Game Review

by Dave Riley,

Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition

Nintendo Switch

Review:
Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition

It took ten years, and one legendarily dismissive tweet, but we finally got it.

Originally released on Xbox as part of Microsoft's push for a Japanese audience, Tales of Vesperia's updated and expanded PS3 version was a Japan-only release, barring a unofficial translation patch a few years back. Back in 2008, Vesperia seemed to be setting a new standard for the series. Its protagonist, Yuri, was an honest-to-goodness adult. Where Tales leads to that point were almost exclusively in the sixteen-and-small-town-stupid model, Yuri was twenty years old and stuffed to the gills with fully-formed opinions on how the world should work.

More expansion pack than DLC, Vesperia: Definitive Edition is everything you'd want out of an update like this. Extra sub-events galore, every character gains a grip of new special attacks, almost all cutscenes are now voiced, and two brand new, full-integrated party members—Flynn, Yuri's naïve knightly rival, and the mysterious(ly charming) young pirate, Patty Fleur. Patty, especially, is no cutting-room-floor cast-off. Incorporated into the majority of the game's cutscenes, she's got the full complement of attacks, side quests, and verbal tics of any other character, and, on sheer charm alone outclasses most of the main cast. Child characters are always dicey in RPGs, doubly so in Tales, which has a propensity to hot-glue a screeching anthropomorphic sidekick to them.

This avalanche of new stuff isn't without compromise. With probably twice as much voiced dialogue than the original game, stand-in voices fill the gaps in the new recording left by actors like Troy Baker. Hearing Troy Baker, and then a pinch hitter doing his best Troy Baker, in back to back cutscenes is a constant aural dissonance throughout the game, but with the Japanese voice acting available—which includes Patty's gleeful "nanoja!" appended to every other line—this is a moot point for any who'd prefer the original language.

What a time it was, when Tales came jam-packed with minigames and side-events, and each character had a dozen costumes to choose from, with not a single $3.99 price tag in sight. It reminds us of what we've lost. From a now-foreign era before pre-order and post-launch DLC sunk their claws into everything with a budget, the original Xbox release was the first Tales to dip its toes into the microtransaction pool. Fortunately, at the time, they seemed to have no idea what to do with it, and so only included absurd value propositions like $5 for level boosts and healing items. These are now included in the Definitive Edition gratis, a nice a la carte bump if you don't feel like grinding for experience, cash, or crafting items. Vesperia survives the porting process with its myriad unlockable costumes intact—and most of what was paid DLC for the Japanese-only PS3 release is available as free downloads (though with some notable omissions, like Karol's Sergeant Frog get-up). If you're accustomed to the pittance of copy-pasted costumes that recent games like Berseria offer, you'll hardly know what to start here. By end-game you'll be dressing the party up as cat waiters, card sharps, rakish gentlemen, and… bancho dogs?

This was the first HD Tales game, and it gleamed with production values the series had never seen before. Or, unfortunately, since. Vesperia has an honest-to-goodness world map to explore, rather than indistinguishable box canyons linking every town. Its menus look they were made in a program slightly more advanced than MS Paint. Even in its minor cutscenes characters physically interact with each other instead of standing around spouting dialogue with crossed arms. It may seem absurd to cite these basic asthetic niceties but the modern Tales game often lacks them entirely. Vesperia was a fine looking game in 2008 and, because it focused more than brute force polygon pushing, it presents a more cohesive, visually appealing style than games several years its junior. That aesthetic may still be "JRPG Fantasy," but it's comfort food, in that way. It's not a graphical powerhouse, it's pleasant. And pleasant, apparently, is what stands the test of time.

It's not just the shine and sub-menu niceties that distinguish Vesperia from its colleagues. With its plot line twined around vigilante justice, Vesperia examines darker themes than just about any other game in the series, such as the ethics of the personal dispensation of justice, or the (often fatal) repercussions from a character's failure to accept personal responsibility for their actions. When the powerful aren't held accountable, is it just to take matters into your own hands? It's a far cry from Berseria's basic tale of revenge, or Abyss's rudimentary examination of personhood.

Well… maybe less a far cry than a stone's throw; a Tales narrative is a Tales narrative, after all. Eventually, the Noble Princess takes center stage, and the spirits show up in the second act to tell you how you must set things right. Like every other Tales game, the propensity for proper nouns is in full effect. It's a while before they even just what a "bodhi blastia" is. But more or less, you get the jist. It's magic. Everything is magic. And, as is usually the case, the plot eventually sets aside its corporeal antagonists, corrupt politicians, for that recurrent theme of "what if magic, but too much?" Far from a revolutionary screed, Vesperia might question the state's monopoly on justice, but it still provides Flynn as Yuri's counterpoint, that time-honored anime archetype: the gormless do-gooder who believes he can reform the system from within.

Hey, at least it raises the question.

Vesperia is one of the last Tales games where actual 4 player co-op existed in more than name only, as most recent ones (Xilia, Zestiria) complicate their battle systems to the point where playing with four humans is a huge disadvantage. And though it's hard to imagine that most people will have three friends willing to endure a JRPG that clocks forty hours for a barebones run (and upwards of a hundred once you start tracking down secret hot springs and super dungeons) as a two-player experience it excels. On the battlefield, characters are as varied as their personalities. Yuri's the expected all-rounder, genius mage Rita sits back and hurls spells, Judith, the lancer, is practically a Devil May Cry protag, spending more time in the air than on the ground, one of them is straight-up just A Dog, and new-comer Patty's Win-Some-Lose-Some gambling attacks meshes perfectly with her capricious, happy-go-lucky characterization. Her spells are quick, but random, and her melee specials sometimes backfire, setting out a giant bomb that fizzles out like a cartoon dud or, say, having her battlefield cooking blow up in your face and poison your party to death right at the feet of the final boss—as happened to us.

But we managed to laugh it off; Patty's just that kind of kid.

Like any Tales game, it doles out its mechanical complexity slower than any JRPG this side of Final Fantasy XIII. Five hours in you're learning how to cook after battle. Fifteen hours in they sit you down to explain Fatal Strikes. Characters progress by learning skills from equipped weapons, a mechanic carbon copied from Final Fantasy 9. Here, is another site of personality injection. Only the cowardly Karol can learn "Play Dead," which lets you eat dirt after a knockdown while sneakily restoring your mana. Repede is the first to unlock the ability to use healing items on other characters, and so he becomes your all-purpose puppy alchemist in the early game. Weapon skills give a purpose to look forward to shops and to hunt down every chest in every dungeon, because equipment offers something more than numerical upgrades. Healing-focused Estelle will never be a melee powerhouse, but for the player who's been relegated to sitting back and churning out First Aid on repeat, there's a thrill in finding a mid-game sword that tacks an extra finishing blow onto her melee combo.

Sometimes this can be frustrating. You have to devote limited skill points to basic movement functionality like back-dash and air recovery. Still, it's a damn sight less annoying than later games, which practically required spreadsheets (not to mention hours synthesizing Brass Belts into Brass Belts +10) in order to expand your melee combo—in Vesperia it costs eleven skill points and you turn it on and off with the push of a button. Put against purportedly old-school games like Octopath Traveler, which drown you in systems from the title screen, Vesperia is immediately digestible. There's just enough meat on the bones to keep you coming back to the menus, but you'll spend most of your time in motion, spamming sword slices and spells, seeking hidden caches of crafting materials, and clicking on every townsfolk—if you feel like it—just to make sure one isn't hiding a cutscene or even better, a new special attack.

(And if you don't feel like doing the work, fortunately someone's already handled it for you.)

Even for those who haven't played it, Vesperia isn't anything new. It's a dyed-in-the-wool JRPG, and its successes aren't based on how it eschews the tropes of its genre, but how it embraces them. It didn't obliterate its genre in 2008, and it certainly won't in 2019, but this is some of the finest comfort food you'll ever be served.

Grade:
Overall : A+
Graphics : A-
Sound/Music : C+
Gameplay : A-
Presentation : A

+ It's the best Tales game in its best incarnation
Numerous JRPG idiosyncrasies like missable sidequests, extra grinding, and a bonanza of cheesy tropes

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