Review: Tales of Vesperia
While in the recent past Square Enix has felt the need to refit and reshape its own major RPG franchise, Namco’s equivalent standard-bearer exists in much the same form today as it did when it first appeared. Complaints about the regurgitation of gameplay and structure across a series of this nature are only really valid if they have a negative effect on the experience, and that’s certainly not the case here. After all, an established rule-set can allow designers to concentrate on the fundamentally important aspects of the genre: plotting, writing, world building and characterisation.
This is both Vesperia’s strength and what sets it apart from its peers. Its characters may initially seem to be lazy stereotypes, but they soon blossom into something deeper, thanks to intelligent writing and uncommonly naturalistic acting. This is particularly true of Yuri, the protagonist of the piece, who manages to be sardonic, heroic, flawed and yet remain utterly compelling. No Squall Leonheart-style meaningfully moody silences to break the connection between the lead role and the player here.
The confident characterization drives the plot forwards smoothly, to the extent that it’s a number of hours before a worldwide threat is even hinted at. You’re instead working to small-scale, personal agendas that ultimately mean that this epic is built around individual stories. A large cast of NPCs flits in and out of proceedings, plot strands are introduced briefly and left dangling for hours without the player even realising, and all the time you’re effortlessly drawn further into the world.
The flow is aided by realtime battles that remain enjoyable through being non-random, and a proliferation of health and life restoratives which, partnered with a difficulty setting that can be altered mid-game, minimizes frustration. But that’s all part of Tales’ proven rule-set. The effort in creating this game has been spent elsewhere, and that’s what makes it shine.