If you’ve owned a console in the last two decades – and have a passing interest in Japanese RPGs – there’s a very good chance you’ve played at least one of the Tales games on your travels. There are so many entries (not counting the ludicrous number of spin-offs) it’s a surprise it’s taken this long for one to arrive on Switch, but arrive it has, bringing a port of one of the series’ most beloved instalments to Nintendo’s handheld hybrid.
It’s been over a decade since Tales of Vesperia first brought the franchise into the wonderful world of HD, but time has been mostly quite kind to this plucky little adventure. From the tongue-in-cheek humour of its voiceover (available in both Japanese and the English dub) and its almost cel-shaded anime visuals to the engaging mix of tactical and isolated combat, Vesperia made just enough changes to the franchise’s formula to keep it from feeling worn out. Here and now with its new Definitive Edition, veterans can return to an old favourite with some new content, while fresh players can enjoy a classic in its fullest form.
Those HD graphics have been given a lovely spit polish (although some assets do look a little jaggy when forced into a closeup during cutscenes), there are new music additions to the score and all the content that was previously locked to the Japanese PS3 port from 2009, which includes two extra characters and all manner of DLC costumes. It was a big game over a decade ago, but now it’s just that bit bigger without bringing down the quality of the overall package. Performance-wise, it runs brilliantly in both handheld and docked modes.
Vesperia follows the story of a group of warriors, thieves, nobles and pirates living in a world on the verge of unrest. The people of Terca Lumireis have become dependent on an ancient technology known as blastia to power their everyday lives (including protecting their homes from monsters that lurk in the wilds), but there’s a conspiracy at play in the Empire and beyond that could bring doom to the land. In the boots of former Imperial soldier Yuri Lowell – voice by the insanely talented Troy Baker in the English dub – you’ll form some unlikely alliances and create a new guild to help solve the mystery behind the missing blastia in classic JRPG fashion.
On paper, it does sound like the usual rote story you get with countless other JRPGs but even with the occasional bit of clunky translated dialogue, the group that forms around Yuri never feels two dimensional. Yuri is headstrong and sarcastic; Estelle is confident yet cautious; Rita is prickly and self-serving. Everyone brings something new without feeling like a repeat of the previous Tales games, or any other game from any other franchise in this crowded genre. Even Yuri’s canine companion Repede – complete with a scarred face and a pipe – adds a little humour in for good measure.
While it might look like a traditional JRPG, Vesperia instead uses a unique combat model that eschews traditional turn-based battles and pure real-time action in favour of something which sits in-between the two. The Evolved Flex-Range Linear Motion Battle System – which takes inspiration from the series’ Linear Motion Battle System – functions more like a fighting game, drawing you into an isolated arena every time you encounter an enemy (like a turn-based affair) before allowing you to unleash attacks and combos like a more basic version of Tekken or Virtua Fighter.
You’re locked onto a fixed axis, but you can switch between the one or more enemies you’re battling, combining basic attacks, blocks and Artes (special moves) that are unique to each character. Hit a foe enough times and you could launch a critical Fatal Strike (which can be particularly handy against a boss). Your party will attack automatically around you, but you can customise its composition and their attributes in order to maximise their use in battle. You can even use that familiar ability to sneak up on enemies to gain an advantage before a fight begins.
For newcomers, it’s a very odd system to grow accustomed to and it’s very easy to lose simple battles due to its fighting game-influenced mechanics (such as how enemies can grief your health even when blocking unless you catch them with a counter combo). Much like everything from the size of its hub-like cities to the way characters offer internal insight into the story (known as ‘Skits’) as you progress, these elements all work really well together – even if very few of them feel substantially different from many of the Tales games that preceded and followed.
While Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition doesn’t make an major changes to the original game that launched over a decade ago, it does combine practically every piece of exclusive content into one wholesome package. With the benefit of some improved visuals in both cutscenes and gameplay, it’s very difficult to recommend this JRPG classic on any other system than Nintendo Switch thanks to how well it performs in both docked and handheld modes. If you’ve ever slept on this classic, there’s never been a better way to rectify that error.