When one of your party members is a dog that not only fights, but does so with a dagger in its mouth you know the creators have done at least something right. It’s been quite some time since I’ve leapt into the world of Tales, previously playing the impressive ‘Tales of Symphonia’ back on the Nintendo Gamecube. While Japan and America have had their mitts on Tales of Vesperia for some time, the UK has had to wait until the end of June (no surprise there) for a release. The demo has just been made available for download on Xbox Live; does it show a brave leap forward to the next generation?
Disappointingly, on start up the opening movie from the Japan release is missing. One of the highlights of Namco’s Tales series is the highly professional visuals, designed by Kosuke Fujishima and shown off in the cel-shaded game play and anime cut scenes. The opening can be found easily enough on Youtube and it’s no big deal that it’s not included here; it just would have certainly helped to catch the attention of JRPG fans.
The starting screen uses a quick pan to show the main character, Yuri, standing on top of a hill. Once you’ve started a New Game you’re thrown into a scene starting at Ehmead hill. There is no quick summary of the plot, no introduction to characters and no tutorial on the control scheme. From the speech bubbles you can learn what everyone’s names are, but it’s strange to have to learn their personalities by experiencing them first hand.
For the most part the voice acting is very strong and clear. I particularly noticed that Rita was played by Michelle Ruff, which I recognise from taking the role of Yukari in Persona 3. However, although the performances are of a high calibre the script writing felt hammy and rushed. A couple of good examples are:
“That’s weird, the barrier’s gone!”
“You mean there was a barrier here?”
“It was like bam! A spear went thunk!” The blastion went bang! Then he went off into the sky like woosh!”
In role playing games the plot is paramount and therefore the dialogue is very important. Previous Tales games didn’t suffer here (perhaps excluding those strange optional scenes using boxes) and I hope this isn’t representative of the final build. To be fair it may have just been the younger party member Karol, who in line with most RPG’s is typically high pitched, naïve and small.
After a few scenes that tease Yuri as a wanted criminal, the gang is thrown into the generic forest setting of Ehmead Hill. The visuals are beautiful to traverse, full of rich detail and fluid character models. It’s certainly a step above the Gamecube title I remember, rivalling the graphics of Eternal Sonata and Star Ocean with a slightly more realistic spin. However, the lack of tutorial flags up when you enter your first battle. Familiar monsters begin attacking but all memory of the Tales control scheme has left my mind years ago. I understand through experimentation that the A button is for Artes, rather than attacking and that the Y button accesses necessary items.
Pressing Start brings up the help screen; it just would have been nice for the demo to tell you it was there in the first place.
Once you understand the button scheme, the combat in Tales of Vesperia is fast and furious. One of the strengths of Namco has always been to ditch the traditional turn-based system, preferring a real time, 2.5D plane similar to a beat-em up. The concept has been slowly refined so that newcomers will find refreshing combat here, whilst veteran players will find much needed tweaks (such as party members offering to use certain items with your permission). The feeling of passive grinding, my pet hate of RPG’s is gone and replaced with fast battles, competitive grades and even multiplayer features.
The demo has a boss battle towards the end, but no way of knowing if your prepared or levelled up enough for it. There are plenty of potions and revive equivalents to take you through safely, but if you’re unfamiliar with the item system be warned… with no game save, losing will force you to start the demo all over again (yes, as I did first time around).
The end has a rather touching moment when Yuri and the rest of the party reach the ocean. With an insight into their back stories, the final game will no doubt make these emotions really strike home. With the mention of catching Yuri’s brother who is travelling some way in front of them, I was itching to start playing the full version and find out more. Even with a few hiccups, Tales of Vesperia looks like a well polished, visually stunning game for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. In total I put over 70 hours into Tales of Symphonia and I’m faithful that I’ll want to invest the same into Namco’s latest journey.