It doesn’t start with a terrorist attack on a reactor, the destruction of a city, a war, or a boy’s discovery of a legendary sword. It starts much smaller than that. The blastia, mystical devices used to control magic, that controls the water supply in the lower quarter of Zaphias, the imperial capital, breaks. The citizens of the area have sold their belongings to acquire the services of a notable mage to fix it, but soon afterwards, the blastia is stolen. Yuri Lowell, an ex-knight with a distaste for authority who finds himself living in the lower quarter after washing out of imperial service, goes after it with his pipe-smoking, sword-wielding dog, Repede. Along the way, they’ll meet a sheltered noblewoman, a kid who dreams of being a monster hunter, a brilliant mage, and a number of others, and what starts as a simple journey expands to become something none of the characters could imagine.
That’s the basic set-up for Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition, an enhanced re-release of Namco’s beloved 2008 RPG. Namco Bandai has done really great work here: the game runs at a smooth 60 frames and the graphical updates look good. In addition to the technical upgrades, the Definitive Edition also packs in a ton of new content. The biggest additions are two new party members: Flynn and Patty. Flynn isn’t new to the narrative, but this is the first time he’s been playable; he’s Yuri’s longtime buddy, but the two often clash over the best way to do things. Flynn’s as honorable and straight-laced as they come, while Yuri isn’t above going around the law when he’s feels it’s necessary. Their friendship – and the conflict their diverging worldviews bring to the story – are a high point of the game, and it’s nice to see Flynn join the party as a playable character.
"This cast butts heads all the time. Many of them don’t get along. The things they do are often morally questionable. Some of them are jerks. They’re a pretty unique group, and watching each of these characters grow and change over the course of the game’s plot is a lot of fun."
The other new addition is Patty, who is completely unique to this version of the game. She’s a little girl who dresses like a pirate and claims to be the granddaughter of the legendary, and long dead, pirate Aifread. She’s got an interesting backstory and character arc, but like all small children in JRPGs, she can be a bit annoying. That said, she’s a fine addition overall and the game is better for having her in it. The most impressive thing is that nothing about her addition feels out of place. She fits into the existing narrative really well, and you’d never guess she wasn’t a part of the original story unless you already knew better.
It’s good that the new characters work so well, because the cast is a major part of Tales of Vesperia’s appeal. This is an exceptionally motley crew: Estelle, a girl of noble birth who spent her entire life in a castle reading books and is so sheltered that she doesn’t understand the concept of nicknames, is sweet and naïve to a fault, but the rest of the cast rallies around her and supports a fantastic character arc. Yuri and Flynn fight all of the time, and both are better men for the experience. Rita, a brilliant mage, and Karol, a cowardly child who dreams of being a great monster hunter, actively dislike each other, at least at first. This cast butts heads all the time. Many of them don’t get along. The things they do are often morally questionable. Some of them are jerks. They’re a pretty unique group, and watching each of these characters grow and change over the course of the game’s plot is a lot of fun.
But for all the game’s success with both its story and characters, and there are many, Tales of Vesperia: Defintive Edition is held back by its storytelling. This isn’t the fault of the game necessarily; it’s more to do with the fact that the game is old. It’s most noticeable in the in-game cutscenes, which can feel janky; characters’ mouths don’t always move correctly, and many featured stiff animations. It’s minor stuff, but it’s there, and can pull you out of the game. There’s also some awkward patches of dialogue and voice acting, and some minor issues with the localization, such as misspelled words. The other main issue comes with the new content that’s been added to the Definitive Edition. For starters, there are a number of new costumes that have been added, as well as new bosses, dungeons, equipment, skills, and even mechanics. It’s a lot to address here, especially if, like me, you didn’t play the original game, but nothing I ran into felt out of place.
"The real star of the gameplay is the game’s combat and leveling system. While you can only control one character at a time, every member of the cast is playable, and you can switch who you control at your leisure."
No, the real issue is the additional scenes that were added from the PS3 version. Namco Bandai decided to dub these scenes into English, but they didn’t bring back the original cast. This is especially noticeable with Yuri, who was originally voiced by Tory Baker. While his replacement does his best Tory Baker impression, it becomes pretty obvious when the character’s voice changes. This is true for many of the other characters, too, and some of the replacements don’t even bother to attempt to sound like the person they are replacing. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it is noticeable and once you recognize it, you’ll see it everywhere.
While the new additions are welcome, it’s the core game that holds up remarkably well. The game’s cell-shaded art is still beautiful, the soundtrack is arresting without being overpowering, and the environments are wonderful to explore. Some will find the lack of a mini-map for towns, dungeons, and really about anywhere outside of the world map to be a bit bothersome, but I liked the choice. It kept me in the world and allowed to explore in a way that felt organic. In an era where every game has about a billion things for you to collect, it felt nice to just explore. The zoomed-out world map also feels pretty 90s, but when you consider that Vesperia is harkening back to an era of JRPG that no longer exists, it makes a lot of sense.
The real star of the gameplay is the game’s combat and leveling system. While you can only control one character at a time, every member of the cast is playable, and you can switch who you control at your leisure. What’s more, the game supports cooperative play for up to four players, which is great if you have someone you regularly share a couch with. When you’re not playing with friends, you can customize the actions your AI controlled allies will take in explicit detail, allowing you to build a detailed strategy against even the toughest of foes. It’s exceptionally rewarding to absolutely destroy a tough group of enemies because you planned well, and I admired how much control the game gave me, from everything over when my characters would use items to where they’d stand or how they’d behave during battles.
"Combat is classic Tales stuff: a real-time rumble with simple controls and a deceptive amount of depth (go watch a Tales of Vesperia combo video if you don’t believe me), and the game does a good job of continually adding mechanics so you’re not getting bored."
Combat is classic Tales stuff: a real-time rumble with simple controls and a deceptive amount of depth (go watch a Tales of Vesperia combo video if you don’t believe me), and the game does a good job of continually adding mechanics so you’re not getting bored, but the core here is pretty simple: a combination of basic attacks and Artes (special moves), while managing your spacing and position on the field. It can take a bit of getting used to if you’ve played newer Tales games – attacks are fairly slow and you’re open while you recover from any given move, so you can’t just mash; spacing and timing matter – but once you’ve gotten the hang of the game’s flow and the systems begin to open up to you, there’s a lot you can do.
Special praise must be assigned to the game’s skill system, as well. Skills are attached to weapons, which is how characters initially access them. Keep a weapon equipped long enough and the characters will learn how to use the attached skills without them. It’s a simple system, but one that gives you incentive to use weapons for reasons beyond its core states and gives you complete freedom in customizing your characters. Don’t want them to learn a certain move? Don’t equip that weapon. It’s easy as that, and it’s nice to have so much control over what your characters learn.
Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition amounts to a fine package, and easily the best version of a beloved game. While I wish that Namco Bandai had taken better care to ensure that the experience was more uniform by bringing back the original voice actors and fixing the cutscenes and certain parts of the script, but this is still a very good game that does a lot well, even ten years after its original release, and it’s easily the best version of the game available. Tales of Vesperia may not have an explosive start; it may start small. It might be simple. But it is charming and has an enormous amount of heart, and flawed as it is, that means a lot, even a decade later.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
An excellent cast and a fun plot. Remastered visuals and a smooth framerate. Lots of additional content that is unique to this edition. Good combat system with depth and customization. Gorgeous art design. Four player co-op.
New content does not feature the same voice actors. The odd awkward dialogue exchange. Occasional localization errors. Some jank in the cutscenes.