vesperiacastI’m a relative newcomer to the Tales of series. My first exposure to the series was the 3DS port of 2005 PS2 entry Tales of the Abyss (which, if you haven’t played it, is fantastic), though a friend had previously urged me to buy a copy of Tales of Symphonia (the UK’s first entry in the long-running series) in 2004, and again in 2009 when 360 exclusive Tales of Vesperia launched. Both times I thought to myself that I’d pick up a copy at some point, and both times that proved impossible, as the meagre launch quantities sold through very quickly and no more copies were printed by publisher Namco-Bandai. The message was clear: buy Tales of games at launch or not at all.

Happily, the growth of download services this gen meant I got a chance to play Vesperia after all as it appeared on Xbox Live’s Games on Demand service in 2011. I finally got around to buying it around the beginning of 2012. And then, in the middle of last year, it suddenly appeared on the virtual shelves of various online retailers; after the success of Tales of the Abyss‘ 3DS port, and with Tales of Graces f on the horizon, Namco-Bandai apparently had renewed confidence in the series’ chances of success outside of Japan. When I saw the game available online, I was part-way through it and absolutely loving it. So of course I bought a physical copy too.

Tales of Vesperia begins in Zaphias, the imperial capital in a world called Terca Lumireis, and it’s here we’re introduced to protagonist Yuri Lowell. Yuri’s adventure begins with a crisis in the lower quarter, the part of the city set aside for the common people. Tellingly, the imperial knights don’t much care for the travails of the commoners, and so, when the power source for the quarter’s fountain is stolen, Yuri sets off to find the culprit by himself.

Yuri himself is a big reason behind my love for Tales of Vesperia; voiced by the now ever-present Troy Baker, he’s not the usual teenage male jRPG protagonist that gets in over his head before finding his inner strength and resolve to save the world. No, when first we meet Yuri he’s a twenty-something ex-Imperial Knight, already skilled with the use of various weapons and disillusioned with the way the world works. Instead of working within the restrictive confines of the system, Yuri wants to change things for the better, helping out those less fortunate along the way, regardless of the law or the personal consequences. This brings him into frequent conflict with his old friend Flynn, a knight rising through the ranks who wants to change the system lawfully from within.

Yuri’s a confident guy, though not to the point of arrogance, and has a cynical, sarcastic streak that plays beautifully with his sweet, charming yet endearingly naïve female counterpart Estellise. The interplay between the two leads becomes the game’s heart, the nexus around which the plot revolves, and the supporting cast that comes together around them is just as memorable; Rita, the teenage mage with an attitude problem, and Raven, the shady, unreliable guild member with a mysterious past are particular favourites, lighting up the frequent, and frequently hilarious, skits that pepper the game with funny one-liners and the occasional barbed quip.

The story concerns the overuse and abuse of a natural power source called aer and the secrets behinds it. Unbeknownst to most of the inhabitants of Terca Lumireis, the use of this power source, controlled via devices called blastia, led to calamity in the distant past, the specifics of which have been lost to time, even amongst the elf-like Kritya, whose ancient ancestors both created the blastia and sealed away the cataclysm its abuse wrought. Now, some thousand years later, forces in the empire seek to uncover the powers behind the blastia and use them for their own ends. There’s a strong environmentalist message throughout the game, a theme which is not only at the heart of quite a few games in the series, but also shared by many of the works of acclaimed animation director Hayao Miyazaki and his studio Ghibli.

Mechanically, the game is very similar to its direct predecessor Tales of the Abyss – unsurprising as much of the same team developed both games. So we get a refined version of Abyss‘ real time ‘Flex Range Linear Motion Battle System’, albeit with some embellishments; continually attack an enemy with a succession of similar strikes and a coloured circle may appear over the enemy offering the chance to do massive damage – especially handy when it comes to those boss battles with hundreds of thousands of HP to whittle down. The progression from Abyss also means we get a world map, something which later entries Tales of Graces and Tales of Xillia have excised. While I feel Xillia‘s field areas were vastly improved from Graces empty corridors, I’d still prefer a nice big open world map – you just can’t beat flying through the air on a boat carried by a whale-dragon-thing.

Visually, Tales of Vesperia is a beautiful game – I think it still looks better than the latest game Xillia. Like all entries in the series, both games go for an anime aesthetic, but I think Vesperia does it better. The flat shading and block colours make it look more like an anime than an anime-styled game (if that makes any sense at all), and Vesperia is also a more colourful game, saturated in vibrant greens, clear blue skies and the candy-pink of Estellise’s hair. Xillia, meanwhile, goes for a slightly cooler, more muted colour scheme that leads to a more natural look, albeit still in keeping with the anime aesthetic. Four years on from its initial release, Tales of Vesperia is still a visually striking game.

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The future is looking very bright indeed for the Tales of series. In the last couple of years, we’ve had Tales of the Abyss for 3DS, a reprint for Vesperia, Tales of Graces f‘s day one edition and a gorgeous collectors edition for Tales of Xillia. Next February, we’ll be treated to Tales of Symphonia Chronicles (which will have its own limited edition) and later in the year we’ll be getting the sequel to Tales of Xillia. It’s a great time to be a fan of the series, whether you were there from the beginning or just jumped in this year. I’m currently playing through my fifth game in the series, the PSP version of Tales of Eternia, and I’m really enjoying that too.

But it’s always Tales of Vesperia that I come back to when I think of the series, and it’s always the characters and skits that I think back on when I remember how much I loved my eighty hours in the company of the game and its cast. Well, that and Yuri’s Savage Wolf Fury mystic arte.

Tales of Vesperia. A game so good I bought it twice. And then got it signed by Troy Baker.
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Previous entries in Games of the Generation:
Dead Space 2

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