When it comes to traditional RPGs, Microsoft still has their work cut out in winning over fans of one of the most popular genres in Japan. Sure, we’ve seen a good portion of action RPGs (Elder Scrolls series, Fable) and MMORPGS (Phantasy Star Online, Final Fantasy XI Online) on the Xbox and Xbox 360 but other than that, the number of traditional RPGs is few and far between. Now it seems that Microsoft has finally attempted to heighten their RPG appeal on the most recent Xbox 360 by providing a few more traditional RPGs to whet the appetites of American Xbox 360 owners and to force Japanese to buy them.
Big name titles such as Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, though not as critically acclaimed as some of the best RPGs on the market, give a good start when it comes to 1st party RPG support; and because of the overall success of the 360, other titles by developers more known for their RPGs (Infinite Undiscovery and Star Ocean by Square Enix,Enchanted Arms by Ubisoft, and Eternal Sonata & Tales of Vesperia by Namco Bandai Games America) are finally buying into the plan. And though we still haven’t seen a complete show stopper (traditional) RPG title to date on the 360, things are improving for the big M’s system.
Tales of Vesperia is the most recent traditional RPG exclusive on the 360 and it has really made a splash in Japan since its release. With the help of Tales and a few other titles including Infinite Undiscovery, the 360 has actually outsold the PS3 significantly in Japan for several weeks (a Microsoft system actually sold in Japan you say?). This is probably due to its hybridization of RPGs and anime, making the Tales series one of the more prominent series in Japan as of late. The Tales series has also seen great success in the States with former titles but can Vesperia carry its popularity over as well?
When you turn on Tales of Vesperia, you immediately are taken into a rock star title sequence featuring high definition anime akin to the kind one would see in any anime cartoon. All of the characters and cut scenes were personally drawn just for the game and along with a catchy title song you could easily mistake this title sequence for any typical anime. The presentation of the game follows this trend by providing a very nice looking cel-shaded approach to anime (the best way to take it into the 3D world in my opinion). Most of the areas you visit in the game are very vivid and beautiful, taking advantage of the 360’s next gen power by providing you with backgrounds that are stunning with no pop-in. I did feel like the over world looked a little bland at times and the frame rate did drop occasionally but other than that, the game was beautiful.
As for sound, the most notable part is its great voice acting. As was the case with previous Tales titles, this game has excellent translation over to English and the voice acting sounds directly out of an anime. The musical score isn’t too bad either, providing gamers with a large amount of synthesized tracks. My only complaint was the lack of any fully orchestrated songs.
Players begin their adventure following a brash, sarcastic, ex-Imperial Knight named Yuri Lowell who means well but always seems to get into more trouble than necessary. Yuri lives in the lower quarter of Zaphias, a city with strict differences between social classes, ruled by a corrupt empire. After running into a girl named Estellise while inside the Imperial castle, they set off on a quest to find his long time old pal Flynn. Though the story to Tales of Vesperia is definitely similar to many others out there, it does have its interesting plot twists and “wow” moments that you would expect from a 50+ hour RPG.
Tales of Vesperia follows the staples that made previous Tales games so interesting and adds its own polish as well. First of all, players can get a better idea of the individual personalities of the characters by watching optional skits from time to time. These skits are short and rely on 2D caricatures of the characters but provide charming interactions between the cast. Also following with the trends of previous Tales titles, cooking has been included in the mix, where players can use a set of ingredients and recipes (discovered by finding the Wonder Chef in one of his many hiding places).
Battle is also a staple of the series, providing more involved combat than that of most traditional RPGs. Battles are not random, but rather are triggered by physically running into an enemy. This allows players the opportunity to dodge battles if they so choose or even gain advantages using the art of surprise (later on). Battles are fought in real time rather than turn based, where players are given full control of their character (another characteristic of past Tales titles). Up jumps, B along with any direction attacks, RB targets, LB allows free movement, A (again with any direction) uses special artes, X blocks. Players can string up combos with the use of different attacks and can learn new artes just by battling and using already known artes enough.
Combat is simplistic with spurts of depth sprinkled throughout. Along with artes are the inclusion of skills, inherent abilities that are learned by using specific items for a long enough time (sort of like experience for weapons but the skills are carried on even after the weapon is unequipped). Skills range anywhere from increased defense or HP to the ability to back step by pressing a quick button sequence. Overall, these add a huge amount of depth to the gameplay but I found the button activated ones difficult to remember at times if even unnecessary.
Players are also given the ability to assign artes to different buttons, including A + any direction as well as any direction on the right analog stick. Though the A button can only be used to control artes for your own character, the right stick can control the artes of your companions as well. Players also are given the ability to control the fighting style of your 3 AI companions. By assigning the D-Pad to different combat schemes, you can order your companions to fight in any preset style or even your own custom styles.
So combat is simple and deep at the same time but is it really necessary to utilize all of the mechanics to their fullest in order to beat this game? The answer is yes and no. Most of the game can be breezed through without the need for these advanced mechanics but as the bosses get more brutal and nasty towards the end of the game, it is nice to be able to command your characters or use the right move-sets to stand a chance. You can always gain more levels if that’s your cup of tea but if you’re into the difficult road, you may want to start learning the difficult skills that require button combinations and you may want to start assigning attack formations to your team.
Another interesting mechanic that helps make this game more enjoyable and possibly easier is the ability to play 2-4 player co-op. Much cooler than the co-op in turn based traditional RPGS, this one actually allows for all of its players to truly contribute to the team through their gaming skills and quick decisions. It’s also a great feature for anyone who wants to share an RPG with their friend/spouse/whoever and allows gaming spectators to actually take part in the game with a worthwhile role.
A Tale to Rule all Tales
All-in-all, Tales of Vesperia is an excellent traditional RPG and the best on the 360 to date. It isn’t anything truly groundbreaking nor does it further itself greatly from its predecessors but it does take a huge jump in presentation, provide gamers with the best of all worlds in terms of Tales games and polishes all of the best parts of previous games to provide gamers with a fully immersive experience. With a beautifully captivating presentation as well as a lengthy story, this is a great addition to any RPG fan’s library.