The opening image suggests the colorful and consistent art style.

Whoa, it’s been a while since I reviewed  a game. Probably because this is pretty much the game I’ve been playing for weeks. I probably won’t be inclined to write reviews of games very often because I usually play them long after they first come out. The reason I’m writing a review for Tales of Vesperia is because of context. Yes, context.

I gave up on JRPGs as they are called. I pretty much stopped trying to play new ones except for Final Fantasy installments and the odd interesting-looking Square-Enix title. Now that they’ve branched out into the omnigenre plane enjoyed by other huge game publishers, S-E hasn’t been pumping out interesting games as often as they used to. At least not in North America. After Final Fantasy 13 I don’t know that I’ll ever play a new Final Fantasy game again. I’m sorry but any game that the best you can say about it is that it gets good after 20 hours is not a game I want anything to do with. This, boys and girls, is not a redeeming quality.

Anyways, back to the subject of this review. Tales of Vesperia is hands-down the best newish JRPG I’ve played since probably Final Fantasy 10. Seriously. And I had always sort of ignored the Tales games as sub-par anime-influenced trash. I may have to revisit that and try some of the old ones out because if they are as good as Vesperia then I’ve been sorely missing out.

What makes Tales of Vesperia so good, though? Well there are the obvious touches. It has a compelling progression system (skills learned from weapons, new attacks built off of profiency with old ones), excellent voice-acting, and a no-frills art design that is as engaging as it is simplistic. There’s a lot of world-building in the game, which helps sell the design. The discerning observer will start to notice little details that are derived from details about that world. I like that kind of thing, rather than playing in some “me too” fantasy world.

Now those are qualities that are sort of surface level. You could spend an hour with the game and check those boxes. What really makes this game, though, is the character-driven storyline and sophisticated characterization in general. In a film, a “character moment” is any that isn’t central to the plot but reveals something about the people involved. Thanks to a mechanic called “skits”, there are various events both game-generated and player-generated which will lead to discussions amongst the seven playable characters in Tales of Vesperia. Through these, as well as the more cinematic plot-derived sequences (of which there are noticeably few compared to most other modern JRPGs), we get to know multiple facets of each character. They all seem mostly one-dimensional at first but eventually they become some of the most fleshed-out and well written characters I’ve ever seen in a videogame. And this from a genre of games where the characters are usually so one-note and derivative. Not that there aren’t familiar tropes in this cast, it’s just that the familiar is never left to itself as short hand for the player’s comfort. We learn things about our cast that range from interesting to shocking to funny and to downright uncomfortable. Even though the cast is mostly pretty young (two characters are under the age of 16), there’s nothing else to call this but mature and sophisticated.

Granted, this is all relative to videogames. Still, it’s a surprising accomplishment and that more than anything else kept me playing for the 90 hours it took to beat the game (I did 90% of the side stuff, of which there is a ridiculous amount in this game). You can supposedly speedrun it in about 10 hours but players who don’t care about conditional events, cutscenes, and various bonus equipment or skills an probably beat it without rushing in around 40 hours. I’ve come to prefer some brevity in my gameplay, mostly because I’m an adult now with University and a job to think about. That said, every now and then it’s still nice to stretch out and settle into a long game. Lately, games like Dragon Age: Origins and Fallout 3 have scratched that itch and the Japanese epics of the past have fallen by the wayside.

Until now!

Tales of Vesperia mixes old school game design philosophy with some newer touches. It’s the first game I’ve played that feels like a comfortable step up from the classics of the SNES era and the more experimental phases post-PSone. I don’t know a single ex-RPGer who wouldn’t get something out of this. So if you like RPGs and even if you don’t care for the Japanese ones, you might want to give this thing a try.