The Tales of series has long been one of my favorites, thanks to the stunning implementation of its linear action battle system way back in Tales of Phantasia on the SNES. Tales of Symphonia is still one of the all-time great JRPGs on the Gamecube, and the Nintendo Switch recently got its own first installment of the venerable franchise with Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition.
Originally launched in 2009, Tales of Vesperia remains one of the series best, with an excellent cast of characters, solid English and Japanese voice work (with the main hero Yuri being voiced by none othe than Troy Baker), and just enough variation in the Tales formula to make the game stand out from the crowd.
Perhaps it’s just my imagination though, but I remember most other earlier Tales games has having a bit more flowing and natural combat mechanics, where the action in Vesperia feels a bit clunky and stilted. Sort of a fighting game “lite” with combos, blocking and counters, I never felt quite in sync with the fights in Vesperia, and found myself losing some pretty easy battles just because it felt like I couldn’t get Yuri to do quite what I wanted him to when I wanted.
Tales games since Vesperia have changed a lot, with some folks saying that Berseria is a better game these days due to the freedom afforded by the game’s action combat and the overall story being better even though it’s a prequel. For my money, and maybe it’s nostalgia, Symphonia is still the best the series as been, though Vesperia comes very close (as does Berseria).
One of the things that’s worth noting about Vesperia is how well it keeps driving the narrative forward without ever feeling like you’re being guided by giant arrows or quest markers. You’re fairly free to explore, and the game does a great job at guiding you without hamstringing your ability to rove about the world map or find your own way through dungeons. It’s a linear RPG that doesn’t make it feel like you’re on rails. That’s rare in the JRPG genre, truly, especially for a decade-plus old game.
Characters are well-written, their voices are perfect, and though some generic “fantasy tropes” come stomping through the thing, for the most part the story of Vesperia feels original and unexpected. It may not be the sweeping AAA adventure that FFXV was, but the tale of these heroes and misfits is just as engaging through vignettes and skits as Noctis’ tales was with all its massive cinematic presentation. It proves justly that decent writing and solid voice work can make an RPG sail.