Sunday, May 2, 2010

Import Review: Tales of VS.

With a bunch of RPGs released throughout a 15-year long period, Namco decided to follow suit with Nintendo and Square Enix and create a fighter that would be comprised of Tales characters.
Developed by Namco

Published by Namco
Platforms: PSP

(Reviewed on PSP)
When I first read about it I thought it sounded like a great idea, and it’s not hard to come by an import copy so I decided to give it a shot. First of all, being entirely in Japanese, this can still easily be enjoyed by players who don’t understand the language. It’s a fighter after all, and there are small translation guides here and there on the Internet, although it helps a lot in menus if you are literate in katakana. The hardest part for me to figure out was the tutorial, but it’s pretty straightforward, and doesn’t really teach you to do combos or anything more advanced than unleashing your character’s super special technique (whose Japanese name escapes me at the moment), which in all fairness is quite simple.
For those not familiar with the Tales series, you fight using something called the Linear Motion Battle System, which might sound fancy, but it’s nothing more advanced than what the Smash Bros. series uses. The stages are in 2D where you can move horizontally and jump on and off platforms, pick up items, and go nuts on your opponents in real-time.
The looks of the game are what they’ve used to be in recent games, that is anime style. At first glance, I thought the graphics were flickering, but you get used quickly and I don’t think so anymore. The frame rate is very good, and the animations are rendered beautifully.
The music in the game consists mostly of recycled themes from previous titles, which could be expected from a game of this kind. There aren’t that many tracks though, but it isn’t a major issue. The sound quality is alright, but absolutely not under par. For the PSP it’s actually quite good.
There are a total of 35 characters that can be unlocked except for the eight you start with. They start out weak, but they grow stronger quickly and the customization options are vast. For every battle fought you gain Grade Points for the character you used, which you can use to upgrade your characters’ stats. You can for example choose to increase your character’s HP or attack strength. Or maybe you wish to improve the strength of one of the characters’ artes. Speaking of artes, these are special skills that each character learns upon gaining experience in the game. Each character will be able to know about 15 or so, but only 4 can be assigned to a particular character at one time. There’s also equipment like weapons, armor, and accessories that you can buy to further customize your characters. As mentioned before, each character also has his or her own very special technique that can be triggered after your overlimit gauge is filled and after performing a certain arte. This works great as a finish of a combo.
There’s a fair selection of stages in the game, but there isn’t a lot of variation. Most of them only really have different platform layouts, but there are a few twists on certain stages, like pits or a ray of light hitting you dealing a considerable amount of damage. They are also of varying sizes, meaning that there are stages fitting for both two-player and four-player matches.
The difficulty of the game starts out to be quite hard, but gets gradually easier as your characters get more Grade Points to distribute. There are three difficulty settings, but they only apply for the game’s story mode, which I will talk more about soon. There have however been many complaints about the game’s AI which has been described as the opponents playing a cat and mouse game and running around the stage avoiding your attacks. I haven’t really noticed this personally, but the computers do tend to run toward items when they appear, even if they aren’t on visible on the screen, which gives them an unfair advantage. This is one of the reasons I like to turn the items off.
In the Yggdrasil mode, which is the game’s story mode, you can pick between a few pre-set pairs of characters and move your “piece” around on a map to engage enemies (feels a bit like Soul Calibur). These are all team battles 2 VS. 2, which is the format of battles it feels like the game is trying to promote. However, the story never seems to progress. It just consists of pointless grinding, as when all the enemies on the map are defeated, a set of new ones pop up and so it goes on.
A mode that I appreciated was the Quick Battle mode, in where you choose your own settings entirely. This is just what it sounds like; you fight a quick battle against the computer the way you want. The only complaint I have here is that there is no way to turn the timer off. That means the battles will NEVER be longer than three minutes, and that feels kind of lame. There are also items that appear here and there, but most of them only really change your stats in various ways.
There are also various special modes that are similar to events in the Smash Bros. series. That is you battle under special circumstances with set characters. Like battling with no Grade Points set at all or trying to collect the most gels (healing items in the Tales games). These weren’t very creative, wore thin quite fast, and didn’t fall in my taste, but at least they’re there for a little change. We also have the Survival Mode, in which you fight opponent after opponent until you are defeated. It’s decent but there’s nothing new here.
A feature that I missed in this game is being able to play online. That feature doesn’t seem to be very common on PSP games, but they have at least incorporated local wireless play for households with multiple systems and alike.
On the whole, I think Tales of VS. does a good job in compiling its worlds in a combo-rich fighting game. There could have been more variation here and there. Especially concerning the stages, but I think the general experience and feel of the game makes up for it.
I’d like to summarize with saying that it’s a little like Super Smash Bros. with fewer items, fewer unique stages, but more customization of the individual characters, as well as combos à la Namco style.

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