Final Fantasy VII Remake is finally out, and it’s absolutely beautiful. But I can’t play it, cause I don’t have PS4! So I’ve been playing a different classic JRPG, Tales of Vesperia on the Nintendo Switch. I’m not super familiar with the Tales games: I played Tales of Symphonia way back on the GameCube and loved it, but hadn’t played anything sense then. Despite this, and even though the game is over 10 years old, Vesperia‘s characters, gameplay and music blew me away. It’s a beautiful game, and a perfect comfort for these crazy times.
The story is straightforward in a good way. It takes place in a medieval fantasy world reliant on blastia, magical devices that protect the cities and towns from monsters. When a thief steals blastia from the poor and the Empire looks the other way, dark-haired vigilante Yuri Lowell decides to take matters into his own hands. He soon meets Estelle, a kind-hearted princess who has never stepped foot outside the castle, and the two join forces to catch the thief, meet up with Yuri’s mysterious childhood friend Flynn, and see the world with their own eyes.
It’s a simple story with a lot of standard RPG tropes, but what makes it shine is its wonderful cast of characters. Yuri and Estelle are charming leads, and they go through the ringer trying to reconcile their conflicting ideals with the complicated reality of life. All the supporting party members are great too, from the tsundere mage Rita to the mysterious lancer Judith. They don’t always get along, but their bonds only grow over the course of the game. Much of the excellent character writing is in the skits, optional comedic conversations where the characters will just shoot the breeze about whatever’s going on at the moment. They’re a joy to watch and I always made sure to listen to a new one whenever it popped up!
And I had a blast playing as each character in the game’s complex and addictive battle system. Tales of Vesperia has a lot of old-school RPG mechanics – you travel on the world map, gain levels, and customize your character builds – but the combat is more like a fighting game. You have to link regular attacks and Artes, your special attacks and spells, together to combo your enemies to death. It’s tricky and can take a bit of getting used to, but it’s a ton of fun once you really get the hang of it. Each character has a unique playstyle, and you can switch between them at any time. The AI-controlled party members act a little dumb sometimes, but you can customize their behavior and create new strategies on the fly. You can even have some friends pop in at any time for some old-school 4-player co-op!
The game’s world is gorgeous, and massive even by today’s standards. Locales range from beautiful crystal caves to haunted ghost ships, with lots of variety in the enemy and puzzle designs. The towns are also diverse, with the different cultural flavors making each one stand out. Unfortunately, the game slips up a bit in its sidequests. Starting most of them requires you to do weird and unintuitive things like sleeping at the same inn multiple times or backtracking to random out-of-the-way places before going to the next major plot point. And if you don’t do them at the right time, they’re gone forever! So if you want to get the best loot, you have to use a guide. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it makes the experience less open than it should be.
Vesperia’s presentation is a bit dated, but it’s still gorgeous. The character designs are striking, and the colors really pop. The talking head animations are a bit stiff and robotic, but the characters move much more fluidly in combat. And the anime cutscenes all look fantastic. All the characters are fully voiced, and I’m glad Namco gave us weebs the option to hear them in both English and Japanese. But the best part of Vesperia‘s presentation is its soundtrack by series veteran Motoi Sakuraba. It reminds me a lot of the classic Super Nintendo RPG soundtracks, with memorable melodies that fit every situation perfectly. I especially love the opening, which I never, ever skip:
If you’re a fan of classic JRPGs like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or Secret of Mana, it’s worth it to check out Tales of Vesperia. It’s got everything that made those games great, just with a more action-packed battle system. Despite being dated in a few minor aspects, most of the game is timeless. I may have not have been a Tales fan when I started playing, but I definitely am now!