Tales of Vesperia may just be one of the most charming JRPGs ever made. Enriched by a cast of characters that forgo the tropey nonsense of the genre, who are pulled through a world that exists before and after their presence, Tales of Vesperia is a bright, breezy breath of fresh air in a gaming scene so often weighed down with apocalyptic, world-ending crises.
Tales of Vesperia manages to get down on its haunches and examine the dirt under the fingernails of its world. From the opening quest – a heartfelt effort to repair the water main in a small, poor district of an opulent city – right through to its end, Tales of Vesperia is a game built with spirit and sizzling creativity, resulting in a game that doesn’t just serve as a satisfying JRPG, but also a surprisingly valid piece of social commentary.
With a battle system that’s involved enough to keep your fingers twitching but readable enough for even RPG newcomers to get their heads around, Vesperia is a well-rounded, well-balanced RPG. The top-heavy bloat that made Octopath Traveller a slight disappointment last year is nowhere to be seen here – mini-games, side quests and supporting content weave in and out of the simple, well-communicated well story to deliver a game that’s just as fun to walk your way through today as it was a decade ago.
I Put Estelle On You
Let’s start with the protagonist. In something of a JRPG rarity, Vesperia‘s Yuri is an almost-adult hero– brimming with early-20s enthusiasm yet headstrong enough to have the cockiness of his teens in his blood, he’s a great Byronic hero. A strong leader whose heroic intentions are weighed down by his willful attitude, he’s likable and refreshingly relatable – a far cry from Square Enix’s stock of brooding emos.
Though the campaign is slow to get started (it is an RPG, after all), you soon begin to assemble a ragtag bunch of unlikely allies as you trek through the vibrant, charming world. Each character comes with a slew of new surprises – Namco Tales Studio somehow manages to just about subvert lazy character tropes with almost every member of the main cast, offering something familiar before writing a curveball in at the last minute.
Tales of Vesperia will keep you on your toes as far as characterisation goes – yes, the story might eventually devolve into a typically grand RPG showdown, but the interactions of people in your party, the development of the protagonists (and antagonists!) and the cosy, familial unit you end up with is nothing short of heartwarming.
RPGs of late have neglected how important these interactions between characters are – it was our main complaint in the Octopath Traveler review we published last year – but Vesperia seems to make a point out of making sure you know exactly how each of these characters feels about each other.
Whether it’s newcomer Patty’s opinion on the surly-yet-loyal canine Repede, or the uncomfortable romantic chemistry between protagonists Yuri, Flynn and Estelle, there’s always some interesting social dynamic bubbling away just beneath the surface. It gives so much life to the game, it’s astonishing more JRPGs didn’t take their queues from Vesperia going forward.
Though the game was originally released for the Xbox 360 back in 2009, it still manages to sting with some pretty sharp social commentary, even in 2019. The themes of classism, xenophobia and fascism are all explored… and honestly, they’re explored with more nuance and depth than we remember (or maybe they’re just more relevant now than ever before? Hard to judge past our rose-tinted glasses).
Eat Your Artes Out
On the gameplay side of things, despite going back in time by almost a decade, the title still holds up. The game introduced Artes and Fatal Strikes into the Tales Of series, and nailed it first time. Combat is satisfyingly fluid and responsive – what you’d expect from an action-RPG on the Switch – but also scratches the strategic itch that some skill-based games forget to address, too.
It’s still a bit grindy – come on, it is an RPG after all – but thanks to the lack of random encounters and the ‘Encounter Link’ system that lets you chain enemies on the overworld together (resulting in troves of experience at a time), you are in control of the battles and the pace of which you level up. Determining which enemies you can encounter and having the option to stun and bypass them in the overworld makes up for the in-dungeon backtracking you’ll have to do from time to time, too.
Once you’ve expanded your cast of characters, setting yourself absurd little challenges also becomes quite fun: a team of all mages taking on a set of 20 enemies? Sure, why not! It’s this level of freedom and expression that Tales of Vesperia excels at, and the enemy variety and the satisfying pop and bluster of the special moves (Artes) makes each encounter feel interesting and – to a point – unique.
The little victory screen flourishes – where every character interacts in different ways depending on who you have in your party – also makes winning each encounter a treat. In may not have the Victory Theme of Final Fantasy to rouse you, but this consistent, charming focus on character never gets dull… and is such a huge part of what makes this game so memorable.
Modern Twist on a Classic
Back in the day, Tales of Vesperia won accolades for its impressive voice work. The Definitive Edition adds in Flynn and Patty as fully playable characters this time around, and we’re happy to report that in both cases, the voicework lives up the acclaim that the game garnered before, and the script is just as tight as ever with all the new story elements weaving in without an issue.
The new mini-games (the Repede racing one being a highlight) are so-so – Tales Of Vesperia was never particularly rated for its side content, but they’re pleasant distractions from the combat and exploration gameplay loop that you’ll have been used to from the 360 original.
End-game content has been bolstered from the original 360 release, too, and there are now more bosses, secrets and rewards for those who dare to go off-the-beaten track. Still, depending on which version of Vesperia you played, it might not all be entirely new. The majority of the ‘new’ content in this edition is taken from the Japanese PS3 re-release, which came two years after the worldwide launch of the game on 360. As such, for brand new players or those that want to refresh their memories of the game, this modern redux is an undeniably good value proposition.
One cosmetic – yet oddly satisfying – bonus the Definitive Edition grants you is a set of new costumes that you wouldn’t have had the chance to play with before… dressing Yuri up as Mitsurugi from Soul Calibur just feels so right and using his samurai-inspired Artes in battle? It’s a joyous love letter to Bandai Namco games that we didn’t know we needed in our lives.
New dual Artes for Yuri and Flynn and an extended Over Limit max level (it’s now eight!), combined with some amazing ‘Tales Of’ series boss cameos and a bit of welcome spit and polish applied to select dungeons make this version of the game one that feels – almost – unrecognisable from the blurry version that ran so smoothly back on the 360.
Is Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition any good?
Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition is a worthy purchase for anyone that enjoyed the original or simply anyone that enjoys heartfelt, compelling RPGs. There’s enough new content — weaved in with remastered visuals and remixed locations — to appease even the most stingy of Remaster skeptics out there.
Thanks to these improvements — alongside the entirely different flavour this JRPG offers compared to the other fare available at the moment — this is a game that, by all accounts is still worthy of your attention. In 2008, Vesperia made for one of the most interesting and refreshing role-playing experiences of the Xbox 360-era. The fact that it still feels just as essential today is a testament to how timeless this role playing classic truly is.