Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition Review (Switch)
Tales of Vesperia, originally released for the Xbox 360 over a decade ago, has finally released on Switch, and marks the Tales series’ first foray onto a Nintendo platform since Tales of the Abyss on 3DS back in 2012. But according to the game’s producer, Yoshito Higuchi, Vesperia only marks the beginning for the Tales series on the Switch, which is great news for any JRPG fan. The definitive edition of Vesperia includes improved graphical fidelity and additional content made for the Japanese-exclusive PS3 version – something which might entice those that have played it before to experience it once more.
First impressions can carry a lot of weight though, and Vesperia on Switch could very well be someone’s first exposure to the Tales series. I personally have not played a Tales game since Phantasia almost 20 years ago, and I only vaguely remember it for the series’ unique battle system. So, I too have been eager to see what the franchise has to offer, and whether or not the new goodies and fresh coat of paint would be enough to allow Vesperia to have the same impact that it once did over 10 years ago.
Tales of Vesperia begins by introducing us to Yuri, a young man that once served his empire before realizing that necessary changes would be nigh impossible within the confines of such an indomitable faction. His journey begins by tracking down a thief that has stolen a blastia, ancient devices that play a large role in Vesperia’s tale, can be used to manage natural resources and, most importantly, provide protection from hostile entities in a large area (primarily towns). This seemingly isolated incident leads to Yuri befriending an array of individuals, each with their own laundry list of things that they desire. Their journey together reveals that greed and corruption can run rampant in even the noblest of political causes, which kick-starts the establishment of their very own independent faction. As a united front, they not only seek the answers to their own questions, but also a way to prevent the world from suffering at the hands of the ignorant and power hungry.
Don’t let my tight-lipped, very brief synopsis fool you – Tales of Vesperia is very a multi-layered, story-driven experience, and is probably one of the most dialogue-heavy RPGs I’ve played in recent years. That is not a bad thing, but those that prefer a heavier emphasis on action more than anything might be in for a bit of a culture shock here. Story bits are delivered in three ways: traditional “text box” dialogue exchanges, scripted events/cutscenes, and skits – the latter of which should be instantly recognizable by veterans of the Tales series. I’ve written a separate article that focuses entirely on skits, so I will not go into much detail here. But for new Tales players, they are basically another form of scripted event in which participants are portrayed by portraits alone, and are often less flashy than their more traditional cutscene cousins because of it. They are generally humorous in nature, but not always, and are entirely optional if you just want to skip over them entirely. However, I’d suggest giving them a chance as I personally grew to really enjoy the banter within them, and found it to be a refreshing way of delivering further context to situations.
Tales of Vesperia is quite odd in comparison to your average JRPG as there isn’t really a definitive antagonist or ultimate task for the majority of the game. More often than not you are completing various sub-objectives that can apply to the overarching quest, but it really feels more like you’re helping out your companions more than just simply tracking down the “big baddie” themselves. To some this might lend to the feeling that you’re getting nowhere, but it actually puts a bigger emphasis on building your party members up in the process. Overall, I found myself enjoying the more non-traditional direction of the story because it meant that Yuri and his cohorts were almost always the focal point rather than the gang mindlessly chasing after the “ultimate being”.
Easily the most interesting part of Vesperia is its unique combat system which is, in typical Tales fashion, an iteration upon the The Linear Motion Battle System (LMBS) that has served as the series’ battle system backbone since the very beginning. It is an action combat system that is executed on a two-dimensional plane, where you attack and perform various other maneuvers in hopes of defending against – and outsmarting – your opponents. In many ways it feels like a traditional 2D fighting game, but with multiple party members AND monsters capable of being on-screen at once rather than it being a classic 1v1 matchup. While the majority of your skillset must be used from the two-dimensional perspective, the free-run feature allows you to momentarily break through those confines and run around a three-dimensional battlefield in order to move your character into more advantageous positions.
In Vesperia, there are multiple tiers of artes (aka. abilities) which can be chained together for serious damage. Artes can be learned a number of ways: through natural progression of content, after using other artes a certain number of times, and as rewards from side quests. The game’s overlimit gauge serves as a means to further bolster your artes, and can temporarily grant your character access to even more powerful attacks and the ability to chain all sorts of artes together sans their standard prerequisites, among some other extremely useful perks. Bosses can also make use of their own overlimit gauge, adding an additional sense of danger to upper echelon encounters. Using your offensive abilities in combination with an intelligent defense is key to victory. Yes, you must be prepared to play on the defense at times too, as the tail end of combos can often leave you vulnerable to enemy attacks for a short period of time and can easily spell death at times on the higher difficulties.
Up to three other party members can join the fray, but you are only able to control one of them at a time. The AI-controlled characters will act based on sets of strategies that you can customize, and functions on a basic level similarly to the gambit system in Final Fantasy XII. Strategies and active characters can even be changed during battle, though the latter won’t be available until later on in your adventure. Simply put, Vesperia’s combat is fast-paced and consistently thrilling throughout your journey.
Outside of the combat system, Tales of Vesperia more or less follows the standard JRPG gameplay blueprint. You will travel across a vast amount of landscapes full of various points of interest, including bustling towns, lush forests, and arid biomes – while catching up with townsfolk and battling it out with foes you happen to come across. You’ll uncover all sorts of goods over the course of your adventure, and no city worth its salt will be without a shop or two.
Your shopping list can prove to be quite troublesome to your wallet though, which is why the game’s crafting system, synthesis, plays an integral role in avoiding all-out bankruptcy. Combining certain monster components with a bit of cash allows you to create all sorts of things, and is much more cost efficient than buying the items outright from the shop. While you may run into spots where you’re missing the funds or a component or two for the next big upgrade, there is almost never an instance where you are forced to grind excessively to get what you want – as long as you are making it a point to fight enemies along the way.
A large assortment of skills can be learned through equipped weapons, which can then be set outside of battle in order to benefit from their perks without having them equipped. This encourages the use of every weapon in the game rather than always going for the weapon with the best stats – at least until you learn their associated skills. If you’ve played Final Fantasy IX, then the skill system in Vesperia is almost identical in nature to what is present there. A lot of the skills can be game changing too, so be sure to learn all of them as you have time.
Graphics, Performance, And Sound
Vesperia uses an anime-heavy, cel-shaded approach to its character design that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but most certainly holds up to the sands of time well. Textures and other assets have been overhauled for the Definitive Edition, and look pretty great despite its shell clearly being a relic of the past. Vesperia manages to run at 60FPS most of the time, with the occasional dips happening in certain locations (but never in battle). The performance is about the same in both docked and handheld modes, with the only real difference between the two being the 1080p and 720p resolutions, respectively.
I’m the kind of player that gets drawn to soundtracks easily, but I’m a bit conflicted about what is present in Tales of Vesperia. I’m so used to stellar soundtracks going hand-in-hand with epic-length JRPGs, and I was a bit let down upon discovering that an outlier to the rule exists, at least to me. The Tales of Vesperia soundtrack is good, but not great, and does not fall within the usual “involuntarily humming” category that almost any other JRPG in the same vein does for me. My most favorite tracks are ones that, unfortunately, only play in singular, small areas of the game:
Seeing as this version of Vesperia is a remaster of a decade-old game, I kind of anticipated the possibility of having to deal with some wonky or antiquated systems – and it turns out that I was right. There are a multitude of side quests available to take on in Vesperia, from the standard affairs to more pressing timed events. There are no quest markers or guide arrows, so it is up to you completely to decipher how to complete certain objectives. While the lack of handholding with side quests is not an issue in itself, the problem stems from not having a way to keep track of the actual progress of them without manually jotting notes on a pad.
You might have any number of side quests open at any time, in all sorts of stages, and it is entirely up to you to keep track of who needs what, when, where, and why. If you plow through some of the main story and want to go back to a side quest later, good luck with remembering where you left off – and that is if you can even complete the task now. Again, minimizing the HUD-based side quest handholding is actually a good thing as it encourages more exploration and experimentation on your part, but being responsible for keeping up with the most basic of quest information just feels odd in a world where simple quest logs are the norm even in budget-tiered titles.
Then there is cooking – something which I tend to gravitate towards in any RPG, but the way Vesperia handles it is just absurd. The basics are innocent enough: gather the required ingredients and recipes in order to cook various dishes. You can only consume one meal in between each battle, and their status effects vary from recipe to recipe. Some recipes can be discovered through exploration, but the majority of them can only be learned through cooking certain meals with certain people, multiple times.
Vesperia has a cast of nine party members, and you can only have 15 of each ingredient on hand at one time. This means you will aimlessly burn through tons of time going back to town just to restock, and that’s hoping if you even have the right combination of character and dish to proc a new recipe in the first place. The entire system would be fine if you were given some sort of indication as to the tastes and cooking abilities of each character, but you are instead given nothing to go on. As a result, what should be a quick, interesting, and easy sub-system turns into a convoluted mess for literally no reason whatsoever.
Issues aside, Tales of Vesperia is an easy-to-recommend title for any traditional JRPG fan. Because it holds onto the framework of a decade old game in some ways, more modern RPG enthusiasts might have a tough time with a few of its systems. However, Vesperia easily manages to revitalize itself with updated graphics and additional content never before seen in the West – all for a very reasonable $50 USD. It takes a more uncommon approach to its storytelling that focuses on building up Yuri and his various companions over time rather than obsessing over the most ultimate of bad guys from the very beginning. End-game aspirations are great to have, but mean nothing if you are not first able to cultivate the relationships with your companions – something that Vesperia does exceptionally well. While it would have been nice to see some adjustment made to some of its more dated systems (ie. lack of a quest log, etc.), Tales of Vesperia is an epic adventure that – I’m so glad – only marks the beginning for the series on Switch.