Tales of Vesperia is a little game from 2008 that I feel not a lot of people played. Mostly because no one seems to talk about it or are reacting to it having an actual and very important stage presence in Microsoft’s E3 2018 Press Conference. This game is seminal, for a wide variety of reasons, but most notably because it represents a bygone era of Japanese Role Playing Games, specifically a style of them we saw in the golden age of JRPGs back on the Super Nintendo, but just rarely ever see today.
For folks who don’t know, Tales of Vesperia is the 10th entry in the Tales franchise, a series of JRPGs that started way back on the Super Famicom in 1995 with Tales of Phantasia. The goal of this franchise was different than your Final Fantasies or your Dragon Quests, while still taking the same format of unique stories in unique worlds across different iterations of the franchise: the Tales games are action RPGs. Action RPG combat I think is still frowned upon somewhat in the “classic-style” JRPG space, or at least it seems like it is, with titles like Bravely Default and I Am Setsuna still shying away from it. Even something like Final Fantasy XV, the first entry in one of the longest running JRPG series to tackle action combat, is more of a half-measure, allowing for a lightweight kind of auto-battling, where Tales has and always will be flashy combat all about its action.
Tales of Vesperia is the very best of this franchise, and while Tales of Berseria, the most recent entry for Tales, has come the closest the series has ever come to Vesperia’s very high height, it still didn’t quite touch the magnificence of the landmark title. And Vesperia was an odd entry altogether because it was exclusive to the Xbox 360 in the United States, in an era where Microsoft was going out of their way to push Japanese-developed games on their platform to win over an Eastern audience. It joined the likes of Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, and in a way never found its audience on 360. While I don’t want to outright say it did poorly, it certainly didn’t blow up on 360 like the series later would on PS3 with entries like Tales of Xillia and Tales of Graces f, and when Tales of Vesperia was redone and an outrageous amount of additional content was added (including two new party members) for a PlayStation 3 release, that version never came to the west, even though voice actor Troy Baker reported he had spent time doing some voice over for the eventual English port of that very PS3 version.
And so, this very definitive edition of Vesperia never came to the west, and the game never seemed to find its groove on Xbox 360 in the first place. Tales of Vesperia coming back 10 years later is already a wonderful surprise, but it’s more important than that.
Tales of Vesperia represents an era of Japanese Role Playing Games. This is the type of game that isn’t just an absurdist anime-dream, but also a culmination of ideas laid out on the Super Nintendo. This is the kind of JRPG where you leave a town and run around on a world map. The kind of game with quirky dungeon mechanics revolving around a magic ring that gets stranger and weirder new abilities. The JRPG that takes 70 hours to complete, spans three distinct Acts, and highlights a lovable and memorable cast of seven, now nine party members in the Definitive Edition, with plenty more in the ensemble. This is a JRPG where Troy Baker voiced the protagonist five years before he voiced Booker DeWitt from Bioshock Infinite and Joel from The Last of Us, and did a phenomenal job. Publishers and developers just do not make games like this anymore, and even the Tales franchise itself has moved away from this format.
We saw a little bit of this flavor of RPG earlier this year with Ni No Kuni 2, another title that didn’t quite scrape the top five best selling games of March, according to NPD listings, are is the closest we’ve come to a big-budget, console JRPG of that style in a good long while. Ni No Kuni 2 isn’t quite as phenomenal as Tales of Vesperia though, and while I don’t mean to diss Level 5’s project, I have hope that the water it couldn’t quite tread, Vepseria’s Definitive Edition will clear flawlessly. This is an RPG coming to all platforms, including Nintendo Switch, and is something any and all JRPG fans need to get their hands on.
Exploring the wide world of Terca Lumireis is an absolute delight. Tales of Vesperia has a gorgeous and slightly-cartoony watercolor art style that still sings today, much like Wind Waker’s gorgeous cell shading. It’s also full of deep combat systems that were only evolved in the expanded version of the game we’re finally seeing in the west this winter. Combos and cancels and secret objectives hidden in each and every boss fight made playing Tales of Vesperia through several times over a wonder for me, and while I know I’m one of few that has seen the game through seven or so times and unmasked all of its hundreds of hours of secrets, its a title that deserves that kind of attention. Its recognition in Microsoft’s press conference isn’t just a nod to the diverse selection of games they tried to pull into their 2018 E3 showing or a callback to its original release on Xbox 360, but a call to anyone and everyone who missed it that this game matters.
One final thing I want to touch on, to reiterate that feeling, is that both myself and a quiet but passionate fanbase for Tales of Vesperia have been begging for this rerelease in the west for years, and to finally be heard is just satisfying in a way that is difficult to convey with words. This fanbase even went so as to use the loophole in old PS3 firmware to create a fan-patch for Tales of Vesperia’s Japanese PS3 release, translating it into English so Western fans could play the game.
Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition is coming to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch later this year, and everyone should absolutely give it the time of day when it does.