Tales of Vesperia - hands-on

Tales of Vesperia is the first major RPG to be presented in HD, Producer Gouda Tsutomu boasted at last night’s Bandai Namco press event. “[We] have finally realized the ideal RPG that Tales has always tried to be.”

After drooling over that trailer, we heartily agree - Tales of Vesperia is quite possibly the most gorgeous game we’ve ever seen on the Xbox 360, more beautiful even than its distant cousin, Eternal Sonata. If the ideal of the Tales series was to be the supermodel of anime-style imagery, then Vesperia has won the beauty pageant well before the summer 2008 release date.

But what’s underneath the hand-drawn glory and HD character designs? The premier Japanese RPG experience that will convert all Halo fans? A return of the Tales series to its Phantasia roots? Our hands-on experience might have answers...

We started off in a lush countryside setting that somehow looked familiar (*cough*Eternal Sonata*cough*) with four members in our party - the standard emo lead, his pink-haired lady friend, a spunky redheaded chick and a pipe-smoking wolf/dog - plus some plucky, non-playable youth with a huge bag. The guy demoing Vesperia explained we were roughly four or five hours into the game- after the main characters, Yuri and Estelle, have set out on their quest to stop the evil Empire’s bastila-whorring. We waltzed up a forest road to a collection of guards and were rewarded with a wordy, witty cutscene that culminated in us running into the forest where all kinds of monsters were waiting to pounce.

The battle system in Vesperia is the same “Evolved Flex-Range Linear Motion Battle System” from Tales of the Abyss; and like Tales of Symphonia, drop-in co-op mode is available during battles for up to four players. What this actually means is you either have a somewhat limited range of visibility during battles when you’re playing solo, or a pulled-back 360-degree view with multiplayer co-op. Combat is real-time (none of that turn-based crap for this JRPG) and the familiar Overlimit function returns in Vesperia, so you can store up power for a super attack which stacks with other players’ Overlimit drives.