The Tales series has a long, 20-something-year history of rich and engaging JRPG experiences with its fair share of highs and lows. One entry in particular, 2008’s Tales of Vesperia, can lay claim to both one of the highest and lowest points in the franchise. On the positive side it’s one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved Tales games, commonly ranked either just above or below the fantastic Tales of Symphonia as the best of the bunch. The bad news, though? While it launched worldwide on the Xbox 360 in its original form, an expanded and far superior version of the game was brought to the PlayStation 3 in Japan only, leaving Western fans feeling robbed of the full package. Fast forward just over 10 years and we have Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition — a fully localised, Western re-release of the PS3 version of the game, along with an extra layer of HD polish and some bonus goodies.
Tales of Vesperia takes place in Terca Lumireis, a proto-typical JRPG world whose citizens entrust their safety and entire livelihoods to ancient, magical devices that they know almost nothing about (why does that happen so often?). The game follows the exploits of one Yuri Lowell; a rogueish, brooding, no-nonsense fella who once served in the Imperial Army before he was kicked out for being rogueish, brooding and no-nonsense. When a mysterious thief takes off with the core of a Blastia (those aforementioned ancient machines) important to his home district, Yuri sets off on a journey that quickly takes a sharp turn directly into save-the-world territory and nets him a ragtag group of pals along the way. Tropes be damned, the story in Vesperia is actually halfway decent for a game of a decade ago, and still holds up relatively well now. The characters, especially, feel nuanced and entertaining enough that any lean towards the stereotypical is quickly forgiven.
Damn it, I think I told that kid he could be in our party…don’t make eye contact
When it comes to the way you’ll play through that story, Tales of Vesperia is as unapologetically traditional a JRPG as you’d expect. Towns, dungeons, overworld maps, levelling, crafting and collecting shiny swords, it’s all here. There are plenty of unique ingredients in the formula of course; the Tales series is known for its Linear Motion Battle System and Vesperia features probably my favourite iteration of that to date. As with other titles, coming into contact with an enemy switches the screen to a 3D battle environment where characters fight in real time and have complete freedom of movement to position before snapping to a linear left-to-right movement for attacking. The reason for the switch to a 2D plane when launching an offensive is to free up the left stick for triggering special attacks (called ‘artes’ here), which is a system that may take some getting used to for newcomers but feels right at home for anyone who’s played any Tales game. The reason Vesperia’s particular flavour of LMBS works so well is it’s simple enough to be accessible but hides enough depth to satisfy the hardcore, which is a notion that helps it hold up particularly well now.
So what’s new in this, the Definitive Edition of the game? Truthfully, not much that wasn’t already in the PS3 version of the game. That version was never translated into English though, so for the vast majority of fans there’s a lot of content here that will certainly feel new. With extra playable characters (including the all-important Flynn Scifo), cutscenes, questlines, enemies, bosses, costumes and more, there’s a lot here for new and old players. The sheer amount of added content is very substantial, a fact that has kept Western fans pretty salty since the Japanese update materialised, so it feels like a small victory to finally play the best version of the game. It hardly even matters whether or not you enjoy the Repede Snowboarding minigame, it’s the fact that you even have the chance to enjoy it that’s important… right?
Great, another one of those ‘everyone wear the same thing to the battle’ Facebook events
The game includes both Japanese and English audio tracks as well — but here’s where things get weird. Rather than get the original English voice cast back in to do the localisation work from the Japanese version’s extra content, Bandai Namco have employed new talent. This makes some sense from a budgetary perspective — the original release featured the likes of Troy Baker and Laura Bailey among its cast, arguably before they became household names in gaming circles — but the implementation is uncomfortable. Rather than redo the whole script, the new actors just voice the new stuff, which is peppered all throughout the game, often inbetween original content. It’s jarring to hear Yuri speak with two recognisably different voices in cutscenes or in battle. To make matters more awkward, you’ll have to quit your game entirely and change the language from the main menu if you decide to switch it up at any point.
Visually, things are just fine. While the bump up to 1080p and 60fps (on PS4, at least) is welcome, it’s slightly disappointing that the souped-up PS4 Pro and Xbox One X don’t see any further increase in resolution. It’s an otherwise straight port too, with little in the way of reworked visual elements, but the original assets are both simple and visually interesting enough that it rarely stands out as a decade-old title. It’s down to personal taste, but I’ve long held onto Tales of Vesperia as one of the series’ most artistically well-rounded and tasteful entries when it comes to world and character design. Everything looks appropriately anime, but with a gentler, softer style than some of the recent and often garish entries.
Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition is just that, the definitive version of one of the most cherished titles in a long-running franchise. It doesn’t matter that the bits that make it ‘definitive’ are merely things the Western audience never got to see the first time around, what matters most is that the game is even available now. After a decade of the hard-to-find Xbox 360 print being most fans only in, having a crisp, modern and complete version of this classic made widely available is a blessing in itself.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher