The Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) genre has a deep history stretching back decades into the early years of gaming, and while it currently encompasses some of the more sought-after games to beat, with the likes of Final Fantasy VII Remake being one example, that doesn’t mean the genre was always in such a position.
One JRPG that recently stood out to me was Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition on Nintendo Switch, not only because it was in my mountain of backlogged games but also because it had piqued my interest ever since I saw it in action in its humble beginnings as a seventh console generation game.
The title was released initially on the Xbox 360 back in 2008 before being ported to the PlayStation 3, and eventually approached its final form with a definitive edition for the eighth console generation and PC around 2019.
Having said that, Tales of Vesperia is through and through a game of its genre as well as its time with regards to much of its gameplay and systems, which newer games of the genre have streamlined.
This is evident just by going through the first tutorial. As players are just thrown into combat with only the basics, such as movement and attack buttons being explained, it can initially feel stiff and sluggish to control. One fault of this is the explanation of not the basic controls, but the core mechanics. See, Tales of Vesperia might be an action JRPG, but it plays more like a fighting game.
In combat, the player can form a team of four characters. The player can control one character, while the others are AI-controlled. Alternatively, the other three can be player-controlled, either by swapping to them in latter parts of the game, or by having someone else play them through co-op gameplay.
Either way, both player and enemy are able to fight on a 2D plane, and while free movement in 3D is possible; all the combat techniques are only accessible in the former.
In thinking of the gameplay in Tales of Vesperia as a fighting game, it is much easier to understand it as combos are the main star of the show, which when combined with a multitude of special moves that can be chained as well as cancelling the downtime between animation, the latter of which forms a key aspect of the game in making it more responsive. This means that players who are proficient in mastering the combat are able to pull off insanely high combo counts.
With that being said, the title does progress very much like a JRPG of its time, from game mechanics that are doled out over time to archetype characters being introduced and temporarily removed for story purposes.
Even with this, you can’t depend on the game to teach you how to play it, as it is a game from the late 2000s. This means that some things that are commonplace in today’s gaming such as a quest log and markers are missing in Tales of Vesperia.
For instance, if players take a break from the game, it will not necessarily remind them where to go and what to do next. This extends to side quests, which means such quests are on an even stricter timeline as advancing the storyline will block progression in some of them.
As such, noting down quests to do in a notebook or looking up a guide online is essential. The latter was particularly true for me, and fortunately there are plenty of guides available as the Tales of Vesperia community adores its charms and quirks.
While playing the game with a notebook or guide is a necessity, it tells an enjoyable story that revolves around the standard, tried-and-tested formula, with characters befitting their looks and personalities.
Without spoiling some of the plot points, players are able to travel across the world on a journey that starts out on foot before gradually shifting onto boats, and eventually to an airship, which helps to highlight the grandeur of the characters’ adventure.
That being said, the various parts of the game all come together to make what is a pretty average experience. While one might be able to slip into the zone of chaining combos to stun enemies, having the looming thought that something around the corner may be one level too high for the party can be devastating at best, and frustrating at worst.
While it may not be for everyone, Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition is a game that provides a decent time sink and experience to enjoy over days and months, particularly for those who have played its first iteration from the previous era and are looking for a nostalgic trip; or, for those who are looking for something different in the JRPG space that harkens back to the ‘good old days’.