If you’re new to the Tales series, you might not understand why Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition is such a big deal. A remaster of a ten-year-old game? So what? I mentioned in my Tales of Remasters piece that the original Tales of Vesperia was released only on Xbox 360 in North America, a platform not known for its Japanese RPGs, nor for its user-base of JRPG fans. I also mentioned just how loved that game is by series veterans, despite its platform. Because of its exclusivity, many missed out on it the first time around. In Japan, where Microsoft has never done well, Tales of Vesperia was ported to the PlayStation 3 with new characters and content. North America never received that port. That is, until now.
So, if you’ve never played a Tales game, then Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition is all new to you either way. But even for series veterans, there’s a lot to recommend here.
Tales of Vesperia is the story of Yuri Lowell, a former knight of the Empire who abandoned knighthood when it became clear just how corrupt the government was and how little it cared for the most marginalized of its citizens. A series of events connects him with Lady Estellise, a noblewoman and candidate for the imperial throne, as well as a cast of other characters with their own goals. As Yuri and friends uncover conspiracy after conspiracy, it becomes apparent things are even worse in the Empire than anyone thought. Throw in an obligatory ancient destructive force and you have a JRPG that knows its roots, but one that isn’t afraid to be topical and relevant.
It’s possible the story is even more relevant today, in fact, than it was ten years ago upon its initial release. Corruption scandals at the highest levels and misuse of natural resources are commonplace nowadays. The Tales games, despite looking like a bunch of lighthearted anime romps, frequently tackle tough political, religious, and social issues, from genocide in Tales of Symphonia and Tales of the Abyss to racism in Tales of Phantasia and more. Beyond its exploration of corruption, Vesperia explores the concept of vigilantism, and to the game’s credit, it doesn’t moralize or try to provide a simple answer. Is it right or wrong to take matters into one’s own hands when the established means of justice fail? The game asks the question and leaves you to come to your own conclusions.
For fans of the original, the new content here, in terms of main story, focuses around the character of Patty, the young pirate girl with a nasty case of JRPG amnesia. Characters like Patty can be annoying, with their overly optimistic personalities and jargon-filled speech patterns, but Patty avoids most of those pitfalls by being so charming. She’s an excellent addition to the cast. Beyond that, there are new areas to explore and new voice acting for scenes that were previously silent, as well as the addition of Flynn to your permanent party near the end of the game.
(Worth mentioning that the original voice actor for Yuri, Troy Baker, was not asked back to record the new scenes. My guess is Namco Bandai assumed his rates would be way beyond what they could afford, considering his star has definitely risen since he recorded Vesperia more than ten years ago. The new actor does a good job, but it’s sometimes pretty apparent when the new guy is inserted for just a few lines into a scene.)
No matter how good the plot and characters, though, it would be a slog if the gameplay isn’t up to par. And Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition plays like a dream.
Chronologically, there have been newer games in the Tales series, which have brought further changes and improvements to the signature Tales battle system, but Vesperia is incredibly solid, regardless. Battles are fast and vicious, and with a little practice you’ll be stringing together combos with flashy special arte attacks in no time. Fights are not random, instead triggering when you come into contact with a monster on the field, which is a relief for anyone burned out by JRPG random battles. Enemy encounters take place in separate arenas, which are large circles that give you plenty of space to move around and position yourself. While you can free-run in any direction by holding down a button, you are typically locked on a 2D plane with the enemy you’re currently targeting. This helps immensely in keeping things grounded when monsters, allies, and spell effects are flying every which way. It makes for very cool-looking battles that seem like they should be impossible to play, but in actuality are quite user friendly. Your three battle companions are A.I. controlled, though you can instruct them to use a specific item or arte at any time. On normal difficulty, the game shouldn’t be too tough for action-RPG veterans, but there are easier options for newcomers. And, of course, even harder options are available if you want to feel pain.
Tales of Vesperia was a gorgeous game to begin with. Its anime aesthetic emphasized pastel-like colors, sharp outlines, and soft shading, a look the series more or less abandoned in future entries. A real shame. Definitive Edition ups the resolution and framerate, making an already-beautiful game even more so.
To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of music in the Tales series (with the exception of Tales of Legendia, which I think has one of the best game soundtracks of all time). Vesperia is much the same. None of the music is bad. It’s just all very straightforward and competent. I’d love to see a bit more experimentation in soundtrack composition in this series, like the aforementioned Legendia. This soundtrack is very “safe,” but it’s hard to make something that’s both safe and exceptional.
Still, lackluster soundtrack aside, Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition is an incredible package. Tales series fans have been begging for this release for years, and newcomers are in for a real treat, too. It’s the perfect swan song for the “traditional” JRPG. Even as future Tales games would deviate from tradition in pursuit of novelty, Vesperia shows us why this genre is so beloved in the first place. If you have even a passing interest in the Tales series, or RPGs in general, make this a priority-one purchase.