Of paladins, dragoons and spoony bards

The culprit: Final Fantasy IV (Super Nintendo, PlayStation, GameBoy Advance, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable)

Starting the tradition of three Final Fantasies per console, this is the first game of the series on the SNES, and, contrary to its two predecessors, this one actually did make it out of Japan in timely fashion. It also started a numbering confusion that would last for a while: since it was the second FF to be released outside of Japan at the time, it would be known as FFII. The original SNES game notably exists in two versions: what is called the ‘easytype’ or American version, and the ‘hardtype’ or Japanese one. The ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ bits should be self-explanatory. I guess the developers believed that the rest of the world wasn’t quite up to par with Japanese gaming standards. It probably didn’t sit very well with some people, as the Japanese version has since also benefited from a fan translation into English.

Despite this variation in combat difficulty, the game is the same in both versions, and it’s certainly a memorable one. For the majority of the Western audience, this was the first FF with properly characterised protagonists and a sizeable cast of them to boot, one of the largest in the series, in fact. Since every character also has a fixed class, or job, this also gives said classes a recognisable face, so to speak. Cain/Kain and Cecil, for example, have set the tone for the abilities and physical appearance of all dragoons and paladins in the FF series. Just about everything else in the game has taken a significant upgrade from previous installments as well: better (and longer) storyline, better combat mechanics, better graphics (with the notable introduction of battle backgrounds). True, the characters sprites still look somewhat squished while on the world map, but they are otherwise more detailed than the ones on the NES. Since this is still early enough in the series for first times, this game also marks the first appearance of proper save points.

FFIV also holds the title of “Most Remade Game in the Series”: as of today, it’s available to Western audiences on four different consoles. There’s the original SNES version, a PS version, with short cinematics of dubious graphical quality added at the beginning and at the end, which was released together with FFV as part of the European Final Fantasy Anthology bundle, a GBA version, a DS version and a PSP version, bundled with the game’s sequel, The After Years (which was previously only available on the Wii), as well as an exclusive episode covering the transition between the two. Each remake thus offers something new to the experience, the GBA and DS versions introducing the most significant changes. Overall, I would say this is one the best games in the FF series: solid, well-paced and fun, well worth playing or replaying.

Detailed review available! Read more here.

Lost and found

The culprit: Final Fantasy III (Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo DS)

Final Fantasy III was the last FF released on the NES, but for some reason (apparently, technical difficulties), has met with an even worse fate than its predecessor, despite being a better game. While FFII finally managed to make it out of Japan when Final Fantasy Origins was released, FFIII was never even scheduled for release in the West until the recent, vastly overhauled DS port, which resulted in temporary numeral confusion, as FFVI was known as FFIII to us Westerners for a good while. Shame, if you ask me, because, out of the three NES FFs, this is probably the most entertaining one, despite the mess that serves as its storyline.

There is a fan-translated ROM of the NES version by NeoDemiforce available, but since there are such significant differences between it and the DS port, and since the DS port is, after all, the official incarnation of the game on our shores, I thought it best to attempt to review both side by side.

FFs come in series of three per console, and the third one in a series is usually the best in terms of graphics, logically enough. The NES version of FFIII is no exception: the colours are softer, the outlines and sprites clearer, and the battle mechanics have greatly improved. Message and movement speed is now perfectly decent, which

represents a huge upgrade in playability. Of course, this all pales in comparison with the DS version, which upgrades the graphics to 3D, introducing beautiful, colourful environments, and even a lovely introductory cinematic (even though none of the character interaction it showcases is actually shown in the game). The most spectacular instance of this upgrade is the Forbidden Land Eureka, which, with the new graphics, looks nothing short of stunning, with its waterfalls and the starry void surrounding it. The only minus I can think of is that character sprites have been maintained, thus keeping the game’s ‘kiddy’ look. Combat has also been spruced up, with tighter and more complex battle mechanics, as well as dynamic combat screens (the camera angle changes when the characters cast spells or use abilities).

This is also the first FF ever to introduce the job system as we know it. Sure, in FFI, you could pick jobs at the beginning of the game, but you couldn’t freely change from one to the other. Here, you have the possibility to change jobs at will, and you have a much larger selection of them too. This makes the game a far cry from its predecessors in terms of strategic depth and customisation possibilities. Speaking of first times, this is also the first appearance of the moogles, who run Dorga/Doga’s household, although you’re never told where he got them from. It’s also the first appearance of Gilgamesh, or Gigameth, as he’s called here, even though he has nothing in common with his later incarnations besides the name. More importantly, this is the first appearance of summoners as well, alongside their trademark summonable creatures. Yep, Shiva, Ifrit, Ramuh, and all the others hail from here.

The DS version is the better and more accessible game of the two, but if you’re curious enough to want to delve into some archaic NES fun, the fan translation works just fine. Unlike FFI or FFII, the NES version of FFIII is much less of a chore to get through. As long as you know what to expect (ie. worse characterisation and graphics, mainly), it won’t disappoint. Overall, whichever version you pick, this is a pleasant game, which leaves a good impression in spite of its flaws.

Detailed review available! Read more here.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

The culprit: Final Fantasy II (Nintendo Entertainment System, PlayStation, GameBoy Advance, PlayStation Portable)

This is the second installment of the Final Fantasy series, but it actually didn’t make it out of Japan until the Final Fantasy Origins remake for the PS, where it was bundled with its predecessor, FFI. This has resulted in a temporary numerical confusion for the rest of the world, where, until Origins came out, FFIV was known as FFII (since it was, for all intents and purposes, the second FF game released outside of Japan), and FFVI as FFIII. Effectively, this means that the only way to play the original NES version is to use a NES emulator, and the fan-translated ROM by NeoDemiforce. Barring that, the Origins version is the official first version of the game outside of Japan.

While all this may be a minor annoyance, the actual game itself certainly isn’t. If you ask me, this is quite possibly FF at its very worst. Yes, yes, worse than X-2. Worse than Tactics Advance 2. Worse than XIII.

To start off on a positive note though, the game does mark an evolution in a few areas. First of all, the graphics have gotten a tad better, smoother and with slightly less glaring colours. The message speed has also significantly improved, making battles faster. Now you don’t actually have to wait for hours scrolling through stat-ups when one of your characters gains a level, unlike the original FF. The storyline shows more effort, as does the characterisation. Contrary to popular belief, which is based on the delayed release of the game, this is the very first FF to have named characters with distinct personalities, even though some of the sprites, like Frioniel’s/Firion’s or Guy’s, have shamelessly been recycled from the first game. The cast is also more numerous and more varied. The very first Cid appears here, as well as the very first chocobos. The former hangs out in a bar and lets you to use his airship for a fee. The latter live in a forest near Kashuon/Kashuan, where you can catch them, allowing you a temporary respite from random fighting as you canter around the world (they’ll run away once you dismount though). In short, if you only look at it from this angle, it sounds like it should all be good…right?

Right. But this does not take into account the combat system. That one single aspect completely BREAKS the game. I mean, taken on their own the storyline and the characters aren’t all that, but you could’ve appreciated the effort and the evolution from the first FF if everything else had evolved positively as well. As it is, however, the combat system only brings out the rest of the game’s shortcomings in much starker relief, as if it tainted everything it touched. By all means, give the game a shot if you really like your videogame archaeology, or if you’re curious to see just how low FF can fall. Otherwise, I’d steer clear from this sucka. Or, at least, from the NES version. Which, admittedly, isn’t difficult, since it actually takes some effort to obtain. The Dawn of Souls GBA remake, however, is nothing short of astounding as it actually manages to make the game decent. That one, if you ever do get your hands on it, is worth a go.

Detailed review available! Read more here.

How to (not) go out with a bang

The culprit: Final Fantasy (Nintendo Entertainment System, PlayStation, GameBoy Advance, PlayStation Portable)

Well, folks, this is what started the gaming goodness for so many. Back in Ye Olde Days when games happened in 8-bit on a black backdrop, Squaresoft was a little struggling company that decided to go all out for one last parting bang. They cooked up something called Final Fantasy; “final” being self-explanatory in the context. And…that was the beginning of a cult series. Who woulda thunk it?

The game, for those familiar with more recent FFs, is a condensed version of pretty much everything that makes FF what it is today. To the trained and spoiled eye of the modern-day RPG player, it will most likely seem unimpressive at best, but do bear in  mind that you’re looking at what started it all. The traditional four-person party with its even more traditional jobs (or character classes) has to save the world. FF veterans will instantly recognise the traditional outfits of the White, Black and Red Mages. The setting is medieval, as in all FFs up until VI, and includes all the good old details of the genre: damsels in distress, cursed princes, witches, knights, sages, dragons, and even an ancient lost civilisation. The four elemental crystals and their corresponding fiends And aerodynamics be damned!start out here; back in the day, the idea was probably a stroke of genius and has since become a trademark of the series. The crystals have reappeared in III, IV, V, IX, XI, XII and XIII since, under many different guises. The good ol’ airship also starts out here, even though there’s no Cid to construct or pilot it yet.

The first version of the game was released on the NES. If you expect breathtaking graphics, wonderful music, an amazing storyline and incredibly smooth gameplay there, well…you’ve got another one coming. The game is old, and you can feel it: the battles are slow and choppy, the music is tinny and the smudgy, glaring colours may hurt your eyes. However, the game has also been remade a good number of times. There is a PS version bundled with FFII called Final Fantasy Origins, a GameBoy Advance version bundled with FFII called Dawn of Souls, and a PSP version released for the 20th anniversary of FFI’s release. So there are plenty of ways to re-experience this one without forcing yourself through the NES version. By all means though, if you’re hardcore enough and want a challenge, give the NES version a shot, if only to appreciate just how far the FF series has come since its beginnings. Gotta give credit where credit is due, however: this is a decent piece of light entertainment and a worthy ancestor to its more illustrious descendants.

Detailed review available! Read more here.

No strings attached

The culprit: Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (Nintendo DS)

EscapismThe original Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was a bit of a UFO in the Final Fantasy series. Yes, it was similar to Final Fantasy Tactics in terms of gameplay, yes, it featured moogles, chocobos and a Cid, but that was where the similarities stopped. The game was set in a modern-day world, for a start, and I don’t know if it was just me, but I was thoroughly weirded out at seeing that kind of setting in an FF game. Then, there were the storyline and characters: the latter were mostly uninteresting schoolchildren in silly outfits, and the former broke some kind of fourth wall, as it was trying to prove that retreating to a fantasy world in order to escape your problems was not a solution. Not exactly the best way to sell a fantasy game, as I’m sure you’ll concur. Basically, the one real perk was its battle system.

I hope the chocobo throws them offFor some reason, Square Enix has since decided to make a sequel to this game, a puzzling decision if there ever was any, as it wasn’t exactly the biggest of hits. Yet, here we are, and Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (sure is a mouthful) is a true successor to its ancestor, as it keeps the exact same formula that ensured its ‘success’. The characters are just as unlikeable as before (*slaps Adelle a couple of times*) and just as ridiculously dressed. The cast also includes a plethora of cameos from FFXII: Vaan and Penelo (*groan*), Montblanc and his brother Hurdy, and Al-Cid, the only mildly entertaining one. The storyline is, once again, pretty much nonexistent: a boy is grounded at school for being late and Pretty much, yeahsent to tidy up the library. There he finds an old book, and for lack of anything better to do, decides to write his name in it (thus idiotically designating himself for subsequent punishment for defacing school property). This has the effect of whisking him off to another world, where he joins a clan (basically a group of adventurers), and all he has to do to go back home is…explore and have fun. Yep, that’s it. There are tangential storylines interspersed with this morass, but they are largely independent from each other and from the greater scheme of things. So once again, that just leaves the battle system to save the day.

Luckily, that is what the game does best. For those who are familiar with FFTA, you’ll feel right at home. The characters are still supremely customisable: each can take on a variety of jobs, which are still determined by his or her race, but there are now Wouldn't she trip over her feet?more jobs for each race, and two more races: Seeq, the aesthetically challenged pig-people from FFXII, and Gria, dragon-like females, previously not featured in any Ivalice game. The characters can still summon super-strong creatures after performing a certain amount of successful actions in battle, but instead of having only five, you now get the whole set of thirteen from FFXII, probably in a bid to make them more familiar–and thus, more likable–to the player base, with variable success. Thus, Ultima (damages all enemies and fully heals all allies) and Shemhazai (guaranteed 999 damage to one enemy, if used by a character who has been dealing a lot of damage throughout the game) are now officially awesome, while Zodiark is for the gambling, suicidal type (50% chance of dealing 999 damage to enemies and allies).

That's gonna leave a stainCombat is still regulated by laws: special rules determined at the beginning of the skirmish, which no participant (enemy or ally) is technically allowed to break and which are enforced by judges. However, the former are more lenient than in FFTA, and there is a lower penalty for breaking them: no one goes to jail, the fallen combatants are simply not allowed to be revived for the duration of that battle. Luso’s clan also has its own beneficial laws it can use, which it can unlock by performing Clan Trials of variable difficulty. These Trials also grant the clan titles. The higher tier titles lower the prices of items, but also make new recruits want to join. The Bazaar system, which allows Luso to sell loot to have shopkeepers create new equipment, also makes a comeback from FFXII and works quite well. The territorial Getting luckysystem has been improved, as you no longer have to build the world map from scratch and hope that you’ll get some good treasures out of it (a truly TERRIBLE idea from the first FFTA); the map is now predetermined and subdivided into regions around the main towns. The clan also no longer needs to constantly defend its turf from the attacks of other clans. Instead, control of a region is auctioned off at a certain time each year. If the clan gains control of one whole region, it keeps that status permanently, which means that, not only can the territory never be taken away, but also that the auction for that region will now allow the clan to acquire rare items.

When will it stop...?In short, it’s all good fun…until you get bogged down by the sheer number of missions. Just like in the original FFTA, they number 300 all told, both mandatory and optional–which you can now fortunately keep track of with a grid, something you couldn’t do in FFTA–plus some random encounters (monsters or disgruntled clans who are pissed off at Luso’s clan for winning an auction), as well as an optional dungeon called Brightmoon Tor, which, in the purest tradition of optional dungeons, is a tower composed of some 40 floors filled with very nasty enemies, but also some nifty treasure to make it worth your while. But my point is that this abundance of material is an artificial way to lengthen gameplay. Sure, it’s fun for the first 10-20 hours or so, but Yes, that's a giant chickenwhen you realise just how many more missions you have to go through after you reach the 50 hour mark, a distinct feeling of discouragement sets in. I’m currently finishing up Brightmoon Tor and the last ‘secret’ mission of the game (it’s not counted on your mission roster, so technically, it means that there are 301 missions total), and my timer has gleefully skipped over the 160 hour mark. And I really wish I were kidding. Don’t be surprised if, after a while, you find yourself wondering “wait…so where was the storyline going already?” Or maybe you won’t. Because, in the wonderful words of l33t-speak: lolstoryline.

Sorry, folks!So to make a long story short: if you want a game with no strings attached, something you can pick up whenever you want a bit of fun tactical fighting, FFTA2 is pretty much perfect and will last you a VERY long time. If, however, you like to have some storyline meat on the bones of your gameplay and don’t fancy getting lost in oodles of mindless missions…you might want to reconsider. Scratch that: get another game, full stop.

Crisis Bore

The culprit: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation Portable)

Well, I knew I was in for a fanservice-fest. Because what else could a prequel to the most famous Final Fantasy game be? Knowing this, I armed myself with a heavy dose of leniency before inserting the Crisis Core disc into my PSP. But leniency can only take you so far when the developers are not making any efforts to meet you halfway.

Why am I fighting bouncy balls?So much is wrong with this game that I’m not sure where to start. Perhaps the gameplay: the FF series has nudged the boundaries of its RPG classification over time (eg. FFT, FFX-2, Revenant Wings), but Crisis Core takes it a step further. You control a single character (Zack) in real-time, complete with dodging and blocking. You still have a semblance of menu; however, scrolling through it, and especially through the Item submenu, can make you lose precious seconds, which is sometimes the difference between life and death. This is where ‘RPG’ and ‘action’ start disagreeing.

Now...who am I thinking of?Then you have the strange animal that is the Digital Mind Wave, or DMW, reel. It includes numbers and portraits of characters that matter to Zack or creatures that he can summon in battle, thus basing his fighting abilities on his emotions. You can’t control the reel directly, which is clever, as it mirrors the randomness of emotions, but doesn’t work all that well with the battle structure. Pictures What has been seen cannot be unseenaligning will trigger a special strong attack called a Limit Break, while numbers aligning may add temporary stat boosts, level up Zack or his materia (the now-famous coloured spheres of energy which formed the basis of the FFVII battle system). So yes, levelling up is, essentially, random. It can happen twice in one battle or not happen for ages. The odds eventually even out, but it’s annoying to see a Limit Break pop up when Zack is one hit away from dispatching an easy enemy. Especially if it happens to be a summoning sequence: they are extremely long, albeit skippable. They also include Ifrit (a recurring summonable creature in the FF series) in disturbingly tiny briefs.

Too many swordsBut the gameplay issues pale by comparison with the storyline and characters. This game must’ve been written by drunken monkeys. The plot can’t decide whether to reference FFVII at every turn or to vaguely attempt to do something new. Events are disjointed and awkward, and one plot point is a direct rehash of Hojo’s involvement with Sephiroth. It feels like a bad remake, cheapens the original plot (and this is coming from someone who isn’t a rabid Sephiroth fangirl), and does no credit to the developers’ imagination. And let’s not even talk about the acid trip that is the final stretch of the game (where someone ends up eating some of Zack’s hair…) or the nonsensicality of the final dungeon.

Hey guys! There are WORDS in this thing!Characters…Oh, man. The biggest offender has got to be Genesis, probably one of the worst villains in the whole FF series. “I’m gonna wear red leather instead of black (cf. Sephiroth), spew crappy poetry every time I show up, put on that misunderstood emo act, shove apples in people’s faces and hope I come across as a tormented badass!” And no, before you ask, it doesn’t work. But hey, Angeal is almost as bad. Which may be a shame, because he did have a few promising aspects at the beginning. But as soon as the story kicked in, he deflated like a giant balloon and became mired in some incomprehensible soul-searching, or whatever it was. Needless to say, I promptly lost interest and just proceeded to giggle at the innuendo-riddled dialogues between him and Zack (including references to Angeal’s giant sword).

Not another prank call...Lazard, the director of SOLDIER, is another example. There’s an interesting storyline twist about him, but then he peters out like a wet firecracker. You also have Cissnei, one of the Turks (the Shinra’s private ‘police’ force…and no, I don’t know why they chose that name): cute as a button, interesting potential…never goes anywhere. But worse than both of those, you have Aerith. She already was one of the videogame characters I despised the most, but Crisis Core made it worse by giving her a severe case of the Rikku. You know, when a female character loses 90% of her brain cells and wears skimpier clothing to ‘hype up’ her image, like what happened to Rikku in FFX-2? In every scene featuring her, Aerith acts like an idiot. In a strappy dress and platform shoes.

He was made to wear a suitThe only characters I was even remotely interested in were Zack himself–even though I usually don’t like the cheerful, happy-go-lucky type–and Tseng, more in line with the stern, silent, slightly menacing type I tend to favour. He’s actually quite the looker too, unlike the bunch of Lego-like pixels he was in FFVII. His development didn’t go anywhere either, but at least he had more presence than any of the other Turks.

Rounding up the issues: firstly, the extreme repetitiveness of the 300 optional missions. They’re meant to represent the everyday work of SOLDIER, but did 99% of the environments need to be recycled? And did they really need to bring back Yuffie, who was, unsurprisingly, already an annoying brat in her childhood? The problem is that doing all those missions is the only way to obtain good items and eventually leads to the Don't encourage her!optional superboss. But apart from that…*snores* There are also completely mindless minigames, like the sniping gauntlet (Pentazemin please?), mixing perfume or building flower carts for Aerith (and I really wish I was kidding), slicing missiles (yes, slicing) or counting objects through keyholes.

At least it's not radioactive...right?Secondly, the materia fusion system. It’s a good idea on paper, as it allows Zack to play alchemist and create more powerful materia with the basic ones he picks up, but the rules are simply mind-boggling. Especially because they involve invisible data: some materia are ‘better’ than others and will thus be prioritised in the fusion process (ie. the end product will probably not be what you’re gunning for). But of course, you have no way of figuring this out except trial and error or a FAQ. Way to go there, champs.

Thirdly, the music. Yes, the FFVII universe has a steampunk vibe. But FFVII’s score did perfectly well without screechy guitars and rock arrangements. There’s only one noteworthy tune I remember from Crisis Core: the one in Aerith’s church (and no, it’s not Aerith’s Theme). The rest? “Woo, another tacky guitar riff.”

I'm immune to the puppy eyes, girlAnd, to finish with a bang, the ending of the game. I knew–just as anybody who’s played FFVII–what was going to happen. I actually think it was a pretty bold choice for an ending. Or, well, it would’ve been…if the developers had managed to pull it off. I get all the stuff meant to tug at your heart-strings (eg. gradually disappearing DMW images, first-person view, Aerith’s premonitory gaze at the sky cutting to Zack’s eye, etc.), I get the tragedy of the moment. But maybe because I’d already given up on the game, maybe because the ending sequence became choppier and choppier as it progressed, maybe because you still had to mindlessly slaughter grunts while waiting for the requisite DMW sequence to trigger, maybe because Zack’s voice actor bungled his delivery, maybe because of the incredibly cheesy intervention by Angeal…I don’t know, but I distinctly felt that what could’ve been a true tear-jerker was simply overloaded with emotional gimmicks. Like they were trying too hard. Perhaps this could be said of the game as a whole? I’m still not certain whether they were trying too hard throughout, or not trying hard enough up until the ending, when they suddenly decided to pull out all the stops. But what it comes down to is this: underwhelming on all fronts. Don’t let the fanboys fool you.

We don’t need another hero

The culprit: Tales of Vesperia (Xbox 360)

Merry bunchThe Tales series is a notorious victim of patchy videogame export. I’m not sure why yet, as I’ve only played two of them so far, but my guess would be that 1) it’s not Final Fantasy, and therefore, export tends to just forget about it, 2) it’s a bit too anime-y for the general public. I can’t argue with that last one: both Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Vesperia suffer from several annoying anime clichés. But the Final Fantasy series, the big favourite of the JRPG world, isn’t exempt from those either, and yet, it’s the Tales series that usually gets the blame. Which is a shame, because it also has undeniable qualities.

Symphonia was a big hit, both in the US and Europe, and I was hoping for a similar experience when I bought Vesperia. ‘Similar’ is right, as Symphonia veterans will definitely get a ladleful of déjà-vu: Estelle, the heroine, is almost a carbon copy of Colette (even down to the French names), Karol is extremely reminiscent of Genis, DudsJudith is a calmer version of Sheena, and Raven, a kinder Zelos. Many of the sidequests return (Fell Arms, waitressing, quiz, hot springs), the characters can still obtain titles and costumes as rewards for performing some of these sidequests (even though the titles don’t give them stat bonuses this time around), and some plot points are blatantly reused. But while this may not bode very well for the developers’ inventiveness, and while Symphonia still comes out on top by comparison–if only because it came first, and because it featured Kratos–, Vesperia is, nevertheless, lots of fun.

The most positive aspects of the game are the battle system and (some of) the characterisation. The former is the usual Tales fare: a party of four, of which you control one, the others being all up for grabs in multiplayer mode; otherwise, the game’s AI takes care of them, and does a pretty good job of it too (except for Estelle). You can give the AI suggestions with various Strategy settings, telling it to prioritise attack, healing, etc. Battles take place on a circular 3D field, where you can move the Colourful smackdowncharacters freely. Each character has their own weapon type, as well as oodles of special attacks, which are activated by controller shortcuts (A + a direction on the left stick for the controlled character’s moves, for example), and which they learn either by levelling up, from storyline events, or by using previously learned attacks a certain number of times. Each attack is associated with a colour: if a character uses that colour enough times, they’ll be given a chance to perform a Fatal Strike, which will instantly kill any non-boss enemy and grant the party bonuses at the end of the fight. Each fight is graded according to the characters’ performance, and the accumulated points can then be used at the end of the game to purchase stuff for subsequent replays. Characters also learn various skills from their equipment (think Final Fantasy IX). All in all, everything related to battle is a real pleasure: fluid, customisable, fast-paced and fun.

Too cool for a haircutAs for the characters, Yuri is a genuine breath of fresh air among JRPG heroes. While his appearance (dressed entirely in black with long black hair) may lead you to expect the worst, he’s actually not a brooding emo. Cynical, confident and level-headed, he never misses an occasion to dispense a smartass comment. He also has his own idea of right and wrong, and you might be a tad shocked when you see this in action; I know I was. The developers have undoubtedly made a bold choice by depicting him the way he is, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Oh, and his voice actor is a very good fit.

How you doin'?The other big highlight is Raven. I thoroughly enjoy my comic relief when it’s well-handled, and he definitely delivers in spades. He’s no Jansen (of Lost Odyssey fame; the closest available comparison and the best comic relief I’ve ever seen in a video game), but dammit, does he try. Among his most noteworthy achievements is his take on the classic “our weapons are…” end of battle quote, which Symphonia players will most likely remember. And if the humour wasn’t enough, My eyes are up hereRaven also gets the best backstory of the lot, hands down. His only downside is the learning curve required to effectively use him in battle, if you’re ever inclined to control him yourself, as his fighting style is decidedly odd. This is a trait he shares with Judith, who, while nowhere near his level of awesomeness, or Yuri’s, is my third favourite among the cast, and is part of the rare breed of sensible, intelligent and independent female video game characters.

I completely forgot what we were doing!Now on to the less positive points. First of all, the storyline is rather uninspiring, stock JRPG fare. In its early stages, it also suffers from the characters’ indecisiveness: they keep trying to go their own ways, only to reunite, often instants later. They then decide on a goal and proceed to do scores of completely unrelated things before they remember what they were supposed to be doing in the first place. Fortunately, this improves somewhat by the end of the game.

Boys are for yelling atSecondly, we have the rest of the cast. I frequently found myself wanting to smash Rita’s and Estelle’s heads together. Rita is a scolding hag, even though she’s only 15: she’s unbearably arrogant, her voice is annoying, and she gets angry on a regular basis, which is expressed by a healthy dose of yelling and smacking Karol around. I don’t like children in video games, but I kinda felt sorry for the poor kid as the story wore on. As for Estelle, it’s the same deal as with Colette: ENOUGH with the sickeningly naïve goody-two-shoes with whiny voices who constantly need rescuing, protecting and reassuring, I beg you!! Other than that, well, Repede’s a dog. A cool dog who fights with a katana, but still a dog.

Pirate girl not includedAnd last, but not least, the terrible marketing strategy displayed by Namco Bandai (or Bamco). The game originally came out for Xbox 360…only to get a port to the PS3, which apparently includes not only two more playable characters, but also significant additions to both the storyline and the sidequests. Heck, from what I’ve seen, it’s almost a completely new game. And not only was this announced very shortly after the game was released, but the PS3 port is apparently never due to make its way out of Japan. I’m not particularly interested in the new characters, but a more fleshed out storyline could’ve been nice. Bad move there, Bamco, bad move.

How *not* to high-fiveAll in all, though, I’m pretty happy with Tales of Vesperia. Despite its flaws (which include bland music), it’s entertaining enough to warrant seeing it through to the end and has replay value. If you’re looking for a good RPG for your Xbox 360 and have either already played Lost Odyssey or aren’t a fan of turn-based combat, look no further.