Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition Review — The Best Tales
The Tales series has had a special place in my heart since I played Tales of Destiny on the PlayStation 20 years ago. I've been buying, playing, and even importing these games for two thirds of my life now.
Recent entries in the series, such as the Xillia titles, Zestria, Graces, and so on, haven't exactly done the best job of keeping me interested from start to finish, though. The casts from game to game start to blend together after a while, and the combat systems... Let's just say they're not to my tastes.
My lack of interest in modern Tales may be just because I'm getting older — when you say you played the series for the first time 20 years ago, you may be outside of its current demographic — but I just keep coming back and playing the new ones in search of something I couldn't quite put my finger on until I played Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition.
I've always considered the original Tales of Vesperia to be the culmination of the best aspects of the series, having taken the right cues from the previous and popular Tales of the Abyss and using them more effectively than its predecessor. Memorable characters, a unique an engaging story touching on relatable issues, a world familiar but still full of wonder, and last (but not least) a heap of side content to complete. The game is and was massive.
Today, the Definitive Edition release brings content that was previously only available in Japan, and on PlayStation 3, to the West for the first time, and it takes what was already one of, if not the best, games in the series and turns it into a behemoth of the genre.
From Original to Definitive
The original Tales of Vesperia came out at a time when one might consider traditional JRPGs to be dead unless they were still toiling through the PS2 library. Games such as NieR, The Lost Odyssey, and The Last Remnant turned the genre on its head on the Xbox 360, but the overall trend was more in the direction of "cute girls doing cute things" like Neptunia or Atelier.
Vesperia took a different approach and stuck to what worked in Tales of the Abyss, another renowned entry in the series. The Definitive Edition stands as a very good example of what the genre used to be like, and it includes elements from the original title along with more new content than you can shake a stick at.
For example, you don't just get the new Patty character, you also get to have Flynn as a permanent party member later in the game. Neither one of these characters were party members in the original release.
The best bits of this version don't lie in Patty and Flynn, though. It packs new music, new skits, full voice acting (as opposed to the original's partial), language selection, new side quests, expanded dungeons, new bosses, new costumes, new Artes, and more. Really, this is the true final form for Tales of Vesperia, which was already a great game when it first came out.
Vesperia? More like Bestperia
So, what's so special about this game? Why has the Tales community been clamoring for the PlayStation 3 version of Tales of Vesperia for a decade now, and why are they falling over themselves for the Definitive Edition?
The most glaring difference from its genre-brethren is that the characters are not cardboard anime tropes. The main character, Yuri, is a grown man who doesn't need to rely on the power of friendship to get things done, and the rest of the game's cast members are written to be similarly unique and are able to stand on their own as characters.
Each party member has their own goals and drastically different personalities. They dip their toes into the anime writing pool, but they don't take that oh-so-common dive into full-on anime stereotypes that so frequently chases people away from JRPGs for good reason.
I'm not saying none of it is corny — it often is — but there's something to be said for the characters being written like you'd expect someone in their position to be. As a result, they are significantly more bearable than you'd expect from a game with this style of visuals.
The battle system is one thing I want to touch on in particular because it's a bit of a step back. The modern Tales games seem bent on adding gimmicks to complicate the battle system, and while this may be fine in concept, the new bells and whistles just feel unintuitive in most of these games. It is sort of like adding honey to a PB&J sandwich — you already have a good sandwich between the peanut butter and the jelly, why put honey on there, too?
There is no weapon swapping here, and no stamina to keep you from spamming. Vesperia boasts the 3D action combat system the series has come to be known for, but its intricacies lie in the timing of your skills and positioning rather than simply using enemy weaknesses. Timing your approach and combos means everything here, lest you take a few hits and loads of damage.
I prefer this more straightforward battle approach because it doesn't overwhelm you with mechanics to start, but it does require that you get proficient with the combat to actually do well. Very rarely does the player feel like the game is handing them a win outside of field battles, and if you are unable to skillfully dodge attacks and dish them out in kind, you won't be able to thrive in Vesperia.
Tales of Vesperia is packed with so much side content, you could easily spend just as much, if not more, time doing optional tasks as you will playing the story.
Side content in this game equates to a lot more than wandering around and talking to NPCs, though. You get to play a handful of minigames, hunt down secret items, and take on massive and grueling bosses as side dishes to the overall meal. That's not even all of it.
It's difficult to go into all the different side content there is available here, but one thing to keep in mind is that some side content is hard to find and totally missable. Yes, there are a lot of missables in Tales of Vesperia, and often they are so far away from where the story is taking place you'd never be able to guess.
Some people really hate missing content in a game and will skip it for this fact, but I'm not bothered considering the game is meant to be an adventure. The party isn't full of clairvoyants, and the sheer amount of content is enough to warrant a second playthrough. Any missed content is perfect excuse to play it again and get all the skits.
Yeah, I know, I didn't touch on the graphics or the audio. The game looks and sounds great.
They had to get different English voice actors for the new voiced lines, so there are some big discrepancies in how the characters talk at times, though this is not an issue if you use the Japanese voice acting.
Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition is a game I thought I'd never see, but here we are, in 2019, with it bursting through the door as the first big JRPG release of the year and kicking absolute butt.
Yes, this is an overworld map! Do they even make these anymore?
This is a game that makes you want more for the genre, to wish it had evolved in a different direction from the course most developers have taken it.
Maybe I'm just old and bitter. Maybe I just miss the quality of JRPG we got on the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 and can't see modern entries in an unbiased light. Regardless, I place Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition in the top 5 JRPG releases this generation with no question because it is the whole package of writing, aesthetic, challenge, and fun that I once demanded of my console RPGs and have found so hard to get today.
- Easily 50+ hours of engaging story content
- Beautiful anime-style visuals and music
- Another 40+ hours of side content to hunt down
- The best characters in the entire Tales series
- The changes in voice actors is noticeable and, at times, jarring
(Disclaimer: Writer was granted a copy of Tales of Vesperia from the publisher for review purposes.)