Tales of Vesperia radiates beauty. This role-playing game's most obviously inspired facet is its vibrant visual design, but even if you were to overlook its pretty exterior, you'd find more beauty tucked away in almost ever corner. The characters are vividly crafted, the dialogue rings truer than you'd expect from a Japanese RPG, and the involving story is intricate without becoming overwhelming. Of course, Tales of Vesperia is a game, not a film, so you'll be delighted to know that it's also a long, entertaining journey filled with flashy combat and all the gameplay elements fans of the Tales series would expect. It might feel a bit overfamiliar at times, but by tightening up the battle system and keeping the pace brisk, the developer has produced a truly great sequel that any RPG fan can get into.
The core cast is excellent, and you'll care about their fates.
The game's star is Yuri, a well-meaning troublemaker living in the capitol's lower quarter. Devices called blastia manage the world's magic needs, from monster barriers to mystical weapons. When a thief steals the core of the blastia that regulates the neighborhood's flow of fresh water, Yuri sets off to recover it, only to find himself caught up in a game of politics and class struggle. As he treks across forests and deserts, Yuri and his trusted dog Repede bring various friends into the fold. There's the naive Estelle, a castle noble who finds she has the most to lose--and the most to gain; Or the insufferable Rita, a headstrong magic researcher who keeps getting drawn into the drama in spite of herself. One by one, the core cast builds, yet each character possesses unique charms, and you will care about their struggles. This may be a simple variation on the genre's prototypical journey of self-discovery, but the terrific cast keeps the story fresh and fascinating. Even small touches, such as the end-battle celebrations, brim with charisma.
It helps that the dialogue, while not without occasional clumsiness, is translated rather well and gives each party member clear motivation and personality. Quiet moments between Estelle and Yuri are heartfelt, while the banter between Raven and his traveling companions is amusing and generally unforced. The script's best bits come courtesy of the game's skits, in which the characters, represented onscreen by talking-head portraits, interact, complain, and otherwise comment on recent events. Newcomers to the series may find the skits visually jarring, given that the basic 2D images don't mesh well with the lush backgrounds and cel-shaded character models. Nevertheless, the skits are a series staple and deliver plenty of character motivation, humor, and story tidbits. And because you have to press the back button to view them, you don't need to watch them if you don't want to.
As you traverse the lands of Terca Lumireis, you'll find no shortage of eye candy to gaze at. Tales of Vesperia's art style is its most striking feature, and at first you may be inclined to compare it to 2007's luscious Eternal Sonata. There are similarities, but Tales takes a less fussy, more muted approach. Environments look vibrant but clean, though that doesn't mean they lack detail. You'll explore countryside villages, a derelict ghost ship, and a tall clockwork tower, among many other locales, and each is visually interesting while remaining consistent with the overall look. The game makes good use of soft lighting and understated cel-shading, and character models are crisp and animated well. Not to be outdone, the musical score uses a variety of moody harp tunes and rousing electronic themes that complement the visuals. The English voice acting, often a source of worry among RPG fans, is pretty good, though the overzealous female voice artists do grate from time to time.
The combat is easy, but it's flashy and rewarding.