Archives for posts with tag: Tales of series

Tales of Xillia Milla and JudeThe Tales of series evolves slowly. If you’ve played one, even one of the earlier 2D titles like Tales of Eternia, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from the latest in the series.

While many will see this as a negative, for fans of the series it’s often quite the opposite; they already know they love the franchise, so they can be confident they’ll enjoy the next one. These games are jRPG comfort food, continuing to give fans a healthy dose of what they crave even when the genre began to shrink in size and importance. Over the last few years, Bandai-Namco have obviously seen a gap in the market to exploit, too: as the fortunes of the Final Fantasy series have dwindled somewhat, the Tales of series seems to have stepped into the breach to take advantage of the situation. It seems the publisher has renewed confidence in the series’ chances of success outside of Japan. Yes, now is a good time to be a Tales of fan.

Leading up to last week’s release of the latest in the series, Tales of Xillia 2, I decided to dive back into 2013’s Tales of Xillia for a second playthrough. Playing it for the first time last August, I absolutely loved the game, greedily devouring every side-quest and sub-event on my way to the final showdown in the Temporal Crossroads. Having almost exhausted the game’s content then, my plan for a replay was to quickly run through the main storyline before Xillia 2 released, but I was surprised to find myself drawn in all over again, gravitating towards much of that optional content against my best laid plans.

Tales of Xillia begins in a world called Rieze Maxia, a place where humans and spirits live in harmony. The humans of Rieze Maxia possess an organ called a ‘mana lobe’ that allows them to wield magic by offering a spirit some of the energy produced by this organ. In turn, the spirit is nourished by this intake of mana, and so the world keeps turning. Despite this, Maxwell, the Lord of Spirits has been sensing the death of many spirits. Fearing that humans have re-discovered spyrix technology, something that had apparently led to disaster in the past, Maxwell takes the form of a young woman named Milla and makes her way to the city of Fennmont. There, she meets Jude Mathis, a young medical student looking for his missing teacher at a secretive research facility. Discovering a conspiracy that could lead to the world’s end, Milla and Jude team up to tackle this threat, recruiting friends and allies along the way.

Tales of Xillia Alvin Xian Du

Xillia is notable for having two central protagonists, each with their own ‘campaign’. You can play through the game as either hand-to-hand brawler Jude or the magic-wielding Milla, and though the game plays out much the same across both, there are points where the characters split up. It’s best to play through as Jude first, as you will miss out on some fairly important plot points that simply go unexplained in Milla’s story, but if you have the time for two playthroughs it’s definitely worth seeing Milla’s side of the tale through. There is one very big point where the party splits, and it’s interesting to see what happens to Milla during her absence.

On the surface, the characters are a grab-bag of anime clichés. There’s the stoic protector, the uncertain but principled teen, the hyperactive sidekick who’s secretly in love with the protagonist, the distinguished older gent with a hidden past, the magical girl and the untrustworthy rogue. They’re all well-drawn though, and fleshed out through fairly extensive character-specific sidequests that shed some light on their pasts and their current motivations, while the game is also rammed full of the series’ trademark skits that further give the party identity. These skits are often a great source of humour, and it’s nice to play a game about a group of people staring down the end of the world that is handled with such an upbeat tone. Shoe-gazing is kept to a minimum, and the interplay between the characters is often played for laughs. It makes the party feel more human.

Tales of Xillia can be seen as both an evolution and a step back from Tales of Vesperia; its battle system is a neat evolution of that game’s Linear Motion Battle system which ups the tempo a fair bit, taking the best elements and streamlining them somewhat (it’s easier to determine an enemy’s resistances and weaknesses, for one) while also adding the excellent Link Arte mechanic. Link Artes allow two party members to group together to perform a stronger special attack by triggering specific artes at certain points and hitting the L2 button when a prompt appears. They also play into the series’ now-familiar Overlimit system: this time, the Overlimit gauge is segmented, and in order to fill it up, you’ll need to perform Link Artes at each threshold. Failure to do so means the gauge’s growth will stall, limiting your battle tactics. If you want to pull out those super-powerful Mystic Artes later in the game, you’re going to have to get used to arte linking.

I mentioned that Xillia can sometimes be perceived as a step back from Vesperia, and it’s generally felt in the environments. Gone is Vesperia‘s lavish world map, to be replaced with small zones populated with enemies to defeat and materials to scavenge. And whilst these areas do make the world itself feel smaller and more confined than Vesperia‘s (seriously, why is every field in Rieze Maxia hemmed in by canyons, anyway?), it is actually a step forward from its needlessly reductive predecessor, Tales of Graces. That game’s ‘fields’ were essentially long corridors with nothing to do but fight enemies on the way to the next cutscene (and everyone hated Final Fantasy XIII for that, right?), and its dungeons were even worse, often consisting of even narrower corridors with 90 degree turns that conspire to make the game-world feel as if it’s made from copy and pasted square tiles. Xillia has a handful of dungeons that feel like this (hello, Helioborg Fortress), but thankfully most of the game’s environments feel much more expansive and hand-crafted than those in Graces.

Tales of Xillia doesn’t quite reach the heights of Vesperia‘s beautiful visuals, either. That’s not to say it’s not a pretty game though; all titles in the Tales of series are very anime-styled but Vesperia, with its flat, almost-cel shaded aesthetic, often looked like an anime itself rather than an anime-inspired video game – it’s just a bit more stylised. Xillia is also a more muted game in terms of its use of colour, giving the world a more subdued feel, with areas like Fennmont, which is supposed to be under a blanket of perpetual night, bathed in deep ochres and dark greens. It still does a decent approximation of video game anime styling, but it’s just not as bold as we’ve been previously treated to. It’s also a bit of a mixed bag in it’s environments, with some areas being drenched in fine detail while others, most notably the field areas, can often look rather bland and drab.

Items and gear have also been streamlined somewhat. Typically in the genre, better items and equipment will become available when you reach a new shop in a new region, but in Xillia, shop inventory is mirrored across the entire world. The caveat here is that you have to level up the shops – through donating either money or the materials you harvest on your travels – and higher levels yield both new equipment and discounts on older gear, providing a system that is much more elegant than Graces‘ painful eleth mixer. It’s a great way to keep you tied into the world through both exploration (by searching out materials) and its development, and your reward for doing so is more powerful weapons, armour, accessories and food items.

Tales of Xillia battle Milla Condemnation

Ah yes, food. Long a component of the Tales of series, the cooking system has also seen a degree of simplification. In fact, it’s been simplified to the point that you don’t even have to cook anymore; you buy ready-made food at one of the aforementioned shops, and then use them to confer buffs upon your party for a set number of battles. So if you’re unprepared for a fight, you can gobble down some potato salad to increase your attack and defense stats, or if you’re really prepared you can eat a spicy chicken roll to earn double the experience from that battle. Again, it’s an elegant simplification that’s far easier to grasp than in previous entries and empowers the player to actually get to grips with the full range of tools at their disposal.

Players will often look down their noses as developers simplify or streamline systems in their games. Often, it’s taken to mean that a product has been ‘dumbed down’ to gain a wider audience. I don’t feel that that’s the case here; jRPGs are well-known for having dozens of arcane systems in place – often to do relatively simple things – and these can sometimes be so bewildering that even genre veterans ignore them. The changes that have been made in Xillia mean that everything the game offers is accessible to the player, enabling them to use all the systems to their advantage while also getting on with the fun stuff – the battling, following the twists and turns of the story, and of course becoming engrossed in the lives of a likeable bunch of characters. I think Tales of Xillia might just be the first jRPG I’ve played where I’ve fully understood how everything works, and I’ve been playing them since Final Fantasy VII and Panzer Dragoon Saga.

As much as I love Tales of Xillia (and I do utterly adore it), it’s not my favourite in the series. I feel like Vesperia was Bandai-Namco giving the series a damn good push before settling into a more focused (read: scaled back) design approach. Graces was a huge step back in many ways, and while Xillia clawed back some of the openness, it still feels like it’s on a smaller scale to 2009’s sprawling, 80-hour epic. But with the series seeing greater fortunes outside of its homeland, it looks like Hideo Baba’s team is willing to push at the boundaries again with the upcoming Tales of Zestiria, and this time they’re really pushing hard. Zestiria will launch next year, and it seems like the developer is looking to the Wii’s Xenoblade Chronicles for inspiration, with the game taking place in a huge, truly open world. It promises to be something a bit special, and likely the biggest shake-up the series has seen since it moved to 3D with Tales of Symphonia.

But going back to Xillia for a moment, and if there’s one criticism I can level at the game, it’s that an area called Elympios that opens up towards the end of the adventure is incredibly underused. It’s a massive plot point, but we see so little of this new environment that it’s difficult to get a sense of what it’s like and to begin to truly care about the place and its fate. Tales of Xillia 2 promises to fully address this criticism, showing us more of Elympios and its way of life, while also allowing us to spend more time with a great group of characters. Now that it’s here, I can’t wait to get started.

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This time last year, I was unboxing my Tales of Xillia Milla Maxwell Edition, and now here I am with a look at the equivalent edition for the game’s sequel, which this time comes in an even larger box.

However, stuffed into that box is a collectors edition that is improved in many ways over last year’s Milla Maxwell set, with an additional item thrown in, a far better art book, and the game and soundtrack selection this time housed in a nice steelbook featuring Ludger’s overweight cat Rollo. I like steelbooks, but it does mean I won’t be able to get this game signed in the future, like my copy of Xillia.

Obviously, the headline feature of this edition is the figurine of protagonist Ludger Will Kresnik. Like last year’s Milla figure, it’s good quality (though not quite up there with Alter’s line of Tales of figures), but it’s not quite as striking as Milla, for me. That’s mainly because I feel Ludger’s design is more conventional than that of Milla, and, dare I say it, a little bland. Still, it’s a nice figure, and you can get a decent look at it below.

Ludger Kresnik Edition Figure Xillia 2

Next up we’ve got the art book, which is a massive improvement over last year’s. This time, it’s not only a full-size book, but it’s hardback too. I’ve mentioned many times that I much prefer larger, hard-bound art books, so I’m very, very pleased with this and it reminds me a bit of the book that came with the Bravely Default Collectors Edition. I’ve yet to take a proper look at it as I don’t want any accidental spoilers, so it’ll sit on my shelf until I’ve finished the game.

Tales of Xillia 2 Ludger Kresnik Edition Artbook

That extra little trinket I mentioned? It’s a replica of Elle’s pocket watch from the game. Except it’s not actually a pocket watch – open it up and you’ll see that it’s actually a compact mirror, with clock detailing on the other side. Made of metal, it’s a nice, weighty piece and a fun in-universe extra. I don’t know that I’ll ever use it for its intended purpose, but then I’d never have used a pocket watch either. It comes in a nice black presentation box which also includes a small black pouch to keep your trinket in.

Xillia 2 Elle pocketwatch Ludger Kresnik Edition

Lastly, there’s the steelbook, which houses both the game disc and soundtrack selection. I’ve not looked at the second disc yet, but I expect it’ll hold a small handful of tracks from the game (the disc that came with the Milla Maxwell Edition was 12 tracks, for instance). It’s a nice steelbook, featuring the face of Ludger’s rolly-polly cat Rollo on the front, as well as a few skit portraits on the back. As I said above, I like steelbooks – I’ll usually seek them out if there’s an offer for one somewhere – but I actually prefer the steelbook that comes with the game’s Day One Edition, which is covered in colourful art from the game. I have to admit that I very nearly ordered the Day One version in addition to my Ludger Kresnik Edition just to get that case, but thankfully came to my senses.

Xillia 2 Ludger Kresnik Rollo steelbook

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my purchase, just as I was with my Milla Edition last year. And now I have yet another character to add to my Tales of figure collection, which you can see in the gallery below, where I’ve added a few more images of the Collectors Edition. Now all I need to do is finish my second playthrough of the first game before I can get stuck into Ludger and Elle’s adventure in Tales of Xillia 2.

xillia2bannerIt’s a good time to be a Tales of fan.

I seem to be saying that a lot recently, but this week it really is a good time to be a fan of Bandai-Namco’s long-running jRPG series. We’ve had plenty of new info on the upcoming 20th anniversary game Tales of Zestiria, finally got a release date (and a collectors edition!) for this year’s Tales of Xillia 2 and, best of all, we actually got confirmation of a Western release of Tales of Hearts R, one of two Vita titles that I honestly thought would never see the light of day outside of Japan.

It was not always thus. Releases in the series have generally been a bit spotty; 1995′s Tales of Phantasia, the first game in the series, only saw release outside of Japan in 2003, whereas 2005′s Tales of the Abyss was made available in 2006 in the US, but remained unavailable in Europe until its 3DS port hit shelves in late 2011. Meanwhile, titles that did make it to our shores, such as Tales of Symphonia (2003) and Tales of Vesperia (2009) only did so in very small quantities – quantities which quickly disappeared, meaning those games were effectively unavailable to anyone that hadn’t thought to pre-order a copy.

Happily, things have really turned around recently, with reissues for both Abyss and Vesperia suddenly popping up on store shelves just months before we got a lovely Day One edition of Tales of Graces f. More recently, fans have been able to show their support by grabbing excellent special editions for both last year’s Tales of Xillia and this year’s Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. In turn, Producer Hideo Baba showed his appreciation by spending much of last year travelling around the world, attending European and American conventions, interacting with fans and giving presentations on his team’s work.

This greater focus on a worldwide audience was brought to a head when Tales of Zestiria was announced last December, with Baba-san immediately confirming it would be released in North America and Europe shortly after its initial Japanese launch. The game is set for release in 2015, 20 years after Phantasia debuted, and details have been sneaking out here and there about the characters and world. We can expect to hear more about the game from June onwards, but for now here’s the latest trailer, which aired just a few days ago at the NicoNico SuperConference. In it, we get a glimpse at the battle system in action and another look at what appear to be rather expansive environments. Check it out below. Needless to say, I’m excited.

Also this week, we finally got a release date for Tales of Xillia 2. I had been expecting it around August going by previous releases (Graces f in August 2012, Xillia in August 2013), and August it is – the 19th in North America and the 22nd in Europe. We’ll also be seeing a ‘Ludger Kresnik Collectors Edition’ that looks very similar to that of the first game, with a figure of protagonist Ludger, a replica of Elle’s pocketwatch, an art book and some other goodies. You can see an image below, and this is certainly the edition I’ll be going for, being something of a fan of Tales of figures.

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There’ll also be a Day One edition, with steelbook case and soundtrack selection CD for those that have no interest in figurines and such, and I’m guessing this will be the same deal as the publisher’s other Day One editions, where you’ll get the extras for no additional cost so long as you pre-order or buy on day one.

I’ve heard mixed reactions to Xillia 2 from those that have played the Japanese version. Some say it’s better than the first (which I adored) while others say it’s not as good, and I’ve also seen concerns about Ludger being a silent protagonist. I’m really excited to get my hands on it though; as I said, I loved Xillia, but I did feel that Elympios wasn’t quite as fleshed out and explored as much as it could have been. The sequel seems to address that, not only letting us get more of a feel for Elympios and the people that live there, but also giving us a glimpse into the lives of the original cast while introducing new characters to get to know. I plan to play through Milla’s side of the story in Xillia before the sequel arrives, and I’m sure I’ll be more than ready to jump in come August.

Finally, the biggest piece of Tales of news of the last week is undoubtedly the announcement that Tales of Hearts R is actually coming west. I honestly never thought this would happen. I guess Sony’s Shahid Ahmad’s #JRPGVita Twitter campaign really paid off – indeed, when Hearts R was announced last week Ahmad took to Twitter to specifically call out the initiative, pointing out that Hearts R was the most-requested game in his informal poll. So just remember that the next time someone in the industry asks you what you want!

For those not in the know, Tales of Hearts R is one of two remakes of DS games for the Vita (the other being Tales of Innocence R) that were released in 2012/2013 in Japan that Bandai-Namco had been fairly adamant would not see release outside of their home territory given poor sales of Sony’s handheld. Nothing has been said about Innocence, but considering a week ago we were getting neither of them and now we can look forward to Tales of Hearts R, I’m not complaining.

The game stars Kor (called Shing in the Japanese original) who has a bit of an accident while trying to remove a curse on a mysterious young woman called Kohaku. When things go a bit wrong, Kor must set out on a journey to make things right. We don’t have a date yet for Tales of Hearts R but we can expect it in winter; that means there’s a chance that we’ll be playing Hearts R on our Vitas early next year – after all, they probably don’t want it to be in competition with the release of Tales of Xillia 2 towards the end of this year. Check out the below video to see Baba-san himself announcing the localisation, and go here to see the announcement trailer.

Again, it’s a great time to be a Tales of fan. But it’s also a great time to get into the series if you aren’t yet a fan; there are a number of strong games in the series to try out and at least a few more on the horizon. If you’ve ever had an interest in the Tales of franchise but haven’t yet jumped in, now’s the time to join us.

Tomorrow sees the launch of Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, an HD re-release of GC/PS2 RPG Tales of Symphonia, regarded by some as the height of the series, and it’s less well-received sequel, Dawn of the New World. The collection is PS3-exclusive, with both games coming on a single disc, and there’s also a limited edition – something we’ve come to expect thanks to recent Tales of releases.

Of course, I just had to buy the limited edition, because I’m a sucker for soundtrack CDs, plastic figurines and shiny boxes. Are you interested in what’s in that shiny box I mentioned? Of course you are! And luckily for you, I took some pictures. I’ll highlight a few in the body of this post, but be sure to check out the gallery at the bottom for all the images.

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First off, the shiny box. It’s a card case with a plastic slipcover over the top, and it’s covered in beautiful art from anime studio ufotable. There are some close-ups of the gorgeous, colourful art that graces each panel of the box in the gallery, and in those images you can see that it isn’t ruined by any logos – those sit on the plastic slipcover, allowing you to admire that artwork in full.

It’s not a big box, as far as limited editions go; big enough to hold a blu ray case, but deeper – think of a blu ray TV box set and you’re not far off the mark. It’s certainly much more compact than the gigantic Tales of Xillia or Bravely Default limited editions.

So that’s the box, but what’s inside? Hidden within, we find the game case, with one game disc and two soundtrack CDs (one each for Symphonia and Dawn of the New World), a new paperback novel written by Takumi Miyajima called Successors of Hope, which bridges the gap between the two games, and five (well, four really) mini figures of Lloyd, Colette, Emil and Marta (plus a tiny Tenebrae).

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It’s a nice set, as long as you haven’t seen the US version. American fans get a couple of nice extras that we don’t, such as a steelbook case and artbook, and all the other elements of the US edition are better executed. The box is nicer, the novel is hardback, the soundtrack is spread over four discs (whereas the two EU discs are MP3 audio discs rammed with tracks – these refused to play when I tried them in my Xbox One, so I suspect that they’ll need to be ripped to my PC) and also come in their own 4-disc jewel case, rather than being stuffed into the game case. The game case insert is also reversible, something that isn’t possible in the EU edition because the inside cover lists the OST tracklisting. American fans also get a full colour manual, while ours is not only black and white, but only affords a small handful of pages per language.

It all feels a bit budget compared to the US release, which isn’t really something you should be thinking about a collectors edition you’ve just spent £70 on. It’s a nice set in isolation, and I’m happy with it, but it’s disappointing that not only is it missing a couple of items from the US release, but that everything that did make it in is also not quite as good as its American counterpart.

Anyway, back to those contents. As I mentioned above, the OST discs are MP3 audio discs, with around 50 tracks on each, and they’re housed in the same case as the game disc. They’re are also nicely decorated with full-colour game art, and look great if attractive discs are your thing.

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Then there’s the mini-figures. A fair amount of limited editions come with a figurine of some sort (and then there’s the frankly ludicrous Titanfall one), but it’s not very often you get a whole party to play with. The mini figures really are ‘mini’ (at a couple of inches tall, most of their size is down to their gigantic heads), but it’s nice to have a variety of characters in the box, and they’re all nicely detailed. Tenebrae really is tiny though, and is more of an addition to the Marta figure (even standing on her base). Below, you can see them mingling with my other Tales of figures.

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Overall it’s a nice set, and it’s always encouraging to see the Tales of series doing well enough in Europe that collectors editions are even viable. Here’s hoping we get one for Tales of Xillia 2, which should be releasing some time later this year, and looking a bit further into the future, next year’s Tales of Zestiria.

Be sure to check out all the images of the Tales of Symphonia Chronicles Collectors Edition in the gallery below.

Just over a week ago, Namco-Bandai revealed Tales of Zestiria, a PS3 exclusive that serves as the 20th anniversary celebration for the long-running Tales of jRPG series. Our only look at Zestiria came from an off-screen video of the trailer that announced the game.

Now, Namco-Bandai have published that same trailer to their Youtube channel, giving us a clearer look at what we can expect from the new title.

Tales of Zestiria stars Slay and Alicia and focuses more on fantasy elements than recent titles in the series – an attempt by the development team to get back to the series’ roots. It’s due out in Japan in 2015 and has already been confirmed for a worldwide release.

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Namco-Bandai have today announced Tales of Zestiria, a new PS3-exclusive title in their long-running jRPG series that serves as a 20th anniversary celebration for the franchise.

The game will be released in 2015, 20 years after the first entry in the series, 1995’s Tales of Phantasia. The logo, as you can see above, contains a dragon which also makes an appearance in the trailer that you can watch below. Whether the dragon will be friend or foe has not been announced (as it would likely be a spoiler) but it’s obviously an important force in the story.

Two characters have so far been introduced. The male lead, Slay, has been designed by Kosuke Fujishima while the female lead Alicia was designed by Daigo Okumura. As more details surface, we’ll also be seeing characters designed by other Tales of series character designers Mutsumi Inomata and Minoru Iwamoto. The battle system is a further-evolved spin on the familiar Linear Motion Battle System, and the development team stated that they want to focus the game around a more fantasy-based setting (hence: dragons) in an effort to return to the series’ roots after a number of games with more technological elements. A few story details have been mentioned so far, with the game taking place on a continent contested over by two great nations, while religion seems to be a core element of the story, with there being a mysterious connection between the faiths of these two countries.

It all sounds quite a bit like Tales of the Abyss to me, which is great as far as I’m concerned as I loved that game. Slay also looks like he could have come straight from Auldrant, with his coat/cloak/thing looking like Luke fon Fabre’s garment and the piece on his chest bearing a strong resemblance to an Order of Lorelei uniform. Anyway, let’s take a look at that trailer.

Did you see that big open field at the 1:35 mark? I really hope that’s what world-traversal will be like in Zestiria – big open areas with (hopefully) plenty to explore. That small clip looks a little Xenoblade-y, so if we’re going to be without a world map again, I’m hoping for less of the field zone areas that we saw in Graces and Xillia and more of a large, relatively open world for us to explore. This is the 20th anniversary title, so I’m hoping the development team go all out to make the absolute best game they can.

The best news is that Namco-Bandai have already announced that Zestiria will be released worldwide, which certainly takes the sting out of waiting to find out if we’d ever get to play it outside of Japan. Hideo Baba, producer of the series, took to the EU PlayStation Blog to deliver the good news himself. “I am very proud to announce that Tales of Zestiria, the newest instalment and 20th Japanese anniversary commemorative title for the Tales Of franchise, will be released throughout North America, South America, and Europe for the PlayStation 3 system! This is a huge moment for Namco Bandai Games and the Tales Of team in particular as it is the first time we have simultaneously announced the game for both Japan and Western countries.” He added that the team has been trying to strengthen their relationship with their fans outside of Japan and have seen success with the most recent release, Tales of Xillia, selling over a million copies worldwide.

Of course, I’m sure there’ll still be a delay between the Japanese and Western releases, but that can’t really be helped when localising such text- and voice-heavy games. That we know it’s coming is enough, especially when we have Tales of Symphonia Chronicles and Tales of Xillia 2 both coming in 2014. My guess for a European release of Tales of Zestiria would be early 2016, so don’t relegate your PS3 to the loft just yet!

Visit the official Tales of Zestiria site here.

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