Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Tales Studio
Release Date: September 2008
The Xbox 360 might not have launched with a very strong RPG catalog, but in the past year, both Microsoft and its third-party developers have made a relatively strong showing on the role-playing front. Last fall, Namco debuted Eternal Sonata on the X360 and now, it's bringing the latest installment of the long-running Tales series to the console. A standalone title, Tales of Vesperia borrows gameplay elements from Tales of the Abyss but boasts an original story line and set of characters.
Tales of Vesperia follows the adventures of Yuri, who grew up poor and became a royal knight to try and better the world. Seeing that the system was corrupt, Yuri set out on his own to right various wrongs and help those in need. Of course, this managed to land him on the bad side of those in power and thus sets up the main conflict in the game.
The demo version we played started a few hours into the game, with Yuri's party traveling on the outskirts of town when they were discovered by guards and chased into the woods. It seems some mysterious force has been destroying town defenses, and no one knows why. Alas, the question was not to be resolved in the demo, though we were able to get some hands-on experience with combat.
Much like previous Tales titles, the combat in Tales of Vesperia is real time. To initiate combat, simply walk up to a random enemy. Opponents are visible in the world, so if you want to avoid fighting, you try to sidestep hostile creatures.
Attacks do not wait for a turn counter, so there's no resting on your laurels. Spells can be equipped and used at any time, though the more powerful effects have lengthy charge periods during which the caster is vulnerable to counterattack. Any counterattack not only damages the character but also prevents the successful casting of the spell.
One nice twist on the combat model is the ability to play cooperatively with up to a total of four players. During the adventure portions of the game, player one is in control of all actions but as soon as it shifts to combat, each player takes control of one of the four party members. Players can shift in and out at will, with the AI taking control of any extra party members. Due to its nature, co-op is only available locally. You cannot play co-op over Xbox Live.
Though we could not get confirmation on the underlying mechanics, Tales of Vesperia appears to share a game engine with Eternal Sonata. Both the adventure elements and combat sequences appear similar in style. Tales of Vesperia distinguishes itself visually through its anime-inspired character design. All of the in-game characters look like they walked right off an animator's desk, which is a nice touch, considering that all of the cut scenes are fully animated. If you enjoy the hand-drawn look, you'll likely find a lot to like with the graphic design used within.
According to Namco Bandai, Tales of Vesperia is shooting for a simultaneous release in both the U.S. and Japan, with both versions being fully voiced. With that said, each version is only getting a single voice track, so American gamers are getting English voices with no option for Japanese. While the hardcore few are likely moaning in agony right now, it should be pointed out that the developers are putting a great deal of effort into both versions, with Japanese pop singer Bonnie Pink recording both Japanese and English versions of the theme song, "Ring a Bell."
It's always difficult to form an impression on something a deep as an RPG from a 15-minute demo, but what we've seen of Tales of Vesperia appears to follow the same basic formula as previous Tales titles. The co-op option is certainly appealing, and it is an innovative way to bring multiplayer to what has traditionally been a single-player genre.
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