What we have on our hands this week is one of the pinnacles of JRPG storytelling on the XBox 360.

The Tales series is one of Japan’s long-running RPG franchises, much like Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior. However, while much attention usually falls on the two entries from Square Enix, this series from Namco-Bandai seems to fall through the cracks.

Tales of Vesperia is one of the cases where the franchise gets its moment to shine.

There have been three entries in the Tales series since Vesperia, with only one making it over to North American soil. It is considered by some the best entry in the Tales series and is actually the reason the XBox 360 sold out in Japan back in 2008.

So how good can this game really be? Let’s find out.

Today, I’m Cracking the Case on Tales of Vesperia by Namco-Bandai.

What This Game Does Right

This game keeps traditional RPGs alive

While this game has experienced the Square Enix touch of cutscenes and very linear gameplay, it also includes a lot of aspects you don’t seem to find in modern RPGs nowadays.

For instance, Tales of Vesperia actually has an overworld map, unlike many major RPGs today.

Yup, that's definitely a map…

Like classic RPGs, this game also takes time to develop all of the characters that joing your party. Each one gets their day in the spotlight, even the main character Yuri’s trusty dog Repede. Granted, Repede’s day to shine is in the form of side quests, but the lovable dog also has a backstory and is just as much a part of conversations as all of the other characters.

Where this game differs from traditional RPGs is its dialogue. While the dialogue is fresh and actually pretty witty at times, it also has its share of voice acting too, which brings this game to life.

There are some quality voice actors working on this project as well, like Liam O’Brien, Troy Baker and many more. Definitely a refreshing addition to have.

This game ramps up the difficulty QUICK

The gameplay here is your standard fare for the Tales series. Your battles take place on a seperate battle screen, with you controlling one of four players at a time. Typically, you’ll just play as Yuri and let the computer control the other characters. After all, most fights are going to be a walk through the park right?

Wrong. Just wait until you meet this guy.

This guy is a jerk… period.

The battle with Gattuso will test you in every possible way and will make sure you’ve doing everything you can to learn new strategies. I had to retry this boss around 10 times before I finally got the trick to the game’s battle system. The funny thing is, the difficulty only picks up from there.

While never reaching the point of absolute insanity (unless you collect all of the Fell Arms, then God help you when you reach the final boss.), this game will continue to test you time and time again.

The tricky thing here is the game has a nice balance. While the bosses are tough, you never seem to find a point where you want to quit Tales of Vesperia because of it. The game’s combat system only makes it that you want to take on this challenge again and again.

 This game is not black and white

Your characters are human, for the most part.

As such, they respond to many situations in Tales of Vesperia’s storyline like any normal human would… with conflicting points of view on a number of moral levels.

Your main character, Yuri Lowell, is not like your classic video game hero. He doesn’t believe in truth, justice and the American way, he’s trying to right wrongs and set things right in the world, regardless of how the rest of the world thinks.

He’s even willing to cross that line and kill those wrong for it, almost like the Punisher in a way.

Leading to one of the more nightmare inducing deaths I have seen for quite some time in a video game.

Spoiler Alert – it involves quicksand…

In most cases, this would be some great traits for a villain, but Yuri pulls off one of the most bad-ass heroic repertoires you’re going to find in games, outside of characters like Solid Snake, Drake or Kratos.

This game has one of the most addictive theme songs I have heard in gaming

Once again, JPop makes an appearance in a JRPG. That’s not surprising.

What is surprising is how addicted I’ve become to the track.

Everytime I think about Tales of Vesperia, I think about this game’s theme song. Check it out for yourself if you want.

Call it the longings of an anime fan boy if you want, but you cannot deny this is a pretty awesome intro sequence.

What This Game Does Wrong

This game doesn’t let me play as Flynn

Fuelling strange fanfictions everywhere…

Flynn is one of the more interesting characters in this game. He is the yin to Yuri’s yang. While Yuri is willing to break any law to solve all of the world’s problems, Flynn is law abiding to a fault, almost to the point where he becomes the villain’s pawns.

The main issue I have is that Glenn only joins the party as a playable character for one battle in XBox 360 version. ONLY ONCE.

The developers eventually remedied this with changes in Tales of Vesperia for the PS3, making Flynn a playable character at more opportunities. While kudos to the creators of the game for recognizing this, that doesn’t help me with the XBox 360 version.

I’m left with getting to play as Yuri’s beloved hetero-life mate for only one battle in the game. It’d be like Jay without Silent Bob. It just doesn’t work.

This game hits me with a bonus boss without warning

If you aren’t reading up on all of this game’s secrets, then take some words of advice from someone who has been there. You might want to beat the game before you collect all seven of the game’s secret weapons, the Fell Arms.

Collecting all of the hidden weapons gives you a true final boss as a reward. And he’s not messing around.

The difference in beating two forms of the final boss and three forms is about 20 levels for your main battle party. Good luck.

While the idea of having an ultra powerful secret boss is not a bad thing, how the game surprises you with it is a little jarring. Especially for gamers who have to collect everything. Those players will get a rude awakening from this.

This game is one of the worst offenders for useless DLC

By now, everyone should know my opinion on developers providing DLC that is easily accessible through the game. It doesn’t add anything and is just a cash grab.

And unfortunately, Tales of Vesperia is one of the worst offenders out there for this kind of content.

This game allows you to spend your hard-earned money for level boosts for your characters. Not only that, it lets you do it FOUR SEPARATE TIMES.

There are four seperate items that let you boost your character’s levels, and there’s more DLC to get more money for your characters.

Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of character building?

Not only that, but the game also sells you costumes for your characters. While some of the costumes you can buy will add in hilarious cutscenes, on the most part, the costume downloads are generally useless.

That being said, the DLC being offered is not essential and since all of this game’s core gameplay is handled offline, most gamers can ignore it. To me though, this is a cardinal sin for any game to pull off.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Tales of Vesperia is one of my favorite RPGs on the XBox 360. Quite possibly one of the best JRPGs to come out in a long time.

Even if you are not a fan of traditional RPGs, the game’s battle system makes it easily accessible and the basic storyline should be enough to interest most gamers.

If not, there’s always Judith.

NEXT WEEK: Jeff’s Jabs and Cracking the Case takes a bit of a break while I’m on vacation in Ontario. Be sure to tune in for weekly episodes of GameOn though! This Thursday is Day One of our coverage of the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo!

 

the author

Jeff Johnson is a Canadian journalist and the host of GameOn here at GameNTrain. He was born in Ontario, but moved to British Columbia to learn what it's like to be attacked by deer on a regular basis. If you've got an idea for a feature story on GameOn or would like to be featured as a contibutor, simply e-mail gameongamentrain@gmail.com. You can also find Jeff on Google+ at http://www.gplus.to/jeffjohnsongnt