. Dungeons are varied, though quite linear in construction and almost always culminate in a boss battle. A few puzzles are thrown in here and there, but nothing too complex. Thankfully, they are also very generous when it comes to loot, littered with treasure chests at almost every corner.
When visiting a town however, you have the usual options of resting at an inn, conversing with people and visiting local stores. A feature known as Synthesis, which is a version of crafting in Tales of Vesperia, can be accessed via these stores. Synthesis allows you to create new items and equipment for a small amount of Gald (local currency) and resources obtained from battles.
There’s a nice balance between a carefree exploration of communal environments and looting of dungeons. You’re never stuck doing the same thing for an extended period of time.
One thing I don’t like though is the camera perspective, which can’t be manipulated within indoor environments. This is likely a design choice to incentivize a more thorough exploration, but in many cases it only unnecessarily obstructs the view.
Overall and Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition does what a JRPG promises to do. It tells a lighthearted story with a colourful world to explore and a plethora of optional content. The visual overhaul also provides it with a fresh look, fitting for modern platforms. It doesn’t quite compare to the best of the best, but because it represents a genre seldom found on the Xbox, it’s a great option to get on with.