Top critical review
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Good, but not great
on 18 January 2010
Having just finished playing through another Tales game not that long ago in the form of Wii game Tales of Symphonia 2, perhaps I was suffering a little burnout with this sort of game, but I honestly wasn't overly enthused by this game.
Don't get me wrong, it's a perfectly fine JRPG title, with the appearance of a properly realised, full world map(A very real rarity in 360 JRPGs) being a big plus in my book, but in so many other respects, it falls decidedly flat.
In particular, I was VERY disappointed with the story in the game. Obviously finding anything new or original in any RPG's plot is an unrealistic expectation at this point in time, but the story in Tales of Vesperia is a little too all over the place for my liking, and didn't do anything with any of the more interesting plot points it sets up in the first half of it's story, choosing instead to focus on some nonsense about the importance of magic dragons not dying out or something. There threatened to be a really good plot focus at several points between the main character Yuri Lowell, a 'cool', uncaring guy whose questionable morals lead to some surprisingly shocking choices on his part at times, and his best friend Flynn, a straight laced knight of the Royal army with a strong belief in following the law, when the two of them are brought into conflict by genuinely dark plot twists that were actually really excellent I thought, and not just the usual JRPG by the numbers plot fluff. If you've ever seen the anime series Code Geass, then this will feel very similar to the sort of thing you got in that with the characters Lelouch and Suzaku. However, this plot just seems to get abandoned after a certain point in the story. Sorry if that's a spoiler or anything, but for me, just ignoring the single most gripping part of the plot to the point where it actually feels like some of the characterisation no longer makes sense is very close to being a deal breaker for me. At the very least, it tainted my view of the rest of the plot irreparably, and got in the way of my enjoyment rather badly. A serious disappointment on the story front.
Visually, the game looks amazing, with some pretty remarkable shading techniques at work to make the characters look just like 3D anime characters. The look is very reminiscent of last year's Naruto game, Ultimate Ninja Storm I thought, however, one area where Vesperia falls flat is in the character animations. True, in battle the characters move really well, but in cutscenes the animation is consistently stiff and lifeless on all the characters, a fact made all the more painful by the recent Tales of Symphonia 2 using motion captured actions to make the character models movements look extremely lifelike during the story sequences, despite the fact on a surface level, Vesperia is simply leagues ahead of Symphonia 2. It's a little jarring to say the least. Also, none of the town or dungeon visuals are half as impressive as the character models to look at it must be said.
Soundwise the game has a great soundtrack, and while the voice acting is good, for some reason half the dialogue is communicated through text only speech bubbles, sometimes even fairly significant story sequences. Again, even Symphonia 2 had more voice acting in it's storyline relevant dialogue, but in Vesperia it feels far more sparse. Presumably this was to make space so the game would fit on a single disc(A rare occurence for 360 JRPGs), which I guess is also why there is no Japanese language option, which is usual a standard feature in Namco Bandai games these days.
Gameplay is the same Tales combat system as ever, no random battles(Yay!), full free movement real time combat, it's all there, but...(And I feel bad about continually bringing it up) I found the combat to be a bit more limited than in Symphonia 2, with aerial combat being heavily de-emphasised in Vesperia, and Mystic artes being far more awkwardly implemented as well. The combat in Vesperia is otherwise fine, sure, with some impressively large scale battles with huge monsters occuring throughout. It does suffer the ever present Tales problem of feeling a little too button mash happy too often however.
So while this is a perfectly competent JRPG, it wasn't nearly as much fun as I had been led to believe it would be, with a seriously badly realised storyline, overly static and stiff visuals, underused voice acting, and a relatively limited combat system, the game is little more than another average Tales entry as far as I can see. Definitely not among the worst JRPGs you'll find on 360, but it isn't the best either.