Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Game Design: Game of the Week 2 - Tales of Vesperia

What is Tales of Vesperia?

Part of a series of RPG games from Namco studios, it’s a long running series that has a strong presence in japan, with some titles being imported and localized to the US. It is the tenth title in the series, available on Xbox 360 and later ported to PS3 (only in Japan).

The Story

Introduction to Tales of Vesperia's story

The game takes place in the world of Terca Lumireis, where the people have come to rely on “blastia” which is technology with a variety of abilities, from being sources of energy, to providing water, or providing large barriers that keep monsters out of cities.  These blastia are powered by a fuel known as "aer", which exists all around the atmosphere, but it can be fatal in large concentrated doses. The major factions in the world include the empire which controls most of the land, and various guilds that have sworn themselves from allegiance to the empire and live by their own sets of rules. Though they aren't enemies of the empire, they aren't friendly either.

The story revolves around the protagonist Yuri and the companions he meets throughout his journey from pursuing a simple thief, to taking down the leader of one of the guilds attempting to overthrow the empire, and then discovering a calamity is descending upon the world due to the overuse of all these blastia, imbalancing the "aer" in the world. This issue with blastia is the main issue in the story and the party attempts to do all they can to discover how they can avoid the calamity. The issue is very similar to that of pollution on Earth from our machines and green house gases, which I assume is what the writers of the story were going for. Besides this issue, the story also deals with morales and ethics, an example in the story being how to deal with corrupt officials who spend their time torturing or even murdering others. Various decisions like this plague Yuri throughout the game as the world of Terca Lumireis isn't the safest one, either from the monsters roaming the land or the corrupt leaders. It’s one of the darkest Tales series games, whereas most of the time they are rather cheery (though this game is still cheery for the most part).

The cast of Tales of Vesperia. (From left to right) Judith, Rita, Flynn, Repede, Yuri, Carol, Estelle and Raven.

Though not the best story, the interactions between the characters in their journeys is rather enjoyable and you will get to know them very well and get vested in their fates. From the easy going but reckless Yuri, Rita the aggressive, no nonsense genius, Estelle the “typical Princess”, Karol the “boyscout” who wants to prove his worth to the world, Raven the sleazy, and unpredictable “oldman”, Repede, Yuri's loyal dog sidekick, Flynn, Yuri's childhood friend with the imperial guard, to Judith the voice of reason in the group. You get to know them well throughout the journey and not one character seems particular irritating. Their interactions with the various NPCs are also very good and the game features good voice acting which enhances the story. Sometimes localization for Japanese games tends to use low quality acting which detracts greatly from the experience.

Gameplay: How is this game fun?

Tales of Vesperia, though it follows a story provides plenty of open world areas for people to explore, able to do sidequests, learn more story and discover powerful items. It has a large amount of this side content, easily extending a playthrough for even longer.

Basic Tales of Vesperia combat

Battles take place in a 3D arena, choosing up to 4 players form your party, using a simplified system that allows you to easily engage an enemy by holding only the direction that enemy is in. You can move around freely by holding one of the controller’s triggers however. Once you’re facing an enemy, every character is able to combo using a combination of basic attacks and various abilities. The system is simple and easy to handle, but by the end of the game, due to all the new techniques you are able to learn you can pull off some devastating and flashy looking combos. It truly makes the game that much more exciting, trying to experiment with all of these different combinations of attacks. This aspect of the battle system helps to keep players engaged by the constant flux of new abilities to learn. You can even play with up to 4 players at once cooperatively during any section of the game (as long as it’s not a specific story sequence that requires you to have fewer).

Some of the combo potential in Tales of Vesperia

Many other aspects of the gameplay are introduced over time, such as Fatal Strikes that can defeat minor opponents in one blow, Overlimit which allows you to use many special abilities over and over which can create new combos, and Mystic Artes which are essentially your characters ultimate attacks. Each character has a unique set of moves and even basic attacks, meaning each and every character plays differently.

Where the various skills you will be able to learn will end up. By the end of the game this list will be completely filled and you will have to choose which of these you want since you can only choose a limited number of them.

Outside of battles, to learn these new abilities players purchase equipment such as weapons and armor. With repeated use of these weapons and armor players are able to learn these new abilities for combat and with hundreds of weapons to find for each character, it means you’ll almost constantly be learning something new. 

Various other options include being able to synthesize rarer items and cooking to heal and provide bonuses after battles for a limited amount of time and unlocking new costumes through various side quests. The game doesn’t get too complicated in providing ways to customize your characters but still providing a decent amount of depth. Most of the focus is on the exciting gameplay though much time can be spent trying to improve your characters just trying to learn all of the abilities.

Game Design of the week: After the End Game

New Game + in an old SNES RPG, Chrono Trigger

In class we took a look at the concept of Race to the finish and so it got me thinking, what aspects at the end of a game allow it to continue past the end game? In some cases there really isn’t much else to do by the end game. Take Call of Duty and many other shooters for example, once you beat the campaign once, the only other option is to try the game again on a harder difficulty. This holds true for quite a few other games as well. RPGs on the other hand, since the beginning have almost had what many like to call “New Game +”. This Game design is an attempt to extend the life of the game past the end game and RPGs favour this all the time. Tales of Vesperia is no exception to this rule, they have a new game+ and it’s pretty good at that.

Grade points earned can be seen, as well as various other stats.

Throughout your first play through of Tales of Vesperia, you collect “grade points” which are used to unlock options in the new game + option mode that change the game significantly. You can get various bonuses from extreme difficulty, to faster levelling up, to increased items, keeping hold of your old abilities you unlocked before, etc. Besides just these options further side quests are unlocked in the next play through, including a extremely hard Dungeon, with bosses that are much more difficult to overcome than the end game boss.

(Two) of the bosses in Tales of Vesperia at the unlocked "Unknown" difficult in my 2nd play through. I am also able to switch characters mid-battle.

Besides just the new game + features I have mentioned, Tales of Vesperia is a game that allows itself to be replayable more than once. The number of abilities you learn throughout your playthrough in the game for each character is astounding, there are always new combinations you can try out in gameplay. I literally went through an entire play through using only Yuri as my character, with the ai filling out the other slots in my team with the other characters. I could play through again as Rita and use a completely different style of play then I had with Yuri. Or I could mix and mash throughout my journey. Either way, the game gives plenty of incentive after the end of the game to play further.

This is one game design system that’s been used over and over in RPGs but it’s always been an effective way to draw anyone who has greatly enjoyed to game to play even more, even rewarding the players for continuing. Since the new game + features in games usually feature ways to keep your old abilities and facing new challenges along the way, which like I describe, Tales of Vesperia does already. That’s not to say there aren’t other games that don’t have new game + features, there are plenty that extend the game further and even use the same concept. This isn’t restricted to only RPGs but it’s certainly one of the most popular genres to use these. It's not a given that all RPGs have this feature either.

I wanted to focus mainly on showing this design aspect of the "New Game +" to extend life in games. For more details on Tales Vesperia, click Right Here!

Hope you enjoyed this lil blog post, this is "The Penguin" Signing out!


  1. Again, a very nice post. Really, constantly good work here. Keep it up.