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If there is one quality a JRPG player possesses, it is patience.
Patience to wait your turn in battles, patience to learn the game systems, patience to play for the ten or more hours it takes to get good, and patience to wait for the anticipated release to actually, you know, release.
Tales of Vesperia originally launched incomplete on the Xbox 360 in 2008. Half the dialogue wasn't voiced, some notable characters never joined your party, and there wasn't much to do outside of the main story. The game was completed a year later in the Japanese PS3 version. Not being satisfied with playing an unfinished game and living outside of Japan, I waited ten years to finally get my hands on it. Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition brings the Japanese PlayStation 3 release - with all the extra bits and whistles - to the current generation consoles.
If you're hoping for a cookie-cutter JRPG story, look elsewhere. Tales of Vesperia tells a more mature tale than most other games in the genre. Instead of a gifted teenager who is told he's the chosen one, we get humble Yuri Lowell: a knight school dropout who lives in the slums of the imperial capital. His buddy Flynn hasn't given up on his education, and is now well on his way to climbing the career ladder among the imperial knights and nobility. After a slum brawl leaves the district without drinking water and the Empire doesn't seem to care, Yuri embarks on a journey to seek justice.
The down-to-earth themes and issues explored in Tales of Vesperia give it a more human feel - something that many other Japanese RPGs lack in favour of god-slaying adventures. The cast of characters you pick up along the way is diverse, and each adds a new dynamic as they go through their own shining character moments - whether it be an imperial knight learning the insidious nature of his nation's politics, or a young, cowardly guild member recognizing his own flaws. Over the course of the game, your team grows with you, something that is sadly lacking in many other JRPGs.
While the game has a certain charm, there's no denying that it's a decade old. The empty world is typical of older JRPGs, but compared to other current beasts of the genre like Dragon Quest 11 or Xenoblade 2, it feels empty. The faux Medieval-European setting has been done much better elsewhere, and wandering through uninspired castles and forest dungeons can't compete with the more contemporary design seen in Persona 5, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Octopath Traveller.
Tales of Vesperia uses a flat cel-shading style, which also doesn't help it stand out visually. The abundant use of bloom often makes it difficult to decipher what's going on when scenes take place at night, further disrupting the visual style. This is remedied, however, by the variety of locations that can be explored. With relatively limited exploration in towns and a still camera, the vistas encourage you to admire what's beyond the horizon, and the moody atmosphere of the town of Dahngrest is particularly appealing.
Thankfully, what the overworld and aesthetic lacks, Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition makes up for with a wealth of side quests and optional content. A particular favorite is the cooking competition. If you find all the recipes, your team is taken to the coliseum for a culinary confrontation. There is some great interaction between characters and the party, and fantastic prizes can be won. The optional content is a welcome relief from the serious, urgent tone of the main storyline.
To advance the story, you traverse intricately designed dungeons centered around puzzles that never seem unfair. Whether it's making gears turn in a tower or moving blocks to create platforms, there's always something to get involved in, and the difficulty level of these puzzles increases as you progress through the game's three acts. This adds variety to a genre focused on exploration and combat, and is a welcome break from the fast-paced, combo-based combat.
Something that sets Namco's "Team Symphonia" apart from other JRPGs is its hellishly fast and complex combat system. It's a far cry from the modern systems in the Tales series, which weigh the player down instead of giving them the opportunity to properly engage in combat. Battles here take place in real-time on a 3D plane. On the surface it's fairly straightforward, with standard attacks that vary depending on how you swing the control stick up, down and sideways, and an Arte system - or special moves - where increasingly powerful abilities are unlocked as you play.
Each Arte has a level and can be used in conjunction with Artes of a weaker level. It's a fresh, unique approach to JRPG combat that's still fun after 40 hours of play. Combing and knocking bosses to death never gets boring - instead, it gives combat a distinct flow and offers a huge level of depth when choosing which Artes to equip for battle. Regular one-on-one boss fights are a real highlight and a chance to show off everything you've learned. Unfortunately, Tales of Vesperia suffers from a few difficulty spikes, forcing you to go out and grind EXP, but this hands-on, experimental combat system lubricates the grind and makes it pass without feeling like a chore.
The Nintendo Switch port is impressive, and the game is perfect for a grinding spot on the go, with only occasional frame drops to let it down in some cities. Otherwise, Tales of Vesperia is a classic JRPG that returns to the roots of what made the series shine. Despite its flaws in terms of setting and style, the sincere storyline, fantastic combat system, and memorable cast of characters make the game well worth the decade-long wait.
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