One of the best Japanese role-players of the Xbox 360 era comes to modern consoles, but how does it hold up 10 years later?
Its only the second week of 2019 and already were on our second remaster, after New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. Thats not entirely unreasonable, given that this quiet time of year is perfect for releasing lower profile games, but it immediately made us wonder how many new Japanese role-players are currently lined up for release. The genre went into a sharp decline during the Xbox 360 era but recently there have been signs of recovery, and modernisation. And yet looking at 2019s release schedules almost all the big-name titles are remasters.
There is Kingdom Hearts III, although thats arguably more of a straight action game, and the secretive new Pokémon game but beyond that the only new titles are obscurities that only committed fans would recognise (were especially looking forward to Etrian Odyssey Nexus and Shin Megami Tensei V). Everything else though is remasters, from Trials Of Cold Steel I and II to games as disparate as Grandia, Mario & Luigi: Bowsers Inside Story, and a host of Final Fantasies.
The reason theres so many remasters is probably because making a brand-new game, which may only appeal to a niche audience, is becoming more and more expensive. A new Tales title was announced, but not named, last year but it seems likely to be years away at this point. So instead theres this: a remaster of the series most popular modern entry.
Although its never found much mainstream success in the West, the Tales series is traditionally seen as the third most popular role-playing series in Japan, after Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy (and not counting Pokémon). Although its probably in danger of losing that spot to Persona, if it hasnt already. The series works very much like Final Fantasy in that although there are a few direct sequels, and some common features, most games are completely separate entities.
Tales Of Vesperia was originally released for the Xbox 360 in 2008, with a PlayStation 3 version a year later that was only available in Japan. On paper it seems a fairly standard entry in the genre, although the updated version of its usual real-time combat system was something of a revelation at the time and the series typically melodramatic storytelling proved much more compelling than usual.
The plot itself though is tiresomely familiar and features the old chestnut of a new civilisation relying on mysterious ancient technology, while being menaced by a world-destroying evil. But despite the hackneyed plot the script and voiceovers are surprisingly good, with a cast of generally likeable characters.
The lead is Yuri, a lowborn ex-knight, and although the rest of the cast is more clichéd (the naive princess no one recognises, the annoying kid) none are left unchanged by the storys progress. As dopey as the plot is, the script manages to include some interesting political and class commentary, while style offering enough anime clichés to please fans with more conservative tastes.
The cel-shaded graphics were also a significant draw 10 years ago and while theyre neither as novel nor as technically impressive now theyve certainly aged better than many games from the same era, that featured a more photorealistic style. The animation is very stiff though and the art design is disappointingly unadventurous in terms of both the characters and landscapes.
The Linear Motion Battle System is also a little less unique now than it was (although its agreeably uncomplicated compared to newer entries) but the real-time combat will certainly be a draw for those that still associate Japanese role-players with turn-based battles and random encounters. Against ordinary opponents you can almost button bash your way to victory but more serious opponents require proper tactics and planning.
On the negative side the artificial intelligence for your allies, who you dont control directly, is frustratingly unreliable and there are some major difficulty spikes which force you to stop enjoying the game and waste your time with some old school level-grinding. The open world also seems very barren compared to modern games, or indeed many of its contemporaries.
None of these problems are new but most are only issues now because of the passage of time. If youve ever been curious about the Tales series this is still the best place to start and while this remaster doesnt add much beyond higher resolution visuals it is based on the PlayStation 3 edition, which had extra playable characters, more side quests, and extended voice-acting.
Outside of fan circles, Tales Of Vesperia may not be regarded as an all-time classic but it is one of the best Japanese role-players of the last generation and its tale is still one well worth experiencing.
Tales Of Vesperia: Definitive Edition
In Short: Formulaic but not always predictable, this remains the best of the Tales series and one of the definitive Japanese role-players of the 2000s.
Pros: Surprisingly well translated script and generally good voiceovers. Attractive visuals and enjoyable battle system.
Cons: Plot and characters are off-the-shelf clichés youve seen a hundred times. Battle system can feel shallow and is lessened by poor ally AI and the need to level grind. Barren open world.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Namco Tales Studio
Release Date: 11th January 2019
Age Rating: 12