The Greatest Games: Tales of Vesperia (2008)

Tales of Vesperia (2008)
Developed by Namco Tales Studio

Tales is a messy series; as far as narrative JRPGs go, Tales tends to be filled with generic plotlines and annoying characters. Whatever benefit later entries carry is largely negated by drawn out nothingness. Breakout hit Tales of Symphonia avoids this with a few strong characters, but certain parts remain lacking. Tales of Vesperia was an outright improvement on everything the series had to offer, from a strong cast of characters to its subversive story to continued advancements on the gameplay. The only reason this game didn’t ascend to classic status was some poor decisions during its release; Microsoft spent a few years trying and failing to appeal to a Japanese audience, resulting in a bunch of largely bland JRPGS being exclusive to the Xbox 360. Vesperia was the highlight of the bunch, but that did not mean anyone went out of their way to buy it. Most fans of JRPGs went with the other consoles, and Namco was pushing out enough Tales games that people could get their fix elsewhere. A definitive edition was finally released on all the major systems in 2019, but its legacy as one of the few great JRPGs of the seventh console generation is destined to be neglected.

Tales is one of those series JRPG fans wish was consistently better for one clear reason; instead of having turn-based combat, the series plays like a Smash Bros-styled fighter, where a simple directional input changes the attack. Each character is more than a new set of stats, coming with their own play style. This might mean little alone, but Tales is a rare JRPG series with multiplayer, allowing all four party members to be controlled by actual players. While there are plenty of online RPGs, there’s something about the local coop in this style that stands out.

Even without the multiplayer, these mechanics provide an enjoyable alternative to navigating through menus. This would never outright replace turn-based gameplay (a few series do actually use it well, as rare as they can seem), but it’s certainly a unique twist on an otherwise traditional JRPG. For a series where the narrative is rarely above average, addicting combat was a necessity. Tales is always a pleasure to play, even if the urge to skip through cut scenes can be strong.

Vesperia, however, is great through and through. A lot of this relies on the cast; the grand narrative scope isn’t the clearest, but the story instead sustains itself through smaller acts where we dive into Yuri Lowell’s mindset. Where the typical JRPG protagonist tends to be either annoyingly optimistic or brooding, Yuri is jaded but in a believable way. He has seen suffering and knows some problems won’t disappear on their own. Most protagonists are taking fate into their own hands, but few act as straightforward vigilantes.

While falling into more traditional tropes, the other characters are simply handled well. Raven plays the failed Casanova, the detached type with a playful persona who must be hiding something. Rita’s rude behavior plays well off the other characters. And then there’s Redepe, a blue dog who smokes a pipe and fights by holding a dagger between his teeth. What’s not to love?

Despite its many flaws, Tales is a series where every battle is fun. Remove those flaws and you get an outright masterpiece.

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