Review: Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition (Nintendo Switch)
- Release Date (NA): January 11, 2019
- Release Date (EU): January 11, 2019
- Release Date (JP): January 11, 2019
- Publisher: Bandai Namco
- Developer: Bandai Namco
- Genres: Action RPG
- ESRB Rating: Teen
- PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
- Also For: Computer, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
The original Tales of Vesperia was a party-based, combo-centric, story-rich, action JRPG, the 10th mainline installment in the prolific action RPG Tales of franchise, released for the Xbox 360 back in ye olden times of 2008. Subsequently, in ye ever-so-slightly-less-olden times of 2009, Japan received a sort of "deluxe edition" of the game on the Playstation 3, featuring extended gameplay mechanics, additional story dialogue, two extra playable characters, and additional dungeons. In fact, the differences are actually so vast as to have fans referring to the original 360 version as the "beta" to the PS3's full experience, though that's said with a decent dose of irony as well, as the 360 version was very well received in its time, and considered a fantastic game in its own right. Despite the PS3 version being consistently heralded as one of, if not the very best entry in the franchise, and the CONSTANT begging from hardcore fans, western audiences never received an official localization of this extended edition... until now.
The world is Terca Lumereis, a vast and fantastical land inhabited by societies of people with a somewhat unique form of technology. All physical matter here is composed of an ethereal substance known as aer, and there exist machines called blastia which convert this aer into various forms of energy. Light, heat, electricity, engines of all varieties; blastia categorize the workings of this world completely, and its people depend on their functions implicitly in order to lead the lives that they do. More important than any, however, are the barrier blastia, which protect the cities from the ever-present threat of monsters in the wild. Because these machines are so critical to life, the acting form of monarchal government, known as the Imperial Empire, control the distrobution of these artifacts, as well as the research thereof. In fact, it's withing the sprawling capital of the Empire itself, Zaphias, that our protagonist, Yuri Lowell, resides, and where the narrative is kicked into motion.
Zaphias's Lower Quarter is a pseudo-ghetto of the capital where Yuri grew up. The people there are afforded very little, and end up leading somewhat tough lives due to their poverty. In the center plaza is an aque blastia which provides the residents with clean drinking water, but a hooded ne'er-do-well shows up and absconds with the gem-like core, causing the blastia to go nuts and blow its water all over the town, making everyone panic. Yuri gets up to go find the slippery thief, tracking him down to a manor in the wealthy part of town. The thief makes a hasty retreat via smokebomb, and unfortunatly Yuri is caught trespassing on private premises by the knights, the enforcers of law. It's here that the game's combat tutorial takes place, and a bit of comic relief is had. Yuri is then taken to jail in the basement of the royal castle, but busts out with the help of a shady old fellow who definitely will never show up again in the course of the game ever and won't be one of my favorite characters in this game. Nope.
Yuri then begins unabashedly bashing his way through all of the castle's guards in an attempt to escape and recover the Lower Quarter's core. Before long, he comes across a mysterious lady named Estellise, also fleeing the constabulary. She informs him that she's desperately trying to contact a young knight by the name of Flynn in order to inform him that his life is being targeted by some unsavory groups out for his blonde head. Hearing the name, Yuri remarks that Flynn is his childhood friend. Deciding to trust one another, the two escape the capital and set off to both find Flynn and recover Yuri's lost core. Thus begins a journey to span the globe~
Vesperia's is a party-based fighting system, with 9 different playable characters in total who gradually join and leave your team as the story progresses. Yuri is your first and the main protagonist, one who excells in quick combos to lock down enemies, using swords and axes. Estellise is a healing tank, wielding maces/staves and swords, who heavily specializes as a healer but also possesses a decent close-range game. Progressing through the story, the party eventually grows to include Karol, a young wielder of oversized greatswords and hammers, Rita, a spicy mage with whips and sashes, Raven, slinging light or heavy bows which transform into a close-range bladed weapons, Judith, an acrobatic, aerially adept spear/rod user, Repede, Yuri's faithful pupper and bestest, Flynn, a paladin-like knight capable of healing, and Patty, a ramblin' gamblin' seafarin' pirate girl who kicks the ass and distributes the sass.
Battles take place in an instanced field, pitting your party of up to four characters against the enemy group. Though in a party, the player can only directly control one character at a time, with orders being given through the pause menu. The 3D Tales games, Vesperia included, have a somewhat unique movement system that can take some adjustment. Natural movement is actually locked linearly in 2 dimensions between your character and the enemy currently being targetted. Pressing left and right will move the character towards and away from the enemy, simple as you please, however pressing up will cause the character to jump, much akin to a fighting game. To break this linear movement, one must hold ZL in order to begin moving around freely in a state called "free-run", and letting go of this trigger returns you to your original 2D movement. Though this may strike you as needlessly cumbersome at first glance, it not only becomes second nature in no time by way of how smoothly and immediately the game handles the transition, but is integral to the combat mechanics in every way.
There are two main methods of attacking: normal attacks and artes. Arte attacks are powerul skill moves with a variety of elements, ranges, powers, etc, but they each cost Technical Points (TP) in order to perform. Normal attacks, however, can be strung together with relative ease and restore a single point of TP for every hit that causes the enemy to stagger. Pressing up, down, sideways, during free-run, or keeping the left stick neutral will change the nature of normal attacks, or perform completely different artes set by the player. Each direction of a normal attack will have different effects depending on the character being used and the position in the combo. Yuri's dashing attack will force a downed enemy to stand, Flynn's fourth downward attack will force topple, Judith's second forward attack will link into a sweeping upward aerial hit, Estelle's forward combo can hit shorter enemies that her neutral cannot, I could go on for days listing all the nuances and quirks, and how they'll affect the combo possibilities of their characters, but learning by doing is half the fun.
Moves will chain into themselves in a relatively simple pattern; normal attacks can be performed in succession, then base artes can be chained from those, and finally arcane artes will chain from base. Vesperia's combo system starts in this very fundamental fashion, but proceeds to explode outwards as the game goes on via the weapon skill system.
Just about every weapon in the game comes equipped with a skill which the character can learn through repeated use of the weapon, ranging from passive (boosts to maximum HP/TP, higher strength, longer duration of overlimit, more hits in a normal combo, etc.) to entirely new mechanics the player will be actively engaging with, such as giving Judith the ability to jump-cancel any action, letting Karol charge his artes, allowing Patty to chose between three forms when using her "Form Change" arte, etc.
In addition, there are special skills which will transform certain artes when equipped, in the form of Hellfire/Chain, Crucible/Athenor, Alembic/Gale, and Dispersion/Great Deluge. This will automatically transform artes like Azure Edge, Roaring Revolution, and Photon into Azure Storm, Hurricane Revolution, and Grand Chariot respectively, just to name a few. These are known as "altered artes", and if they're performed enough times, they can be learned permanently as separate artes without the need for equipping any skill.
What this amounts to is a constantly expanding battle system as one acquires new weapons, but also a continually shifting meta, as just a single new skill can fundamentally change the best way to operate a character, making the act of buying and synthesizing new weapons a consistently exciting prospect. Eventually, characters will be pulling off ridiculous strings of intricate combos and juggles, weaving together artes and spells of all varieties, the likes of which would have seemed unimaginable when the game first began.
But believe it or not, all of that is just the very surface level of the combat. Baked into the fundamentals of the system are a number of integral techs that blow the ceiling off the game's battle system and let you pull some very stylish moves, most notably the colloquially dubbed "manual cancelling" and "spell cancelling." Like their namesakes imply, these two function as ways to prematurely cut off the endlag of any attack, or to halt the action altogether, and their effects are profound.
Firstly, manual cancelling can be performed by any member of the cast, and involves free-running in the direction your character is currently facing after an action. Though it sounds simple, the angle window for executing the cancel is somewhat strict, and a fraction of a second of downtime needs to be paid before a new attack chain can be executed after the cancel. Despite the drawback, this method seemingly always results in a shorter downtime than the action's endlag, so manual cancelling is just about ideal in most situations. This action also ends up shifting the player slightly forward in a foxtrot-like maneuver, beneficial for rushing a single enemy down, but dangerous if advancing into a group. Manual cancelling was not present in the original 360 release.
While starting up another combo after the cancel requires a short gap of inactivity, you'll quickly find that guarding is instantaneous. By guarding out of a manual cancel, one can pull out some very clutch maneuvers wherein an attack chain is quickly cancelled into a defensive maneuver. More than that, by performing the manual cancel (LZ + L-stick towards enemy) then immediately holding guard and pulling away (Hold Y + L-stick away) one frame later, one can essentially cancel all forward momentum into a nearly instantaneous backstep, which ends up integral for a slow character like Karol who can benefit by playing at the edge of his range.
A quirk of the manual cancel is that it actually allows combos to be continued where they were cancelled, once free-run has halted. Because the casting time of spells is reduced the further they are down a combo string, one can perform a long assault of physical attacks and artes, manual cancel the last arte, run backwards, and then instantly cast a spell as part of that same combo. For example, as Flynn, it's possible to cast spells with long casting times, like Holy Lance or Divine Streak, instantaneously using this technique all while transitioning from close to long range as part of the same combo.
Speaking of spells, another means of cutting up endlag is the method known as "spell cancelling." This one is more simple in theory and execution, though functionally different in some of its effects. The spell cancel is performed by chaining whatever your last move was in a combo chain into casting a spell. Spells, once charging, can be cancelled into a guard just about the very frame they begin, and the cycle of cast->guard->release returns the player character to a prone position far more quickly than simply riding out the natural endlag of an attack, and even quicker than the manual cancel. The advantages of this method over manual cancelling being that it's significantly quicker, and that it doesn't require moving inwards towards the enemy. The only downside is that, naturally, only characters who have spells can perform it, meaning Yuri, Karol, Repede, and Judith are incapable of the tech and must rely on the manual cancel.
I'd mentioned previously multiple types of weapons that each character can end up equipping, and those actually end up having a small but significant effect on the way a player chooses to engage in the combat. Attack speeds, endlag, cancel timings, hitboxes, pushboxes, combo windows, morphing artes, etc. are all changed by the type of pointy stick in the character's hand. Karol's axes/hammers have relatively balanced speed for all his attacks and a moderate range. Alternatively, his greatswords have significantly more range with much slower overhead strikes, making sweeping attacks the more preferable method of default enemy-smacking when using them. Yuri's axes are heavier than his swords, adding effects to artes in which he slams the weapon into the ground (such as forcing downed enemies into a tumbling bounce), but he attacks slightly more slowly than with swords, has a slightly later cancel timing, and can give less hits in multi-hit artes. Raven's heavy bows fire more slowly, but close-range combo significantly easier than his light bows, while spell cancelling light bows has a wider window, but melee combos require somewhat strict input timing to string. For every character's weapon, there are some slight, yet fundamental changes to the gameplay, and it's just another layer of depth in the moist cake tower that is this combat.
BUT WAIT, IT'S NOT EVEN FINISHED THERE. In addition to artes evolving through skill alteration and the equipping of different weapon types, they also grow more powerful the more they're used. This can range from passive effects such as Azure Edge's size and speed growing by 200% at 400 usages, the ability to cancel the artes earlier, thus avoiding effects such as knockdown, or artes gaining the ability to perform an extra attack by holding the normal attack button, such as Flynn's Tiger Blade, which can be extended to force stand on downed enemies at 200 uses via this extra sweep. There are a staggering number of artes with effects that change based on useage, but more importantly, the changes also affect the way the player actively engages with the system, opening up new combo possibilities and challenging the player to learn new ways to implement old attacks.
All this creates an extremely satisfying, stylish, highly complex combat system, rewarding both split-second reactions and mid-combat sequence planning in equal measure, with a very high concentration ceiling. It seems like the harder I push, the more the game gives, and even having so many hours on the PS3 version under my belt, I'm still finding new ways to hone muscle memory and better execute techs. It's a system easy to learn, but seemingly impossible to master completely, and in that sense it's reminiscent of many of the greatest character action games or fighting games.
And the downsides?
While undoubtedly deep and engaging, the combat system suffers the most from being on far too slow a burn, so to speak, as it takes too long for the game to reach an equilibrium of balanced mechanics.
Firstly, nobody ever gets as powerful as Yuri. People can get close near end-game, but they never reach Yuri's raw speed and flexibility. Playing as anyone else in early/early-mid game is akin to deliberately playing on a harder difficulty, and not just by a little. One of my favorite characters in this game, Karol, happens to be a tiny fellow with a very large weapon who has an equally large windup to his attacks, along with the smallest combo strings. He makes himself very vulnerable when approaching enemies, relies heavily on manual cancels to keep himself safe, and requires very deliberate spacing and timing to make sure his attacks don't get interrupted, which is what I love about the character; there's a lot there to perfect in the execution. He's poised to be a high-risk/high-reward archetype in any other game, only... the "high-reward" aspect is conspicuously missing here, as his damage potential does not reflect his vulnerability.
In Keiv Moc's boss fight against Gigalarva, Yuri was able to combo the creature into submission before it healed once, where Karol's damage output meant that it always healed more damage than he could ever deal. Yuri was about three times as capable of raw DPS in this section of the game, and Karol was infinitely more vulnerable. Though the example was of a fight against a singular enemy, the same goes for regular mobs, the only difference being that mob enemies are capable of fleeing from Karol more quickly than he can catch them, making them almost impossible to finish off (looking at you, flying beetles.)
Your AI allies have even less success hunting down stragglers. Rita and Karol's swinging animation is actually longer than it takes certain flying enemies to move out of range, so you can be literally pressing your body against the enemy, press the attack button, and have it miss because the enemy moved. (For those of you saying Rita shouldn't be trying to perform melee attacks, you aren't exactly wrong in the large scheme of things, but in early game, it's a necessity if controlling her.) Locking down enemies is a huge struggle for Karol, where Yuri can cancel into it effortlessly, continually, and deal very safe damage in a short amount of time.
The same difficulty in hitting enemies is present with Rita's early-game spells. Her novice spells will only auto aim, with no form of manual aiming beyond setting a target, and spells take long enough to cast that many enemies need to be absolutely stationary to be hit (Stone Blast, why...), which creates many microinstances where random chance is what mainly chooses whether or not a spell hits an enemy. Fortunately, later spells can be manually aimed, which not only adds a thin layer of depth, but it actually enables the player to have a say in whether or not their spells will hit an enemy. It turns out fantastically, but this level of control needed to be present throughout the entirety of the game.
Speaking of playing a spellcaster, the game's AI is actually programmed to mainly target the first player over any other factors, such as proximity, threat level, who is targeting them, or highest damage dealing character, so if against a group with even modest movement speeds, you might end up fleeing from attacks ad infinitum instead of actually pulling off spells. I can see why this might have been a deliberate choice, as it seems like the developers were aware that chasing down enemies with certain characters can be difficult, and this ensures that the player is always being challenged directly by enemies. By nature of the system, each character's ability to deal with multiple enemies at once is greatly limited, however the game's most satisfying moments happen in successfully engaging a group in combat while nimbly dodging threats from all angles. Unfortunately, in the beginning when the requisite skills have yet to be learned, some characters, specifically spellcasters, can be rushed down to a degree where avoiding damage is all you can do.
There is a workaround to this, though it frankly feels cheesier than a pizza. Enemies are programmed to target the character in the first party slot, not necessarily the character currently being controlled by the player, meaning starting each battle as a melee character, then immediately swapping to control a mage has the mob focusing forever on the character you'd been controlling previously. In the first playthrough, sometimes this feels like the only viable option for Rita. Unfortunately, the ability to swap characters isn't unlocked until upwards of 15 hours into the game; another example of Vesperia's "slow burn" working to its detriment.
The saving graces are twofold: firstly, the game is very skill-based, so any character can be made viable at any stage of the game with proper effort and know-how. Secondly, characters will slowly gain skills which expand their movesets greatly and exponentially bump up their damage potential. Karol, for example, will eventually acquire the ability to charge up his weapon and hold the charge for an extended period of time. This multiplies the power of each hit, as well as changes the form of all his artes, causing them to do more damage. By working this mechanic into combat and keeping his weapon charged continually, the amount of damage he can deal in a single Devil Rage Rise becomes staggering. Judith has her aerial mobility and hit count boosted greatly towards end-game, allowing for flashy, extended, aerial juggling. Rita gains the ability to instantly chain altered spells from their base forms, etc. Because of the option to make all skills cost 1 point to equipped in a New Game+, it's really only the beginning of the first playthrough where the discrepancy in characters' abilities is so pronounced, being greatly evened through full access to all of their skills.
A longform story.
Vesperia's story is broken up into 3 distinct, somewhat lengthy arcs, each with their own individual climaxes and denouements. The first arc is mostly focused around Estelle finding Flynn to make sure he's safe from a groups of assassins, as well as Yuri retrieving the Lower Quarter's aque blastia core. In pursuing these two goals, however, the group discovers something of a conspiratorial network between a members of the imperial council and a rogue guild, though there are a number of sub-plots the group engages in along the way, mostly by having incidentally stumbled upon them. This arc concludes with the retrieving of the core, getting involved with the Union of Guilds, a structured and group who has chosen a life of autonomy out from underneath the rule of the Empire, and helped avoid an all-out war between the Guilds and the Empire. Arc 1 is mostly categorized as being an introductory phase, introducing the characters, the lore, the science of the world, and the overall gameplay loop.
Right as things start feeling resolved and relaxed, arc 2 immediately establishes intrigue with a confrontation from a mysterious talking monster, making some mighty bold and rather threatening claims, shaking up what both the party and the player expected from this world.
The second arc is when the story becomes more loosely focused around investigation and exploration, mostly seeking to meet with a certain individual and learn a truth, but it's also when the most plot intrigue is instilled, by far. Revelations happen, people operating in shadows are revealed, the physics of the world's aer/blastia system is deepened, and the player is likely to be the most inquisitive here than in any other part of the game, which is a very good thing. The party also starts getting some deeper characterization as they subtly become more fond of one another, lending to more instances of camaraderie and levity than in the first act.
While filled with levity, this arc also happens to introduce a great amount of strife, both within the party and with external organization, a number of revelations, and the climax of several characters' individual arcs. Arc 2 is most definitely the strongest in terms of drama, exploring its themes, and endearing the player to the cast.
Arc three is unfortunately a bit underwhelming, at least for its first part. Without avoiding spoilers, it's basically a manner of backtracking to previous locations and performing something akin to a "gather 4 crystals representing the elements" kind of quest, and this part has its moments of shark-jumping and cheese. Moreover, there are some inconsistencies which arise when dealing with previous supporting characters, which removes a lot of believability and consistency from this section.
One of the most prominent themes tackled throughout the narrative, especially in the second arc, is the idea of moral ambiguity vs. legality, and of working outside laws to affect a "positive" change, while being branded a villain. Though not tackling the deeper roots of morality itself, the whys and hows, it does a compelling job of showing the mentality from an inside perspective. Yuri ends up going down a somewhat dark path, making him something halfway between a hero and anti-hero, and the game doesn't pull many punches in showing this. More than that, our perspective sticks firmly with Yuri for the entirety of the game, and we continue to see him act in a protagonist's role throughout. In fact it's Flynn, the one more closely following the ideals of law, that we see in an antagonistic role more often. Though that dynamic is far from unexplored, it's presented well, succeeding because neither Flynn nor Yuri are 1-dimensional characters, each having very endearing qualities. In fact, in true form to the series's pedigree, each member of the main cast is very well written and quite likeable. Character writing has always been a very strong suit of the Tales games, after all.
It's unfortunate, then, that almost all of the major villains in this game are sneering, moustache-twirling, baby-munching, money-swindling, grandstanding, absolutely cartoonish caricatures of "bad guys", to the point of removing basically any and all moral ambiguity Yuri's actions could have had, thus draining a great deal of potential complexity from the plot. The ideals of one of the game's major villains during the end fight of act 2, seem shoehorned in at the end to try and achieve a hollow sense of complexity for their character, but since they showed nothing but arrogance and ill intent throughout their entire screentime, when they start going off about how they're trying to affect positive change in the world, it feels truly contrived. Admittedly, the final boss of the game holds these overblown qualities the least, and has many superficial qualities that I'm sure a lot of people would resonate with, but is still most easily categorized with arrogance and a penchant for unilateral ultimatums, making them closer to more of the same than something compelling. Their motivations I also found to be very unsympathetic, and even counterproductive to their own goals at times.
(I'm not sure whether to laugh or groan)
Overall, the story serves its function well to give a reason for doing the things you do, and going the places you go, but it doesn't exactly do anything revolutionary either. Its strong points are undoubtedly the ways in which it foreshadows future relevant plotpoints early on (perhaps making events seem less implausible and contrived than they otherwise might have), the intrigue of act 2, but most of all, just how interesting the main cast is as they play off each other in skits.
A beautiful surplus of content.
Vesperia is absolutely bursting at the seams with content, minigames, and sidequests, and character costumes to add intrigue and irreverence to the world it creates. Sidequests can be found everywhere by talking to the right people at the right time, some of which delve into their own involved sub-plots. Many of these sidequests give out very important rewards as well, such as new artes, unique weapons, or costume titles. A lot of these costumes are a delight to have, as many are representative of the growth a personal character goes through, or symbolic of their past. Yet more are references to previous Tales of titles, or just meant as joke costumes as well.
In addition to the costumes themselves, the player is able to synthesize little "attachments" to put on their character as decoration, which serve as visual accessories. These can be googly-eye glasses, a dog tail, angel wings, a new blastia for Yuri, hairpins for Judith, necklaces, or a little plushie of Ba'ul that you can stick on your arm. <3
Bossfights have their own little extras as well, in the form of Secret Missions. By completing a hidden task or challenge before finishing off the boss, you'll be rewarded with a unique little item, and the secret mission completion will be recorded. Completing all secret missions will net Yuri a very svelt-looking costume, so if going for 100%, make sure not to miss any. If you do, however, you may rechallenge any boss through the fair on Nam Cobanda Isle, allowing you as many attempts at the secret mission as you'd like, though you'll not earn anything from them. In the 360 version, this was absent, meaning that if you accidentally missed a single Secret Mission, you'd need to wait until the next playthrough to acquire the costume. Those were tough times.
Lastly, the game is peppered with some cute minigames to serve as sidequests, often with very nice rewards, such as new costumes. There's a minigame to fly Ba'ul through rings in the sky, a retro-arcade spoof known as Tales of Draspi, a poker minigame with a shop full of very useful prizes you buy with your winnings, a surprisingly fun block-puzzle minigame, etc.
It also has a dog on a snowboard which dispenses Christmas-themed costumes for each of the main cast. I think we can all agree that peak minigame has been achieved.
While no longer a common practice in the franchise, this title is definitely of the oldschool variety of Tales sidequests, meaning not going someplace you have absolutely no reason to go at a random point in time can forever lock you out of an important sidequest, with nary an indication. At one point, directly after getting the ship, if you don't IMMEDIATELY (as in, within 13 second of sailing time) turn around and backtrack 3 towns, you'll miss out on a costume title for Yuri. It's also hair-pullingly easy to screw up the infamous "Brionac" sidequest, in which you get a powerful and unique weapon for Judith. It's common for players to reach the endgame, look up any extras they might want to get, and realize they'll need to wait until NG+ to get most of them.
I understand that this is in place to give the world a sense of wonder, to make it feel as though there are emergent quests to discover, and while it does work to a degree, it's much more a landmine of indignant rage for anyone not using a sidequest guide than anything else. Though they abandoned the form in future titles, I think this manner of sidequest may have worked if the game actually gave ample indication to the player of where to go. Instead, once you find out what you were meant to be doing and when, you'll likely be shouting expletives at the screen rather than having any sort of epiphone. Don't snap your controller; just use a guide and everything will be fine.
Switch port's performance and Definitive changes.
The Switch port of this game is stated to run at 60fps during battles, and 30fps everywhere else. As it turns out... neither of these two statements are accurate, though not in the way one would expect. Where the PS3 version was hard locked to 60fps during battles, and 30fps anywhere else, with no wiggle room between the two, the Switch seems to run the game at a completely variable framerate, capped at 60, of course. In the world map, the game typically runs at anywhere between 40-45 fps, a solid chunk above the PS3 as well as what's advertised, with the worst sections approaching the lower end of the 30s. Instanced locations, such as inside houses and certain places in dungeons, actually seem to reach 60 fps very often, but will also end up dipping to the 50s more often than not, with some rare areas reaching as low as 45fps. Even with these dips, seeing 60fps gameplay while dungeon exploring is a relatively common occurrence, and it feels phenomenal when it does happen. There are some standout exceptions, though, like Heliord (40-45fps consistently) or Mantaic (between 30-35fps), but these are exceptions, and are perhaps due to high background polygon counts. In fact, Mantaic is the only location I've ever seen so far where the town's performance is more or less on-par with the PS3 version, otherwise the Switch technically outperforms it. The downside is that because the Switch (and most TVs) don't have an adaptive refresh rate, something like 40fps feels far more "skitchy" than it would otherwise on PC, as it manifests as a cycle of [frame, frame, repeated frame], effectively feeling like a microstutter. I think the game would benefit greatly from an option to toggle a world map frame limiter to 30fps on/off, in order to placate those who might be sensitive to this effect. I'm glad to report that I've not once seen the game dip below 30fps in any situation, however I haven't been able to thoroughly test each second of the game, of course.
Unfortunately, battles don't come out unscathed, which is where the framerate matters the absolute most. Battles end up averaging around 57fps due to intermittently repeated frames, instead of the smooth 60 of the PS3. This is so close to being perfect, but jumping back and forth between the Switch and PS3 versions reveals a definitely noticable awkwardness that occurs when the Switch repeats frames. This doesn't seem to be a power/performance limitation, however, as filling the screen with Meteor Storms and Tidal Waves doesn't drop the framerate nearly as hard as in the PS3 version, so I very much hope the developers are able to patch this. Despite the hope, it's likely not a safe bet to bank on, and you should assume that what you see is what you'll get.
It's also worth noting that the performance seems identical in both handheld and docked mode, which is itself quite impressive for a game like this.
In terms of image quality, the greatest difference I could find was that the Switch version is lacking what appears to be a bit of anti-aliasing, as well as the fact that it's being upscaled to 1080p in docked mode as compared to the PS3's 720p. Below is a comparison picture between the two versions:
A zoomed-in, stationary scene like this might make the PS3's anti-aliasing seem more appealing, but in my experience, there's a lot of detail gained with the Switch's image when the camera is at its natural distance. Minute details end up blurred on the PS3's image, but remain absolutely crisp on the Switch, even in handheld mode when they run at the same resolution (720p). In fact, there's one pelican enemy in the game who spits gray objects to attack, which I was only able to notice were actually fish on the Switch. Though this is almost certainly going to be a matter of taste, I prefer the Switch's picture for its clarity over the PS3. Then again, I'm also the kind of person to disable AA in every PC game I play, so take it how you will.
In terms of what makes the Definitive Edition definitive, it seems to come with almost all previously paid downloadable costume titles. I say almost all, as the variants of the Abyss costumes, where the characters keep their natural hair colors, are not present. These costumes were not paid DLC in the past, only being available via pre-ordering the game in Japan, and it's unclear whether or not we'll eventually get them down the line, either as paid DLC or as pre-order bonuses. Heck, maybe an update will come out on launch which just automatically adds them, who knows what they're doing with these. It's possible we'll never get them at all. The only other DLC items that existed in the original PS3 release were consumable item packs. Herbs, skill packs, gel sets, nothing one couldn't acquire easily and readily through playing the game naturally. These are not present in the Definitive Edition, and it's unclear if they'll be available for purchase later on. Honestly, the game is completely unaffected, if not better for their absence, so it's largely inconsequential.
There are also a number of minor notes I made regarding changes in the Definitive Edition which were innocuous enough to not really fit in any other section:
- For this localization, many new English voice lines were recorded for all the new dialogue present in the PS3 version, and for the most part, it's extremely well done. The VAs who return fall back into their personas smoothly and seamlessly, however there is currently a bit of a mixing issue with the audio of the new skits, as they're much more quiet than they should be. It's minor, and they can still be heard just fine, but it can get mildly uncomfortable. Luckily, subtitles exist for every skit.
- Holding R automatically snaps to the nearest enemy where it previously didn't in the PS3 version. It's obnoxious, and I don't know why they changed this, considering tapping R1 already allowed for this same function. This means that quickly checking the HP of a currently targeted enemy means pressing right or left on the analogue stick until the cursor re-targets the enemy you just had focused. Again, hopefully this gets changed back, but it's a minor nitpick.
- The game has dual audio, which is absolutely fantastic, however I just wish that the audio setting was changeable without having to close and reopen the game entirely. I also encountered a bug where Flynn would sometimes say his Japanese lines mid-battle when swapping strategies. Bit of a strange one, but minor as well.
- It's also perhaps worth noting that the unofficial PS3 fan translation does hack in certain costumes for Estelle and Rita which are not obtainable in the main game. This Definitive Edition, of course, does not contain them, though it's a small loss. Additionally, between updates 1.0.0 and 1.0.1, costume indicators were added to signify which titles change the character's appearance, which is great, but it also happened to cause a minor visual glitch in the targeting menu. I expect this to be fixed very quickly, but it was worth noting for the curious.
+ Engrossing combat that I can, have, and will continue to spend hundreds of hours playing.
+ Lengthy campaign.
+ A NG+ so strong that it's arguably the best way to play the game.
+ Exceptional characterization for main cast.
+ Plethora of side content.
+ Switch performance is surprisingly strong, outpacing the PS3 original in many ways, both for handheld and docked.
- Villains are mostly 1-dimensional.
- Mob aggro system leaves a bit to be desired.
- Ally AI isn't fantastic with crowd control.
- Yuri is way too strong. He can be used to basically break the game. T-T
The Switch's performance certainly went beyond my expectations, and it looks much cleaner than the PS3 version as well. Though the framerate is subtly sub-par during battles, everywhere else exceeds expectations, advertisements, and the original PS3's performance, even in handheld.
This is by far the most complex and technical combat systems of any Tales of title I've played, or any game in general, and it's why Vesperia still stands as the gold standard for the franchise. If I had just one game to end up playing for the rest of eternity, this would be a strong contender. It really can't be understated how satisfying and in-depth the combat truly is.
New Game+ allows you to carry over just about everything, from weapons, to artes, their usages, learned skills, etc., and it provides a new difficulty mode in the form of Unknown. In fact, NG+ is where I'd say the game truly peaks, as all skills can be equipped at once, unlocking every mechanic of combat simultaneously.
out of 10
(not an average)
This is one of the most engrossing games I've ever played in an already well-loved franchise, and I can't recommend it enough to just about anybody out there. While there were some minor adjustments to systems in future Tales titles to make for a smoother experience (not having to forge an item to be able to swap characters mid-battle, for instance), not one has approached this level of depth or this high a skill ceiling. Without hesitation, I can say that the benefits in Vesperia outweigh the downsides by a landslide. This game deserves all your money and then some, regardless the platform on which you decide to purchase it. "All my heart baby, all my love~ Arrivederci! ;D"