As an enthusiast of JRPGs, you’d be forgiven for assuming that I would be an enthusiastic fan of Bandai Namco’s renowned “Tales of” series, sitting amongst the ranks of long-running series with disconnected games such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Shockingly, despite having played more than a few of these games, I’ve yet to find one that managed to capture my attention long enough for me to actually finish it, with the closest being the newest in the series, Tales of Berseria, thanks to its modern rethinking of the battle system. Having heard that Tales of Vesperia is often considered to be the “best” in the series to date, I was curious to see if the remastered release, Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition, would be the one to finally capture me.
The context of Vesperia is a fairly standard model: human settlements established in a world overrun with monsters. The towns are protected by barriers as people mostly enjoy comfortable lives, there’s an empire, there are independent folk, as well as everything in between. The trigger which starts the journey for our main character, Yuri, is a simple one too: he’s off to get what he needs to fix the local water supply of the town he lives in. Along the way, the cast of the game assembles into a unified whole, with the goal proceeding into the usual world-impacting drama that heroes such as these are generally called into action to fix.
While the whole of the above may sound very standard, it’s the particulars that make the experience of Vesperia unique. Where many RPGs will quickly expand from a simple objective to substantial drama in the space of a game’s early moments, Yuri’s goal to fix his beloved town’s water supply carries him quite far into the tale. The story takes its time, introducing relevant figures and setting up a norm, before the bigger picture starts to take precedence, often treading into far darker waters than the outset would imply. It’s refreshing to see the “hero’s tale” told at a steady pace and witness Yuri’s development.
It’s this character development, not just of Yuri but the entire cast, which makes Vesperia a genuinely memorable experience. Each character is introduced slowly, starting with some sort of mystery or secret that is only discovered later, either in a moment of confidence or a sudden revelation. Each character grows as a part of the group, overcoming weaknesses or getting over biases. The writers seem to have taken pains to never rush anyone’s development and never push them forward except where it finally makes sense for them to have changed. Heart-warming, inspiring, amusing, these moments are, and the keystones that hold the whole experience in place.
The new characters have also been implemented with similar attention to detail. In my early time with the game, it was earnestly unclear to me who had been added in this new edition, and even with this knowledge now I would struggle to separate each of them from the main cast. For new players like me, this helps keep the experience cohesive while returning fans should enjoy seeing how the two new playable characters weave in and out through the journey, especially the completely new one who is a delight through most of the game.
Unfortunately, the praise from me comes to the usual abrupt halt when we get to the combat system of the “Tales of” series of games, with Vesperia not being an exception. The Linear Motion Battle System (LMBS) that all Tales of games have operated off has never struck a chord with me. You’d be familiar with it if you’ve played any of the series: movement is restricted to a linear connection between you and a single opponent, upon who you unleash simple repetitive combos. You’re able to move in free-space with a press of the button, but more often for positioning reasons rather than any more substantial tactics. It ultimately amounts to simply alternating between wailing on your opponent and blocking their return blows.
Amplifying this issue, Vesperia’s combat feels uniquely slow even compared to other games in the series. Enemies seem to have large pools of HP requiring several repeated combos to take down, while the combos themselves feel clunky. Each combo ends with a substantial amount of downtime as your character recovers from the exertion of any set of attacks. Overall, the action of battle feels slow, repetitive and frustrating, especially when each encounter is bordered by an intro and outro scene. Finally, the large number of enemies in any given area and their tendency to respawn when changing screens, it can be draining to get through a simple dungeon.
That said, I will acknowledge my enjoyment for the skill development system. Seemingly taking a leaf from Final Fantasy IX’s book, characters learn skills from weapons which they can then equip without the weapon at their discretion. This incentivises the player to monitor their equipment closely, gives the player a limited yet focused pool of skills to learn from, and offers a large degree of flexibility between battles. While I didn’t enjoy the base combat system, finding a way to combine skills to produce an efficient victory was satisfying in itself; a sort of meta-fun, but enjoyable nonetheless.
It’s hard to say much on a presentation stand-point as Tales of Vesperia is a 10-year-old game. Even with the remastering, there weren’t any visuals or musical pieces that left a strong impression on me, beyond a few town themes that were bordering on being grating. While fans will likely appreciate the tweaks towards modern improvement, new players shouldn’t expect to see or hear anything particularly remarkable here, but similarly will probably not find anything too displeasing.
A note on the Switch version: while it was especially convenient to play while on the move, the portable mode suffers compared to docked mode. You don’t need a side-by-side to spot some minor differences, as the handheld presentation is notably blurred compared to the crisp presentation while docked. I also had a few crashes that cost me progress, but only while handheld, and never so much that I couldn’t recover from thanks to the large number of places to save.
It’s also worth noting that the original version of Vesperia did not feature voiced skits, which have now been added with the new release. While I was delighted to play a fully voiced game, those with more discerning ears have pointed out that the newly recorded voices for the skits are a poor imitation of the original voice actor’s work, resulting in a disconnect between skits and the rest of the game.
Tales of Vesperia is an unusual beast: beloved by fans for its unique cast and mature story, but whose combat system is only distinct from other games in the series by its slower speed. While I didn’t enjoy the bulk of the combat sections, especially when working through a long dungeon or wide field, the story of Yuri and his companions has built itself a place in my memory and is an adventure I will recommend to others for a while to come. You’ll need to love the battle system the series is known for or have a lot of patience to do it, but Tales of Vesperia is worth experiencing, and the Definitive Edition is absolutely the most sensible way to do it.